What is Worship?

Bill Covert Application, Doctrine

For many, the first words that come to mind when hearing “worship” are music and singing.  These elements of worship are seen in both Old Testament and New Testament worship.  Yet, the Old Testament concept of worship is quite different from the New Testament concept.

In the OT, worship was about a place (the Temple) and particular things done at that place (animal sacrifices) by particular people (priests).  In contrast, the NT focus is actually on the Body of Christ.  1 Peter 2:4-5 says, “And coming to Him,…5 you also…are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

And so, in the NT, the Body replaces the OT Temple, the Body replaces the Priests, and the Body offers up their own lives as living/spiritual sacrifices.

Old Testament WorshipNew Testament Worship
  •  Temple Worship
  • Believers are the Temple
  •  Sacrifices & Offerings
  • Believers offer their bodies as a living sacrifice,
  •  Priests
  • Believers are a holy priesthood with Jesus being the High Priest

So, the result is that wherever Christians are, they can worship God.  No building, no music, no singing is required.  No special words and no special people are needed. This was the intent of Jesus words in John 4:23,

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.

Looking at the Greek and Hebrew words that are translated as “worship” in the OT & NT, we find that worship is the response of grateful and humble people to the living God where submission, sacrificial service, praise, profession, testimony, and gratitude are freely expressed. These can be expressed any where at any time and provide a much richer concept than mere singing and praise once a week for 20 minutes – An event that could occur without any actual worship going on at all.

The idea of singing and singing together is found in the New Testament.  The following are descriptive examples:

  • Matthew 26:30. And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
  • Acts 16:25. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,

In addition, we find singing in some of the prescriptive parts of Scripture:

  • 1 Corinthians 14:26.When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.
  • Colossians 3:16. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
  • Ephesians 5:18-20. …be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting…

From looking at the NT descriptions and prescriptions, we can conclude that singing results from being filled with the Spirit and having God’s Word richly dwell within the believer, is used in the context of being thankful to God, is used in smaller intimate settings, and is used to edify believers. There is no picture in the NT of the type of worship services that we see in most American churches today.

For a more detailed look at NT worship, click here for a paper by Lee Campbell.


About the Author

Bill Covert

Bill is an elder, house church leader and teaching pastor of Hope Community Church. He resides in Williamsport, PA with his wife, Sue.