Worship of God
(Christian Worship)

Worship! This very word has become a buzzword among churches, with many claiming to have more relevant worship, contemporary worship, traditional worship, reverent worship, exuberant worship, exciting worship, and non-traditional worship. The list could go on and on. Many of these ‘worship services’ are focused on particular age-ranges or demographics. Personal worship, apart from a corporate setting, is a subject sometimes forgotten. I would suggest that the question of worship should not be what we try and make it to be, but rather what God has said that it is.

The following examination will seek to answer the question “what is Biblical worship?” Having come to an understanding of what God wants it then become necessary for each of us to consider whether our worship, individually or corporately, follows God’s standard.

In both the Old and New Testaments it can be seen that there are obviously right ways and wrong way to worship God. Especially in the Old Testament, God took issue with His people a number of times for worshipping Him incorrectly. Apart from multitudes of examples, even in the New Testament there is a Greek word used specifically for incorrect worship. As we begin this study, keep this question in mind...

Will God be pleased with our worship if it is not in the way He commanded?

Meanings of Biblical words translated ‘worship’ in English:

Hebrew: To bow down (in honor & reverence) [shachah shaw-hhaw’]
Hebrew: To serve (service to, or to work for) [abad ‘aw-bad]
Greek: To prostrate oneself in homage (from root ‘kiss the hand’) [proskuneo pros-koo-neh’-o]
Greek: To revere (to revere or adore) [sebomai seb’-om-ahee]
Greek: To serve (to minister to. From root ‘a hired menial’) [latreuo lat-ryoo’-o]

Another word to take special note of is the Greek word used specifically to describe incorrect worship:

Greek: Voluntary piety (arbitrary and unwarranted piety); as used in Colossians 2:23 “self-imposed worship” [ethelothreskeia eth-el-oth-race-ki’ah]

To summarize all these definitions of worship:

Worship is any action of the body or mind whereby a person reveres God through bowing down in honor, adoration, and reverence – showing complete submission as though prostrated before a conquering King, offering and giving ones’ self in service to their Master as He desires.

Throughout Scriptures a multitude of passages warn that worship (of God) is only valid if it is in the manner God prescribes...

Deuteronomy 12:30b-31a ... Be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, "How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same." 31 You must not worship the LORD your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates... [Consider also Numbers 3:4, Genesis 4:3-7 pre-law and Colossians 2:23 post-law]

Proper worship of God also includes that it must never be mingled with worship of any other [so-called] deity...

Exodus 34:14 Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

Worship is (and/or was)...

The most basic sense, in which worship is described, is found in Genesis.

Genesis 4:26 At that time men began to call on the name of the LORD.

Genesis 5:24 Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.

Genesis 26:25 Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the LORD.

Worship continues to be the act of calling on God and walking with Him. [Believers have been doing this since the time of Adam’s sons and grandsons.]

Prior to the giving of the law (pre-law), in Old Testament times, a number of specific means were commanded or shown to have been used in worship of God.

Prayer (Genesis 20:17, 25:21)
Building altars (Genesis 12:7, 26:25, 35:1)
Sacrifices (Genesis 22:13, 4:2-7, Exodus 18:12, Job 42:8) and Offerings [drink, etc.] (Genesis 35:14)
Setting up memorial stones. (Genesis 28:18, 31:13, 35:14)
Teaching household (Genesis 18:19)
Circumcision [from time of Abraham] (Genesis 17:11,14, 21:4)
Music; Singing, Instruments, Dancing (Job 36:24, Exodus 15:1-21)

Following the establishment of the Old Testament Law, a list of means could include all of the above, plus even more specifics.

Worship at the temple, which included...

Corporate gathering with all Israel (Exodus 23:14-17)
Set festivals and days of worship (Exodus 23:12-17, Deuteronomy 16:16))
Set place of worship (Deuteronomy 16:5-7, 15, 2 Chronicles 6:6-11)
Set people to administer offerings, lead worship, lead music. (1 Chronicles 9:13, 2 Chronicles 5:12-13, 7:6, 2 Chronicles 30:21)

Music [more instruments, more singing and choirs] (1 Chronicles 15:16-22, 2 Chronicles 34:12, Nehemiah 12:31-42)
Reading of Scripture [Deuteronomy 31:9-13, Nehemiah 8:2-6]
Teaching of Scripture [Deuteronomy 4:9, 11:19, Psalms 78:5, Nehemiah 8:7-8]

Nehemiah 8:8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.

What is New Testament worship?

While Old Testament worship was decidedly Theocentric (God centered), New Testament worship became even more Christocentric (Christ centered). Some would say that rather than being Christocentric it could be called Trinitarian (focused on the triune God), which is also doctrinally true, but perhaps less so in practice. This is because focus on Christ, specifically, is actually commanded in scriptures...

Hebrews 12:1-3 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Worship has two primary classifications; individual and corporate (or in a group). Family worship, while by definition being a group, will be mostly considered in regards to individual worship. While not necessarily exhaustive, the following will provide some Scriptural detail on what each could include:

Individual Worship:


[In secret] Matthew 6:5-6 "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

[Without vainly repeated or memorized phrases] Matthew 6:7-8 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. [Consider also Matthew 26:44]

[Continual prayer, all the time, in every circumstance] 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 ... pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

[Before meals] Matthew 15:36 Then Jesus took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. [See also Acts 27:35]

Bible Study:

[Study for God] 2 Timothy 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (KJV)

[Study to be mature in your beliefs] Hebrews 6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity...

[Study to memorize] Psalms 119:10-11 I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. 11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.

Teaching Family:

[Teach children] Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

[Husbands teach wives] 1 Corinthians 14:35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home...

Teach, Admonish, Encourage Individually:

[Teach and admonish other believers] Colossians 3:16a Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom...

[Encourage other believers] Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.


[Sing to God when by yourself!] Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.


[Do everything as service to God] Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

[The new, spiritual, sacrifices] Hebrews 13:15-16 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise-the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Corporate Worship:


[Agreeing together in prayer] Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 4:24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.

[Before meals] Acts 27:35 After Paul said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat.

[Pray for...] 1 Timothy 2:1-2 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone- 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

[How they prayed] Colossians 4:2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Lifting Hands:

1 Timothy 2:8 I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. (See also Exodus 9:29)


Ephesians 3:14 For this reason I kneel before the Father... Acts 20:36 When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. [Also Acts 7:60, Acts 9:40]


Mark 14:35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. Matthew 26:39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed.

There is no uniform position for praying. Some individuals and churches have adopted a specific position, often based on one of the above examples. The general idea of ‘bowing your heads’ that is taught in much of the western world, is a light version of bowing as found in the Middle East; where a person bows right to the ground, face down. Each of the acts or positions mentioned above has in common that it illustrates submission or dependence on God.


Acts 13:2-3 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

Fasting is most associated with prayer throughout Scriptures, though not to say that all prayer has to be accompanied by fasting. Fasting is a voluntary time of refraining from food for the purpose of calling on God. If the person who is fasting uses the urge to eat as a reminder to stop and specifically pray, it serves as a great opportunity to seek God specifically regarding something. When an entire fellowship does so, consider how much petition is being brought before the Lord! While there are examples in Scriptures of individuals fasting (Matthew 6:18, Luke 2:37), including Jesus (Matthew 4:2), it seems that in the early church it was often as a group, perhaps showing their single-minded purpose (See also Mark 2:19-20, Luke 5:33-34). Even in Old Testament times, fasts were often called for all the people (Jonah 3:5, Joel 2:15, Ezra 8:21). Fasting is not to be only an external act. Along with using it as a time to call on the Lord, it is as much for the purpose of focusing your mind on what God would have you to do (and then doing it!).

Isaiah 58:3-9 'Why have we fasted,' they say,' and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?' "Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. 4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. 5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? 6 "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? 8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. 9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

Fasting apart from obedience is a useless exercise.

Bible Reading:

1 Timothy 4:13 ...devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Acts 6:4 ...and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.

Bible Preaching & Teaching (Study):

Preaching is to be the proclamation of sound doctrine from the word of God. Teaching is to encourage the examination of that sound doctrine, to answer questions, and to promote in-depth understanding of the Word.

1 Timothy 4:13 ...devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Acts 6:4 ...and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word. Acts 17:11 Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Titus 2:15 These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you. 1 Timothy 4:15-16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. [See also 1 Corinthians 14:6]

While suitable for a study by itself, note that the purpose of elders overseeing corporate worship is to guard against unsound doctrine and impurity in the fellowship. (See Acts 20:28-31, 1 Peter 5:1-3) It was not considered a corporate gathering of the church unless the elders were present.


Ephesians 5:19-20 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 14:26-33 What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn [‘psalm’, normally sung]... All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. [Note: Passover meal included singing of psalms, also called a hymn (See Mark 14:26, Matthew 26:30 – known as the Egyptian Hallel]


Acts 2:38-39, 41 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-for all whom the Lord our God will call." ... 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Lord’s Supper:

Luke 22:19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 20:7 On the first day of the week we came together to break bread... 1 Corinthians 11:19-21, 33 When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, 21 for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else... 33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.

Unity/Division in Worship:

Ephesians 4:2-3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Eph 4:12b-13a ...so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God...

The goal is to seek perfect unity in truth bound together by love (Colossians 3:14). Any ‘unity’ that is not based on truth and sound doctrine is a false unity (a lie) that can never come from the love of God. Corporate division is necessary when it comes to the truth...

1 Corinthians 11:18-19 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval. [See also 2 Timothy 2:23-26]

Worshipping With:

[believers] Hebrews 10:25a Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing... 2 Timothy 2:22 Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. [Consider also Philippians 3:3] Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Acts 2:47b And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

[without unrepentant professed believers] 1 Corinthians 5:2,11-13 And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? ... But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you." [See also Matthew 18:15-17 and 2 Thessalonians 3:6,14]

[with eldership/leaders (those who administer church discipline)] Hebrews 13:7, 17 Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. ... Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. (KJV)

With many ‘worship services’ focused on unbelievers, there remains a fundamental question of where justification for such practice is found in Scriptures. Witnessing one-on-one, as a group, or participating in evangelism or missions outreaches, are all exampled in Scriptures, but when it comes to the worship of the church, it is always displayed as a gathering of the family rather than a mingling of the sheep and goats. The holy (set apart) worship of the church includes within it the purpose of strengthening and building up the body, additionally preparing all the believers for service. With a church full of sheep prepared and willing to go out into the world with the gospel, many will subsequently be brought in... not as goats, but new sheep! If an unbeliever is led by God to come in to the worship service, they are not to be turned away, but nor should the service be changed to focus on them; rather God will use the clear proclamation of His Word and pure fellowship of His saints as a witness to convict the unbeliever of their sin (consider 1 Corinthians 14:24-25).

2 Corinthians 6:14b-15 ...what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial [Satan]? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?

When to have Corporate Worship:

[Sunday] John 20:19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, [and John 20:26] Acts 20:7 On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people... 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2 On the first day of every week...

While meeting on Sunday became the common practice of the early church, it is nowhere commanded in Scriptures that it be exclusively so. Some have claimed Sunday to be the ‘Christian Sabbath”, arbitrarily applying many of the Old Testament rules to the new. Still others claim the need for the ‘Christian Sabbath’ to be in line with the Jewish keeping of that day [some Jewish believers especially finding it easier to do so]. While there is much symbolism for now using Sunday, as the day Jesus rose from the dead, there is no absolute mandate that Sunday alone must be used. The only condition of Scriptures is that there must be a time of corporate gathering of the church (Hebrews 10:25). Setting one regular day each week merely helps to facilitate it. While some call Sunday ‘the Lord’s Day’, it is can be justly said that every day is the Lord’s Day for believers (a day for worship and service to Him).

Sunday appears to be called “the Lord’s Day” only once in all of Scriptures... Revelation 1:10 On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit... [It’s interesting to note that this one reference doesn’t speak of the day in association with a gathering of believers though].

For those who would apply some [as very few apply all] of the rules of the Old Testament Sabbath to what they called the “Christian Sabbath,” consider that in the earliest days of the church, very few had the luxury of having Sunday as a day off. It wasn’t until the church had been around for a few hundred years that Sundays became as-such a day of rest with government sanction. Prior to that time, the church often gathered very early in the morning (before work) or after work was finished in the evening. [For what appears to be one such example, of an evening meeting of the church on Sunday, consider Acts 20:7-11].

In the Old Testament, people were restricted as to when and where they could gather for corporate worship. All such restriction is lifted in the freedom of grace in the New Testament. In fact, the church is not limited to only one gathering [or day of gathering] per week.

[Every/any day] Acts 2:46-47 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

[Whenever: no mandated special days or festivals] Colossians 2:16-17 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

[Frequently!] Hebrews 10:25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.


The corporate gathering of the church is not limited to any particular building. The only three examples of meeting places given in Scriptures include one existing large public building [Acts 2:46], homes [many!], and outside [Acts 21:5]. Again, the church was hundreds of years old before it got the idea it needed to own property and buildings. While a building may be a tool, it was never to become the focus (or a New Testament temple). The only temple in the New Testament is the living one built out of all believers (1 Peter 2:5, Ephesians 2:21-22), regardless of where it meets. Based on this, should the large church in a building look down on, as somehow inferior, the church that meets in a home?

Other Instructions on Corporate Worship:

[Must be Orderly] 1 Corinthians 14:26-33 What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, two-or at the most three-should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. 29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. Colossians 2:5 For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.

While this document addresses many issues of worship, additional questions remain. Some can be answered from considering a few of the passages already cited, other require wisdom in continuing to search out Scriptures. The only thing we must not do is answer these questions based on tradition (Matthew 15:3-11) or personal preference; the only standard for worship must be God’s Holy Word.

Questions to Answer:

What will worship be like in heaven? [Consider Revelation Chapter 4-5]

Do styles of music (versus words) affect worship?

Is horizontal music (versus vertical) wrong in worship? [Consider Psalms 1 and Psalms 8]. Quick definitions: Horizontal music is music that expresses truth to people; vertical is that which is sung directly to God.

Is repetition wrong in song? [Some people have a problem with so-called 7/11 choruses, where seven words are repeated eleven times].

Are musical instruments beneficial to worship? [Some churches believe that the New Testament church is not allowed to have musical instruments in worship]. Are only some instruments wrong? [Consider Psalms 150:1-6]

Is emotion beneficial to worship? [Consider Matthew 22:37]

Why are worship gatherings called ‘Services’ in many churches? [Should they be called ‘Services?’]

Is today’s worship focused more on man or on God? [As you answer this question, be willing to provide the basis for your answer in regards to all aspects of the gathering, including the contents of the message.]

Is dance a part of worship, or should it be? [Consider 2 Samuel 6:14, Ecclesiastes 3:4, Jeremiah 31:4, 31:13, Luke 15:25, Psalms 30:11-12, 149:3, 150:4]