“Today we had a wonderful time of worship, brother.” is a very common expression these days among many Christians. We have ‘worship teams’ with ‘worship leaders’ who lead the ‘worship time’ where people sing while closing their eyes and lifting their hands up, to a genre of music called ‘worship music’. Unfortunately for few this has become one of the main criteria to ‘pick a church’. “I go to this church because, the worship is very good, brother. By the way, next Sunday we have an all day ‘worship concert’ please do come.” For many, Sunday ‘worship music’ has become a therapy for the soul that is stressed out over the week. Someone rightly named them as ‘Therapeutic deists’. If a congregation does not have good ‘worship music’, it is more likely that the congregation remains very small. There is a ‘worship band’ in India I know which even has a tagline saying ‘redefining worship’. Like them there are many Christians today who think ‘when they go to heaven’ they will be singing 24/7 with their harps.
Songs and music are wonderful gifts to us, and we need them as human beings and specifically as a body of Christ. Paul says in Ephesians 5:19 “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart”. (Also Colossians 3:16) I love to sing along with my family during family prayer, and with other brothers and sisters in the Lord when we gather as local church. I work with many artists who are amazing singers, musicians and songwriters. But why do we call it worship when we sing to certain music? Well, that is fine, but is preaching not worship? Is taking part in the communion not worship? Is serving at the tables not worship? Is doing my work in utmost dedication to glorify God not worship? We may truly enjoy an aesthetic experience of music and singing, but should we call it worship? Is there a serious problem in calling singing — worship? I think yes.
These are the greek words which are often used for worship to God in the greek Septuagint and the greek New Testament. They are Proskuneo, Latreuo, Leitourgia, and Homologia. There are other words like Sebomai and Eusebeo which are also used for any kind of worship. Proskuneo refers to physically kneeling or prostration to do homage. Both in the Old testament and New testament this is done mostly before the physical presence of the recipient. When Jesus was born the wise men came and proskuneo before him. When Jesus was in the wilderness, Satan came to him and said, “All these things I will give you if you proskuneo before me.” (Matthew 4: 9,10, 2 Chronicles 7:3, Exodus 4:31) Almost all the passages refer to physical prostration in physical presence of the recipient. Latreuo refers to service (Joshua 24:15). Prayer as service (Luke 2:37), sacrifice, purity as service (Romans 12:1). (Luke 4:8, Rom 1:9) Leitourgia refers to service on behalf to others. (Luke 1:23) and Homologia refers to confession as a community in unity. (Nehemiah 9:3). Nowhere these words are used in the context of singing though I am not suggesting that singing cannot be worship.
Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman said, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipper (proskunetes) will worship (proskuneo) the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship (proskuneo) him. God is spirit, and those who proskuneo him must proskuneo in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23,24) So, who can truly worship God? Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13 saying “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship (Sebomai) me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” There is no worship without obedience. William Temple said, “Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose — all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable.” Paul writing to Romans said, “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 (Letreia). Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)
We don’t worship by singing or dancing, but we sing and dance because we worship God by offering ourselves.
Worship is the central theme in the life of a follower of Jesus. It is a point to which all of my life converges and fountain from which all my life emerges. In the Old Testament they worshiped in the presence of God in offering sacrifices and physical prostration. In the New Testament we are called to worship in spirit and in truth. In dying to myself as a living sacrifice and living out the will of God in all aspects of my life. That is why, one of the prerequisite to follow Jesus is to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him. Worship is coextensive with life. John Stott writes “No worship is pleasing to God which is purely inward, abstract and mystical; it must express itself in concrete acts of service performed by our bodies.”
So why do we call only singing certain music as worship? In doing so, are we not distorting the truth? Has the counterfeit idea of worship led us away from true worship? Has it become a form of idolatry? (Proverbs 15:8) Singing is wonderful! Sing with all your heart with all your emotions, with all the great music in praise and adoration to God. But, worship God by offering yourself as a living sacrifice which is acceptable, by approving and living the will of God in every part of your life. We don’t worship by singing or dancing, but we sing and dance because we worship God by offering ourselves. It is substance that is paramount than the form. King David in Psalm 51 writes, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise”. As the Hebrews author instructs us that through participating in Christ’s suffering let us offer sacrifices of praise to God. “So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Hebrews 13:12–16)
May be it is time to call singing — singing and truly offer our worship with all of our being, which is good and acceptable to our Father in heaven.