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Chapter 40 - What is Worship?

Most of us have some idea of worship as a musical event such as congregational singing, a choir, band, even orchestra or even a sing along with recorded music. While during such scripted and 'orchestrated' events a Christian can have an opportunity to reflect on God, real worship extends much past these narrow confines.

But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves: For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God: -Exodus 34:13-14

The Hebrew word shâchâh is used here for worship and means to prostrate oneself (before rulers or a god). The word is frequently used of the obesience given to things of awe and reverence.

And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven. Deuteronomy 4:19

We can see from the use of the Hebrew word ‛âtsab (carve) for the manufacture of something (cakes in the shape of a star) to honor something is also called worship.

And when we burned incense to the queen of heaven, and poured out drink offerings unto her, did we make her cakes to worship her, and pour out drink offerings unto her, without our men? - Jeremiah 44:19

The idea of prostration is carried forward into the New Testament with the Greek word proskuneō used for worship.

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. - Matthew 2:1-2

We get a somewhat different perspective on worship with the use of the Greek word sebomai meaning to revere or adore.

But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. - Matthew 15:9

We get another sense when the word worship is used of people doxa (glory, dignity, praise)

But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. Luke 14:10

Another word for worship is latreuō (to render religious homage)

Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness? - Acts 7:42

Still another word eusebeō (to be pious, respectful) is used to describe pagan piety.

For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. - Acts 17:23

At the lower end of the 'worship' spectrum we find ethelothrēskeia (piety, often insincere).

Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh. - Colossians 2:23

There is also a word translated 'service' latreia that means an act of obligation due one’s god and can also be translated worship.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. - Romans 12:1

In modern church services there is a portion of the time allocated to group singing. It may be the more conventional three hymns or the more contemporary choruses projected on screens with guitar and drum accompaniment. These intervals provide church attendees the opportunity for emotional expression. This is what is usually understood today as worship.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. - Colossians 3:16

There is a place for musical expression in Christian assembly. However, the emphasis seems less about an orchestrated musical experience and more about Christians ministering to each other. For example, if one Christian would tell another that he was planning on skipping his time reading to his children so that he could go see a ball game, another Christian might 'admonish' him by singing a phrase from the song 'Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus', particularly the phrase, 'and the things of this world will turn strangely dim'.

Song is a particularly strong way to couple emotional and rational content. When two Christians have a common musical vocabulary, they are able to evoke in each other responses that touch both heart and mind. When this is done in love (selfless concern for others), the grace of God is revealed. How thew heart of God must be gladdened to observe his grace working in our hearts showing love to each other..

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. - James 1:27

Here the word 'religion' is thrēskeia (ceremonial observance, worship) and can be also translated worship. Here a musical experience is less emphasized than a demonstration of compassion.

But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. - Matthew 9:13

The Pharisees saw their religious duty (worship) to be keeping the law and objected to the association of Jesus with those who were neglecting the law. Jesus instructed them to consider that in the word of God was an instruction not to limit worship to law keeping, but by extending compassion, one is also honoring God.

Many of the Psalms were written with the idea of musical accompaniment. However, often included with musical notation is the word, Selah. The word is an interruption of the music such that the idea of 'stop and listen' or 'pause and consider that' is conveyed.

I cried unto the LORD with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. Selah. - Psalm 3:4

What is often lost today in the idea of worship is true reverence, awe, and even fear.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever. - Psalm 111:10

The idea of prostrating (falling on one’s face in complete surrender) oneself is such an alien idea to most today, that it is difficult to understand what the bible is trying to tell us about our obligation to God. It can be helpful to consider life in ancient times. If a king were to appear, one would lay prostrate on the ground before him. This was because the king could have you killed, your family, or seize everything you owned at his whim. There were no 'rights', legal process, recourse, or appeal. Fear was the natural, logical, and rational response to the threat one faced.

Perhaps the closest we come today to this total fear are those young men sent into combat or abused wives. Fear is a good way to drive out all other considerations. There can be a clarity and focus on what is essential and important. Without a clear and accurate understanding of God, it is difficult for us to 'worship' free from a sort of self-stimulating emotional consumerism.

Fear is the proper response for all humans in the face of a God who will judge us according to our works. Fear should be transformed into the deepest reverence for God, who because of his mercy, has taken Christians out of judgment.

One of the most significant areas in which Christians fall short is reverence for God. When we allow our consideration of God to drift away from the reality of the majesty, power, glory, and awe he is due, we harm ourselves. We weaken one of the elements we need to maintain humility. We begin to see in ourselves and the world a more ready source of provision and sustenance. Our faith weakens and the testimony of our lives becomes less clear.

Peter in writing to Christians about to undergo persecution told them to 'sanctify' the Lord God in their hearts. Sanctify (to set aside as holy) the Lord God is to reassert the position he is due in our life and at the core of our being. This was Peter’s instruction to survive persecution.

But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: 1 Peter 3:14-15

The radical Christian should have a growing reverence for God as his knowledge and understanding of the nature of God increases. He may not find opportunity in church 'worship' activities to give expression to this reverence. However, in consideration of the spectrum of 'worship' found in the New Testament, there is room for all sorts of expression from prostration to mercy, to service, to charity, to sanctifying the Lord God in our hearts. However, it is in our love, compassion, and service to fellow Christians that this 'worship' is most clearly manifest.

For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's. - Romans 14:8

As the radical Christian matures, his thoughts become more based on his awareness of God such that there is almost a constant stream of thoughts expressing gratitude towards God, In a way, our thoughts begin to become integrated with our growing understanding of God and awareness of his hand in every aspect of our lives. As a result, we engage in almost continual 'worship'. For the Christian, worship becomes a constant practice. We we have fellowship with other Christians, we can share our thoughts and express them through the emotion of song or through words that describe our growing awe, reverence, and worship of God.

And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; - Colossians 3:23


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