Biblical worship?

Psalm 92

1It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High;

2to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night,

3to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre.

4For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.

5How great are your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep!

6The dullard cannot know, the stupid cannot understand this:

7though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever,

8but you, O Lord, are on high forever.

9For your enemies, O Lord, for your enemies shall perish; all evildoers shall be scattered.

10But you have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox; you have poured over me fresh oil.

11My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies; my ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants.

12The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

13They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God.

14In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap,

15showing that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

            We are gathered today for several reasons. We are gathered here today to sing; we are gathered here today to pray. We are gathered here today to listen to teaching about God, and we are gathered here today to support one another as we travel along this road of life. Collectively, we call this “worship.”

            When I say the word “worship” you probably have a picture or two in your mind. Perhaps you think of someone with their hands raised high in the air with their eyes closed and tears streaking down their face. Maybe you picture someone on their knees silently in prayer. Perhaps you think of some person in a nice suit, lapel microphone, and Bible in hand talking about the scriptures. Maybe you think of a worship band or a choir gathered in the front of a church leading the congregation in music. Or maybe you think of someone embracing another or laying their hands on another as they pray for someone going through a rough time. If this is your idea of worship, you are correct.

            To worship something or someone means to elevate it/them above all other things. We might say that someone worships a particular athlete or perhaps they worship a valuable item like a car or a house. Sometimes we take it a little further and say that someone worships the ground another person walks on. Even the ground becomes holy when they tread upon it! That might be a bit extreme, but we also hear about people buying locks of Elvis’ hair on ebay and things like that. I don’t call that worship. I call that weird, I mean, poor stewardship.

            Today we are talking about worshipping God. And worship is one of those weird words that we have that can mean a number of different things to us. I want to start today by looking at a few Greeks words that we translate as “worship” and try to expand our understanding of what worship is.

I have said many times before that there are more words in the Greek language than there are in English. So we often clump multiple Greek words together and translate them as one English word. The obvious example is the Greek words that we translate as “love.” There are a number of Greek words that are used to describe the different aspects of what we call love.

            The same thing can be said about the words we translate as “worship.” I have a list of six Greek words that we translate into the word “worship,” though I believe there are at least 12 words that we assign that definition. The first (alphabetically) is the word homologia. Homologia means to profess something. When you say “Jesus Christ is Lord,” or “I will follow Jesus,” you are professing your faith. When you sing songs and pray publically, you are professing your faith. And in the New Testament, this is a part of worship.

            The second word that I want to look at is latreuo, which literally means “service.” In Romans 12:1 Paul talks about offering our bodies as living sacrifices, that this is true and proper worship. The word translated there as worship is latreuo, though elsewhere it is simply translated as sacrifice, showing how closely related these two things are. When we serve God or serve others, we are worshipping in a very physical, tangible way.

            Proskuneo is probably more of what we think of when we use the word worship. This is a reference to your physical posture. Proskuneo is a posture of submission and literally means to “kiss forward.” This is bending forward, placing your face to the ground, humbly submitting yourself to another by showing yourself to be “lower” than they are.

            Sebomai means to revere or to adore. When we worship, we show our adoration of God and our reverence for him. This is like when someone buys the lock of Elvis’ hair online.

            Therapeuo means to wait upon another. This isn’t waiting like being patient while God does something. This waiting is a way of saying ministering to another. Think of the waitress or waiter serving you. This is the act of putting the needs of someone else first. It is the word we get our English word “therapy” from.

            The last word is thusia, which is sometimes translated as sacrifice. We are all sacrificing something to be here today worshipping God. We are sacrificing sleep, work, golf, and television. Placing worship before some other things that may seem like more fun is a sacrifice.

            So just a few words that we translate into our English word “worship” that seem to mean something else when not read in context. But these words help us better understand worship in the Bible. It is profession of your faith, it is service to God and others, it is a posture of submission, it is reverence for God, it is ministering to God and one another, and it is a sacrifice on our behalf.

            Let’s jump to our text for today to see what this Psalm tells us about worship. Verse 1 says, “It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High.” This is a part of what we do when we gather on a Sunday. We give thanks and we sing praises. Many Sundays we sing the Doxology after taking up our offering. Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow… We recognize that the money in our pockets, the food in our refrigerators, and the clothes on our backs come to us through the blessings of God. So we sing about it!

            Verse 2 goes on to say that we are to declare the steadfast love of God in the morning and his faithfulness by night. This is a reference to verse 1. We declare, we speak with our mouths about the love of God. And maybe this is a good case for going back to two services on a Sunday because we are not only called to do it once, but both morning and night.

            Now I don’t think that this is meant to be a legalistic teaching that we need to meet to praise God twice a day. I think the point is that we are to spend more than just the obligatory hour in praise of God each week. Wake up with a song of praise on your lips, give thanks before you begin your meals, and thank God for the day when the sun goes down. All good things come from the Lord and we need to give praise to him.

            Observant Jews today begin their day and end their day the same way observant Jews did in Jesus’ day: with the Shema. From Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Write these words on your hand, fix them to your doorposts, fix them to your head, say them when you wake up, when you lie down, and teach them to your children. The point seems to be that there are some things that are really important and if they are really important you should do them often and remember them. Giving praise to God seems to be one of those things.

            Verse three provides a little more information of what that praise can look like. This verse talks about praising God with a lute, harp, and lyre. Now if we are going to be good Christians we need to follow this teaching exactly. And I don’t see any of you holding lutes, harps, or lyres today. This is not biblical worshipJ.

            I didn’t even know what a lute was until I looked it up. I thought maybe someone forgot the “f” from flute. A lute is like an ancient guitar. A harp we know, and a lyre is like a hand-held harp.

            Of course we can’t say that we need to have these instruments in a worship service to make it a worship service. There are plenty of other biblical examples where only vocals are used. But a story that sticks with me from Reformation history is of Protestant Reformer Ulrich Zwingli chopping up the church’s organ and removing it from the church where he was the pastor because he found no command in the New Testament for the inclusion of instruments in worship. I might say that there is also no command for the exclusion of instruments in the New Testament and there are plenty of examples of musical instruments in Old Testament worship, including the clapping of hands.

            Here’s my opinion on musical instruments used in worship: If you like them and they help you worship, use them. I am very thankful for a piano in our congregation, especially when we have smaller crowds in the summer months. I am not a strong singer, but I try to sing harmony when I can. And it helps me to hear the note being played when I try to sing.

            Some people make the claim that having musical instruments will cause us to sing less and simply rely on the musician to do our praising for us. And I believe that this is a legitimate concern. While I like musical accompaniment sometimes, I don’t think that having a musician playing so loud as to cover the voices of everyone in the congregation is what worship is about.

            I recently read a short blog post by Nadia Bolz-Weber about this subject and I want to repost a short excerpt from her post. Nadia is the pastor of House for all Saints and Sinners in Denver, Colorado. She writes:

One of my non-negotiables going in to starting a church was that congregational singing be the primary musical expression of the gathered people of God. Not a band. Not an organ. Not a singer-song writer strumming guitar chords. But the congregation itself.  Singing together means breathing together.  It means creating harmonies that cannot exist when we sing alone.  It builds community and sustains us in a way that nothing else can.

I want to hear your voice when we are singing praises to God. I want to hear it when you miss a note. I want to hear it when you start to sing the wrong verse. I want to hear it when you hit a chord just right. Singing together is a bit of a reminder of what we are called to do as the church, living together in harmony, even when that harmony isn’t perfect.

            I have a bit of a problem with performances in a church setting. Not the every-now-and-then special music that we might hear, but the worship-band-that-plays-so-loud-you-can’t-hear-anything-else kind of music.

            I had someone tell me once that he liked to worship at a particular church because he didn’t think that he had a good voice and the worship band at this church played so loud that he didn’t have to worry about other people hearing him sing and cringing. I respect him for being honest and aware, but there is something wrong with that. When worship becomes trying to please other people around you, or not make them cringe, we are taking our focus off God and putting it on ourselves. And worship isn’t about us. It is about God.

            I don’t know what the right balance is, but I think part of the problem is that over the last few decades the church has fallen into this false assumption that everything needs to be perfect to attract others. We need to have a worship leader that knows exactly when to say what. We need a pastor that can speak poetically and inspirationally. And we need music that is done professionally. Don’t get me wrong, I like worship done well. I do think we need to do our best and worship well. But this isn’t entertainment. It isn’t a concert. This is worship. We don’t come to be entertained or to sit back and watch the professionals handle things. We come to participate in the life of the church as we offer praises to God.

            So the question that I get from time to time is What kind of music should we be singing in church? When people ask that question, they are really asking if we should be singing hymns or praise and worship music. Really, there is any number of different genres of music that we could be focusing on. There is Gospel music, Christian Metal, Christian rap, Christian anything else that you can think of. Often we hear hymns sung with a little different sound, maybe a little twang for a Blue Grass worship service. Of course everyone has their own opinion on what we should be singing and sometimes these are good reasons. The criticism that I usually hear about Praise and Worship music is that it is theologically weak even if it is emotionally uplifting. I get that and I can see that. But guess what: There are plenty of hymns that sing about theology that I don’t particularly like. There is a reason why many Mennonite churches choose not to sing the third verse of Be Thou My Vision. The language is a little too violent for my liking.

            But here is where I come out on the kind of music sung in the church: Sing what you like. If you like hymns, sing hymns. If you like Praise and Worship, sing Praise and Worship songs. Certainly there are some songs in any genre that are better theologically than others, but you don’t have to sing that song or that verse.

            It has been said that there is no such thing as Christian music, only Christian lyrics. There is nothing Christian about a few notes on a staff of music. What makes a song a Christian song is the words that we sing to a tune. Many of the old hymns that we love to sing so much are actually old drinking songs from European taverns that were put with Christian words because the drunkards in the bars already knew the tunes making it easier for them to learn.

            In conclusion I want to give you a take-home point, something that you can remember and apply to your life. I want to reveal to you all the secret that may change your life forever. The most important thing about worship is that you do it. Worship God and do it often. Gather together to worship God, lift one another up in prayer, and learn together what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. But don’t stop there. Make worship a part of your everyday life. Worship when you rise, worship when you lie down. Make time to worship throughout the day. Whether that be singing, playing instruments, clapping, serving, sacrificing, or revering, just do it.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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