THE ESSENCE OF WORSHIP

The English word ‘worship’ comes from an Anglos-Saxon word that seems to mean ‘worthy ship’ or someone who is due honor and respect. I think in the church of England today you still call an ecclesiastical person or a civil person, “your worship’, which didn’t mean he was divine, it just meant he was worthy of respect; that’s the ancient use of the English term. Well in the Bible, there are primarily two Hebrew terms and two Greek terms that describe the concept of worship, and both of them follow along the two basic etymologies. One is ‘abodah’ which is from a Hebrew root that means “to serve” or “to labor.”  It is usually translated “the service of God”. The other is ‘Hishtahawah’, which is from a Hebrew root that means “to bow” or “to prostrate oneself”. The New Testament develops it into the Greek word “latreia”, which is the state of a hired laborer or slave. And the other Greek root ‘proskuneo’ which means “to prostrate oneself,” “to adore,” or “to worship.”

Worship in Scripture is both implied (not implicit) as to its origins, and it’s also a historical development from the time God instituted the Sabbath in Genesis 2:1-3, through the Patriarchal period to Moses, and up to rabbinical Judaism of Jesus’ day. There is no systematic theology about the concept of worship, but there are some incipient truths, there are some apparent beginnings, and there is a definite historical development through the Bible. First, let’s look at some of these incipient statements that are later developed, and the first one I want to look at is God instituting the Sabbath in Genesis 2:1-3. Now in the context, it said that God rested from His labor, and He sanctified or made holy that day. That doesn’t say anything about man following that practice, but obviously that is the background for the Mosaic development of the 10 commandments of honoring the Sabbath. And so obviously, Moses developed this theme into something that God always wanted for man, but was not revealed at first and yet the incipient form is very evident here in Genesis 2:1-3. It was a weekly time where man emulates God’s action. Of course, God didn’t need to rest, but He set the stage for man to recreate himself and worship and fellowship with God, with family, and with his fellow man. I think another shining passage that is not developed but we see from inference is very significant, in Genesis chapter 3 verse 21 where God, in executing justice kills the animals to clothe Adam and Eve. Now it is obvious that the environment outside the Garden of Eden was much more severe because of the curse than the setting where God was, God prepares man for this hostile environment, and yet by taking an animal’s life to provide man’s need, seems to be a beginning incipient form for animals used in the sense of God’s purpose to benefit man, and man using animals not only for food and clothing and implements using their bones or whatever. But it’s obvious this develops into sacrifice, for not long after this, we find man himself taking animal life to try to please God or bless God or honor God. In Genesis chapter verses 3 and following we see Cain and Abel offer sacrifice, and it’s always been interesting to me that God did not look with favor on Cain’s offering while He looked with favor on Abels’s offering; first of all, i do not think this passage is primarily a depreciation of vegetable or non-bloody sacrifice. This is not talking about the tension between farmers and ranchers, it’s nothing like that. These two men just happened to have two occupations, and they came to God with the produce of their labors. Apparently, it doesn’t seem to be something brand new. It seems to be something they did over and over. There is something of great significance here because of the truth embodied in their attitudes. Now, I think the real key to this passage is the attitude of Abel versus the attitude of Cain. Some see a key here, in the word ‘firstlings of the flock’ meaning, Abel brought his best, while Cain just brought some of his produce. That may be true, but we can’t read a whole lot in here. But this obviously sets the stage for sacrifice. It doesn’t say they built an altar; it doesn’t say where they met God. It’s simply a case where they came to God – well, I think at the Garden of Eden, the entrance to it was the last place they had met God and performed this. Another passage in the Old Testament which seems to imply the concept of worship is in Genesis chapter four verses 25 and 26, after delineating the rebellion of Cain and his descendants in the early part chapter 4, the godly line of Seth is brought back up, and in this passage it says, “At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord. That’s a very interesting statement. To call on the Name of the Lord basically means to worship Him. ‘To call on the name of’ is to pray to, and thus to indicate that you are worshiping a particular god or goddess, and calling on their name. You call on the the name of a false god, if you’re an idolater. The same terminology is used of false worship, as well as true worship. Subsequently, this practice of ‘calling on the name’ of the Lord was lost through the generations that followed until the time of Moses where we find worship in context of the Covenant God meeting His people in some ritual act that was accompanied by an attitude of respect, and awe, and faith. And so i think attitude is very important aspect in the ideal of worship. We find this attitude in Noah as well when he brought in clean animals into the ark for the purpose of sacrifice, thinking of God’s promises, he provides for a place of sacrifice immediately after coming out of the ark after the great flood; of course his family was also caught up in this idea of worship by offering a sacrifice. Now, another glowing passage about worship in the early parts of Genesis would be Abraham. Abraham is really the focus of Genesis Where God through Abraham establishes a kingdom of priests to bring all the world to Him. Now this Abraham, this progenitor of the family of God offers sacrifice in those places where God has met him, and that becomes a characteristic for much of Israel’s history. Altars were set up where they met God. And so this practice was carried on in the household of Isaac, later by Jacob, and on and on, it became a standard during the patriarchal period. The Biblical material seems to clarify that sacrifice is developed out of the express will of God in specific patterns. But the bible does not record that express will, nor does it record the specific patterns; but these allusions show that its present, but it is never stated in specific terms.

Now, what is the content of worship? Well it is obvious that man’s attitude as well as man’s actions not only on the day he offers sacrifice, but on the rest of his life is connected with the ideal of worship. So therefore, the ideal of worship has two aspects: one is our attitude toward God caught up in the physical gesture of bowing down or prostrating oneself, and the other is a lifestyle working out of an attitude where we serve God when we understand what His will is. Worship covers the entire man it deals with attitude and it deals with action. And if we miss either side of that, we’re going to get into dangerous areas that cause tremendous problems in the Bible. I think Deuteronomy 11:13 (one of many) somehow catches the essence of that balance between attitude and lifestyle, “It shall come about, if you listen obediently to my commandments which I am commanding you today, to love the Lord your God and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul,” – Obedience to its commands worked out in a lifestyle borne of attitude of love, and respect, and honor. I think both of those are crucial. I think Deuteronomy chapter 30 verse 6 is also a good passage to show you that attitude has always been the key to worship – “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live”. Of course that reflects the Hebrew prayer called the ‘Shema’ which goes back to Deuteronomy chapter 6 verses 4 through 6 where again attitude; a total dedication is connected with lifestyle. I think it’s important that we see that. Worship therefore is not something we do, it is something we are. For it is not confined to a place, and a time, and ritual. We worship God with the attitude of our lives. It is the embodiment of our life of faith. It is a response to who God is, and what He through Christ has done for us. We worship Him because of who He is and what He has done. Worship has an element of respect and awe because of who God is. Worship involves the whole person; it is an outgrowth of a personal relationship with the Triune God.

I think the crucial and central passage about worship in the New Testament comes in John 4, with Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. It’s not a planned theological discussion, but in her response to Jesus, to try to evade Him off of those penetrating questions He was asking her, she went back to different forms of worship between the Samaritans and the Jews. And Jesus cut to the heart of worship when He said, “Lady it’s not this mountain or that mountain. it’s not Samaria or Judea that’s central, it’s worshipping God in spirit and truth.” One’s attitude has always been the ideal of worship.

Why do we worship the One true God? Well, because He is worthy! We don’t worship a God made with human hands; a God that’s blind and dumb and incapable of locomotion. We don’t worship a God that we just bowed down to but nothing really happens in our lives. We worship a God who is present, and capable, and powerful – the Creator beside which there is no other. He is the God that is able to perform on our behalf and accomplishes with His own will anything He desires in His universe. This same God is the God who in the midst of our record of falling, in the midst of our record of sin, in the midst of our record of rebellion can establish His church – His people on a foundation that no one can move. Because of the grace we have received by faith, the Gospel is able to make us stand before God blameless, without wrinkle, without spot in Jesus. Sometimes in our lives, the reason we feel like we’re falling and that we’re unattached, and like no one cares, and our life is caught up in chance and circumstances is because we don’t understand who we are in Jesus Christ. O, if we could just see the picture of the spiritual truth and vitality of our salvation totally apart from our own merit; in our own works fully and completely established in the finished work of Jesus Christ we’d be able to stand victorious in all adversities in life. Do you know Him? Do you know Him?