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What is Biblical Worship?

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In the vast majority of modern churches, what passes as “worship” falls short of being true worship where the standard practice in Evangelical megachurches on Sunday mornings is to put on a rock concert that aims to stir up emotions and elicit positive feelings from the congregation. This is nothing more than a performance that caters to human desires, rather than promoting a humble and repentant heart toward God, who is holy, righteous, and perfect, and who deserves our utmost attention. Regrettably, this kind of worship ends up being self-centered and lacks a genuine focus on God.

What exactly is worship? First off, despite what the typical modern church labels as worship, it isn’t just music and singing and it isn’t a separate part of the Sunday morning service distinct from the preaching and the ordinances. Real worship is about giving our lives in complete submission to the God who gave His life for us.

The Greek word for worship in the New Testament is “proskuneo” (προσκυνέω), which comes from two Greek words: “pros” meaning “toward” or “before,” and “kuneo” meaning “to kiss.”

The word “proskuneo” originally referred to the act of bowing down or prostrating oneself before a superior or someone in authority, often in the context of paying homage or respect. In the New Testament, “proskuneo” is used to describe the act of worshiping or honoring God, often through bowing down, kneeling, or showing reverence in some other way.

For example, in Matthew 4:10, Jesus tells Satan, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship [proskuneo] the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” Here, Jesus is quoting from Deuteronomy 6:13, which affirms the exclusive worship of God.

In John 4:23-24, Jesus also speaks about worship when he tells the woman at the well, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” Here, Jesus emphasizes the importance of worshiping God with a sincere heart and in accordance with the truth.

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Now, let’s look at the biblical account of Cain and Abel’s offerings which is found in Genesis 4:1-16. Cain was a farmer and Abel was a shepherd. Both of these sons of Adam and Eve brought offerings to God, but God accepted Abel’s offering yet He rejected Cain’s. To understand why, we need to have a biblical and robust theology of worship.

First, it is important to understand that worship is not just about the act of offering something to God, but it is also about the heart attitude behind the offering. In Psalm 51:16-17, David wrote, “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” This shows that God is not primarily concerned with the outward act of worship, but with the inward condition of the worshipper’s heart.

In the case of Cain, it seems that his heart was not in the right place. The text says that he brought “some of the fruits of the soil” as an offering to the Lord (Genesis 4:3). This could indicate that he gave only a token offering, rather than his best. In contrast, Abel brought “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock” (Genesis 4:4), indicating that he gave generously and sacrificially. Hebrews 11:4 says that Abel’s offering was “a better sacrifice than Cain’s,” because it was offered in faith.

Furthermore, Cain’s response to God’s rejection of his offering reveals the true state of his heart. He became angry and jealous of Abel, and eventually murdered him (Genesis 4:5-8). This shows that Cain was not motivated by a desire to please God, but by his own selfish desires.

Likewise, the act of worship in most modern churches today is a highly misunderstood practice and falls very short of biblical theology. Today, there is a widespread belief among churches that the primary purpose of worship is to evoke emotions, and that emotions are the ultimate result of worship.

However, this belief is fundamentally flawed as it places undue importance on the worshipper’s emotional experience rather than the object of worship, which is God. As the Bible clearly teaches, worship is not about a performance or a self-righteous act, but rather it is about our heart’s posture toward God. True worship comes from a heart that is humble, contrite, and focused on giving God the glory He deserves.

Worship should be seen as an act of surrender and submission, where we give ourselves wholly to God and lay down our desires, ambitions, and even our very lives at His feet. We must acknowledge God’s holiness, His sovereignty, and His worthiness to receive all honor, glory, and praise.

In addition, true worship should lead us to a deeper understanding of God’s character, to an increased desire for holiness, and to a greater love for others. As we encounter God in worship, our lives are transformed and we become more like Him.

Worship should be reverent and orderly. In 1 Corinthians 14:33-40, the apostle Paul instructs the Corinthian church on how to conduct their worship services in an orderly manner. He demonstrates that God is a God of peace, not confusion and that everything in the church should be done decently and in order teaches us the importance of submission to one another, with the goal of building up the church as a whole.

In addition, the book of Leviticus contains detailed instructions for the worship practices of the Israelites. These instructions included the use of specific instruments, garments, and rituals, which were all designed to promote a sense of reverence and awe toward God. For example, the high priest was required to wear special garments that were made of fine linen and adorned with precious stones, representing the holiness and glory of God.

And while we’re not under the same legalistic standards prescribed in Leviticus, our hearts and minds should be of the same posture, understanding the purpose of these prescriptions, and seeking to maintain the same attitude during worship. For example, what is the purpose of having a rock concert on Sunday mornings with dimmed lights, lasers, smoke machines, and ear-pleasing music? Are we doing it to honor God or are we doing it for the sensory experience? And I certainly do not mean this to be offensive, but it’s undeniable that when you peer out into the Evangelical landscape, you’ll see that the kind of people who are attracted to this form of “worship” are typically theologically inept.

The book of Psalms also provides insight into the nature of reverent worship whereas many of the psalms were written as songs of praise and worship to God, and they express an attitude of total devotion while approaching God with humility and awe. Psalm 95:6-7 says, “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.”

Finally, it is of utmost importance to understand that God didn’t “earn” the right to be worshiped by us by saving us. Even though an unregenerate heart is unable to worship God, that doesn’t diminish the fact that he deserves it. God doesn’t deserve our worship because He did something for us—He deserves our worship because of the very essence of who He is. He is God, the Lord almighty, the Creator of all things.

Can worship be emotional? Sure, it can be, but it is not the ultimate purpose. If we become emotional during worship, it should be because the theology in the lyrics that we offer to God in praise leads us to a greater understanding of who He is. Ultimately, worship should not be about what we can get from God, but about what we can give to Him. We should come before Him with a heart that is pure, a mind that is focused, and a spirit that is willing to be sanctified. In doing so, we will experience the fullness of God’s presence and power in our lives, and we will become vessels that are fit for His use.


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