The rendering of reverent honor or homage. True worship of the Creator embraces every aspect of an individual’s life. The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Whether you are eating or drinking or doing anything else, do all things for God’s glory.”—1Co 10:31.
When Jehovah God created Adam, He did not prescribe a particular ceremony or a means by which perfect man might approach Him in worship. Nevertheless, Adam was able to serve or worship his Creator by faithfully doing the will of his heavenly Father. Later, to the nation of Israel, Jehovah did outline a certain way of approach in worship, including sacrifice, a priesthood, and a material sanctuary. (See APPROACH TO GOD.) This, however, had only “a shadow of the good things to come, but not the very substance of the things.” (Heb 10:1) The primary emphasis has always been on exercising faith—doing the will of Jehovah God—and not on ceremony or ritual.—Mt 7:21; Jas 2:17-26.
As the prophet Micah put it: “With what shall I confront Jehovah? With what shall I bow myself to God on high? Shall I confront him with whole burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will Jehovah be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of torrents of oil? Shall I give my firstborn son for my revolt, the fruitage of my belly for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O earthling man, what is good. And what is Jehovah asking back from you but to exercise justice and to love kindness and to be modest in walking with your God?”—Mic 6:6-8; compare Ps 50:8-15, 23.
Hebrew and Greek Terms. Most Hebrew and Greek words that can denote worship can also be applied to acts other than worship. However, the context determines in what way the respective words are to be understood.
One of the Hebrew words conveying the idea of worship (ʽa·vadhʹ) basically means “serve.” (Ge 14:4; 15:13; 29:15) Serving or worshiping Jehovah required obedience to all of his commands, doing his will as a person exclusively devoted to him. (Ex 19:5; De 30:15-20; Jos 24:14, 15) Therefore, for an individual to engage in any ritual or act of devotion toward any other gods signified his abandoning true worship.—De 11:13-17; Jg 3:6, 7.
Another Hebrew term that can denote worship is hish·ta·chawahʹ, which primarily means “bow down” (Ge 18:2), or do obeisance. (See OBEISANCE.) Whereas such bowing could at times simply be an act of respect or of courteous regard toward another person (Ge 19:1, 2; 33:1-6; 37:9, 10), it could also be an expression of worship, indicating one’s reverence and gratitude to God and submission to his will. When used with reference to the true God or false deities, the word hish·ta·chawahʹ is at times associated with sacrifice and prayer. (Ge 22:5-7; 24:26, 27; Isa 44:17) This would indicate that it was common to bow down when praying or offering sacrifice.—See PRAYER.
The Hebrew root sa·ghadhʹ (Isa 44:15, 17, 19; 46:6) basically signifies “prostrate oneself.” The Aramaic equivalent is usually associated with worship (Da 3:5-7, 10-15, 18, 28), but it is used at Daniel 2:46 to refer to King Nebuchadnezzar’s paying homage to Daniel, prostrating himself before the prophet.
The Greek word pro·sky·neʹo corresponds closely to the Hebrew term hish·ta·chawahʹ in expressing the thought of obeisance and, at times, worship. The term pro·sky·neʹo is used in connection with a slave’s doing obeisance to a king (Mt 18:26) as well as the act Satan stipulated when he offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. (Mt 4:8, 9) Had he done obeisance to the Devil, Jesus would thereby have signified submission to Satan and made himself the Devil’s servant. But Jesus refused, saying: “Go away, Satan! For it is written, ‘It is Jehovah your God you must worship [form of Gr. pro·sky·neʹo or, in the Deuteronomy account that Jesus was quoting, Heb. hish·ta·chawahʹ], and it is to him alone you must render sacred service [form of Gr. la·treuʹo or Heb. ʽa·vadhʹ].’” (Mt 4:10; De 5:9; 6:13) Similarly, worship, obeisance, or bowing down to “the wild beast” and its “image” is linked with service, for the worshipers are identified as supporters of “the wild beast” and its “image” by having a mark either on the hand (with which one serves) or on the forehead (for all to see). Since the Devil gives the wild beast its authority, worshiping the wild beast means, in reality, worshiping or serving the Devil.—Re 13:4, 15-17; 14:9-11.
Other Greek words associated with worship are drawn from eu·se·beʹo, thre·skeuʹo, and seʹbo·mai. The word eu·se·beʹo means “give godly devotion to” or “venerate, revere.” (See GODLY DEVOTION.) At Acts 17:23 this term is used with reference to the godly devotion or veneration that the men of Athens were giving to an “Unknown God.” From thre·skeuʹo comes the noun thre·skeiʹa, understood to designate a “form of worship,” whether true or false. (Ac 26:5; Col 2:18) The true worship practiced by Christians was marked by genuine concern for the poor and complete separateness from the ungodly world. (Jas 1:26, 27) The word seʹbo·mai (Mt 15:9; Mr 7:7; Ac 18:7; 19:27) and the related term se·baʹzo·mai (Ro 1:25) mean “revere; venerate; worship.” Objects of worship or of devotion are designated by the noun seʹba·sma. (Ac 17:23; 2Th 2:4) Two other terms are from the same verb stem, with the prefix The·osʹ, God. These are the·o·se·besʹ, meaning “God-revering” (Joh 9:31), and the·o·seʹbei·a, denoting “reverence of God.” (1Ti 2:10) These two terms correspond somewhat to the German word for “public worship,” namely, Gottesdienst (a combination of “God” and “service”).
Worship That Is Acceptable to God. Jehovah God accepts only the worship of those who comport themselves in harmony with his will. (Mt 15:9; Mr 7:7) To a Samaritan woman Christ Jesus said: “The hour is coming when neither in this mountain [Gerizim] nor in Jerusalem will you people worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know . . . Nevertheless, the hour is coming, and it is now, when the true worshipers will worship the Father with spirit and truth, for, indeed, the Father is looking for suchlike ones to worship him. God is a Spirit, and those worshiping him must worship with spirit and truth.”—Joh 4:21-24.
The words of Jesus clearly showed that true worship would not depend upon the presence or use of visible things and geographic locations. Instead of relying on sight or touch, the true worshiper exercises faith and, regardless of the place or things about him, maintains a worshipful attitude. Thus he worships, not with the aid of something that he can see or touch, but with spirit. Since he has the truth as revealed by God, his worship is in agreement with the truth. Having become acquainted with God through the Bible and evidence of the operation of God’s spirit in his life, the person who worships with spirit and truth definitely ‘knows what he is worshiping.’