Internal and External Worship.
I believe there is a difference between the inner essence of worship in someone’s heart and the external expression or outer manifestation of worship. I come to this initial conclusion through the remarks of Jesus in Matthew 15:8-9, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me…”
Regardless of what one defines to be “true worship,” Jesus indicated that without the right heart and essence of inner worship, that all outward and external manifestations of worship are in vain. Vain means nothing, empty, useless, and profitless. Any attempt to worship God outwardly without first having a heart of true worship, is these very things—nothing, empty, useless, and profitless.
The Whom and How of Worship.
So what is this true worship of the heart? For this, Jesus’s words in John 4:23-24 truly define true worship, and true worshippers. “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” A true worshipper of God must worship Him in spirit and truth. This is the emphasis Christ is making. Before we delve into what exactly is “worship Him in spirit and truth,” let us see the events leading up to this declaration of Jesus Christ.
Jesus is passing through a Samaritan village. Worn, tired, hungry, and thirsty from His travels, He is sitting on a well at about noon when a Samaritan women approaches Him. Samaritans were Jews who had intermarried with foreigners shortly after the Northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to Assyria in the 720’s BC. The Samaritans built their own temple for worship in Mt. Gerizim in contrast to the temple in Jerusalem, first built by Solomon, subsequently to be erected by Zerubbabel, and later expanded by King Herod.
As Jesus begins a conversation with this women, she quickly realizes that He is no ordinary man. Christ reveals the secrets of her past regarding her adultery, all the while offering this women Living Water of everlasting life— of which, she will “never thirst again.” In awe, she pronounces, “I perceive that thou art a prophet,” and knowing Jesus has the answers, she beckons Him to answer a question regarding worship. She asks where is the right place to worship God. She asks whether it to be the Samaritan temple or the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus gives her a very different answer. He says in verse 21,“Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.” Jesus was saying that the where of worship is not the important factor. He is about to later reveal the how of worship to be the vastly more important, but first He identifies the Person of worship, the Whom.
The next verse revealed to the Samaritan women that the Whom of her worship was different from that of the Jews. The Samaritans had rejected most of the Old Testament, and therefore their knowledge and understanding of the identity of God was different from that of the Jews. To that point, the Jews knew the true identity of God because they had not rejected the Old Testament, but held it to be the Word of God. Verse 22 reads, “Ye (Samaritans) worship ye know not what: we (Jews) know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.” After Jesus addresses the Whom of worship— true God, He focuses on the how of worship in the following verses.
Now we come to our text in John 4:23-24, which reads, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” Jesus said the hour was come for true worshippers to worship the Father. Jesus then characterized a true worshipper by two words.—spirit and truth.
Worshipping in Spirit.
Worshipping God must first be of the inner spirit. It is not an outward action. It is the opposite of worshipping God with the external body. It is the opposite of traditionalism and formalism which too often prevails in our church services and “worship” services. The origin of true worship is not on the outside of what we do, what we say, what we wear, or what we sing. The origin of true worship is in the inside, the spirit. I believe the word “spirit” to be inner spirit of man rather than the Holy Spirit. (although one can make a case for both) However, the two are connected. The Holy Spirit is the only One who can quicken our inner spirit to have true worship for God. John 3:6 reads,“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” In other words, God’s Holy Spirit is the only alive and quickening Agent by which our inner spirit can be made ready and sensitive. This even means ready and sensitive for true worship, rather than customs or traditions which others deem as true worship.
Worshipping in Truth.
Worshipping God must be rooted in the truth of God. We must recognize the truth of God’s identity, person, and reality. Answering correctly the question, “Who truly is God?” is vital for true worship. We must know the God of the Bible, His Holy character, and we must admit His eternality before we engage in true worship. We cannot worship God if we do not first have a true view of God. The truth is what sets man free. (John 8:32)
The What of Worship.
We have established that we must first worship God in the inside of our hearts, and with the truth of God according to John 4. We must then ask the question, “What is the act of Worship?” Is it the prostration of our bodies, the singing of songs, the deep fervent prayer of a Christian, or the open praise of man in awe of the majesty of God? Let us examine the word “worship.”
Worship is found 108 times in our Bible. With all the derivatives including worshipped, worshipping, worshippers, and others, it occurs 198 times. There are a vast number of Hebrew and Greek words translated “Worship.” The most common in Hebrew (OT) is “shâchâh.” It is translated in the KJV as “worship,” “bow down,” and “humbly beseech.” In the Greek a myriad of words are translated “worship” including προσκυνέω—proskuneo (John 4:21-24, 12:20, Acts 24:11, Revelation 4:10), σέβομαι—sebomai (Mark 7:7, Acts 13:43, 18:7, 18:13, 19:27), and λατρεύω—latreuo (Acts 7:42, Romans 1:25).
While these words and others are translated “worship,” there are instances when these words are varyingly translated, such as “service,” “serve,” and “devout.”
This Hebrew word is the most common word for worship in the Old Testament. Notice the defining of this word.
- שָׁחָה (shachah):
The physical bowing down as an act of worship of the Old Testament Jews was because the very Glory and Presence of God was in their midst. Today, Christians have the presence of God by way of the Holy Spirit living in their own hearts. One day, we will once again physically be in the presence of God and Jesus Christ to bow down in adoration just like Israel did in the temple, and the Jews did to Jesus Christ. Bowing is an action showing God’s worthiness in our hearts. One day we will bow down because we will be in the physical presence of God and Jesus Christ throughout eternity. However, presently, we should and we can today have the attitude involved in bowing which is total and complete reverence of our hearts. Our modern culture does not deem bowing down as an accepted form of respect, however many cultures still observe this to be so. We honor and respect in other ways, the most important being completely obedient. The greatest way I can worship God is to be obedient to His every command for my life.
This word translated worship is one of the most common in the New Testament. It is used recurringly in the Gospels and the book of the Revelation. Notice the brief analysis of this word. (These definitions are shortened for clarity from their respective sources, but they do not distort the lexical meanings and/or definitions)
- Friberg, Analytical Greek Lexicon: (1) from a basic sense bow down to kiss someone's feet, garment hem, or the ground in front of him; (2) in the NT of worship or veneration of a divine or supposedly divine object, expressed concretely with falling face down in front of someone worship, venerate, do obeisance to;
- Gingrich, Greek NT Lexicon: (fall down and) worship, do obeisance to, prostrate oneself before, do reverence to, welcome respectfully depending on the object
- Danker, Greek NT Lexicon: [πρός, κυνέω ‘to kiss’ (freq. part of social ritual)] ‘recognize another’s prestige by offering special honor
The etymology of this word consists in two parts. The prepositional prefix, “pros” and the root word, “kuneo.” The prepositional prefix “pros” can defined as “to, towards, or with” (Essentials of New Testament Greek, Summers). The word “kuneo" literally means “to kiss.” Many have associated “kuneo” with the knee, however this is a false assertion, although there is a similarity in sound. (Liddell & Scott, Greek-English Lexicon)
With these observations, I would have to define “proskuneo” as Strong or Thayer would define them:
- Strong’s #4352: meaning to kiss, like a dog licking his master's hand.
- Thayer's Greek Lexicon: to kiss the hand to (towards) one, in token of reverence
- Grady Scott says, “It originally carried with it the idea of subjects falling down to kiss the ground before a king or kiss their feet.”
The idea of “Proskuneo” as worship is a reverence to kiss the feet or hand of a king. God is our King and worship truly encompasses us as God’s people recognizing Him to be so. It involves us reverencing Him in like manner, and giving Him utmost and utter respect and glory!
- Friberg, Analytical Greek Lexicon: always of the worship of a deity: worship, venerate, adore
- Gingrich, Greek NT Lexicon: Godfearers, worshipers of God
- Danker, Greek NT Lexicon: have a worshipful reverence for
This word in its technical sense was used for certain Gentiles who adhered to many Jewish practices, and customs, but did not assume full obligations. (Fridberg, Gingrich, and Danker)
The idea “sebomai” as worship is a reverence in the presence of God and holding the Lord God in awe. This word is used to describe the testimony of Lydia in Acts 16:14, “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped (sebomai) God.” It is also used to describe the testimony of Justus in Acts 18:7, “And he departed thence, and entered into a certain man's house, named Justus, one that worshipped (sebomai) God.”
In studying, this word has become one of my favorites to describe worship. Although it is translated worship different places in our Bibles, it is also translated “service” in many other instances, one of these places being a very well known passage of Scripture, Romans 12:1. This is Paul’s definition of “Spiritual Worship” to God, which the KJV translates as “Reasonable Service.” Before we look at this verse, let’s define the word itself.
- Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance: divine service, worship
- Thayers Greek Lexicon: in the Greek Bible, the service or worship of God according to the requirements of the levitical law.
- Friberg, Analytical Greek Lexicon: religious service based in worship service (of God), divine service, worship
- Gingrich, Greek NT Lexicon: religious service, worship (of God)
This word has the idea, more than proskuneo or sebomai, to describe our service in the worship of God. Rather than the idea and heart attitude, this word goes beyond that to show the physical outworking of true worship. This is why I must believe that God inspired the Apostle Paul to use this particular word describing worship in Romans 12:1. The verse reads, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. (latreuo)” This is our reasonable worship. Involved in true worship, there is sacrifice. However the Old Testament example of animal sacrifices for the atonement of sins was done away with after the final Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We no longer have to offer the blood of lambs and goats because Jesus shed His last drop of blood to pay the penalty of our sins.
When we worship God there is sacrifice involved. It is the offering of our selves as a living sacrifice. It is surrender of our own desires and wants, and a complete yielding to God. It is to let Him have full control and keep none for ourselves. This is true worship according to the Apostle Paul. It is “reasonable worship (service)”
More than an outward act, God first wants yielded and surrendered hearts. This will produce true worship. When one chooses to worship God in spirit and truth, it will produce actions pleasing to God. Worship is not confined to a position or a posture, it is much more than that. It is the full reverential awe of the Creator, and the actions carried out and produced from this heart attitude. It is singing, praying, giving, praising, glorifying, adoring, and loving God through the obedience of His Word. Words we say and deeds we do can be a worshipful act toward God (Colossians 3:17)
The fires of worship must first burn deep within our spirit, and then the flames will push out in confession of sin, praise to the Savior, singing of songs, bowing in humility, and most importantly living obedient lives. This is the external manifestation of inner worship. May we be true worshippers, worshipping the only and true God!
Quotes on Worship
“It would be very difficult to draw a line between holy wonder and real worship; for when the soul is overwhelmed with the majesty of God's glory, though it may not express itself in song, or even utter its voice with bowed head and humble prayer, yet it silently adores.”— Charles Spurgeon
“All places are places of worship to a Christian. Wherever he is, he ought to be in a worshiping frame of mind.”—Charles Spurgeon
“We must never rest until everything inside us worships God.”—A. W. Tozer
"Worship is no longer worship when it reflects the culture around us more than the Christ within us.”— A. W. Tozer
“There are occasions when for hours I lay prostrate before God without saying a word of prayer or a word of praise—I just gaze on Him and worship.”—A. W. Tozer
“Labor that does not spring out of worship,” he once wrote, “is futile and can only be wood, hay and stubble in the day that shall try every man’s work.”—A. W. Tozer
“Worship is to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring awe, astonished wonder and overpowering love in the presence of that most ancient Mystery, that Majesty which philosophers call the First Cause but which we call Our Father in Heaven.”—A. W. Tozer
“Worship is the believer’s response of all that he is—mind, emotions, will, and body—to all that God is and says and does”—Warren W. Wiersbe
"The time has come for a revival of public worship as the finest of the fine arts… While there is a call for strong preaching there is even a greater need for uplifting worship." —Andrew W. Blackwood
“We must never rest until everything inside us worships God.”—A. W. Tozer