-Are You A Worshiper?

True worship consists in a heart and will that humbly, reverently bow in absolute submission to His worthy name, person and perfect will.

True worship consists in a heart and will that humbly, reverently bow in absolute submission to His worthy name, person and perfect will.

Are You A Worshiper?

Picture Frame “Worship” is huge today – possibly the largest and fastest growing category in the music section of Christian bookstores. Many churches now have a full-time worship leader on staff, and a worship team that leads the congregation during a significant portion of the Sunday morning service.

What Is Worship?
The Greek word most commonly translated “worship” in our English New Testament is “proskuneo.” It means “to make obeisance, do reverence to.” More literally it means “to kiss toward” and “to bow down to” 1 or “prostrate oneself.” In the Middle East, it even means “to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead.” 2

For example, both the synagogue ruler whose daughter lay dying, and the Syro-Phoenician woman whose daughter was demon-possessed “came and fell at His feet” (literally, worshiped), begging the Lord’s help (Lk. 8:41; Mk. 7:25 NIV). The blind man whose eyes Jesus opened “worshiped Him” in this same way (Jn. 9:38).

Posture Or Disposition? Place Or Attitude?
I was intrigued to find that of the 60 times “proskuneo” occurs in the New Testament, it never points to an organized, formal or ritual exercise. Rather, “worship” was a spontaneous, voluntary, personal response to our Lord’s worthiness, often in the street or other public place, when an individual encountered Him and instinctively bowed low at His feet.

At her suggestion, Jesus discussed the proper place and attitude for worship with, of all people, an immoral, non-Jewish woman. He said that where we worship is not the issue – “neither on this mountain” (the Samaritans’ holy place) nor in Jerusalem (the Jews’ holy place). These are not important. Form doesn’t matter. The debate about how I worship versus how you or they worship has been settled. God doesn’t care about the mechanics, ritual or political correctness of one form or another. True worship is a matter of the spirit – the attitude of the heart.

Prostration before our Savior and God is always an appropriate response to his awesome dignity and worthiness, but true worship is not a matter of physical posture any more than it is a matter of ecclesiastical ritual, form or practice. True worship – the kind the Father craves – consists in a heart and will that humbly, reverently bow in absolute submission to His worthy name, person and perfect will.

Worship can occur anywhere at any time. The more we are focused on and absorbed in our God and Father’s love, goodness and glory, the more we listen to Him, revel in the pleasure of His company and spontaneously respond in true worship. It might be in bed in the middle of the night. It might be in the car on the highway. It could be at home, school, or work in the middle of mundane routines – or in any number of other places and situations in the course of a day.

While writing this article I attended the funeral of an aged saint. In his eulogy, the speaker quoted from the newspaper obituary which stated that while she “worshiped” at the Christian Assembly, this sister really worshiped “every day, every hour, every minute” as she selflessly and wholeheartedly served her Lord as a wife, mother, grandmother, neighbor and church member.

A Further Dimension
Another Greek word, less frequently translated as “worship,” introduces another essential element of whole worship. “Latreuo” occurs only about 20 times, and is usually translated as “to serve” or “to render religious service or homage.” 1 However, it is translated “worship” on a few significant occasions.

In Acts 7:42, because of ancient Israel’s unfaithfulness, “God turned away and gave them over to the worship of the heavenly bodies.” On trial, Paul confessed to worshiping God according to what was considered heresy or a sect to the Jews (Acts 24:14). Possibly the most significant occasion when this word is so translated is in Philippians 3:3 where worship “by the Spirit of God” is contrasted with circumcision – that is, external, physical, ritualistic, ineffective forms of serving God. These instances of the word suggest not simply a worshipful posture, spirit or attitude, but a whole-person disposition to do the will of the one worshiped, a total commitment to a life of worship: it is identity; it is mission.

This sense of worship as service is further suggested in three other instances where it is so translated. In Acts 27:23, on the deck of a storm-tossed ship, Paul told his terrified fellow passengers, “Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve (latreuo) stood beside me.” This is Paul’s very identity, who he is: one who worships the true God who owns him outright and whom he eagerly serves.

In Romans 12:1 Paul urges us to offer our bodies in living sacrifice to God, which is our “reasonable service” (KJV) or “spiritual worship” (NIV), or “spiritual service of worship” (NASB). In each case, the word is “latreuo.” Offering our bodies clearly suggests a diligent, whole-person worship, expressed in a “transformed” life (Rom. 12:2).

In Jesus’ response to Satan’s temptation to “worship” (proskuneo) him (Mt. 4:9-10) He uses both our words: “It is written: ‘Worship (proskuneo) the Lord your God, and serve (latreuo) Him only.’” This is the complete package – “attitude worship” and “action worship.”

True worshipers, then, are those whose heart, spirit and attitude are willingly and spontaneously bowed in awed reverence before our Savior God, and whose whole life and will are bowed to Him as His servants to bring Him honor and glory and accomplish His purposes.

A Familiar Picture
The scene just before Jesus’ betrayal, when Mary of Bethany anoints Him with a costly perfume (Mt. 26:6-13; Mk. 14:1-9; Jn. 12:1-8) is practically a commentary on worship. The worshiper is a woman to whom perfumes and fragrances are highly prized and used only sparingly on very special occasions. She breaks the exquisite, delicate alabaster container – very valuable in itself – and, with unreserved abandon, lavishly pours all 3 of the expensive contents on the Savior’s body.

The others present know that the perfume she has poured out is the equivalent to a whole year’s wages. It suggests a worship that is fruit of an “every day, every hour, every minute” devotion to the Lord. How did this woman accumulate such a sum? How long had she been saving to purchase this treasure? How long had she kept it among her private treasures? Had she purchased it specifically for this purpose? We don’t know, of course, but we do know that she freely lavished it on the Person who was the all-absorbing object of her awe and affection.

The spiritually dead Judas and the spiritually insensitive eleven apostles harshly criticized her action as wasteful; better to use its considerable value to help the poor. But Jesus appreciated this act perhaps more than any other gesture of respect or reverence accorded Him during His entire earthly career. It anticipated His burial, integral to His ultimate mission on earth. It thus strongly suggests that Mary, who “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what He said” (Lk. 10:39) had thus acquired deeper insight into Jesus and His mission than any of His hundreds of other disciples or apostles. Attentive occupation with her Lord and His words enabled her to render worship that thrilled His soul, even if misunderstood by those less deep in their relationship with Him.

Jesus also ranked this quality of worship above other ministries. Elsewhere He demands that we take care of the poor, but the difference between simple humanitarian charity and service to God is when the action flows from true spiritual worship as the priority and basis (Jn. 4:23-24). One helps people; the other honors God as the first priority, then benefits people.

Jesus so appreciated her act of selfless abandon in worship that He declared that she and her worship would be memorialized permanently as an integral part of the gospel. That is a significant statement. As if to illustrate the point, “the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (Jn. 12:3). The effect of her worship was undeniable, unmistakable and inescapable to everyone in the place; even though they failed to properly evaluate it, they were affected by it.

It is interesting to note that Matthew and Mark have Mary pouring the perfume over Jesus’ head, while John says she anointed his feet. This is not a contradiction. She must have done both. Did she pour it over His whole body, from head to toe? Whole-person worship embraces and refreshes the whole person of our God and Savior, as well as affecting “the whole house.”

Corporate Worship?
What about corporate worship? Of course it is desired. But never mistake congregational activity for the true worship of the spirit of individual believers who express their love of their Lord through ongoing, all-the-time, obedient intimacy with Him.

Corporate worship – whether harmonious singing, urgent praying, enthusiastic preaching, or solemn ceremonial observances like the Lord’s supper – can never be more than an empty form until the worshipers are first of all worshipers at the voluntary, spontaneous and un-self-conscious personal level.

1. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words
2. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament
3. A footnote in my Bible suggests half a liter of perfume.

by Bill Van Ryn

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: