Worship in the New Testament

The New Testament has three words that are translated “worship” in our English Bibles. These greek words are:

  • proskeneo – meaning prostrate
  • sebomai – meaning revere, adore, pay homage
  • latreia – meaning serve, obey

These words are sometimes translated worship and sometimes are translated to other words, depending on the Bible version.

Examples of their use:

Matthew 8:2 And a leper came to Him and bowed down (proskeneo) before Him, and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”

Acts 16:14 A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper (sebomai) of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.

Luke 2:37 (Anna) … never left the temple, serving (latreia) night and day with fastings and prayers.

We are commanded to worship God. Luke 4:8, John 4:23,24

In heaven in God’s presence, we will worship God. Revelation 19:10, 22:9

Romans 12:1,2

This is a key passage telling us what it means to worship God. Paul tells us to present our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice. This is worship (literally reasonable service – latreia). Part of this service is to resist being conformed to the world (moral choices) but to have our mind renewed –  how we think and see the world. Then will we be able to prove (verify, demonstrate) what God’s will is – good, acceptable, perfect.

Our worship of God is done through the presentation of ourselves to Him as a living sacrifice in complete submission.

In many churches worship is almost exclusively used in reference to the Sunday church meeting, in particular to singing and music, often associated with an emotional response to what is going on. You’ll hear terms like “worship service”, “worship time” (singing at the start of the meeting), “live worship” (only when a band plays!)

I’ve even heard it said, praise songs are fast, worship songs are slow.

Yet in the New Testament, the one place where those various words translated worship are not used is in describing what we do in our gathering. The only time worship is used in connection with the church meeting is 1 Corinthians 14:25, describing what a non-Christian in the meeting may do in response to the message he hears – fall on his face and declare that “God is certainly among you” – which sounds more like a recognition of God’s holiness and repentance, not an ecstatic experience.

Sunday meetings

Can we come up with an alternative label for the meeting we have on Sundays, if calling it a worship service is not really what it is? Sunday meeting, church meeting, morning meeting, gathering?

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