In this series, I’m going to discuss various biblical terms that are often misused or misunderstood because of the way we use the English terms today. In other words, we often read our modern day definitions into scriptural words. This is not a valid way to understand Scripture.
In this post, consider the English word “worship”. According to wiktionary, these are common definitions of the word “worship”:
- The devotion accorded to a deity or to a sacred object
- The religious ceremonies that express this devotion
- (by extension) The ardent love of a person
Of course, in “Christian” circles, the word “worship” is often associated with a church meeting (“worship service”) or a portion of that meeting that includes singing (“worship time”) or a type of music (“worship music”). But, what does the word mean when we find it in the New Testament?
The English word “worship” translates two different Greek terms: Ï€ÏÎ¿ÏƒÎºÏ…Î½ÎÏ‰ (proskuneÅ) and Î»Î±Ï„ÏÎµÏÏ‰ (latreuÅ). The first term (Ï€ÏÎ¿ÏƒÎºÏ…Î½ÎÏ‰ – proskuneÅ) is used in this passage:
But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (1 Corinthians 14:24-25 ESV)
This term carries the sense of devotion, reverence, or subservience. It is similar to definition #1 above.
The second term for “worship” (Î»Î±Ï„ÏÎµÏÏ‰ – latreuÅ) is found in this passage:
For we are the real circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh… (Philippians 3:3 ESV)
This term is related to serving in response to a deity, primarily by serving other people. There is not a corresponding definition in the list above. For example, in Acts 13:1-2, the prophets and teachers in Antioch were worshiping (serving) the Lord.
Notice what is missing? Nothing about a church meeting. Nothing about singing. Nothing about music.
Instead, “worship” in Scripture points to someone who is yielding his life to the Lord and serving the Lord – primarily by serving other people.
Yes, I know that we call our church meeting a “worship service”, but its not really worship and its not really service. In fact, if our life is not demonstrating that we are yielding to God and serving others, then we are not worshiping, regardless of what we call our think we’re doing in our church meetings.
When we read the word “worship” in Scripture and we think about our church meetings, then we are reading modern, illegitimate meanings back into the Scripture. When we do this, we are not understanding Scripture the way the the original authors (and God!) intended for us to understand it.