This week, we are beginning a sermon series on worship – specifically, on the corporate worship of the church in the assembly. We are going to cover the specific activities we participate in and why they are important. More fundamentally, we want to consider what worship is. And with that in mind, there are a couple of important points about the nature of worship that did not make it into our sermon this morning (you don’t want me to talk for an hour, do you?). I want us to briefly consider them together here.
First of all, worship is about God. That might sound elementary, but I think we forget it sometimes. Scripture shows repeatedly and clearly that worship is to give praise to God. Consider, for example, Psalm 148:
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts!
Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
There are numerous other passages we could note. But the point is the application: worship is primarily about God, not about us. Our chief aim in worshipping should be to give glory to God, not to achieve an emotionally uplifting experience or to be entertained. Now, those things aren’t bad in themselves. If our emotions are stimulated by worship – if we feel joyous in praising God or if we feel internal turmoil when we think of our sin – that can be a blessing. And God has designed worship so that true worshippers will be blessed by the occasion.
The problem comes when we make that our goal in worship. Then it ceases to be God-centered and becomes human-centered. We are essentially worshipping ourselves instead of God. There are right and wrong motives for worship. If we come seeking personal benefit – even a legitimate one – rather than to honor God, we need to adjust our priorities. Worship is not designed to produce an emotional experience, effect behavioral change, make Christianity attractive to the world, promote church programs, or fill the pews and swell the collection plate, thought it may well do any or all of those things as a side effect. These might result from worship, but the purpose of worship is to praise God. We need to understand that individually and as churches.
The other significant point to note is that worship is a verb. That means it is something that we do. The Hebrew word most frequently translated as “worship” in the OT is chawah, which means “to bow down.” Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! (Psalm 95:6) Both Moses and Job literally bowed or fell to the ground and worshipped, for instance (Exodus 34:8; Job 1:20). The emphasis in the NT is similar. The Greek proskuneo means “to (fall down and) worship, do obeisance to, prostrate oneself before, do reverence to, welcome respectfully.”
This, too, might seem fairly elementary. But some have the idea that worship is merely an attitude or feeling, a subjective experience that might be expressed in any number of ways. But that idea is foreign to Scripture; nowhere is it taught or even implied that worship is merely an attitude. Now, the proper attitude is a critical part of worship; the prophets repeatedly emphasize that God is not pleased with external acts apart from a heart that is right with him (Isaiah 1:11-20; Micah 6:6-8; Amos 6:1ff; numerous other passages). But saying that the right attitude is an essential ingredient of worship is not the same as saying it IS worship.
In contrast, Scripture demonstrates that worship is something God’s people did, actions they undertook. Abraham went up on the mountain with Isaac to worship (Genesis 22:1-5). David went to the house of the Lord to worship after the death of his son (2 Sam 12:20). The Ethiopian eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship (Acts 8:27-28), and Paul did the same thing (Acts 24:11). Actions like prayer, praise, and sacrifice are all expressions of worship mentioned in Scripture. And even offering our bodies as living sacrifices, which Paul calls our spiritual worship, is expressed in concrete action: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind (Romans 12:1-2).
True worship requires more than these two things. But it must include expressions of praise directed toward God.
Adapted from chapter 10 of Dan Chambers’ book “Showtime: Worship in the Age of Show Business.”