Worship is a prominent part of the overarching story of Scripture. God established the parameters of worship at Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:2–5). Observance of these parameters is seen in the life of Mordecai when he refused to bow to Haman (Esther 3:2) and in the lives of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when they refused to bow before Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image (Daniel 3:16–18). Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den for worshiping God (Daniel 6). Mordecai, the three Hebrews, and Daniel chose to worship God, and God delivered them all.
New Testament believers stopped pagans who attempted to worship them. For example, Paul and Barnabas prevented the people of Lystra from doing homage to them after Paul healed a man who was lame in Lystra (Acts 14:7–19). Peter refused to allow Cornelius to worship at his feet: “Stand up; I myself also am a man” (Acts 10:26). In Revelation 19:10, John fell down to worship the man who told him what to write but was restrained: “See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God” (Revelation 19:10).
Jesus Himself rebuked Satan when He said, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Luke 4:8).
Elements of Worship
The Bible definition of worship in the Old Testament includes “bowing down” or “prostrating oneself” in “reverent humility” (Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon). The same word for worshiping God is used for showing respect to others. In ancient times doing obeisance before someone else was common: Abraham before the children of Heth (Genesis 23:7); Jacob before Esau (Genesis 33:3); Joseph before his father (Genesis 48:12); Moses before his father-in-law (Exodus 18:7); Ruth before Boaz (Ruth 2:10); David before Jonathan before he fled from Saul (I Samuel 20:41); and later, David before Saul in the Wilderness of Engedi (I Samuel 24:8).Worship is a prominent part of the overarching story of Scripture. Click To Tweet
There are examples of humility and respect in the New Testament as well. The centurion who came to Jesus on behalf of his ailing servant respected Jesus so much that he simply asked Him to speak rather than come to his house (Matthew 8:5, 8, 13). In another instance, a woman of Canaan prostrated herself before the Lord on behalf of her possessed daughter (Matthew 15:25–28). She maintained her humility and obeisance even when Jesus referred to her as a “dog.” Jesus marveled at the faith of both these Gentiles and healed both servant and daughter without seeing either. Thus in the Old and New Testaments, worship and respect go hand in hand.
Moses supplicated before the Lord for the Israelites. David cried to the Lord when he was beset (Psalm
18). The father of the child who repeatedly cast himself in the fire sought the Lord with tears and cried, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24, NKJV). The apostle Paul admonished us to “be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6). Worship includes supplication.
Abraham worshiped by obedience: “I and the lad will go yonder and worship” (Genesis 22:5). Abraham’s willingness to obey God, even if it meant sacrificing Isaac, was an act of worship. God honored his obedience. Job worshiped after losing his children, his servants, and his flocks: “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21). Even in mourning, Job still worshiped.
Samuel admonished Saul that obedience was “better than sacrifice” (I Samuel 15:22). Jesus obeyed, even to the death of the cross. Even when tempted by Satan, He countered with the Word that governed His every action. His worship was complete through His absolute obedience.
Isaiah saw a vision of the Lord “high and lifted up” and was filled with reverent fear (Isaiah 6:1). When Peter let down his nets at Jesus’ command and hauled in an abundant catch, he knelt at Jesus’ feet in awe (Luke 5:8). Jesus’ disciples were awestruck when He calmed the storm, and they bowed down and worshiped Him (Matthew 14:33). On Patmos, John heard a voice and fell down in awe (Revelation 1:17). Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Romans 14:11). Awe and reverent fear are part of worship.
Eliezer worshiped in thanks when God led him to Rebekah (Genesis 24:26). The psalmist David declared thanksgiving to be an offering and sacrifice (Psalm 50:14; 107:22; 116:17). The Samaritan leper returned to Jesus to give thanks and glorify God (Luke 17: 15–19). Paul admonished us to give thanks in everything (I Thessalonians 5:18). Our gratitude is part of our worship.
Micah 6:8 embodies the first and second greatest commandments identified by Jesus: to love God with all one’s heart and one’s neighbor as oneself. (See Matthew 22:36–40). John declared that we love God because He first loved us (I John 4:19). Our worship is in response to His love. Jesus identified forgiveness of sins with love: “To whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” (Luke 7:47). Love is part of worship.
7. Spirit and Truth
Jesus summarized the whole of biblical worship in His conversation with the woman at the well (John 4:19–22). When she challenged where to worship, Jesus declared that worship would no longer occur in a location, but in the condition of the heart: “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23–24).God is looking for worshipers who love Him for who and what He is, not what we wish He were. Click To Tweet
All the elements of worship can be practiced before idols, people, or even demons. Satan offered Jesus the kingdoms of the world if He would just bow down and worship him. Therefore, truth in worship means knowing and understanding who God is and what He requires of people.
God is looking for worshipers who love Him for who and what He is, not what we wish He were. In the end, He will receive the worship due Him.
Resources and Links
For resources on worship, click here.