In seminary one of our tasks was to do a word study, this was done not so much to teach us how to look for words in Scripture, there are plenty of concordances available, but to get us to explore the various words in Hebrew and Greek, and to compare them to the word the English translator chose as most appropriate. One of these words was worship, שחח (shachah) in Hebrew, προσκυνήσαντες (proskunhsantev) in Greek. In each case the word signifies a deep bow to the ground I found it odd that in every English translation, whether from the Hebrew or Greek, the translation was to “worship” even though the more accurate translation is “prostration”.
A further study reveals that God never commands us to worship Him. Yes, there are plenty of occurrences of worship in Scripture, but if you examine the texts around them it is always from God’s creations (men or angels) from which the worship originates, never from God. God does not demand worship. Why? In my belief it is because worship is something that, throughout history, has always been an obligatory act. In the ancient world men were required to worship their kings (either as men or gods) under threat of death, this was carried into the Roman era and beyond. In Pagan religions worship was required to stave off evil things happening: drought, earthquakes, massive storms. God did not want this of His people, so he never required it. Many people point to the Ten Commandments as proof of God requiring worship, but let’s look at the text:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not worship them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
Did you catch it? God tells us that we are not to worship other (false) gods, but what does He ask of us? Is it worship? No! It’s love. In exchange for our love He will grant us His steadfast love. That’s it. That is what He wants. Love. Love is a gift that cannot be demanded of someone. No matter how hard someone may try they cannot compel you to love them. Under threat of death they may be able to force you to prostrate before them, but they cannot force you to love them. This is what God wants, not some type of forced worship, but freely given love.
In John (4:23) Jesus tells the Samaritan woman, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship Him”. The important word here is “seeks” (ζητέω, zēteō) and translates into “looks for”, “wants”, “desires”. Again, He is not demanding people to worship Him, but is looking for those who do so freely, out of love for Him. To worship Him out of love, and not from some command or obligation to do so.
In the Eastern church we are told that our worship is to be centered around God and not around us. We are to worship God because we love Him and seek a way to show that love. Worship is not meant to be centered around ourselves, but that the focus is to be on God. I never fully understood that until I saw a television service one day, where everyone cheered, applauded, and began singing when the preacher came out on stage. I had to ask myself who they were there for? Was it for the preacher? For the television audience? Even the preacher seemed to be performing on the stage. I have to confess that the one church that I admired the most for having the entire “worship in spirit and in truth” together is the Salvation Army. When I was a youth I would go to their local center to help out with their community outreach programs, especially the Meals on Wheels program they ran, the free meals for those who could come to the center, and the transportation services they offered for those in need. All without asking for money or membership. To me, this is true Worship in Spirit and Truth.