But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
John 4:23-24 (NASB)

What is Biblical Worship?

Several words are used for Worship in the Bible. Let‟s look at their meanings.

The word the Bible uses the most for Worship is the Hebrew word

‫ שָׁ חָׁ ה‬Shachah shaw-khaw„.
It is a verb which means it is an act:

Its definition is, “to bow down”

To physically prostrate oneself: before superior in homage before God in worship before false gods before angels

In the second commandment, shachah (worship) was forbidden by God to do to any one or thing but Him.

“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not worship (shachah) them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, Exodus 20:4-5a (NASB)

The act of worship was literally to shachah - to bow down: „You shall not make for yourselves idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves an image or a sacred pillar, nor shall you place a figured stone in your land to bow down (shachah) to it; for I am the LORD your God. Leviticus 26:1 (NASB)

In every culture throughout history the physical act of bowing, falling down on knees, or falling facedown with hands raised above our heads has been the sign and the act of surrender.

This is the essence of biblical Worship – to surrender ourselves to God.

Shachah is also used to describe the act of surrendering your greatest and most important love to God. Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship (shachah) and return to you.” Genesis 22:5 (NASB)

When Abraham uttered these words only he and God knew the worship he would give on the mountain would be to surrender his most precious love to God. I believe this is one of the greatest acts of worship in history. God used it to do for the world what He asked Abraham to do for Him – to give his only Son.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NASB)

What ever we love, if surrendered to God becomes a gift of worship which He will remember and use for all eternity. What ever we love, if unsurrendered to God becomes an idol which separates us from Him.

The act of falling facedown in surrender as an act of worship is even stronger in the aramaic word cĕgid which is what Nebuchadnezzar commanded Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to do.

Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship (cĕgid) the image that I have made, very well. But if you do not worship (cĕgid), you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” Daniel 3:15 (NASB)

The threat of harm and death could not bring the young men to surrender to a man or to worship a false god because God was more important to them than their lives.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. 17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship (cĕgid) the golden image that you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18 (NASB)

We see in these three young men that worship is an act of great courage. They demonstrated the first principle of worship -nothing is held in greater honor, respect, and value than the One we truly worship. Not even the loss of our lives will keep us from worshipping Him. We are giving in our worship what the old English word said from which our modern word is derived – Worthship. We are saying He is of the highest worth.

Another Hebrew word used for worship is

ַ ‫`עָׁ צב‬atsab
Its definition is:
to labor, to shape, fashion, make, stretch into shape, to form, copy, to worship.

It‟s primary use is in the work done to a false god: And when we burned incense to the queen of heaven, and poured out drink offerings unto her, did we make her cakes to worship (`atsab) her, and pour out drink offerings unto her, without our men? Jeremiah 44:19 (KJV)

In the word `atsab we understand a primary truth about worship. We become like the one we worship. We are fashioned into the likeness of whatever we worship.

Their idols are silver and gold, The work of man‟s hands. 5 They have mouths, but they cannot speak; They have eyes, but they cannot see; 6 They have ears, but they cannot hear; They have noses, but they cannot smell; 7 They have hands, but they cannot feel; They have feet, but they cannot walk; They cannot make a sound with their throat. 8 Those who make them will become like them, Everyone who trusts in them.
Psalm 115:4-8 (NASB)

We can see this clearly in the world today. Even when people are extreme fans (from the word fanatic – to be inhabited by a spirit) of someone, they begin to look and act like them. How much more so when we worship someone or something.

This brings us to our third word that is used in the Bible for worship:

‫ פָׁ נִים‬paniym
It means to meet face to face, to come into God‟s presence – literally before His face - to offer worship

When the tribe of Dan set up golden calves as idols God said,

Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship (paniym) before the one as far as Dan.
1 Kings 12:30 (NASB)

8 And

it came about, whenever Moses went out to the tent, that all the people would arise and stand, each at the entrance of his tent, and gaze after Moses until he entered the tent. 9 Whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent; and the LORD would speak with Moses. 10 When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would arise and worship (shachah) , each at the entrance of his tent. Exodus 33:8-10

Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face (paniym al paniym) , just as a man speaks to his friend.
Exodus 33:11 (NASB)

When Moses would go into the tent and meet with God face to face he would come out with the glorious light of God radiating from his face.

But whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with Him, he would take off the veil until he came out; and whenever he came out and spoke to the sons of Israel what he had been commanded, 35 the sons of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses‟ face shone. . . .
Exodus 34:34-35a (NASB)

When we worship God we come before His face. In doing so we are transformed into His likeness:
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NASB)

We see in this principle one of God‟s most important reasons for asking us to worship Him and Him only. In worship He has given us one of the most powerful ways to become like Him. The simple act of worship changes us into his likeness.

How do we come before God‟s Face?
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.
Psalm 95:2 (NASB)

Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
Psalm 100:4 (NASB)

Thanksgiving and praise are the primary attitudes of worship. Without them in our lives we cannot find God‟s face, we cannot come into His presence.

To be real, our thanksgiving and praise must be in all situations of life:

in everything give thanks; for this is God‟s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NASB)

The main word used in the New Testament for worship is the Greek word Προσκυνέω – proskyneō

Its Primary Defintion is to kiss: To kiss the hand to (towards) one, in token of reverence, To fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence By kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one) or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or to make supplication Used of homage shown to men and beings of superior rank to the Jewish high priests to God to Christ to heavenly beings to demons

It is what the Magi wanted to do and finally did to Jesus as the Messianic King who was to be born in Israel:
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship (proskyneō) Him.” Matthew 2:1-2 (NASB)

It was what the devil asked Jesus to do to him in return for the whole world: Again, the devil *took Him to a very high mountain and *showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship (proskyneō) me.” Matthew 4:8-9 (NASB)

And it was what Jesus refused to do to him and said should only be done to God:

Then Jesus *said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, „YOU SHALL WORSHIP (proskyneō) THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.‟”
Matthew 4:10 (NASB)

Notice the link Jesus makes between Worshiping and Serving God.


Jesus uses the word proskyneō in one of his strongest teachings on worship given to a Samaritan woman.

Our fathers worshiped (proskyneō) in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship (proskyneō).” 21 Jesus *said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship (proskyneō) the Father.
John 4:20-21 (NASB)

You worship (proskyneō) what you do not know; we worship (proskyneō) what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers (proskynētēs) will worship (proskyneō) the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers (proskynētēs). John 4:22-23 (NASB)

God is spirit, and those who worship (proskyneō) Him must worship (proskyneō) in spirit and truth.”
John 4:20-24 (NASB)

We see the link Jesus made between worship and service in the next Greek word the Bible uses for worship:

λατρεύω - latreuō

Its definition is : To serve for hire To serve, minister to, either to the gods or men and used alike of slaves and freemen To render religious service or homage, to worship To perform sacred services, to offer gifts, to worship God in the observance of the rites instituted for his worship Of priests, to officiate, to discharge the sacred office

It is used by Paul as what we as true believers do:
for we are the true circumcision, who worship (latreuō) in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh,
Philippians 3:3 (NASB)

Paul completes our biblical view of worship as he shows us what true worship is:
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship (latreia).
Romans 12:1 (NASB)

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