Worship is a dominant theme from Genesis to Revelation because the God who created all things and redeemed us in Christ is worthy to receive all honor, praise, service, and respect (e.g., Gen 12:7-8; 14:19-20; Exod 15:1-18, 21; Rev 4:11; 5:9-10, 12). Four groups of words throughout the Bible convey aspects of what we commonly call “worship.” New Testament writers use these and related terms in a transformed way to show how Jesus has fulfilled for us the pattern of worship given to Israel.
1) Worship as Homage or Grateful Submission to God:
The most common word for “worship” literally means “bend over” or “bow down.” It describes a gesture of respect or submission to human beings, to God, or to idols (Gen 18:2, Exod 18:7, 20:4-6). Combined with other gesture-words this term came to be used for the attitude of homage that the gesture represented.
Also, people sometimes expressed homage to God with prayer or praise (Gen 24:26-27, 52; Exod 34:8-9) and sometimes with silent acceptance or submission (Exod 4:31; Judg 7:15). The book of Psalms contains many different expressions of worship, including lament, repentance, prayers for vindication, songs of thanksgiving, and praise. “Bending over to the Lord” now means responding with repentance and faith to the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 2:36-39; 10:36-43; cf. Rom 10:9-13). Such worship involves praying to him (Acts 7:59-60; 1 Cor 16:22; 1 Thess 3:11), calling on his name (1 Cor 1:2; Heb 13:15), and obeying him.
2) Worship as Service to Others:
Another group of biblical terms often translated “worship” literally means “serve” or “service.” The people of Israel were saved from slavery in Egypt so that they could serve the Lord (Exod 3:12; 4:23; 8:1). The parallel expressions “offer sacrifices to the Lord” (Exod 3:18; 5:3, 8, 17; 8:8, 25-29) and “hold a festival” (Exod 5:1) indicate that some form of ritual service was immediately in view. The sacrificial system was given to Israel to enable cleansing from sin, consecration to God’s service, and expressions of gratitude to God (Lev 1-7). The New Testament describes Jesus’ death as “a sacrifice of atonement, through shedding of his blood – to be received through faith” (Rom 3:25; cf Heb 2:17; 1 John 2:2). In response to what God has done for us in Christ, we are to present our bodies to him as “a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Rom 12:1; cf Rom 6:13, 16). In particular, Christians are to offer to God through Jesus “a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that openly profess his name” (Heb 13:15).
3) Worship As Reverence or Respect for God:
There is a third group of words sometimes describes worship differently than the previous examples. Words meaning fear, reverence, or respect for God indicate the need to keep his commands (Deut 5:29; 6:2, 24; Eccl 12:13), obey his voice (1 Sam 12:14; Hag 1:12), walk in his ways (Deut 8:6; 10:12; 2 Chr 6:31), turn from evil (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3; 28:28; Prov 3:7), and serve him (Deut 6:13; 10:20; Josh 24:14; Jonah 1:9). Sacrifice and other rituals expressed reverence for God, but faithfulness and obedience to the covenant demands of God in every sphere of life also distinguished true from false religion (Exod 18:21; Ps 25:14; Mal 3:16; 4:2). The New Testament indicated that humanity’s failure to fear God and show him proper respect brings his wrath (Rom 1:18-25; Rev 14:6-7). Only by being “redeemed…with the precious blood of Christ” can we be set free to serve God “in reverent fear” (1 Pet 1:17-21; cf. Heb 12:28-29).
4) Worship And Congregational Gatherings:
Worship in the Old Testament sometimes had a corporate expression, and this was meant to encourage God’s people to serve him faithfully in their individual lives (Isa 1:10-17; Jer 7:1-29). The New Testament rarely applies the specific word “worship” to Christian meetings (but see Acts 13:2, 1 Cor 14:25). Nevertheless, prayer, praise, and submission to God’s will were central to congregational gatherings (Acts 2:42-47; 4:23-37; Eph 5:18-20; Col 3:16-17).
It may be best to speak of congregational worship as a particular expression of the total life-response that is the worship described in the new covenant. In the giving and receiving of various ministries, we may encounter God and submit ourselves to him afresh in praise and obedience, repentance, and faith (Heb 10:24-25). Singing to God is an important aspect of corporate worship, but it is not the supreme or only way of expressing devotion to God. Ministry exercised for the building up of the body of Christ in teaching, exhorting, and praying is a significant way of worshiping and glorifying God.
Which of these types of worship do you most often engage in?
Like what you read? This blog was adapted from content found in the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, available in our store. Look for a new blog post being released each day this week for our NIV Zondervan Study Bible blog series.