Words and Their Meanings: What Does "Worship" Mean?

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Bible-believing evangelical Christians who understand God’s Word is absolute truth understand that there are different words commonly used that have a theological meaning. We read these different words in the Bible, but do we use those words correctly all the time? We use them in conversations, tweets, posts on Facebook, but does the Bible define these words differently than we do in our daily lives.


The word worship is used over 182 times in the Bible. This word is used in a variety of ways, but it is commonly used in the church today to only refer to the part of service where we are singing. When we sing songs in our church service, we call that worship. Yet, based on how the Bible uses the word, it would prove that we misunderstand this word. The reality is you and I can worship God in vain without realizing it.

Jesus was asked by the Pharisees and Scribes why his disciples break the traditions of the elders. Jesus responded in kind, saying:

So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'" - Matthew 15:6-9

Gospel Believers Truly Worship

Don Whitney, a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary says,

“So only those who receive the gospel, that is, who believe the message about the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, are given “the Spirit of truth” who enables them to worship God acceptably.1 

When we say to worship “in spirit,” we are referring to the truth that worship is not limited to some physical location. Worship takes place in the heart and is not connected to any place. “In truth” refers to true worship which can only take place in the Lord Jesus. True worship can only take place when the Spirit of truth is pointing back to the person of Jesus who is the truth. The person who has repented of their sins and trusted in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins is also given the Spirit of God that they can worship in Spirit and Truth.

Does Worship Only Refer to the Singing on Sunday Morning?

“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” - 1 Corinthians 10:31

Everything a follower of Jesus does in their life should honor and glorify the Lord. This is our worship to God. Paul made that same point in Romans.

I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1

If everything we say, do, think, eat, or drink is supposed to glorify the Lord, we can conclude that singing on a Sunday morning is not strictly the definition of worship. The preaching is worship. The time to give an offering to the Lord is worship. The time of prayer is worship. How you interact with your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the week is worship. The way you work at your job is worship. The daily confession of your sins is worship.

The gospel of Jesus that now gives you new desires produces in you the desire to worship God rightly. We come to know God through the gospel and our hearts turn to God in worship.

As the Israelites would turn their worship from God to the false gods and idols around them, we today are prone to make those same mistakes. We can turn from worshipping God to worshipping money, sex, power, self, security, and many other things in our life that take our eyes off God.

Biblical Worship

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, - Hebrews 12:28

We worship in spirit and in truth, and we worship with reverence. As followers of Jesus, we understand that we must worship the one true God the way he commands us to worship him. We do not create our own understanding and practice of worship, but we worship the way God commands us to.

Worship is not limited to the singing on Sunday mornings or during the week when you are listening to your favorite Christian artist, but it is your whole life devoted to bringing honor and glory to God. We do not worship on Sunday, and Monday to Saturday take a break from worship. Worship must be lived out every moment of every day through the things the Lord has called us to do for Him because that is the true worship the Lord asks of us.

1Donald S. Whitney, “Weekend Devotional April 23 + 24: The Gospel & Worship,” Tabletalk Magazine, April 2011: Christ in the Old Testament (Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 2011), 58.

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