What is Worship? — What we often call worship is not really worship.

All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name. – Psalm 86:9

One of my favorite songs is Matt Redman’s song, “10,000 Reasons.” It’s a really good song and for the most part, it has great lyrics. However, as I was listening yesterday, singing along, I came to the part in the chorus where the lyrics say, “worship His holy name.” Something occurred to me that hadn’t before, and I said to myself, ‘how do you do that??’

How do you worship God’s name?

I’m not one to bicker about terms and such, but I think this is important to think about. For the most part, the modern understanding of the word ‘worship’ is wrong. Often we think that worship is the part of our walk with God in which we express love and thanksgiving to God through music, singing, dance, words of praise, etc. But that is not what worship is. Often we think of worship as the most intimate part of our relationship with God, but it’s not. God’s enemies will worship Him one day, but it’s not because they will have an intimate relationship with Him.

I think we have done the world a disservice by misrepresenting what worship is. We tell the world that God commands all people to worship Him (which He does) and then represent worship as feelings of love towards God or as expressions of adoration. Because of this, many in the world perceive God as unreasonable, egotistical, and petty, damning people because they fail to stroke his almighty ego.

But perhaps you are confused at this point. Perhaps I have described exactly what you have held worship to be. ‘What’s wrong with worshipping God’s name?’ you might say.

There’s nothing wrong with it, I suppose, but when you understand what worship really is, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Besides, nowhere in the Bible does it talk about worshipping God’s name (I already googled it but feel free). We can exalt God’s name, praise God’s name, love God’s name, rejoice in His name, give glory to His name, lift our hands in His name, honor His name, and give thanks to His name, but you can’t worship His name.

Aren’t those things the same as worship? No, they aren’t. It’s important to understand this.

Here’s what we need to understand: The word ‘worship’ simply and literally means to ‘bow down.’ That’s it.

In the Bible, the word ‘worship’ is always used to either indicate one literally bowing down or else it indicates what bowing down implies, which is to show honor and respect, service and devotion.

Bowing down before someone is a sign of respect, submission, servitude, and devotion. When the word ‘worship’ is used outside of its literal meaning, that is what it means.

And, believe it or not, the word ‘worship’ in the Bible is used to speak of bowing before God and men. I know this may sound weird and blasphemous, but there is nothing wrong with bowing before a man in its proper context. We see it in the Bible and even in some places in the present day.

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for worship (shachah) is sometimes translated ‘worship’ and other times translated ‘to bow down.’ It’s the exact same word. That being the case, we see that Abraham ‘worshipped’ the people of the land (Gen 23:7), Jacob ‘worshipped’ Esau (Gen 33:3), Moses ‘worshipped’ his father-in-law (Exodus 18:7), and Nathan ‘worshipped’ David (1 Kings 1:23). There are many more instances. Does this mean that they sang praise songs to those people or thought they were God? Of course not! It simply means that they bowed before them.

In the New Testament, the word ‘worship’ is basically the same. The primary word for ‘worship’ in the Greek (the language the New Testament was written in) is ‘proskyneō.‘ It means to bow down or to bend down to kiss the hand. It is the same meaning as the Hebrew word.

This should really clear some things up for you! I remember reading the New Testament as a young man and coming along passages in which people would run up to Jesus and ‘worship’ Him. In my head I pictured these people running up to Jesus, lifting their hands, and singing praise songs! I always thought that was a bit weird. No, that’s not what they did. They ran up to Him and bowed before Him. That makes a lot more sense.

Let me burst your bubble for a moment here: people who bowed (worshipped) before Jesus did not do it because they thought He was God. A few did, but most people who encountered Jesus did not see Him as God in the flesh. They saw Him as an honorable and respected teacher, or they may have seen Him as the Messiah, but not necessarily God in the flesh (which He was/is, don’t get me wrong). In those days (and in some places today), people would bow before kings and honorable people as a sign of respect and service. The fact that so many Jews bowed before Jesus is a sure indication that bowing before men is not forbidden by God in the Old Testament. None of the Jewish leaders interpreted these people’s actions as idol worship. If they had they would have condemned them, but they never did. Bowing before idols and false gods is forbidden, but bowing before men was not forbidden (unless that man was making himself out to be a god).

Perhaps all this can help you understand why ‘worshipping His Holy name’ doesn’t make a lot of sense. I suppose you could say, ‘bow down before His Holy Name,’ but I think ‘bow down before Him’ would be more appropriate. Matt Redman used the word ‘worship’ incorrectly. What he means is ‘praise His Holy name,’ or ‘adore His Holy name.’ And it’s really not that big a deal that He uses the word wrong. I’m not suggesting that we never sing that song. I like that song. But it does point to a bigger issue that needs addressing. The Body of Christ should understand these things properly so that we can relay them properly. Why not correct this misunderstanding? It’s not a difficult one to correct.

When you have this understanding of worship as you read through the Bible things will make better sense. When you understand that worship means, literally, to bow down, and, figuratively, to serve God, it will smooth out portions of scripture that seemed odd. It will also give us a correct and reasonable response for those who have accused God of being self-absorbed. He most definitely is not. No one is as selfless as our God. And for that, He deserves our worship and our praise.


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One thought on “What is Worship? — What we often call worship is not really worship.

  1. Too often “worship” is a few “I like God” songs and some preaching that should properly “feed” you. Hello–it’s not “you” to be worshiped.

    Liked by 1 person

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