What is Christian worship?

Christian worship is largely based on the teachings and principles contained in the New Testament. Since the entire Bible is God's Word and is unified in its message, the Old Testament contains important and relevant principles, too. Often the specific application points in both the Old and New Testaments are specific to that audience and that time. But we learn from and apply the principles of worship we see in all of Scripture. That being said, this article looks at some of the New Testament's principles regarding worship to help us understand the meaning of Christian worship for today.

First, Jesus noted that His true worshipers will worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). This includes both accurate (truth) and expressive (spirit) worship, including loving the Lord with all of a person's heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-34). "Expressive" worship does not mean that worship must be loud nor does it indicate any particular physical posture. It simply means that worship comes from our spirits and involves our being (heart, soul, mind, and strength); it is something we express. Worship is a lifestyle response to God, not just something done through music at church. Worship includes daily loving God according to His teachings found in Scripture as well as with heart and emotions focused on Him.

Second, worship includes both a personal and communal aspect. Of the first church, we read, "And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (Acts 2:46-47). These believers praised God both personally and when together, doing so on a regular basis (also Hebrews 10:25).

Third, the word "worship" includes the idea of giving reverence. Many times in the Bible, believers bow down, pray, sing, and offer other acts of reverence as acts of worship. Though worship is more than a song or any particular act, worship can be expressed to God in many ways, including words, actions, the arts, and in service.

Fourth, the goal of worship is to honor God. Philippians 2:9-11 says, "Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." The goal of worship is not to feel better personally, though this is often the result. Instead, worship may include repentance of sins or other actions contrary to one's personal desires in an effort to give honor and glory to the Lord. In other words, worship is to lift up the Lord rather than to lift up self.

Fifth, Christian worship should result in God-honoring actions. Right after James wrote about the importance of not showing favoritism during worship gatherings, he noted, "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:14-17). Clearly, true worship will lead to actions that reflect a heart changed by God.

The Bible frequently speaks about worship and offers many examples of God's people honoring Him. By studying God's Word we can find principles to help us better worship the Lord in spirit and in truth.

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