Worship. The word that launched a thousand wars (within the church, that is).If you’re in Christian circles very long, you’ll hear the word “worship.” You don’t even have to be in a so-called Christian circle, really—walk into any church, and you’ll find a sign directing you to the “Worship Center.”
There’s worship music—and different styles of worship music. There’s a genre in iTunes called “Praise and Worship.” There are full-time worship leaders employed by the church. There are hand motions you can do to “worship.” There are memes about those hand motions.
Worship permeates Christian culture. But does it really? Do we even know what true worship is?
I’ll give you a hint. No specific angle that you raise your hands in relation to the floor separates real worship from not. Dancing doesn’t necessarily constitute worship; neither does abstaining from dancing. Worship isn’t defined as who can sing the best or the loudest or the most emotionally.
Worship is defined by Google as “the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity.” That’s a pretty broad definition that reaches far beyond music. And worship should too, but not just for any “deity.” A deity can be actual God, or you can make a god of something else. You can worship a professional athlete or a celebrity. You can worship your alma mater. You can worship your significant other. You can worship a company. You can worship a lifestyle.
But that’s not what Jesus calls us to do. Luke 4:8 says, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” If you trace it back to the Scripture Jesus is quoting when he says, “It is written,” you end up at Deuteronomy 6:13. You don’t end up with a word-for-word quote, though. In fact, what Jesus quotes as saying “Worship the Lord your God” actually appears in Deuteronomy as “Fear the Lord your God.” Jesus is paraphrasing, not directly quoting. Of course, it’s possible that the Hebrew and Greek words are the same, whereas the English words are translated slightly differently—I don’t have the knowledge of Hebrew or Greek I would need to confirm that. (Actually I have no knowledge of Hebrew or Greek, let’s be honest.) But regardless, the fact that Jesus uses a word that translates as “worship” to quote one that means “fear” implies pretty strongly that Jesus saw “worship” and “fear” as very close synonyms, if not the same.
So, that leads us to ask what the definition of “fear” is, because “fear” does not seem to mean “the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity”—at least not to me. The dictionary definition of “fear” is about what you would think—the “unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous.” These two definitions aren’t as far apart as you might imagine, though. A Christianity Today article called “What does it mean to fear God” quotes William D. Eisenhower, and this explanation is better than any I could come up with, so I’m just going to quote it:
Unfortunately, many of us presume that the world is the ultimate threat and that God’s function is to offset it. How different this is from the biblical position that God is far scarier than the world …. When we assume that the world is the ultimate threat, we give it unwarranted power, for in truth, the world’s threats are temporary. When we expect God to balance the stress of the world, we reduce him to the world’s equal …. As I walk with the Lord, I discover that God poses an ominous threat to my ego, but not to me. He rescues me from my delusions, so he may reveal the truth that sets me free. He casts me down, only to lift me up again. He sits in judgment of my sin, but forgives me nevertheless. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but love from the Lord is its completion.
The fear of God leads to worshipping him. It leads us to “the expression of reverence.” It leads to one of the Dictionary.com definitions of worship: “reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred.”
You see, fear is not limited to being a negative emotion. Fear of God can drive you to worship him, to live for him. John 4:23 says, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.” We should worship God not just within the walls of the church in song, but in every aspect of our lives. We should worship him—revere and honor him—in everything we do.
So yes, we should come and sing to the Lord; we should shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation, as Psalm 95 says. But when our voices tire of singing and our bodies tire of dancing, when we are resting or preoccupied with the day-to-day, we should worship him then too. As Paul writes in Romans 12:1: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”