The crafters of the Westminster Shorter Catechism understood this. Question one is, “What is the chief end of man?” Answer: “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever” (note John Piper’s modification from the beginning of Desiring God: we glorify God BY enjoying Him forever).
When we try to define worship, this WSC definition of man’s chief end is a good place to start because it puts the “duty” factor in perspective. Worshipping God is a duty – God expects His creatures to worship Him – but it is a delightful duty, a joy and a great honor. In fact, without the element of joy, worship is not worship – it is empty and meaningless.
So then, how should we define “worship?”
- English root = to ascribe worth: To admit to God that God is worthy. To worship is to say to God, “You are the greatest – studying who you are and praising you is worth my time and energy.” There must be a “knowing God” focus in worship. There is a danger in trying to understand biblical concepts merely by English definitions, however.
- In both Hebrew and Greek, the most common words translated “worship” mean to prostrate ones self before another. This posture is a humble recognition of one who is vastly superior, like subjects of great Ancient Near Eastern kings. Bow, kneel, and fall; all of these actions point to a submission to and recognition of greatness.
Worship, being such a comprehensive topic, is difficult to define. Though there are many, many definitions out there, I will give three, beginning with a long, complicated definition, move to one that is a little shorter and more poetic, and then finish with a very simple definition:
- “Worship is the proper response of all moral, sentient beings to God, ascribing all honour and worth to their Creator-God precisely because he is worthy, delightfully so. This side of the Fall, human worship of God properly responds to the redemptive provisions that God has graciously made. While all true worship is God-centred, Christian worship is no less Christ-centred. Empowered by the Spirit and in line with the stipulations of the New Covenant, it manifests itself in all our living, finding its impulse in the gospel, which restores our relationship with our Redeemer-God and therefore also with our fellow image-bearers, our co-worshippers. Such worship therefore manifests itself both in adoration and in action, both in the individual believer and in corporate worship, which is worship offered up in the context of a body of believers, who strive to align all the forms of their devout ascription of all worth to God with the panoply of New Covenant mandates and examples that bring fulfillment to the glories of the antecedent revelation and anticipate the consummation.” – D.A. Carson in Worship by the Book.
- “Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness, nourishment of mind by His truth, purifying of imagination by His beauty, opening of the heart to His love, and submission of will to His purpose. And all this gathered up in adoration is the greatest of human expressions of which we are capable." – Bishop William Temple
- “Worship is the believer’s response to the known work and worth of God.” – I picked this up somewhere along the way.
I put the most complicated definition first because, though the last simple definition is appealing, it is not adequate to describe Christian worship. The God we worship is not the God of the Mormons or Muslims or a god of our own making, He is the One True God, ultimately revealed to sinners in the person of Jesus Christ. He must be worshipped in the way He has established.
- Worship is what human beings are created for, our greatest and highest occupation
- Worship is a response to God, our Creator and Sovereign Master
- Worship delights in the person and work of God
- Worship is only possible for sinful man because God has reconciled a people to Himself. Sin slammed the door on worship; God opened it again at great cost to Himself by sending His one and only Son to die for sinners.
- True worship works itself out in how we live throughout the week, not just on Sunday at a “worship service”
- Worship finds its highest expression in the congregation of God’s people gathered for worship
- Worship must be rooted in the truth about God, revealed by God Himself
- True Worship is empowered by the Holy Spirit, who convicts us of sin and points us to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Even though worship ought to be an “all of life” occupation of every Christian, it bears reflection as a topic on its own. Worship begins with God’s initiative in revelation. Our response in repentance, faith and obedience is a work of God’s grace. God does not need our worship, but in His kindness and mercy, we may “enjoy Him forever” to His glory.