What Is Worship According to the Bible? Definitions & Foundations

What is worship according to the Bible?

What is worship? To some people, worship is about modern bands with synths or guitars. To others, it’s about hymns or solemn reverence. People have expressed worship in many ways in various denominations, traditions, cultures, and throughout the history of the church. 

What if biblical worship is not mainly about music or an event? What if it’s not even mainly about the sense of the presence of God, freedom to express emotions, or following a certain form? These can be related to worship, but what is really at the heart of worship?

What is worship according to the Bible? The most common words translated worship in the Bible mean to kneel or lay face down before someone as an act of reverence. Biblical worship is acknowledging that God is the King and results in living lives in light of that truth.

Worship is a beautiful and powerful reality if we understand it from God’s perspective. Let’s explore the biblical meaning of worship and examine our traditions and experiences considering His Word.

How Is Worship Defined in the Bible?

The most common words translated worship in the Bible mean to lay one’s self before God.

In the New Testament, the most common word translated worship in the original Greek is proskuneó (transliterated with English letters). According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, the definition of worship is: by kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one) or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or to make supplication.

What is the word worship in Hebrew, in the Old Testament? The most common word translated worship is shachah. According to A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Brown-Driver-Briggs), worship means to bow down, prostrate oneself, before a monarch or superior, in homage, etc.

Both of the primary words in Hebrew and Greek for worship in the Bible mean the same thing: to bow down or lay one’s face to the ground. It’s an acknowledgment of God’s glory. There is someone who is transcendent and glorious and He is worthy of our full allegiance and devotion!

The word worship in English means to acknowledge and ascribe worth to someone or something. The Biblical words describe the actual act of worship, that of kneeling, bowing, or lying prostrate on the ground. The English translation describes the reason we would do what the Bible says.

Psalm 95:6 describes the act of Biblical worship with two synonyms.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
    let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!

Psalm 95:6 (ESV) [emphasis added]

So worship is to bow down or lay our face before God. This physical act is worship when it reflects the heart’s posture to follow the King.

What Is Worship in Spirit and in Truth?

Worship in spirit and in truth is an important balance if we are pursuing true biblical worship.

God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

John 4:24 (ESV)

To worship in spirit is to be led by the living God and to know the joy that comes from fellowship with the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit is like a refreshing drink of water, a cool breeze, the warmth of a fire. He can also be a torrent, a hurricane, and a wildfire. Our experience of worship can be alive when we worship in spirit. True worship must first be in spirit – led by the Spirit and involves our spirit, the in-most part of our being.

To worship in truth is to ground our life in God’s truth, in His eternal Word, the Bible. We cannot worship however we want and do whatever we feel like. To worship is to bow before God and to delightfully follow His orders. We get to do what God says and not follow after the sin that used to enslave us.

The tendency of worship in spirit without the Word is lawlessness. We might love Jesus, but if we don’t do what He commands, we don’t really love Him. It’s merely lip-service.

The tendency of worship in truth without the Spirit is legalism. We might be doing the right things, but if our hearts are not encountering the living God, then we miss the most important thing. Truth is a person and His name is Jesus (John 14:6).

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

John 14:15 (ESV)

Jesus is building a church that worships in both spirit and in truth. Jesus is building a church that is neither motivated by legalism nor lawlessness. To truly worship in spirit and in truth is to love God and to keep His commandments (John 14:15). This can only happen when people truly know Jesus, who He is and what He has done. This draws love from the very core of our being. Jesus is worthy of our worship.

Question for Reflection/Discussion:
Is it possible to have intimacy with God and still not truly worship God?

[These questions can be used for personal reflection or for discussion in a Bible Study for Worship Teams]

It is possible to have intimacy with God and still not truly worship Him. It wouldn’t be true intimacy or really knowing God. It is possible to feel God’s presence, even know His leading, but if we don’t observe what Jesus commands, we have not worshipped according to the Bible.

How Is Music Related to Worship?

The Heart of Worship

In contemporary worship, sometimes we can talk as if worship is almost synonymous with music. Worship is much more than music or an event like a worship service. 

Music is a gift from God and has been associated with Christian worship since the beginning. Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs are part of being filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:17-21; 1 Cor. 14:26). Music is around the very throne of God (Rev. 4).

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Eph. 5:18-21 (ESV)

When we are filled with the Spirit, we will sing and make melody with our hearts. But the rest of the sentence is also true. This is actually one long sentence in the original Greek! If we are filled with the Spirit, there will be a constant spirit of thanksgiving and an attitude of submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
If we only sing the songs but don’t have the other two, would we really be living our lives filled with the Holy Spirit? Could we be just singing the songs and sensing the emotions of the moment?

But we can’t just get content singing the songs. Music is powerful and valuable as long as it fosters true worship, a heart that follows and obeys Jesus.

The danger is this: Is it possible to have music and everyone singing and even sensing God’s presence and never really worship according to the Bible? Perhaps only God can answer that question for us, but we can examine ourselves to see if our thoughts, feelings, and traditions (whether traditional or contemporary) line up with Scripture.

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;”

Matt. 15:8 (ESV)

This is a hard word, but we have to remember that it’s possible to honor God with our lips, our words, our singing, but our hearts still be far from God. This would not be worship according to the Bible. The call to worship is not a rally to come and watch a performance. It’s the full surrender of a heart to God.

Worship can only be measured by the fruit of a transformed life. When we ask someone, “How was worship today?” the answer cannot be about the quality of the music, the emotion of the moment, or even the sense of God’s presence. A biblical response would be: “Worship was great! My heart was convicted, I humbled myself, and I committed to obeying Jesus. I will forgive people who wronged me. I asked Holy Spirit to empower my heart to follow through with it.” If we follow through, then true worship has taken place.

Music is a beautiful gift from God and can be a powerful expression of true worship. Biblical worship is accessible to every follower of Jesus, in any country, at any time in history. It’s not the musical skill or ensemble but the posture to follow Jesus in everything.

God is releasing a new sound, a new breed of worship leaders and worshippers, and it’s those who have a heart after God to observe all that Jesus commands. Whether it’s one person strumming chords in a living room or a stadium full of worshippers, whenever people seek to observe all that Jesus commands, true worship can take place.

Question for Reflection or Discussion
Is it possible to have music and everyone singing and even sensing God’s presence and never really worship according to the Bible?

What Is the Importance of Worship in the Kingdom of God?

Worship is about loving Jesus so much as our King that our greatest joy would be to do what He wants us to do. Worship is not mainly about feeling God’s presence, which is very valid and beautiful. This biblical worship doesn’t just happen during an event or a worship service, it is something that can only fully happen in everyday life as we say “yes” to Him.

Jesus’ main message in the Gospels was that the Kingdom of God is at hand. He taught about it, demonstrated it, and invited people to come into it.

The act of bowing down in worship is a picture of the posture of the heart that obeys Jesus out of love for Him. Worship is directly connected to obedience to Jesus.

Jesus has already given us His orders, His commands. We’re to keep them, observe them, and guard them closely. If we’re truly following His Holy Spirit, this great commission of Jesus will be highlighted as the original mandate from heaven for us today, to observe all that He has commanded us.

And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matt. 28:17-20 (ESV) [emphasis added]

In Matt. 28:17-20, Jesus’ disciple worship Him, that is, bowed down before Him. Jesus explains how all authority has been given to Him. Jesus then describes how we’re called to invite others into this beautiful Kingdom where Jesus is King. Every church, ministry of worship and worship team needs to keep this as the central order from Jesus if we’re going to fulfill our mission from Him.

To worship is the heartbeat of a disciple, or follower, of Jesus Christ. To be a disciple means to be identified with Jesus in His death, burial, and resurrection – which is why baptism in water is important. It also means to come under Jesus’ authority, to follow Him with all our hearts, to do His orders joyfully because we know that’s where true joy and life are at.

We live in a world of brokenness but Jesus, through His sacrifice on the cross, has made a way for us to enter into His glorious Kingdom. He invites us into God’s Kingdom through repentance and believing in Him. This is the Good News (Mark 1:15)!

The Call to Worship with Our Entire Being

Biblical worship involves our whole being: spirit, soul, and body (1 Thes. 5:23). Biblical Worship is not just a cerebral pursuit, an emotional exaggeration, or a mystical consciousness. Worship is a presentation of our entire being, ignited by the Holy Spirit, as a living sacrifice to God.

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. 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.

Rom 12:1-2 (ESV) [emphasis added]

Worship involves our bodies. 1 Cor. 6:19-20 (ESV) reminds us: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

With our bodies, which are created in God’s image, we can express our worship to God. There are many words in the Bible that show physical expressions of worship. Biblical expressions of worship can include keeling (Phil. 2:9-10), bowing heads (Micah 6:6-8), raising heads (Psa. 3:3-4; Heb. 4:16), lifting up hands (Lam. 3:40-41; Psa. 63:3-4), and dancing before the Lord (Psa. 30:11; 149:3; 150:4). True Biblical worship will confront our fleshly pride.

We can see these examples in the life of Jesus. He spoke praise (Luke 11:21), lifted His hands (Luke 24:50), lifted His head (John 11:41; 17:1), and kneeled (Luke 22:41).

There are many different Hebrew verbs for active physical worship that are mentioned in 2 Chron. 20. Sometimes, these words are simply translated praise in the English translations.

Eleven Different Hebrew Verbs for Active Physical Worship in 2 Chronicles 20

  1. Qadad – to bow in deference to
  2. Naphal – to prostrate before
  3. Shachan – to fall or do homage to royalty
  4. Qum – to stand
  5. Halal – to boast in the Lord
  6. Shir – to sing
  7. Amar – to speak
  8. Yadah – to hold out the hand, giving thanks (translated: praise)
  9. Rinnah – to sing
  10. Tehillah – to sing a hymn
  11. Barak – to kneel

These are timeless Biblical expressions of worship and praise that go beyond any church tradition or cultural preference.

Worship involves our minds. Worship engages our intellect as we allow our minds to be renewed by God’s Word (Rom. 12:2). Intellect cannot accurately lead us to God. We can only know what is knowable to us and what we choose to accept. But if we are truly led to God, our intellects will be satisfied and can more properly and fully appreciate the truth that God reveals.

True worship is spiritual. It goes beyond just intellect and emotions. God is Spirit, so our worship must involve our spirit, the in-most part of our being, as we’re led by the Spirit of God.

When we begin to worship and acknowledge God and His rule in our lives and in the world, our human soul begins to be restored. We’re surrendering our lives to Him and inviting Him to restore His rule in our lives and in the world around us. As a result of the Fall (Gen. 3), mankind lost the relationship with the heavenly Father. Through the work of Jesus on the cross, God begins the restoration process in our lives. When we enter into biblical worship, we are coming under God’s rule, His plan, and His ways.

The call to worship is before us. Let’s offer our bodies as a living sacrifice before the Lord. Let His presence fill your heart, let His glory transform your soul, and let His power be manifest in your life!

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
    let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!

Psalm 95:6 (ESV)

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Photo Credits

Left: Photo by MD Duran on Unsplash. Right: Photo by Derek Story on Unsplash

David Kim

I'm David Kim and the Bible has been a passionate pursuit of mine for many years. This is a site where I get to share with you some of the things that I’ve been learning. I’m a husband, a father, pastor of a church in Northern California, and a life-long student of the Scriptures.

27 thoughts on “What Is Worship According to the Bible? Definitions & Foundations

  1. Thanks, David, for such insight in a true worship of God. This month has been set apart for the teaching on worship in the church where I serve as founder and head pastor. Your information have given me some spiritual help. I bless the Holy Spirit for the inspiration and insight I will share with our congregation. I look forward to get further help covering topics if your don’t mind in the Lord. Especially that a lot of us, pastors here in Africa are not well equipped for ministry, yet we do for we carry the passion and calling, such strengthening from you is very important. I will share with our other pastors all I have gathered from here.

    1. Pastor Ben Davies, thank you for your encouragement. What a privilege it is for me to be able to serve you and other pastors and leaders in Africa. I’m grateful that these articles can be helpful. I think of what a precious gift that the believers in Africa are to the global Body of Christ – your passion and dedication to the call of the Gospel. We need each other and every member of the Body of Christ is so valuable. I’m grateful to be able to serve our Lord together with you.

  2. thank you for this message, very informative, thanks for sharing, and with due respect please allow me to use this for our bible study.

    1. Thank you. I’m glad to hear it’s helpful. Yes, I hope that it stirs up a spirit of worship for everyone in your Bible Study.

  3. God bless you pastor Dave! This was a powerful article! I have a True Heart for Worship. This article was a blessing. It was very insightful and simplistic. I plan to use it as a tool to help me teach on worship. God’s blessing upon you & your ministry. Pastor Eugene

    1. Thank you. I’m so grateful to hear the article was helpful. God bless you, Pastor Eugene and your ministry, as you teach and lead others in worship of our glorious God!

  4. Actually thanks very much for the information shared…. I have been drown near the spiritual worship and tomorrow is my Bible study lesson

  5. Brother & Pastor Kim, I truly enjoyed this article. As a pastor myself, I found the information Holy Spirit led and amazingly written. I thank God for inspiring your thoughts on aareas of worship. May Father God continue to Bless you and your family with His Abundance of riches in every area of your lives. Shalom my Brother in Christ.

    1. Thank you! Many blessings to you and your family as well as you worship the Living God and fulfill His assignments and ministry in your life.

  6. blessed day pastor Kim. I would like to ask your permission to use this material about worship. God bless.

    1. Yes, as long as it’s not republished somewhere else and it’s for your church or worship team please feel free to use the material. I’m so grateful to hear that it’s helpful. God bless you.

  7. Dear Pastor Kim, Thank you so much for this article. This morning at our family discussion, we were looking at congregational singing as part of church worship services. We were trying to understand how acceptable it is to God, when within the congregation, there are those of us who can’t sing, but this is offered to God as worship. We were considering whether this is offering to God sacrifices that are lame and with blemish. We looked at this in context of David appointing 4,000 Levites who were set aside for praising God musically 1 Chronicles 23:5, 30&31. So I decided to see if there was any research on Biblical worship and found your your article, which is enlightening. Please share any Biblical perspective you may have on our consideration of congregational singing.

    1. Dear Earls, It’s wonderful that you can discuss topics like this with your family! It’s amazing how David appointed singers and musicians to praise God day and night.

      Hebrews 13:15 says that the sacrifice of praise that we bring to God is offered through Jesus, as we acknowledge His name. Jesus is the Lamb of God who was slain for us (Rev. 5:9). Without Jesus’ finished work on the cross for us, even our best works and singing would be like blemished sacrifices. But when we offer our praise and singing to God because of our faith in Christ, it is acceptable to God. Our hearts are much more important to God than our ability to sing well. Jesus is worthy to be praised whether we sing well or not. Our worship to God is expressed in our lives as we bear fruit by remaining in Him. I pray that God would fill your family with a fresh spirit of worship!

  8. Hi Pastor Kim, amazing insight, I am putting together a Bible study on worship/ music in the church and would like to know it I can use some of the material. None of it would be reposted.
    Than you

    1. Hi Marsha, I’m grateful to hear that the material will be useful for the Bible study you’re putting together. I pray that God will multiply your efforts and bless everyone you share it with!

  9. Thank you so much Pastor David for all this insight concerning True Worship. Glory be to the Lord. I pray that many People worldwide manage to access,learn,spread this gospel word and most importantly act/change our ways accordingly to how Jesus lived his life and truely put into actions what true worship is
    AMEN .
    God bless you all Brothers and sisters
    This is young upraising Pastor Martin from UGANDA(EastAfrica)

  10. I’m grateful to hear that God would bless the ministry of His Word and cause it to run switfly and be glorified (2 Thes. 3:1). God bless you, Pastor Martin and may the Lord raise up many worshippers of Jesus Christ in Uganda. I’m so grateful for you and the global body of Christ. I know that as we humble ourselves before the Lord, He will use us for His glory 1 Pet. 5:5-7. All the glory be to Jesus Christ, He alone is the Worthy One.

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