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Sunday, June 05, 2016

What is Worship?

If you ask around I suspect you might have a little trouble getting an answer to the question, "What is worship?" It's one of those words that we all know ... but don't really quite know. The first thing that comes to mind is likely that church singing we do. But, of course, we all know that this doesn't define worship. A more careful thinker might include the preaching of the Word. True, but this still doesn't define worship. Someone really paying attention might suggest something like "every day living" as in "Present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship." (Rom 12:1) Sure, this is all true to some degree or another, but it still doesn't define worship. These are things we do to worship, but what is it?

The Bible doesn't offer a definition. The English word comes from two Old English terms which, combined, indicate the quality of worth, the worth-ship of something or someone. Worship of God, then, is ascribing worth to God. On the other hand, the primary Hebrew word means to bow or prostrate oneself. In a sense, then, this is diminishing my worth in favor of His worth. Others refer to adoration and reverence. In the New Testament the primary word is προσκυνέω -- proskuneō. It's actually a strange word at its roots. The two parts are pros and kuōn. The first is "towards". The second is a dog. Yes, a dog. The idea, then, is to kiss like a dog, to lick the master's hand, to fawn or crouch, to prostrate oneself. In Deuteronomy God commands, "You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name." (Deut 6:13) The quote of this passage by Jesus in the wilderness against Satan (Matt 4:10) uses this Greek word for the Hebrew "worship". So we end up in biblical terms with this idea of prostration, of lowering self before the One deserving worth-ship. Biblically, the only one receiving that worth-ship must be God and no other (Deut 8:19; Matt 4:10).

So ... what is worship? Beyond "prostration", beyond applying worth, beyond minimizing me and maximizing Him (John 3:30), clearly the intent is to glorify God. On the surface, that's an easy answer; everything we do is supposed to glorify Him (1 Cor 10:31). In fact, if you read your Bible for very long you'll discover that this is the primary reason God does most of what He does, but especially the reason for what He does for us. We were predestined to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ "to the praise of the glory of His grace" (Eph 1:5-6). We obtain an inheritance "to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory." (Eph 1:10-12) We have been given the pledge of the Holy Spirit "to the praise of His glory." (Eph 1:13-14) Worship, then, is to praise God for His glory.

What does the Bible tell us about worship, then? Well, first and foremost it is ascribing glory to God (Psa 96:8). In this, there are modes or methods of worship. These would include things like the sacrifice of self (Rom 12:1-2). The Bible does speak about music and worship. There is much about singing and even playing instruments. (To those who complain about this modern music being too loud, it's hard to imagine something louder than the divinely inspired "Praise Him with trumpet sound; praise Him with lute and harp! Praise Him with tambourine and dance; praise Him with strings and pipe! Praise Him with sounding cymbals; praise Him with loud clashing cymbals!" (Psa 150:3-5)) Music is part of worship, but it is music with an aim (Col 3:16). (Hint: That aim is not entertainment.) There is rejoicing before God (Psa 96:13). There is the preaching of the Word. Now, some people balk at this. "That's not worship." Well, if glorifying God is worship, then preaching His Word is worship. If sacrificing self is worship, then learning about how God commands that is worship. If Scripture is God-breathed and "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim 3:16-17) , then preaching the Word is indispensable to worship. If we are to "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching" (2 Tim 4:2), then preaching the Word is absolutely worship.

One key component -- often overlooked, I think -- is this one clear thing Scripture says about worship. "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:24) From this we can see quite clearly that the preaching of the Word is essential in worship (because "If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples" (John 8:31) and "Your word is truth." (John 17:17) That would be the "truth" part). Beyond that, worship is "in spirit". The importance here is placed not on location, but attitude. It is not method, but mindset. It is not in ceremony and methodology, but the disposition of the worshipper. It is not external, but internal (Isa 29:13-14). What happens externally, for it to be worship, is a reflection of the heart set on God as ultimate worth.

Attitude is key, but did you know that there is such a thing as unacceptable worship? Hebrews says, "Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe." (Heb 12:28) Cain found out about unacceptable worship (Gen 4:3-5). Nadab and Abihu found out about unacceptable worship (Lev 10:1). What made their worship unacceptable? "By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, and before all the people I will be honored." (Lev 10:3)

Do we know what worship is anymore? Sometimes I wonder. Sometimes it feels like our "worship" is more about good bands and good feelings than about a holy God. We're pretty good at catering to the crowd. We're pretty good at trying to entice people into church with flash and entertainment. We might even become accomplished at the use of music and words to make people feel warmly toward God. But the first and foremost demand of God is "By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy" and the primary motivation of worship is "in spirit and in truth". Why is it, then, that we so often start with methods and means intended to entertain and make people feel a certain way? If worship is applying worth to God while minimizing ourselves, how does that image fit in most of today's church worship? Sometimes I wonder.

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