SPECIAL TOPIC: WORSHIP

I. Introduction

A. Some important questions

1. What is worship?

2. When and how did it begin?

3. What is its content?

4. Who participates?

5. Where and when is it done?

B. These questions will form the outline for our study.  It must be remembered that there is no definitive answer to these questions, but there are scriptural implications and historical developments.

 

II. What is Worship?

A. The English term comes from a Saxon term, "weorthscipe," which denoted someone to whom honor and respect were due.

B. The major OT terms are:

1. 'Abodah, which is from a Hebrew root that means "to serve" or "to labor."  It is usually translated "the service of God."

2. Hishtahawah, which is from a Hebrew root that means "to bow" or "to prostrate oneself" (cf. Exod. 4:31).

C. The major NT terms follow the Hebrew terms.

1. For 'abodah there is latreia, which is the state of a hired laborer or slave.

2. For hishtahawah there is proskuneo, which means "to prostrate oneself," "to adore," or "to worship."

D. Notice that there are two areas which worship impacts.

1. our attitude of respect

2. our lifestyle actions

These two must go together or else major problems result (cf. Deut. 11:13).

 

III. When and How Did it Begin?

A. The OT does not specifically state the origins of worship, but there are several hints in Genesis.

1. God's institution of the Sabbath in Gen. 2:1-3 is later developed into the major weekly worship day.  In Genesis it states that God set a precedent for mankind's rest and worship by His actions and attitudes toward this weekly time segment.

2. God's killing of the animals to provide the fallen couple's clothes in order for them to endure their new fallen environment in Gen. 3:21.  This seems to set the stage for the use of animals for mankind's needs, which will develop into the sacrificial system.

3. Cain and Abel's sacrifice of Gen. 4:3ff seems to have been a regular occurrence, not a one-time event.  This is not a disparaging passage on vegetable offerings or a prescription for animal sacrifice, but a vivid example of the need for a proper attitude toward God.  It does show that somehow God communicated His acceptance and rejection of the sacrifice.

4. The godly Messianic line of Seth is developed in Gen. 4:25ff.  It mentions the covenant name of God, YWHW, in Gen. 4:26, in an apparent worship setting (this passage must be reconciled with Exod. 6:3).

5. Noah states a distinction between clean and unclean animals in Gen. 7:2.  This sets the state for his sacrifices in Gen. 8:20-21.  This implies that sacrifices were well established at an early period.

6. Abraham was well acquainted with sacrifice, which is obvious from Gen. 12:7,8; 13:18; 22:9.  It forms his response to God's presence and promises. Apparently his descendants continued this practice.

7. The book of Job is in a patriarchal setting (i.e., 2000).  He was familiar with sacrifice as is seen in Job 1:5.

8. The biblical material seems to clarify that sacrifice developed out of mankind's awe and respect for God and God's revealed procedures on how to express this.

a. Ten Commandments and Holiness Code

b. Tabernacle Cultus

 

IV. What is its Content?

A. It is obvious that mankind's attitude is the key in sacrifice (cf. Gen. 4:3ff).  This personal element has always been a pillar in revealed biblical faith (cf. Deut. 6:4-9; 11:13; 30:6; Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:26-27; Rom. 2:28-29; Gal. 6:15).

B. However, mankind's reverent attitude was codified into ritual very early.

1. rites of purification (related to a sense of sin)

2. rites of service (feasts, sacrifice, gifts, etc.)

3. rites of personal worship (public and private prayers and praise) 

C. When we address the question of content it is important that we notice the three sources of revelation (cf. Jer. 18:18).

1. Moses and the cultus (priests)

2. The sages of Wisdom Literature

3. The prophets

Each of these has added to our understanding of worship. Each focuses on a consistent and vital aspect of worship.

1. form (Exodus - Numbers)

2. lifestyle (Ps. 40:1ff; Mic. 6:6-8)

3. motive (1 Sam. 15:22; Jer. 7:22-26; Hos. 6:6)

D. Jesus follows the OT pattern of worship.  He never ridiculed the OT (cf. Matt. 5:17ff), but He did reject the Oral Tradition as it had developed by the first century.

E. The early church continued with Judaism for a period (i.e., up to the rabbinical revival and reforms of a.d. 90) and then began to develop its own uniqueness, but generally on a synagogue pattern. The centrality of Jesus, His life, His teachings, His crucifixion, and His resurrection took the place of the OT cultus.  Preaching, baptism, and the Eucharist became focal acts.  The Sabbath was replaced with the Lord's Day.

 

V. Who Participates?

A. The patriarchal culture of the Ancient Near East sets the stage for man's leadership role in all areas of life, including religion.

B. The Patriarch acted as priest to his family in both sacrifice and religious instruction (Job 1:5).

C. For Israel the priest assumed the religious tasks in public, corporate worship setting, while the father retained this place in private worship settings.  With the Babylonian Exile (586 b.c.) the Synagogue and the rabbis developed into a central position in training and worship.  After the Temple's destruction in a.d. 70, rabbinical Judaism, which developed from Pharisees, became dominant.

D. In the church setting the patriarchal pattern is preserved, but with the added emphasis on women's giftedness and equality (cf. 1 Cor. 11:5; Gal. 3:28; Acts 21:9; Rom. 16:1; 2 Tim. 3:11). This equality is seen in Gen. 1:26-27; 2:18.  This equality is damaged by the rebellion of Genesis 3, but is restored through Christ.  Children have always been fellowshiped into the worship setting through their parents, however, the Bible is an adult oriented book.

 

VI. Where and When is Worship Done?

A. In Genesis humanity reveres the places where they have met God.  These sites become altars.  After crossing of the Jordan several sites develop (Gilgal, Bethel, Shechem), but Jerusalem is chosen as the special dwelling place of God connected with the Ark of the Covenant (cf. Deuteronomy).

B. Agricultural times have always set the stage for humanity's gratitude to God for His provision.  Other special sensed needs, such as forgiveness, developed into special cultic days (i.e., Leviticus 16, Day of Atonement).  Judaism developed set feast days—Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (cf. Leviticus 23).  It also allowed for special opportunities for individuals (cf. Ezekiel 18).  

C. The development of the synagogue provided structure to the concept of Sabbath worship.  The church changed this to the Lord's Day (the first day of the week) apparently on Jesus' repeated pattern of appearing to them on Sunday evenings after the resurrection.

D. At first the early church met daily (Acts 2:46), but apparently this was soon dropped for private worship during the week and corporate worship on Sundays.

 

VII. Conclusion

A. Worship of God is not something humans invented or instituted.  Worship is a felt need.

B. Worship is a response to who God is and what He has done for us in Christ.

C. Worship involves the whole person.  It is both form and attitude.  It is both public and private.  It is both scheduled and extemporaneous.

D. True worship is an outgrowth of a personal relationship.

E. The most helpful NT theological passage on worship is probably John 4:19-26.

 

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