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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary

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Both the Hebrew (Old Testament) and the Greek (New Testament) words usually translated ‘worship’ indicate a kind of humble submission; for example, the submission of a servant to a master. The inferior kneels or bows down, showing an attitude of deep respect for the superior (Genesis 18:2; Genesis 33:3; Genesis 42:6; Genesis 49:8; 2 Samuel 24:20; Matthew 8:2; Matthew 9:18; Matthew 18:26).

This is the underlying idea in the human being’s worship of God. People humble themselves before their Creator as those who serve, honour, fear and adore him. They worship as those who appreciate God’s infinite worth (Genesis 24:26-27; Exodus 4:31; Exodus 12:27; Psalms 95:6; Matthew 2:2; Matthew 28:9; Revelation 4:10; Revelation 5:14; Revelation 11:16). Yet worship is not something grim, dull or cheerless. It is something joyful, for it is the enjoyment of God himself (Psalms 89:15-16; Psalms 98:4-6; Luke 1:46-47; 1 Peter 1:8).

Forms of worship

Worship is both an attitude in which people live and a spiritual exercise that they carry out (Exodus 33:10; Romans 12:1). It is an activity not only of the spirit, but also of the mind (1 Corinthians 14:15). It is something that is done individually and collectively (Genesis 22:5; Genesis 24:52; 1 Chronicles 29:20; Acts 20:7 1 Corinthians 14:26). ‘Worship’ is a term so broad in meaning that it may be used in some places to denote the highest exercises of the soul, in others to denote the formal exercises of insincere religion (1 Samuel 15:30; 2 Samuel 12:20; Jeremiah 7:2-3).

In Old Testament times the Israelites expressed their worship in ceremonial forms such as sacrifices and festivals (1 Samuel 1:3; Psalms 132:7). But true worship always required right behaviour, humility of spirit and confession of known sin. The rituals themselves were of no use if people did not worship God in their hearts and lives (Psalms 15:1; Psalms 50:7-15; Isaiah 29:13; Micah 6:6-8). Organized forms of worship were established firstly for the tabernacle (see FEASTS; SACRIFICE; TABERNACLE), then for the temple (see MUSIC; SINGING; TEMPLE), and later for the synagogue (see SYNAGOGUE).

The early Christians continued to attend the temple for prayer and worship (Acts 2:46; Acts 3:1), but before long they made a clear break with Judaism and gradually developed their own form of public worship. It consisted mainly of praying, singing, reading the Scriptures, teaching Christian truth and celebrating the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:42; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 14:15-16; 1 Timothy 4:13; see CHURCH; GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT).

Because the Christians’ worship was collective, the participants had to maintain a degree of order in the procedures they followed. The worship of the church was a united act, not a disjointed collection of individual expressions of devotion (1 Corinthians 12:25; 1 Corinthians 14:16-17; 1 Corinthians 14:33; 1 Corinthians 14:40). As in Old Testament times, the spiritual condition of the worshippers was more important than their formal expressions of worship (Mark 7:6-7; John 4:23-24; Philippians 3:3).

Worship, besides being ‘in the spirit’, must be ‘in truth’ (John 4:24). People must worship out of an understanding of the truth of God, and that truth has been revealed through the Scriptures (John 16:14). If a clearer understanding of the Scriptures leads to a more worthy worship, the Bible should have a place in worship, whether individual or collective. As God reveals more of his person and work through the Scriptures, believers will be filled with love and awe, and will respond with humble yet adoring worship (Revelation 1:12-17).

In true worship there is therefore a two-way movement. There is a movement from God to the worshippers and from the worshippers to God; in other words, communion (1 John 1:1-3). This is well expressed in the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 1 Corinthians 11:24-26; see COMMUNION; FELLOWSHIP; LORD’S SUPPER).

True and false worship

Any giving of honour to God is, in a sense, worship (Psalms 22:27-29; Acts 8:27; Acts 16:14), but the higher forms of worship arise out of an exercise of the soul that words cannot express. The greater the appreciation that believers have of God’s holy character and gracious works, the more they adore him and praise him. They worship him as their Creator and their Redeemer. They bring him homage, adoration and praise because of who he is and what he has done (Psalms 103:1-5; Psalms 104:1-4; Psalms 104:31-35; Revelation 4:8-11; Revelation 5:9-14). God’s deeds, whether in creation, history or redemption, are a cause for unceasing worship and praise from men and women everywhere (Psalms 33:1-19; Psalms 99:1-5; Romans 11:33-36; Ephesians 3:14-21; Judges 1:24-25).

God alone is to be worshipped (Acts 10:25-26; Acts 14:11-15; Revelation 22:8-9). Those who worship any other god, person or thing are guilty of idolatry (Exodus 20:4-5; Exodus 32:8; Deuteronomy 4:19; Deuteronomy 8:19; Romans 1:25; see IDOLATRY). Just as the worship of God means submission to his sovereign rule, so the worship of idols means submission to the evil power of false gods (Exodus 20:5; Deuteronomy 11:16; Deuteronomy 29:26; Joshua 24:15; Matthew 4:10; 1 Corinthians 10:20; Hebrews 1:6-7). If any challenge God by claiming divine worship for themselves, they are guilty of blasphemy (Matthew 4:9-10; Mark 2:7; Mark 14:61-64; Revelation 13:4-8; Revelation 19:20; see BLASPHEMY).

There is a sense in which all creation worships God (Psalms 96:1; Psalms 97:1; Psalms 148:3-4). In particular, the spirit beings who live in God’s heavenly presence worship him unceasingly, as if that were the purpose for which they were created (Psalms 148:1-2; Isaiah 6:2-3; Hebrews 1:6; Revelation 4:8-11).

The people of God’s earth also worship him. In the case of those who have responded to the grace of God and accepted the gift of his Son, their worship is enriched by their unspeakable gratitude (2 Corinthians 8:9; 2 Corinthians 9:15). They worship Jesus Christ, and they worship the Father through Christ, whose Spirit now indwells them (John 16:13-14; Ephesians 2:18; Colossians 1:15-23; Judges 1:24-25). Yet their worship at present is very far short of perfection. Only in the age to come, when they see and know God clearly, will they worship as they ought (1 Corinthians 13:12; Revelation 22:3-4).

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Worship'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​bbd/​w/worship.html. 2004.
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