I was talking with a man today about the term “worship.” He had determined that “New Testament worship” must be a set number of physical actions that one must complete at a certain time of week, and one must be careful to do so correctly. It seemed quite persuasive. Here’s what he said:
“Many Bible passages make it clear that not everything that we do that is pleasing to God is worship. On one occasion Abraham told his servants, “Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you” (Genesis 22:5). Abraham and Isaac went into the mountain, worshiped God and returned to the servants. Going to and returning from the mountain was not worship.
When David learned of the death of his son, he “arose from the earth, and washed, and changed his apparel; and he came into the house of Jehovah and worshiped” (2 Samuel 12:20). What David did before entering the house of the Lord on this occasion was not considered to be worship.
The Ethiopian eunuch “had come to Jerusalem to worship” (Acts 8:27), and Paul “went up to worship at Jerusalem” (Acts 24:11). It is obvious that both the eunuch and Paul had come to Jerusalem to perform specific acts as worship.”
I noticed that this man was utilizing Jewish concepts to try and discern what Christians must do, and he made some points that I even concurred with quite amiably. In a way, I think he was on the right track. Seeing how God uses words is very important. Indeed, I am sure that most of us would agree that,
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3)
I am also convinced that most of understand that God considers those of His children under the New Dispensation to be spiritual Israel, but not physical Israel. In much the same way, Jesus talks about a conversion of physical worship into spiritual worship. With that considered, I examined his proof.
The passage about Abraham, that sweet donkey, and the kid, happens to be the second use of the word for “worship” in what we broadly call the “Old Testament.”
Gen 22:5 “Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.”
From this we recognize worship as some distinct action. What is this action? Perhaps we should turn to the first time that the word is used. The first time worship is seen is in Genesis 18:
2 “When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself (worshiped) to the earth.”
So what acts was Abraham doing when he was worshiping? If we let GOD define it, we can read Genesis 18 and every other place where it was mentioned (and a concomitant context of physical description given) and see that Abraham was bowing himself down, prostrate and in submission. This is a typical, Jewish, physical action. Today Muslims also assume such prostration.
Throughout many cultures, in fact, bowing is recognized as such. Even in an episode of Star Trek TNG, when a primitive natives cast himself to the ground in front of theCaptain Picard, who is so advanced that he seems God-like, Picard attempts to yank the bowed man off the ground and states, “Liko, I neither desire your obedience nor your worship!”
In fact, as silly as it sounds, Wayne’s World realized this! I mean just look at Wayne and Garth! They’re doing it better than the Saudis or the Japanese!
To the Mountain or to Jerusalem?
But this is Old Covenant, from a time when there was a physical Israel; now there is a spiritual Israel. So while every time “worship” is mentioned in the New Testament writings and an associated action is giving, it is some form of bowing, Jesus shook things up, and so should we.
In John 4, Jesus told the woman, “don’t worship at location X (the mountain) or at location Y (Jerusalem), but at location Z (the spirit).” This means that whatever is taking place needs to happen not in a physical time or at a physical location, but in the world of the spirit. But what is worship? It’s some sort of action. To save you some time, I have included a few verses that show the action of worship in context. You’ll see that it’s the same as Genesis:
1.) Matthew 2:11 “After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
——> Notice that worship is associated with falling to the ground. It is physical prostration or bowing down. The magi fell to the ground and worshiped Him.
2.) Matthew 4:9 shows what worship is again.
“and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.”
——>Satan wants Jesus to make a trade and it includes worship by Jesus of Satan. The action given is the falling down and worship of Satan.
3.) Matthew 8:2
“And a leper came to Him and BOWED DOWN before Him, and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”
——> Here, the translators made a definition translation. They did not use the word “worship” but rather its literal meaning, “bowed down.” They could have easily translated it, “And the leper came to Him and worshiped before Him.”
Whatever worship is, it involves falling down in some sort of reverence. So no, singing is not “worship.” Doing jumping jacks is not “worship.” Sleeping is not “worship.” Prayer is not “worship.” Why? Because worship is a physical action of reverent prostration. Yet unlike for the Jews, Jesus said that ours now does not occur in a physical location, but in a spiritual one. And when our spirit is reverent and prostrate before the Throne, it leads us to “offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, pleasing to God, which is our rational service.”
When sinning, we cannot say that we are worshiping in spirit. But it is the ability to submit in spirit which allows the prophecy in Isaiah to come true (66),
“So your offspring and your name will endure. “And it shall be from new moon to new moon And from Sabbath to Sabbath, All mankind will come to bow down [worship] before Me,” says the Lord.”
And it is this continually humbled spirit before the throne that allows us to not be a stiff-necked people, getting exterior actions right while the inside of the cup molds. It is this spiritual prostration which leads to our rational, priestly service being the sacrifice of one’s life as living and holy. (Romans 12) This word, latreia, is more akin to divine, priestly service. And whereas in the Old the priests might slaughter an animal (a service) while the people bowed (worshiped), now we are a priest and a people (1 Peter 2:9).
From our submissive spirits flow our lives given as rational, priestly service.