The Biblical Principles of Worship

The Biblical Principles of Worship

Whenever we hear the words praise and worship, it is always in a church setting. Praise and worship is that part of a church service when the congregation offers songs of praise and adoration to God.

Two months ago I published an article on what praise is all about. In this post, I will be tackling worship. What is the true meaning of worship? What are the elements of Christian worship?

The Meaning of Worship

The dictionary defines worship as an expression of reverence and adoration in thought or in deed to a Supreme Being or deity. Christian worship can then be defined as the expression of reverence and adoration to God.

The word worship is the New Testament Greek word proskuneo, which means “to fall down before” or “bow down before.” In contrast to praise, which involves the stretching of the hands, worship is often coupled with the act of bowing or kneeling, which shows humility and contrition (Psalm 95:6; 2 Chronicles 29:28; Revelation 19:10).

Psalm 95:6

The Object of Worship

The Scripture is very clear in Matthew 4:10; we are to worship the Lord our God and Him only shall we serve. (See also Luke 4:8.) The Bible teaches that God alone is worthy of worship (Psalm 29:2), but it also sadly records accounts of those who worshiped other objects.

Among those were people (Daniel 2:46), false gods (2 Kings 10:19, images and idols (Isaiah 2:8; Daniel 3:5), heavenly bodies (2 Kings 21:3), Satan (Revelation 13:4), and demons (Revelation 9:20). It is indeed tragic that many worshiped gods they could carry and not the God who could carry them.

God Almighty alone is worthy of worship. We are to worship the Father (John 4:23). We are to worship Him because of what He has done, loving us and giving His Son for us.

We are to worship the Son Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior (John 9:38). We are to worship Him because of what He has done, His incarnation, life, and sacrifice.

Worship by Israel

The central aspect of Israel’s worship was the object of their worship, the Lord. While other nations paid homage to many gods (Deuteronomy 29:18), only Israel worshiped the one true God (Exodus 20:3). This worship could be private (Exodus 34:8), as a family (Genesis 22:5), or corporate (1 Chronicles 29:20), as a congregation.

Since so much of the Bible is devoted to Israel’s public worship, it deserves special notice. It included offering sacrifices (1 Samuel 1:3), adopting a reverent posture (2 Chronicles 7:6), verbal praise – either spoken (1 Chronicles 16:36) or sung (Psalm 57:7), instrumental praise (Psalm 150:3-5), prayer (2 Chronicles 6:14-42), and the great feasts (Leviticus 23:25).

One needs only to read the Psalms to see the excellent form of worship and spirit in which the godly Israel worshiped.

Matthew 4:10

The first place of worship for the people of Israel was the tabernacle constructed by Moses (Exodus 25-27); 30; 31; 35-40) and later the magnificent temple constructed by King Solomon (1 Chronicles 22:5). These structures served to localize the worship of the entire nation.

This geographic limitation stands in bold contrast to the privilege o immediate and direct access to God now available to the New Testament believer who himself is the temple of God (Hebrews 4:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19).

Read how Christian praise and worship was patterned from the Jewish way of worship at the Tabernacle of Moses in this article: The Biblical Roots of Christian Praise and Worship

3 Important Elements of Worship

True worship involves at least three important elements:

1. Worship requires reverence.

This includes the honor and respect directed toward the Lord in thought and feeling. It is one thing to obey a superior unwillingly; it is quite another to commit one’s thoughts and emotions in that obedience.

Jesus said that those who worship God must do so “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). The term spirit speaks of the personal nature of worship: It is from my person to God’s person and involves the intellect, emotions, and will. In essence, worship gets to the heart of who we are.

Worship is the art of losing self in adoration of another. And that is why in order for us to truly worship God, we must let go of our self-worship. We must be willing to humble ourselves before the Lord and surrender every part of our lives to Him and adore Him not only for what He has done but for who He is.

Worship is an attitude of the heart

On the other hand, the word truth speaks of the content of worship. God is pleased when we worship Him, understanding His true character. This is why every worshiper must desire to have a knowledge of what the Bible teaches about who God is.

2. Worship includes public expression.

This was particularly prevalent in the Old Testament because of the sacrificial system. For example, when a believer received a particular blessing for which he wanted to thank God, it was not sufficient to say it privately, the expressed his gratitude publicly with a thankful offering (Leviticus 7:12).

Note: This element of worship will be dealt with more extensively under the subtopic “The Expression of worship.”

3. Worship means service.

These two concepts are often linked together in Scripture (Deuteronomy 8:19). Furthermore, the words for worship in both Testaments originally referred to the labor of slaves for the master.

For the believers in Jesus Christ, service as an expression of worship is always understood to mean getting involved in any of the Church’s five-fold ministry (Ephesians 4:11). However, the concept of worship must not be restricted to church attendance but should embrace an entire life of obedience to God.

Obedience is the highest form of worship

The Expression of Worship

Since worship encompasses thought, feeling, and deed, there are many expressions of it. Worship especially includes praise, thanksgiving, and adoration which may be expressed privately or publicly, either by grateful declaration (Hebrews 13:15) or by joyful singing (Psalm 100:2; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16).

Portions of early Christian hymns or worship actually may be observed in the New Testament (1 Timothy 3:16; 2 Timothy 2:11-13).

One very important expression of worship for the church is remembering the death of Christ through the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:26). The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Christ Himself (Matthew 26:26-28) and judged by Paul not to be taken lightly (1 Corinthians 11:28-32).

Giving is also a way of expressing worship to God. It includes but not limited to:

  • the cheerful giving of money to God’s work (2 Corinthians 9:7)
  • the giving of one’s time to the Lord’s work
  • the use of one’s spiritual gifts in ministry to the body of Christ and occupying a church office (Ephesians 4:11; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9)
  • ministry in edifying saints and evangelizing sinners

But the single most important act of worship for the Christian is the unqualified presentation of himself to God as an obedient servant. This dedication involves the body and the mind (Romans 12:1-2): the body because it contains the tools by which the will of God is carried out; the mind because it coordinates the actions to be executed by the body.

When the body and mind are gladly devoted to God, they become instruments by which He effects His will on the earth. Such faithful and joyous service makes one’s entire life a performance of worship.

The Reasons for Worship

So why should Christians worship God?

1. Worship is a command.

The first reason for worship is simply that God commands it (1 Chronicles 16:29; Matthew 4:10). The first four of the Ten Commandments, which are also the longest, clearly charge men to worship the one true God and Him alone (Exodus 20:3-10).

To allow any person or things to usurp the position of lordship over us constitutes gross disobedience to the will of God and incurs His terrible wrath (Exodus 20:5; Deuteronomy 27:15). All people are destined to pay homage to God anyway, even if unwillingly (Philippians 2:10).

2. God is worthy and deserving of our worship.

An equally important reason for worship is that God deserves our worship and He is worthy. He alone possesses the attributes that merit our worship and service. Among these are goodness (Psalm 100:4-5), mercy (Exodus 4:31), holiness (Psalm 99:5, 9), and creative power (Revelation 4:110.

The Elements of Christian Worship

When men of biblical times clearly saw the unveiled glory of God, they could not help but fall prostrate in worship. Examples of this response can be seen in the actions of Moses ((Exodus 35:4-8), Paul (Acts 9:3-6), and John (Revelation 1:9-17).

3. Men need to give God worship.

A final reason for worship is that men need to give it. People cannot find personal fulfillment apart from the glad submission of themselves in worshipful obedience to God. He is the Creator and they are the creatures (Revelation 4:11)

People who adopt as their master anything less than God are building their lives on quicksand. They will be no stronger than the object they worship (Psalm 115:4-8). One who worships God, however, not only participates in the occupation of heaven (Revelation 7: 9-12), but finds joyful satisfaction for the present.

Final Thoughts

Just as praise is closely intertwined with thanksgiving, worship is intertwined with surrender. And so it is impossible to worship God and anything else at the same time.

One important thing to remember is that the place where we worship God is immaterial. What matters is the spiritual condition of our hearts. We can worship at home, in the church, etc.

We worship God when we enter into His presence and engage in worship, the highest occupation for every believer.


*Recommended Resource: For All God’s Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church
By N.T. Wright

This insightful book by N. T. Wright explores both the meaning and the results of Christian worship.

Part 1, “The God Who Is Worthy of Praise,” focuses on what worshiping God actually means. Wright celebrates the greatness and beauty of God as the ground and reason for worship and shows how reflection on who God is leads us to true, heartfelt worship (from “worth-ship”), as we seek to give God all He’s worth.

Part 2, “Reflecting God’s Image in the World,” addresses a range of issues that flow from the activity of worship. Since worship can never remain isolated from the task of the church, Wright here explores how true worship leads to the mission of the church in various specific ways.

Based firmly on sensitive and creative readings of the biblical text, this book is an inspiring call for renewal in the worship and witness of today’s church.

4 Replies to “The Biblical Principles of Worship”

  1. Hey thanks for the awesome post!  

    I love what I read about worship. I find the topic itself to be interesting, especially since, as you point out, it has a public aspect to it.  It is very important to have a public service for one to worship the Divine because it brings people together in a community of love and common ideology. There is great psychology in this!  

    I encourage you and your readers to check out Carl Jung!  He was a famous psychologist that talked about this!

    1. Hey Jessie,

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts. Public expression is indeed an important element of worship because as I said, worship is an expression of the heart that is overflowing with gratitude towards God. And so it is not enough to just express it privately.

      There are so many things that a true worshiper of God can do to express their gratitude like the ones I mentioned. But I believe giving, whether of your time, skills or financial support to the ministry and to those in need, is something we can all do

      I’m not sure I get your point and if it is in anyway related to the message I wanted to convey in this article but I ado agree that public service is a good way to bring people together to unite for a common goal.

      Thanks again and God bless!

  2. First of all let me say, “Amen.” I am a Christian and a believer in true Worship. I thank you for presenting all sides of worship. I honestly was waiting to read that worship is more than just singing hymns and/or contemporary Christian songs. Worship is an attitude of the heart. Worship is a verb. We worship God also by how we live and what we do for others.

    I appreciated your linking the scripture to the scripture references. It was a pleasant surprise when I saw the bubble pop up with the scripture in it when I was scrolling. I had my phone’s Bible App open checking the scriptures as I read.

    You laid it out very nicely, The Meaning of Worship, The Object of Worship, The Elements of Worship. I will say, to the nitpickers out there that under the section Reasons for Worship: 1. Worship is a Command – when she says that “men” are commanded to worship God I believe she is using the biblical generic word “men” as in “mankind.” This doesn’t mean that women aren’t commanded to worship as well.

    I have sung in choirs since I was a child. For the early part of my career I was a Music Teacher at a Christian School and one day my boss was leading “Worship” for the school. She said, “Praise is from your lips, but worship comes from the heart.” I never forgot that. In many churches, that morning song time before service is often called “Praise & Worship.” Even though this is a time to sing it is also a time to search your heart and get yourself ready to hear from God.

    You are right, “men need to worship.” You said, “People cannot find personal fulfillment apart from the glad submission of themselves in worshipful obedience to God.” I agree, but not only that, God has put something in us that causes us to naturally search for Him. We won’t find true fulfillment until we find Him. Many people are “searching for something.” They don’t know what it is. I do. LOL. 

    People try to find “meaning” in everything except God. Most people try to find their fulfillment in money and getting more of it or being famous (whether in Hollywood or Social Media). There have been many cases of millionaires committing suicide. They had all the money they wanted but it still didn’t satisfy their souls. What we need is Jesus. He sacrificed His life so we could have that fulfillment we seek; the love we seek; the joy we seek. 

    Thank you for this post. God bless you.

    1. Hi Lana, 

      Thank you for your insightful comment, it’s much appreciated. 

      While most Christians think of worship as that part of Church service wherein the congregation offer songs of adoration to God, we need to keep emphasizing that worship is more than that; it is a lifestyle. As a matter of fact, everything we do and say must be an act of worship.

      Praise and worship comes before the sermon (or message) and as you said, it is to prepare us to enter into the presence of God; it is to prepare our hearts to receive God’s Word. I actually have an article explaining why we sing up-tempo songs first, then gradually move to high praise and then finally into deep spiritual songs of adoration.

      Here’s the link should you wanna check it out: The Biblical Roots of Christian Praise and Worship

      By the way, thank you for clarifying what I meant when I said that “men are commanded to worship God.” Yes, I was referring to mankind in general, that is, men and women. We were all created by God for the purpose of worshiping Him.

      I am in agreement with your boss that praise is from our lips while worship is from the heart. Praise can be a part of worship, but worship goes beyond praise. Worship gets to the heart of who we are. It requires true humility on our part and complete surrender to God.

      Indeed, God is all we need; only Jesus can satisfy the deepest longings of our soul. We do not have to look anywhere else. Sadly, many people are dying without coming to faith in Christ that is why we Christians need to keep getting the message of God’s salvation out there in anyway we can.

      Thanks again for visiting, Lana. God bless you more.

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