Summary: #1 of 7 on Worship. This is mainly a study of the words that refer to worship in the New Testament.

In Spirit and In Truth

A Series on Worship

#1: What is Worship?

We’re beginning a new series on worship, designed to help us worship God in spirit and in truth. As we begin, I thought it would be helpful to look at what worship is.

In the New Testament, we see four basic words (or word groups) for worship:


Literally means “to kiss toward” something or to "kiss the hand." Sort of like the idea of blowing kisses. There are ancient drawings of people blowing kisses to the gods. Came to mean a bowing down, particularly in worship. They think that that came from the idea of bending down to kiss the idols.

I Kings 19:18 shows the connection between bowing down to an idol and kissing the idol:

I Kings 19:18 "Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel — all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him." That’s why the principal word used in the Old Testament to describe worship has its root in a word referring to kissing.

Used 64 times in the New Testament, mainly in the gospels and Revelation. Only used 3 times in the letters to the churches. Two of those times are quotes from the Old Testament. Only once, in I Corinthians 14:25, does it refer to a Christian assembly (And that refers to the actions of a non-Christian). Apparently, this wasn’t a word that the early church used often to talk about Christian worship.

Why include it at all? Well, it’s used in John 4:24, which is an important verse. That’s the verse that I’ve chosen for the title for this series. Look at verses 23 and 24:

John 4:23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.

Seemingly the Samaritan woman in John 4 was saying to Jesus "We Samaritans bow down toward this mountain, and you Jews bow down toward that mountain. Which mountain should we bow toward?” or “Where should I bow down?” That’s the word she’s using, "proskuneo." If you want an idea of what this is like, think about those images of the Afghanis in Guantanamo Bay bowing down toward Mecca. "Which way should I go? I want to do it right."

Jesus’ answer was that "bowing down" was now to be spiritual. Do you see the important change there? Do you see why the word isn’t used much in the letters? Jesus says, "We’re not going to be doing that physical worship that you have known in the past. Our worship will be spiritual." And that word had such strong physical connotations for them that they could not think of it as a spiritual word. The Christians didn’t use it.

So the word is important because we need to picture ourselves mentally throwing ourselves before God, but we’re not going to come in here every Sunday and do that. Because Jesus said it is spiritual now. I think there are extreme moments in our life, just like in Jesus’ life, when we can throw ourselves on the ground and pray to God. But it’s not a part of our public worship.


Literally means “salary” or “pay.” It came to refer to service done without pay, particularly religious service. The King James version often translates this word as "service."

It is used 25 times in the New Testament, never referring to the assembly. When I said "We’re going to do a series on worship," did you have in mind that we were going to talk about what we do in here on Sundays? That’s going to be part of it. But Christian worship happens 7 days a week. It’s something we live, not something we do a couple of times a week.

It’s used in Romans 12:1--

Rom. 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship.

Giving yourself to God every day is your worship to God.


Literally means “service” or “ministry.” In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, it was used almost exclusively to refer to the sacrificial ministry of the priests. When they talked about sacrifices and temple worship, they used this word.

It is rarely used in the New Testament. In fact, many other studies on worship don’t include this word. I want to include it because of Acts 13:2--

Acts 13:2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

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