Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) once said “Every definition is dangerous.” That may explain why when we try to define a word simply and precisely we often end up missing significant aspects of the word we’re defining. Attempts at explaining worship as “love,” or “intimacy,” or “relationship” say something true, but end up leaving out more than they contribute to our understanding of worship.
In spite of Erasmus’ warning, over the years I’ve come across numerous definitions of “worship” that have caused me think about worship more biblically.
Harold Best, in his book Music Through the Eyes of Faith, defines worship in the broadest sense as “acknowledging that someone or something else is greater – worth more – and by consequence, to be obeyed, feared, and adored…Worship is the sign that in giving myself completely to someone or something, I want to be mastered by it” (pg. 143).
We want to be mastered by the objects of our worship. And indeed we are. We worship whatever rules our time, energy, thoughts, longings, and choices. “Those who make them [idols] become like them; so do all who trust in them.” (Psa. 115:8, ESV)
A definition of worship that I appreciate for its simplicity and clarity is by Warren Wiersbe, who writes:
“Worship is the believer’s response of all that they are – mind, emotions, will, body – to what God is and says and does” (Warren Wiersbe, Real Worship, pg. 26).
I’ve used that definition, or something similar, when I want to accent that worship can’t be half-hearted, and is all about God’s character, words, and acts.
David Peterson, unpacks what at first blush is a more sterile, but nevertheless insightful, definition:
“Worship of the living and true God is essentially an engagement with him on the terms that he proposes and in the way that he alone makes possible” (Engaging with God, pg. 20).
Peterson’s definition highlights God’s initiative, authority, and enabling power in our worship.
Dr. Dan Block, who until recently was a Professor of Old Testament at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, defines true worship as “reverential human acts of submission and homage before the divine Sovereign, in response to his gracious revelation of himself, and in accordance with his will.” (from Dr. Block’s For the Glory of God. course notes)
This is the first definition that specifically mentions what many of the biblical words for worship imply – submission and homage.
Well, this post is already longer than I anticipated. But, here’s one more from William Temple’s (1881-1944) Readings in St. John’s Gospel.
“Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His Beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of will to His purpose – and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin”.
For more on this topic, listen to the following free message from Sovereign Grace Ministries:
Worship: What Really Matters by Bob Kauflin