By Brenda L. Thomas
Adjunct Faculty, College of Theology
To begin a discussion about worship, let’s look at the account of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. (Stay with me; you’ll see where I’m headed.)
Before beginning His public earthly ministry, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness for 40 days of fasting (Matthew 4; Mark 1; Luke 4). Scripture details three specific temptations by the devil that Jesus faced at that time. One of those temptations involved the devil offering Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if He would worship him.
Was the devil asking Jesus to sing a song to him?
The context, including Jesus’ response, helps us answer that question.
Looking at the Greek text from which English is translated, we see that the devil was not asking for Jesus to sing to him when he said, “If you will worship me, all of this will be yours” (my paraphrase).
The word for “worship” in Matthew 4 and Luke 4 connotes reverence, homage and obeisance as in prostrating one’s self and physically kissing the ground or one’s hand. This is different than what we see elsewhere in English translations of the New Testament when the words “music” and “singing” are used. In those usages, the Greek words from which they were translated are different than the Greek words that are translated as “worship” in other contexts.
Yet, despite this, we often read and hear the word “worship” today as if it could be used in place of “music” or “singing.”
While music and singing certainly can be ways of expressing one’s worship to God, care needs to be taken so that an improper understanding of worship is not unintentionally encouraged and facilitated. It is important to make sure to use proper terms so that Christians do not mistakenly think that music and singing is the sum total of worship or that worship begins when the music starts and ends when the music stops.
When Jesus responded to the devil’s temptation, He began with “It is written” and then proceeded to quote an exhortation from Deuteronomy (6:13; 10:20) to worship God only. What is interesting about those texts from which Jesus quoted is that “fear” is used for “worship” and the word “serve” appears in connection with this. Service and godly fear are part of worship as we see also in Romans 12:1 and Hebrews 12:28 where it is emphasized that believers are to worship God in ways acceptable to Him. As in Matthew and Luke, the use of “worship” in these other contexts is not a synonym for music or singing.
Perhaps upon reading the title of this blog post, you thought it was going to be about music. If so, that is understandable. The current nomenclature of contemporary Christianity often has the terms “music” and “worship” used synonymously. However, words have meaning and the meaning of words matters. Not all music expresses acceptable worship to God and not all acceptable worship of God is expressed through music.
Grand Canyon University’s College of Theology offers transformative theology degree programs. To learn more, visit our website or contact us using the Request More Information button at the top of the page.
More About Brenda Thomas:
Brenda Thomas has been an online adjunct faculty member at GCU since 2015. She has two Master of Arts degrees: one in biblical studies and the other in humanities. In addition to teaching, Brenda is a freelance writer of articles on topics pertaining to the Bible or history – and often both in the same article. She and her husband have been blessed with two children.