What is Worship?


Worship has become a battlefield in many churches today. Sadly, worship of “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:6) often becomes divisive rather than unifying.

With all the attention we give to worship styles, we can fail to ask the deeper question, “What is worship?” Is worship simply a twenty-minute music segment? Is it an emotional catharsis created as we sway to the rhythm of a praise band?

The Bible shows that true worship is far more than a scheduled service or an emotional experience. One of my favorite definitions of worship comes from Warren Wiersbe: “Worship is the response of all that we are to all that God is.” True worship affects all of life. 

There are several words associated with worship in Scripture. These words show what it means to worship “in spirit and in truth.”

Worship is Reverent Submission to God

The word most often translated “worship” in the Bible carries the idea of “falling down” before God. In worship, we bow in reverent submission to God. We see this word in Revelation when John saw the worship in heaven:

The twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Rev 4:10-11)

Our modern word worship comes from an Old English word, “worthship.” To offer “worthship” meant to recognize and honor a person’s worthy. This is what it means to worship God — to give Him the honor of which He is truly worthy. In true worship we bow our hearts in humble submission to an all-powerful God.

Worship is Obedient Service to God

Another New Testament word shows our obedient service to God. Paul used this word when he wrote: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1).

A holy God requires obedient service by a holy people. This word shows that worship is more than what happens on Sunday in a church building. Worship does not end when the public meeting ends; true worship affects all areas of our life.

Worship is Joyful Celebration of God

The word “praise” is used more than 130 times in the book of Psalms to refer to worship. Much of today’s joyful praise and worship music shows that worship should celebrate God.

We must never lose our reverence for God, but we should never lose our joy. We do not worship an austere and distant God. We worship a good God who delights in the praises of His people.

Worship is Fellowship with God and Other Believers

In the New Testament, the word “fellowship” is often used in the context of worship. The early Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

As you worship next Sunday, realize that our worship today is a taste of the joys of worship in heaven. Someday, we will worship eternally in fellowship with God and with other believers. Our worship here should reflect the unity of our heavenly worship.

Worship Affects All of Life

Another New Testament term for worship, often translated “religion,” shows that worship means obedience to God in every area of life. James wrote:

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world (James 1:26-27).

Worship is more than what happens on Sunday. Worship includes all of life. Our weekly worship service is a focused expression of our worship, but we must go beyond a weekly service. We must maintain a “lifestyle of worship.” True worship is seen in daily submission to God.

What does that mean? According to James, if I sing praise songs on Sunday, but fail to control my tongue on Monday, my worship is false. “Pure and undefiled” worship includes both the practical aspects of service (visiting orphans and widows) and the daily discipline of obedience (keeping oneself unstained from the world).

Isaiah saw a vision of God on His throne and his life was transformed. “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am! Send me'” (Isaiah 6:8).

What is worship? Worship is a life-changing response to God’s revelation of Himself. True worship transforms our life and makes us willing and effective servants of God. Worship is “the response of all that we are to all that God is.”