If it were not for the traditional use of the word ‘worship’ amongst Christians, substantial arguments could be raised against its continued use. For one thing, the denotative meaning of ‘worship’ is different from the related Greek and Hebrew terms. For another, the connotative meaning of ‘worship’ in the Christian community is substantially different from the biblical teaching on the topic. Since the evangelical Christian community is committed to the use of the term worship, it certainly bears careful examination so that we mean what God intends when we use it.
‘Worship’ is an inadequate translation of the Greek and Hebrew terms.
Our word worship derives from the Old English weordhscipe meaning worthiness or meritoriousness and thus giving God the recognition He deserves. There are some problems with this English translation, however, because the Greek & Hebrew terms do not mean precisely the same thing.
‘Worship’ is assumed to involve singing and praising God by most believers. In Putting an End to Worship Wars, Elmer Towns asked the questions: What do you do in worship? How do you worship? What motivates you to worship? And What are the results of worship? From the responses he identified six worship styles in America: Evangelistic – winning the lost; Expositional – teaching the word; Renewal – excitement, revival, ‘touching God’; Body-life – fellowship, relationships and small groups; Liturgical – serving & glorifying God through liturgy and Congregational – worship expressed by the laity.
Of these, the renewal, liturgical, congregational approaches are arguably what most Christians conceive of as worship – times of personal and corporate singing and praise. The Biblical principles and commands related to worship are much broader and more integrated into the Christian life.
Worship is the response of grateful and humble people to the living God where submission, sacrificial service, praise, profession, testimony and gratitude are freely expressed in innumerable ways. This is a much richer concept than mere corporate singing and praise once each week for 20 minutes – an event that could occur without any actual worship going on at all.
Worship is not the slow song that the choir sings. Worship is not the amount you place in the offering basket. Worship is not volunteering in children’s church. Yes, these may be acts or expressions of worship, but they do not define what true worship really is. There are numerous definitions of the word worship. Yet, one in particular encapsulates the priority we should give to worship as a spiritual discipline: Worship is to honor with extravagant love and extreme submission (Webster’s Dictionary,1828).
True worship, in other words, is defined by the priority we place on who God is in our lives and where God is on our list of priorities. True worship is a matter of the heart expressed through a lifestyle of holiness. Thus, if your lifestyle does not express the beauty of holiness through an extravagant or exaggerated love for God, and you do not live in extreme or excessive submission to God, then I invite you to make worship a non-negotiable priority in your life.
We must focus our practice of worship on the worthiness of God and not his wealthiness!
Hence, think about this: Would you continue to worship God if, from this day forward, God’s miraculous signs and wonders were not so profoundly evident in your life? Would God still be worthy of your worship? Or is your worship completely dependent upon the abundance of God’s blessings upon your life? Do you only worship God for what he can do for you?
If Worship is having an extravagant or exaggerated love for God, and if your life is not lived in extreme or excessive submission to him, then I invite you to make worship a non-negotiable priority in your life. Evaluate your expressions of worship so that through singing, declaring, and giving, you will “give to the LORD the glory he deserves … ” (Ps. 96:8). The promise is that when we worship God in this way, he will come and commune with us. And above all, God will respond to your worship by making your heart more like his.