For many churches the term worship has become synonymous with singing perhaps with a particular emphasis upon those songs that either exalt God or which express our devotion to Him. These are entirely valid methods of worship. However to restrict our notion of worship to words expressed in melody is to ignore the breadth and depth of the subject as presented in scripture. This brief paper will give an overview of some of the more important aspects of worship described in the Bible but will then look in greater detail at the extent to which Christian service in general and mission in particular should be considered acts of worship.
By far the commonest Greek word rendered worship in our Bibles is proskuneo which literally expresses the notion of kneeling and kissing the hand of a superior. The picture is one of a dog licking his master's hand. As God is clearly our superior it is an entirely appropriate picture of our approach to God in obeisance. However it should be noted that proskuneo only relates to the relative rank of two individuals and the homage paid. It does not in and of itself confer any merit upon the receiver of the proskuneo. Thus in Acts 7:43 we read of the worship of Molech under the term proskuneo. Thus this rendering of worship really refers to any relationship where we bow down to another.
The Greek word that captures what many of us mean by worship is aineo. The KJV consistently renders this word as praise. It is only ever used of the praise of God and is first used of the heavenly host at the announcement of the birth of Christ in Luke 2:13. A related though more general word is 'epainos', which can be used for the praise of God or for the praise of an individual. Our Bibles also use the term blessed which is a translation of the Greek adjective eulogetos. This adjective is always used of God and describes Him as 'one that is praised'.
Another word that perhaps begins to combine the notion of proskuneo and aineo is doxazo which is most frequently rendered as 'glorify' in the Authorized Version. The idea is not simply the praise of an individual or even the praise of God in some abstract and factual sense. It is the specific extolling of the virtues of an individual with the aim of magnifying or illuminating that person.
One final Greek word that rounds out our traditional 'worship service' is the word eucharisteo which means to give thanks. Most famously this word is used of the thanks given for the loaf and wine at the last supper. From this usage some have developed the word 'Eucharist' for the taking of the emblems on a Sunday morning. Thankfulness is supposed to be a hallmark of the believer and this is indeed another useful aspect of worship.
However there are two final Greek words that need to be considered and if we grasp them firmly I believe they will completely alter our notion of worship. The first of these is latreia. At first glance this verb is not directly tied to worship. It really means to serve as a menial and indeed the KJV renders the term serve or service more often that not. However close examination reveals that latreia is intricately tied to the notion of worship. When it is introduced by the Lord in
Mat 4:10 Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
We find that worship (proskuneo) is outwardly manifested by service (latreia). We also find as we head through Acts and the epistles that we are called out to serve (latreia) God.
Any temptation to view our latreia or service as purely physical is resisted by the Bible however. In Acts 24:14 the word is used for a belief in the Bible. In Phi 3:3 it is explicitly stated that the latreia is spiritual:
Php 3:3 For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit
We therefore see that our worship of God is to result in our physical service of Him and that our more menial service of Him is considered to be Spiritual worship.
It is however the final Greek word leitourgos that should stop and make us self reflect. The usage of this word in:
Heb 8:2 A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.
Rom 15:16 That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.
Here Paul is going to exhibit leitourgos; he is going to present a sacrifice. In the truest sense he is going to perform an act of worship. That act of worship is the offering up of the Gentiles! Put simply the harvest that Paul had among the Gentiles was the offering that He was making to Christ as an act of worship. We therefore see that evangelism is considered to be worship. In the same way that disobedient lives peppered with songs of dedication do not make a worshipper lives lacking in mission sprinkled with songs of praise do not make one either. If the praises of God can be sounded in the sanctuary on a Sunday then they can be uttered in the workplace on a weekday too.
Reading over the preceding I feel the need to note that the aim of this essay is to redress a balance; not to create imbalance. Both our Greek and English Bibles uses a selection of words for activities that we might classify as worship and this is because true worship has a broad range of application. We do need to reverence God. We need to praise Him and we need to thank Him. However, at least in my experience, we are only too happy to sing songs that do these things. We also need to serve Him in general and to serve Him in the particular field of reaching others. After all: Christ brought Glory to God through His death. We should bring glory to God by mentioning Christ's death to those we know.