You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve. – Luke 4:8
Worship has always been a strange thing for me. It’s not that I don’t like to do it, and it’s not that I don’t think God deserves it, but I’ve often wondered about the ‘whys’ behind worship. Why does God want us to worship Him only? Why does God want us to worship Him AT ALL? Does God have a big ego that needs to be constantly stroked? What’s going on here?
Part of our problem is a misinterpretation of the word worship. The word is used, of course, to denote reverence and devotion to God; but what you may not realize is that it is also used in the bible to show reverence to men.
For example, when Moses went to meet his father-in-law, he ‘worshiped’ him:
So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, bowed down, and kissed him. And they asked each other about their well-being, and they went into the tent. – Exodus 18:7
Here in this passage, where it says that Moses ‘bowed down,’ is actually the Hebrew word for worship. It’s the same Hebrew word used when the Lord said, “You shall worship no other god…” Ex 34:14
Jacob also does the same thing to his brother Esau when he meets him:
Then he crossed over before them and bowed himself (worshipped) to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. – Genesis 33:3
Once again, where it says ‘bowed himself’ in English, it says ‘worship’ in Hebrew. It’s the same Hebrew word.
The literal meaning of the word worship is to bow down.
The point I am trying to make is that worship in this sense is not something that is reserved for God only. The practice of paying someone respect by bowing down to them was done among ancient men regularly, and it is still practiced among men in some parts of the world today. It’s a sign of extreme respect for someone, and/or a sign of submission. Moses and Jacob weren’t bowing because they thought the people they were bowing to were gods. They were simply showing respect (something we lack these days).
In the same way, when we bow before God we are showing Him respect as God, the Creator of all life:
“You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created.” – Revelation 4:11
And because God is creator and sustainer of all, he should receive infinitely more honor and respect than any human. Look how the Lord speaks in Malachi 1:
“A son honors his father, And a servant his master. If then I am the Father, Where is My honor? And if I am a Master, Where is My reverence?” – Malachi 1:6
God is a great King and should be revered as such. As King, he is also Law-Giver and Judge (See Isa 33:22). Each of these positions He maintains because He is best qualified. And unlike earthly kings and rulers, He does all that He does for the well-being of those that are subject to him, and not for Himself.
It is not forbidden for us to bow in reverence to earthly kings. It is done by the prophet Nathan to king David in 1 Kings 1:23. Even Paul tells us, in reference to government, that we should give honor to whom honor is due and fear to whom fear is due (Romans 13:7). Peter says we should honor the king (1 Peter 2:17). If it is proper to show such respect to earthly, imperfect kings, surely it is infinitely more proper to show respect and honor to a perfect, heavenly King.
Furthermore, God holds a special role in this universe that no other being holds. It’s called God. There is one God, and that one God is the One who made all things. There may be other kings on this earth, there may be other lords and masters, but there are no other Gods. There may be a bunch of wannabe gods out there, but they are not gods. They are imposters. This is one of the reasons God commands us not to worship them. They are nothing but manifestations of the adversary’s desire to exalt himself.
This being the case, it is easy to understand why were are to worship (respect, honor, reverence) no other gods but One. Because there only is One.
This is really what worship is all about. Simply giving God the honor and paying the respect due to Him as God, King, Law-Giver, and Judge.
Now, what I have just written about is probably not what a lot of people think of as worship. A lot of people think that worship is the time when we sing slow, intimate songs to God. That’s not really worship in the technical sense. It definitely can be worship, if you are showing God respect and honor through it, but I think it would most likely fall under the category of praise and adoration.
Worship (technically speaking) is actually a less personal part of our relationship with God. Anyone can worship God. As a matter of fact, everyone will worship God; that is, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess. But personal intimacy with God goes beyond worship.
David, for example, takes things to a whole new level with God. David doesn’t just worship God–David loves and adores God. We see a little bit of this before David (like with Moses), but David is really the one who shows us that we can have an intimate relationship with a loving God. Sure, others in the past walked with God and loved God, but David was different. David would go in the field, by himself, and play and sing for God. Nobody ever really did that before. David wrote song after song for God. David would dance like a wild man for God. David appointed full-time singers and praisers for God. This is really the origin of our modern song service. This is praise and adoration to God. God loves it. Why? Because it is going further than worship (I know that sounds weird, but it’s correct), it is our hearts delivering love to God of our own free will.
We as Christians should include worship, praise, and adoration as a part of our communications with God. They can all work together at the same time.
This should clear some things up for us in regards to worship. Requiring us to worship Him is not an ego trip for God. He is requiring us to reverence Him as Father, just as we should reverence our earthly father. He is requiring us to honor Him as our Master, just as we should honor our bosses and church leaders. He is requiring us to respect Him as King, just as we would respect an earthly king or president. And all of this infinitely more so because He is the one and only perfect God.
But regarding praise and adoration, there is no commandment from God. God lets us know that He likes praise and adoration (just like anyone else), but He doesn’t require it from anyone.
“Whoever offers praise glorifies Me; And to him who orders his conduct aright I will show the salvation of God.” – Psalms 50:23
I will freely sacrifice to You; I will praise Your name, O Lord, for it is good. – Psalms 54:6
Notice how David said in the psalm that he was freely going to sacrifice to God, and then follows that with praise. His praise was a free action from his heart to God out of love and adoration for God, not because God required it.
Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men! – Psalms 107:21
Certainly, God deserves praise, and we should offer it to Him, but not because He requires it (since He doesn’t), but because He is so good and because of His wonderful works to the children of men!
Now, I know what someone is thinking: “Ok, so He doesn’t require our praise, but He does require our love. Isn’t that the same thing?”
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. – Deuteronomy 6:5
No, it’s not the same thing. The reason for the confusion is once again our misunderstanding of word definitions. ‘Love’ is a word that is used in so many ways that it can become confusing. If you remember, Jesus used this passage in response to a question from a Pharisee about what the greatest commandment of the law was. Jesus responded with Deuteronomy 6:5. But that wasn’t the only scripture Jesus said:
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. ’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. ’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:30-31
God is not the only person we are supposed to love here. We are also supposed to love our neighbor and even ourselves. This should make it clear to what the word ‘love’ here actually means. God isn’t talking about the lovey-dovey type of love that a man and a woman have for each other. He’s talking about the type of love that is a genuine caring for another person. God is saying that we should care about Him, others, and even ourself. And of course, we should care about Him supremely, because His ways are perfect and result in the greatest good for everybody.
If we really understood the bible correctly we would not see God as an ego-centric, dictatorial ruler. We would see Him in the true light of the great God that He really is. When the Lord passed by Moses, He proclaimed a very accurate picture of Himself through the words that He spoke so we could all understand what He is truly like:
And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.” – Exodus 34:6-7
We can see clearly what God is like here; a God of love, yet a God of justice; a God that demands respect, and deserves praise. Not an egocentric dictator, but an all-loving Father that only seeks good and peace for all mankind.
So let’s give Him the worship He requires. Let us also give him the praise and adoration that He deserves and enjoys.
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