What is a biblical theology of worship?
Recently, there is a renewed focus on worship—what it is and how it is to be done. The church that does not operate under the biblical theology of worship is in danger of both failing to give God glory and failing to offer worship that is pleasing to Him. Worship is as misunderstood a doctrine as any other within the church. Contrary to popular belief, worship does not begin and end with the singing portion of our church services. Worship is also not limited to only bowing in reverence before God. To begin with, worship is only determined by God Himself, and not everything we do is acceptable to God as worship just because we are sincere or it makes us feel good.
Hebrews 12:28 tells us that we must “serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (NKJV). The Greek word translated “serve” here is a form of the word “worship” and is used 21 times in the New Testament in the contexts of service and worship. Another form of the word “worship” is the Greek word therapeuo—from which we get the English word “therapy”—and this is most often seen translated “heal” in reference to the healing of others. In the New Testament, this word is seen in every case of Jesus’ healings.
Other Greek words translated “worship” are prokeneuo meaning “paying homage” (1 Corinthians 14:25), sebazomai, meaning “to render religious honor” (Romans 1:25), and sebomai meaning “to revere or adore” (Acts 16:14). We see this same word used by Jesus to describe the vain, hypocritical worship of God (Matthew 15:9), leading us to the conclusion that not all “worship” is acceptable to God.
But true biblical worship is to be first and foremost reverent (Hebrews 12:28). This means it is to be done with the understanding of who it is being worshiped. God is holy, just, righteous, perfect, powerful, loving, wrathful etc. Those who wish to worship biblically must worship God as He is revealed in Scripture. Second, we must worship in truth (John 4:24). This means that it needs to line up according to the truths in Scripture. Adding our own version of worship and “expressing ourselves” is not true worship if it does not accord with the Word of God. Personal expressions of worship are not indicated anywhere in Scripture and can lead to activities that are not God-honoring. Third, true worship is worship in Spirit. Because God is Spirit, true worship is a pure, holy, spiritual worship, the offering of the soul and the homage of the heart rather than merely that of the lips. Finally, true worship will always produce a change in the heart of the worshipper, causing a greater desire to love and obey the God we worship. If worship does not propel us into greater obedience, it isn’t worship. Unless we come out of it with a greater commitment to obedience, it isn’t worship. Jesus said those who love Him will keep His commandments. If we say we love and worship Him, but do not obey Him, our worship is worthless.
True biblical worship of the one true and living God is to be a lifestyle, not a moment in time (1 Corinthians 10:31). Just as they will be in eternity, our lives now are to be lives of total worship of God. When we eat, sleep, work, serve, and live from sunup to sundown, all that we do is to be in a spirit of worship of God. We are not to offer temporary, experience-oriented worship on Sunday, and then lead a secular life the rest of the week. True worship is offered to God from the depths of our inner being in praise and prayer, in song, in giving, and in living, but always based upon His revealed truth.