What Is Worship? 3 Organizing Scriptures

Practical Theology of Worship Series: 1

What does the Bible say about worship?

Welcome! This is the first article in the series “Practical Theology of Worship”.

First, let’s recognize the study of worship is a huge and inexhaustible subject. It’s like trying to study God himself.  This, of course, is an overwhelming endeavor because our minds are much too limited to comprehend God and His ways.

Nonetheless, God is in the relationship building business and worship is His love language.

That’s good news, because scripture clearly articulates we can relate to God in a manner that He desires and that blesses Him.

The Psalmist encourages us to “Bless the Lord, oh my soul” (Psalm 103:1).

There is a benefit for the worshiper, too – for God blesses those who worship Him. “Taste and see, and know that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34).

So, what are biblical principles of worship that are relevant and applicable in any context?

To answer that question, let’s examine what I consider to be the three primary or organizing scriptures related to understanding Biblical worship. 

1. Worship is about All Of Life (Romans 12:1)

All of Life Romans 12:1

First, worship is about how we live all of life, every aspect of living. This is the big “W” of Worship, it is a worldview and lifestyle based on Romans 12:1-2

a. Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual  act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  (NIV)
b. So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (The Message)

Key principles from this scripture:

  • Worship is a lifestyle of obedience, not religious performance or ritual.
  • Worship expands far beyond the activities of the sanctuary, it encompasses the entirety of our lives. This involves our private lives, our family relationships, and our vocations – the “work of our hands.” It includes everything from the mundane to the significant.
  • We do this by having a “God awareness” in every thing we do, realizing that He is there, He sees it all and He cares. So whatever we do, we do it all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

2.Worship is to be in Spirit and Truth (John 4:24)

Spirit and Truth John 4:24

“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.” John 4:23-24 (The Message)

Key principles from this scripture:

  • God is looking for worshipers. He is seeking those with whom He can have a close personal relationship. He is actively pursuing people, desiring to draw them to Himself.
  • God is Spirit. The essence of God is spirit. This is totally foreign to the logic of our sensory perception. We can not see, feel, smell or taste God. The spirit is invisible and totally unlike what we know. We have to relate to Him with our spirit. This is a mystery.
    • We can think of truth as being God’s word recorded in scripture. (John 17:17, Psalm 119)
    • Jesus proclaimed to be the living word. (John 1:1)
    • Jesus is declared as the way, the truth and the life. (John 14:6)
    • Additionally, there is the Spirit of Truth that “will make sense out of what is about to happen” (John 16:13)Truth is revealed as the word of God and the life of Jesus Christ.

3.Worship is the First and Greatest Commandment. ( Mark 12:30)

Love God, Love People Mark 12:30

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Mark 12:30 NIV

Key principles from this scripture:

  • Jesus affirmed the Jewish call to worship as the most important commandment (Deuteronomy 6:4 The Shema,). To love God with everything you’ve got –  wholeheartedly, is the First and Greatest Commandment. Loving God is to be the highest priority.
  • The second priority is the golden rule,  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself”
  • Theology made simple: Love God, Love People.
    • Many churches have a variation of this as a mission or vision statement.
    • If we do those two things, we’re doing pretty good.

These four primary areas encompass everything you are and have:

  1. Heart: your passion, affections, emotions, desires, zeal,  your burn
  2. Soul: your unique personality expressed by word and deeds, who you really are, your emotions
  3. Mind: your intellect, contemplation, thought patterns, your self-talk, the things you meditate on
  4. Strength: your energy, resources, time, talents & treasure

The Big Picture: Worship is loving God wholeheartedly in spirit and truth, and living for His glory in every aspect of life.

In this section we’ve outlined three scriptural pillars for understanding biblical worship. These are great verses to memorize and principles to internalize. In our next article in this series “Practical Theology of Worship“, we’ll look at personal worship.

The purpose of this blog is to encourage wholehearted worship worldwide.

So, What do you think are the foundational scriptures to understanding worship? Are there others you feel are essential? I’d love to see what other people think and for this to be a dialogue. So, please leave a comment with your thoughts.

I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below.

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32 thoughts on “What Is Worship? 3 Organizing Scriptures

  1. "God is in the relationship building business and worship is His love language." This thought brings a whole new dimension and perspective to living a life of worship….so simple and yet powerfully profound.

  2. Really enjoyed reading this framework. We did a similar study at our church and its used by all of our team who lead worship. Its the nuts and bolts of church and why we worship.
    regards colleen Brown

  3. What I'm seeing is some dissonance between these words and practice. First we quote passages saying that everything is worship, worship is all of life, worship is loving God. That goes along with your implicit denial that worship is specific religious practice, including music. Second, we continue to pump resources and ego into those specific practices, and particularly music, and to think that the worship team (read "band") is really doing something spiritual. So here's what I suggest as a way to bring the reality and the language together. Start by using some word to talk about the things we do when we gather for shared times of praise and hearing and praying. The traditional word is worship. Then find biblical passages that talk about this. Most of them will be in the Old Testament, and also in early Christian writers outside the New Testament. There is plenty of theology for these acts of worship. We are repeatedly commanded to rejoice, to praise the LORD, to sing praises, to gather with the community regularly, to read the Scripture together. Not only are we commanded, but there are clear reasons: to strengthen the community of the faithful, to build one another up in the faith, to magnify the LORD, to make his name known to all the nations. We are also directed to do things like communion and baptism, which probably count as acts of worship.
    Then look closely at the passages you have brought up, and realize first that Mark 12:30 doesn't actually say that it's about worship–so making it your main focus is a little shaky. And the other passages do indeed talk about some kind of spiritual worship, that seems like a spiritual act of entering into the presence of God (particularly John 4). And I'm not sure that we're supposed to take Paul literally but figuratively. Consider the possibility, and allow the answer to be complicated and difficult.
    Finally consider the insights of the whole Christian tradition. People have been worshiping God for thousands of years. Chances are they've learned a few things, like how the act of worship needs to fit into a life of spiritual practice, but how it has a unique purpose and place within the life of the individual and of the community. Worship is different for a reason.

  4. Hi Jeremy thank you so much for joining the conversation, I really appreciate your thoughtful comments! I especially agree that we need the insights of the entire Christian tradition. You've prompted me to attempt to clarify a few points.

    First, I didn't mean to "implicitly deny" that worship is a specific religious practice, of course it is. I agree with the case Harold Best makes in "Unceasing Worship", that worship is much more than just a religious practice.

    Second, I also agree with you that the word "worship" describes the things we do when we gather for shared times of praise and hearing and praying, and there are many other passages of instruction and direction as you point out. I'm suggesting these three scriptures summarize the heart of the matter of what worship is and should be all about. They are a great place to start.

    Finally, I'll submit that Mark 12:30 is not shaky ground at all, but quite the opposite, it is foundational. Clearly to love God wholeheartedly, which Jesus affirmed as both the first and the greatest commandment, is worship.

    Thanks for keeping me on my toes. God bless you and thank you!

  5. Worship is not a lifestyle. The word for “worship” in Romans 12 is Greek “latreia” which means “service”.

    Worship in Greek is “proskuneo” and Hebrew is “shachah”. They are both VERBS (action words) not a “lifestyle” or “attitude” or “heart posture” or whatever. It literally means to prostrate oneself in reverence of God, not figuratively, not symbolically but to physically do it.

    Yes, it is true we need to live holy lives, pleasing to God, in complete surrender, giving him all the glory. But that isn’t called “worship”.

    The bible was not written in English. Study the language and context the Bible was written in before you try to teach people.

  6. Graham, you're missing the point. What is the point of the actions of worship if not to transform our lifestyle and attitudes so that we "live holy lives, pleasing to God, in complete surrender, giving him all the glory." ?

    Read "Unceasing Worship" by Harold Best.