What Does It Mean to Worship?

Offering a Sacrifice

Worship is fundamental to the Christian life. This is why churches invest heavily in their Sunday morning worship services. Most have a developed worship ministry led by a worship minister. And they invest as much as they can in musical equipment to improve their worship’s technical quality.

So it is surprising that nobody knows what worship means. Nobody grasps the biblical concept of worship or understands it theologically.

What Worship Isn’t
This ignorance is revealed in the ways we speak about worship. Here are some common but incorrect ideas:

  • God’s presence. Some define worship as experiencing God’s presence. But we already experience His presence by the indwelling of His Spirit, so this is not what worship means.
  • God’s throne. Others refer to worship as “coming before God’s throne.” Our voices may rise to heaven but we don’t, so this is not what worship means.
  • Awareness of God. Still others equate worship with being aware of God. It is true that we should be aware of God’s presence and activity in our lives (by His Spirit), but this is not what worship means.
  • Lifestyle. Finally, most think worship is a lifestyle. It is true that worship affects our lifestyle. But worship itself is a specific act, so this is not what it means.

Since none of these are a proper definition, what does it mean to worship?

What Worship Is
In the Bible, worship means offering a sacrifice. In both the Old and New Testaments, God’s people offer Him sacrifices in order to worship Him. This is taught nicely in Hebrews 10:5-10 (quoting Psalm 40:6-8):

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am…I have come to do your will, O God.’”

First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” (although the law required them to be made). Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will”…And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Old Testament law required Israel to offer animal sacrifices to atone for the guilt of their sins. God’s instructions to Moses for worship included regulations for sacrifices (Leviticus 1:1 – 6:7). However, He is not bloodthirsty. What pleases Him is not the death of animals but obedience in the hearts of worshipers (1 Samuel 15:22).

In the New Testament, we still offer sacrifices. Hebrews 13:15-16 says, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise…And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Rather than offering animal sacrifices, we offer sacrifices of praise and good deeds.

And it is still true that obedience makes our worship pleasing to God. That is why Paul says, “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1). And in the passage quoted above, Jesus’ obedience makes His sacrifice on the cross effective for all time.

So worship means offering sacrifices to God. Specifically, we offer Him sacrifices of praise and good deeds. What makes our worship acceptable is sacrificial obedience in our daily lives.

What other definitions have you heard for “worship”? Do you agree with mine? Leave your thoughts with a comment below!

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One thought on “What Does It Mean to Worship?

  1. This reminded me when I started Bible college years ago. I was a fairly new believer as well. I was in a class on worship. The intro question to class was “what is worship?” I answered confidently that worship is great music during church service. Lol. Thanks for sharing this. Nicely written.

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