What is Worship? Part 2

Note: Reprinted from Worship in Song by Scott Aniol, published by BMH Books, Winona Lake, Indiana, www.bmhbooks.com. Used by permission.



What is Worship?

Worship in All of Life

Worship Begins with Understanding Biblical Truth about God.

Worship in Scripture always includes a presentation of truth about God. Perhaps a few more examples will be helpful.

The LORD reigns; Let the peoples tremble! He dwells between the cherubim; Let the earth be moved! The LORD is great in Zion, And He is high above all the peoples. Let them praise Your great and awesome name—He is holy. The King’s strength also loves justice; You have established equity; You have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. Exalt the LORD our God, And worship at His foot-stool—He is holy (Ps. 99:1-5).

Make a joyful shout to the LORD , all you lands! Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before His presence with singing. Know that the LORD , He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations (Ps. 100).

It is clear from these passages that the reason for the response of worship is always an understanding of truth about God. For instance, in Psalm 99 the responses of trembling, praise, and exultation are the result of understanding that God reigns and that He is holy, just, and right. In Psalm 100, responses of joy, thankfulness, and praise are the result of understanding that God is Creator and that He is good, loving, and faithful.

For worship to be directed to God, the worshiper must understand the truth about God. That is why the preaching of God’s Word should be central in a worship service. It is why a believer must be studying the Word of God if he is to worship God with all of his life. Without understanding God, a person cannot worship Him.

God is known in two ways—by His character and by His works. Both are necessary in a presentation of truth about God. God’s character consists of attributes that describe Him such as holiness, sovereignty, power, love, faithfulness, justice, righteousness, grace, and mercy. God’s works are those things He has done to display His character. The scriptural examples above clearly indicate that God is being worshiped because of truth rooted in Himself, either who He is or what He has done. Only when God’s character and works are seen can He truly be worshiped in a biblical way.

God’s Word is the primary source for observing God. Scripture is full of descriptions of God’s attributes as well as instances of His deeds that display those attributes. God can certainly be known through creation and through our own personal experiences, but the Bible is the only true, absolute, sure source of truth. We can very easily misinterpret our own experiences, or they can change with our circumstances and emotions, but God’s Word is the one dependable source of truth. This is why the Bible must have preeminence in worship. The Bible is God’s means of communicating Himself to His people.

It is not enough for worshipers to observe truth about God. They must also understand that truth. An understanding of truth includes the truth itself and all its implications for us. God means for His people to see and acknowledge His truth. That will often require careful teaching and explanation of the biblical text. Commentaries and other resources can help someone in his personal understanding, while the local church pastor provides weekly exegesis for his people.

Worship Results in Proper Spiritual Response to God.

God is not worshiped, however, when people simply see and understand the truth. A believer must also respond to that truth. The foundation of worship is not only truth about God, but it is also a response directed to God. The believer hears, understands, and accepts truth about God, and then he directs a response toward the God from whom the truth came. What does it mean to “respond” to truth from God? Let’s look at some examples of responses from the Bible.

I will praise the LORD according to His righteousness: and will sing praise to the name of the LORD most high (Ps. 7:17 KJV ).

Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come before him: worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness (1 Chron. 16:29 KJV ).

Sing unto God, sing praises to his name: extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his name YAH [LORD ], and rejoice before him (Ps. 68:4 KJV).

Some proper responses to truth about God are things like thanks, praise, exultation, and adoration. Other passages demonstrate responses toward God such as brokenness, contrition, and grief (Ps. 51:17; 38:18); longing and desire (Ps. 42:1-2; 73:25-26); fear and awe (Ps. 5:7; 33:8; 103:3-5); gratitude (Ps. 100:4); and joy and hope (Ps. 32:11; 42:5). God is truly glorified when His people respond to truth about Him. In what ways are these responses manifested? We respond in two ways—with our affections and with our actions.

I will explain what I mean by the term “affection” more fully in chapter 4, but for now I will just say that affection is more than sweaty palms or a quickened heartbeat. It is more than mere chemical response to some external stimulus. Affection is the internal response of our spirit to what we know, and it is what drives us to follow what we know to be true. The difference between the two is like the difference between laughing because you’re being tickled and laughing because you get a joke. If someone tickles you, nothing intellectual has to occur for you to laugh. Your response of laughing is simply an involuntary physical response to a stimulus. On the other hand, if you laugh because you have just been told a joke, you are laughing as a result of something that has occurred in your intellect—you got the punch line! So when I say that we respond to truth with our affections, understand that I mean more than some kind of physical “tingle.” See chapter 4 for a more thorough discussion.

Another important form of response to an understanding of truth about God is action. That connects more with the concept of worship in all of life. Our every action should be a response of worship to the Lord. These actions can take the form of obedience to explicit commands. We respond a certain way because we understand that God is holy and that He will punish sin. Responses of action can also take the form of making choices with the purpose of bringing glory to God. We will discuss later how to make those choices.

Putting all of this together, then, we arrive at our biblical definition of worship: Worship is a spiritual response to God as a result of understanding biblical truth about God.


Many Christians segment their lives into “sacred” and “secular.” It is true, of course, that when believers gather for public worship or speak of biblical matters, more narrowed considerations must govern what is acceptable. However, according to our Lord’s words in John 4, all of life is worship—not just what happens on Sunday mornings.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon Christians to view every decision they make in life as a decision of worship. Is the decision a correct response (of action or affection) to truth you know about God from His Word? This should motivate a believer to live an active life of progressing in holiness, an important topic we will consider in the next chapter.

For Discussion

1. Define the biblical essence of worship.
2. Discuss why understanding biblical truth about God is so important for worship.
3. What can you learn about God and His character from sources other than the Bible?
4. List several truths about God and responses that are appropriate for each truth.

aniol_scott_09.jpgScott Aniol received a bachelor’s degree in Church Music at Bob Jones University and a master’s degree in Musicology at Northern Illinois University. He has taken seminary classes at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary and did graduate work in choral conducting and church music history at Concordia University in River Forest, Illinois. As the executive director of Religious Affections Ministries, Scott speaks on the subjects of music and worship at various churches and conferences. His most recent speaking engagements include the Great Lakes Conference on Theology, Central Seminary’s Foundations Conference, International Baptist College, and Bob Jones Seminary. Scott’s book, Worship in Song, was recently released by BMH Books. Check out his Web site at Religious Affections Ministries.
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