Throughout the United States, evangelical Christians attend churches week after week in order to hear preaching, participate in music, and to experience God. Often, people refer to Sunday services as “worship” service. Even more commonly, congregants refer to the musical portion of their service as “worship.”
The definition of worship has been limited by the conventional characteristics attributed to it. In addition to the faulty but popular view of worship as only music, there is also a prevailing sense that worship is about a particular euphoric feeling that a congregant gains during service. Heightened emotion, a sense of God’s presence (which are great things to occur during worship), and general entertainment value seem to exhaust the popular definition of what should occur if worship has taken place. But while these attributes can be valid parts of worship, they fail to acknowledge the objective of worship, that is, the primacy of God as sovereign, and submission to that truth.
The Apostle Paul, in Romans 12:1 sums up the Christian’s “reasonable service of worship” when he says: “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Paul’s definition of worship suggests a holistic and God-centered response to living, which envelops more than Sunday service, but your everything.
The word “worship” is used over 180 times in the New American Standard Bible. However, worship denotes distinct characteristics, which, while not exhaustive, are representative of what worship entails:
Deuteronomy 6:13 (cf. Exodus 34:14; Deuteronomy 5:9): worship God exclusively
Deuteronomy 26:10 (cf. Matthew 2:11): present possessions to God
1 Chronicles 16:29 (cf. Psalm 2:11): worship with reverence
2 Chronicles 29:28 (cf. 2 Chronicles 29:30): worship with song and praise
Psalm 86:9 (cf. Psalm 22:27; Psalm 66:4): all the nations will ultimately participate
Nehemiah 9:3: worship with confession
John 9:36 -39 (cf. Judges 7:15; Matthew 14:33): belief in God as He has revealed himself
John 4:23-24; Philippians 3:3: worship in the (S)pirit
Romans 12:1 (cf. Daniel 3:28): worship is holistic, physical
Hebrews 10:2: remembrance of God’s salvation through Christ’s sacrifice
Revelation 4:9-11 (cf. Genesis 24:26, 48; Genesis 27:31; 2 Chronicles 20:18; Job 1:20; Psalm 95:6; Psalm 99:5; Psalm 132:7; John 9:35-38; Revelation 5:14; Revelation 7:11; Revelation 11:16; Revelation 19:10) : worship is falling down before God’s throne; prostration.
Revelation 14:7 (cf. 2 Chronicles 7:3; Psalm 29:2): glorifying/fearing God's name and attributes
Revelation 19:4 (cf. Nehemiah 8:6): worship involves exclamation
Ultimately, worship in the Old and New Testaments is a combination of internal attitude and external acts. The worshiper is faithful to the one true God, above all else. Internally, the worshiper is yielded in the Spirit, possesses a truthful heart, blameless before God. The worshiper freely confesses sin, and approaches God with reverence and praise, ascribing to Him the glory that He is due. Externally, God accepts worship in a variety of ways, through prayer and giving, praise and song, and through dedication of everything that the worshiper has. God welcomes diversity in worship, and the end of the age will culminate in people of all tribes and nations falling down in worship to Him.
The most consistent imagery throughout the Bible concerning worship is its association with “falling down” at the feet of the one worshiped. Reverence and self–abasement, and a view of the loftiness and holiness of God lie at the center of worship throughout the Bible.