In case you missed Part 2, find it here: You Cannot Create a "Worship Atmosphere"
This issue of the proper identification and definition of worship is by and large the most difficult misconception that many people in the Church have. When a church hires someone to lead the music in their local assembly, what do they call him? The “worship leader”. Thus, churches tend to equate worship and music as synonymous terms, which is a far cry from reality. I would almost prefer my own title at my church to be changed from “Director of Worship Ministries” to “Director of Instrumental Worship”. The latter is more true to what I am actually doing. I am leading a type of worship: one of songs, music, melody, instrumentation, etc.
Let’s look at some Biblical text. Worship, as found in Scripture, is commonly defined as service. Not just any service, but service to God; a religious type of service for our holy God.
When Satan was tempting Jesus in the desert in Matthew 4, Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and said to Him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” To which Jesus replied, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘you shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
The word here for “worship” is the most common one we find in the Greek, proskuneo. It literally means to “kiss towards” and physically means to bow down, or kneel down, which would often entail kissing someone’s hand in the process. Notice that Satan told Jesus to “fall down and worship me”. “Fall down and worship” is what proskuneo means.
The other word we see here that Jesus follows up to proskuneo with is “serve”, which is latreuo, the second most common word for worship in the Greek. This starts to shed light on the multi-faceted diamond that worship is. Worship is not just bowing down, it is also reverent service.
We see latreuo in other places of Scripture, translated both ways: serve & worship:
Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 1:3, “I thank God, whom I serve (latreuo) with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did…”
Paul also wrote in Philippians 3:3, “We are the circumcision, who worship (latreuo) in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus…”
Different translations do their best to get the exact context right, but both translations are acceptable as latreuo is a word to connote reverent and obedient service, or even ministry, to God as a form of worship.
When David was old and nearing death, he wanted to set up his son Solomon for success by organizing the Temple construction and staff. We read in 1 Chronicles 22:5, “David said, ‘Solomon my son is young and inexperienced, and the house that is to be built for the Lord must be exceedingly magnificent, of fame and glory throughout all the lands. I will therefore make preparation for it.’”
He then organizes different aspects of the entire project, including getting mass quantities of supplies, i.e. iron for nails and clamps, bronze (too much to be weighed), cedar timbers (too many to count), etc. (22:3-4). He also provided Solomon with an abundance of workmen, i.e. stonecutters, masons, carpenters, metal workers, etc. (22:15-16).
He also organized different groups of people for the religious service: the Levites (chap. 23), the priests (chap. 24), and the musicians (chap. 25). In each chapter, they are said to be set apart for “the service”. One of these services of religious worship to God was indeed a music ministry! This was not just a fun time for the people to request which tempos and styles they liked best. This was a time for the people to sing songs that cried out to God with jubilant, repentant, obedient hearts.
In fact, the word “jubilee” comes from Noah’s brother’s name, Jubal. Guess what Jubal did in his spare time? Played the lyre and pipe. He is forever known as “the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe” (Gen. 4:21).
We see in 1 Chronicles 25:1 that there were three different instruments used in the Temple: lyres, harps and cymbals; and they were run by three different families: the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun. We also see that these instrumentalists had brothers, who were “trained in singing to the Lord” and they were “skillful” (25:7).
We can consider many practical things from this one passage, in that the musicians and singers should be trained (not necessarily professionally), skilled individuals, but the larger theological truth we can see in this is that it is not considered the only worship of the Temple. In fact, the word “worship” isn’t found in this chapter, but “service” is and it is used to describe the acts of the priests as well. This is because the worship of the temple included the instrumental and musical service, but it was not defined and summed up by it. Big difference.
True worship is worship that is done in spirit – the right heart – and in truth – grounded in the Word of God (Jn. 4). The Temple was a physical place of worshipful acts, but obedience was always demanded and expected by God, no matter where His people were. Remember that before the Temple was built, the Lord had often highlighted the importance of obedience over that of stark ceremonialism.
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22). This was said by the prophet Samuel to a disobedient King Saul who thought he could keep the animals God said he couldn’t keep if he simply sacrificed some in heartless, or spiritless, ceremonialism.
Saul fell into the group of people that Jesus decried when He said, “For the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; In vain do they worship me…” (Matt.15:6-9).
We must force ourselves to speak a little differently when we throw the word worship around. Don’t speak as if music and worship are synonymous terms. They are not. When we speak of worship, we must speak of obedient lives, surrendered to our Master and Lord in humility and reverence and awe, in fear and trembling, for our God is a consuming fire!
When the Psalmist wrote in 29:2 & 96:9: “Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness” he was essentially saying, worship the Lord by being holy. This can only be granted us by our holy Father in Heaven, along with our faith. See my post on this very topic, Acceptable Worship. In The Splendor of Holiness.
This means that only true Christians can truly worship because they are the only ones that God has truly redeemed and made holy and righteous in God’s sight because of the substitutionary atonement by Jesus Christ, our Lord, for our sins. What grace and mercy!
Friends, don’t cheapen the meaning of worship by limiting it only to music played for 30 minutes on one day of the week. Worship = Obedience. This is a 24/7 gig.
In His Sovereign Grip,
Part 4: Lyrics Are Paramount
Part 4: Lyrics Are Paramount