The rendering of reverent honor or homage. True worship of the Creator embraces every phase 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.”—1 Cor. 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.—Matt. 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 first-born 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 Psalm 50:8-15, 23.
Most of the original-language 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 ‘to serve.’ (Gen. 14:4; 15:13; 29:15) Serving or worshiping Jehovah required obedience to all of his commands, doing his will as one exclusively devoted to him. (Ex. 19:5; Deut. 30:15-20; Josh. 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.—Deut. 11:13-17; Judg. 3:6, 7.
Another Hebrew term that can denote worship is sha·hhahʹ, which primarily means “to bow down” (Prov. 12:25) or to do obeisance. (See OBEISANCE.) Whereas such bowing could at times simply be an act of respect or of courteous regard toward another person (Gen. 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 sha·hhahʹ is at times associated with sacrifice and prayer. (Gen. 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 ‘to prostrate oneself’; a related Aramaic word is seghidhʹ. Though usually associated with worship (Dan. 3:5-7, 10-15, 18, 28), seghidhʹ is used at Daniel 2:46 to refer to King Nebuchadnezzar’s paying homage to Daniel, prostrating himself before the prophet.
Like the Hebrew term ʽa·vadhʹ, the Greek verb la·treuʹo (Luke 1:74; 2:37; 4:8; Acts 7:7) and the noun la·treiʹa (John 16:2; Rom. 9:4) convey the idea of service or rendering service. And the Greek word pro·sky·neʹo corresponds closely with the Hebrew term sha·hhahʹ in expressing the thought of both obeisance and worship.
The term pro·sky·neʹo is used in connection with a slave’s doing obeisance to a king (Matt. 18:26) and the act, on the condition of which, Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. (Matt. 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 Greek pro·sky·neʹo or, in the Deuteronomy account that Jesus was quoting, Hebrew sha·hhahʹ], and it is to him alone you must render sacred service [form of Greek la·treuʹo or Hebrew ʽa·vadhʹ].’” (Matt. 4:10; Deut. 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.—Rev. 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 ‘to be pious toward,’ ‘to give godly devotion to’ or ‘to venerate, worship or reverence.’ 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.” (See GODLY DEVOTION.) From thre·skeuʹo comes the noun thre·skeiʹa, understood to designate a “form of worship,” whether true or false. (Acts 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 (Matt. 15:9; Mark 7:7; Acts 18:7; 19:27) and the related term se·baʹzo·mai (Rom. 1:25) mean ‘to stand in awe of,’ ‘to reverence, venerate or worship.’ Objects of worship or of devotion are designated by the noun seʹba·sma. (Acts 17:23; 2 Thess. 2:4) Two other terms are from the same verb stem, with The·osʹ, God, prefixed: the·o·se·besʹ, meaning ‘God-revering,’ ‘godly’ (John 9:31), and the·o·seʹbei·a, denoting ‘reverence of God.’ (1 Tim. 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. (Matt. 15:9; Mark 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.”—John 4:21-24.
The words of Jesus clearly showed that true worship would not depend upon the presence or use of visible things and geographical locations. Rather than 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 the evidence of the operation of God’s spirit in his life, the one who worships in spirit and truth definitely ‘knows what he is worshiping.’