What does Scripture have to say about worship? Read this article from the NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible and learn about these four scriptural types of worship.

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” –Psalm 95:6 NIV

Worship is a dominant theme from Genesis to Revelation. Why? Because the God who created all things and redeemed us in Christ is worthy to receive all honor, praise, service, and respect (e.g., Gen 12:7-814:19-20Exod 15:1-18, 21Rev 4:115:9-10, 12). Four groups of words throughout the Bible convey aspects of what we commonly call “worship.” New Testament writers use these and related terms in a transformed way to show how Jesus has fulfilled for us the pattern of worship given to Israel.

1) Worship as Homage or Grateful Submission to God

The most common word for “worship” literally means “bend over” or “bow down.” It describes a gesture of respect or submission to human beings, to God, or to idols (Gen 18:2Exod 18:720:4-6). Combined with other gesture-words this term came to be used for the attitude of homage that the gesture represented.

Also, people sometimes expressed homage to God with prayer or praise (Gen 24:26-27, 52Exod 34:8-9) and sometimes with silent acceptance or submission (Exod 4:31Judg 7:15). The book of Psalms contains many different expressions of worship, including lament, repentance, prayers for vindication, songs of thanksgiving, and praise.

“Bending over to the Lord” now means responding with repentance and faith to the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 2:36-3910:36-43; cf. Rom 10:9-13). Such worship involves praying to him (Acts 7:59-601 Cor 16:221 Thess 3:11), calling on his name (1 Cor 1:2Heb 13:15), and obeying him.

2) Worship as Service to Others

Another group of biblical terms often translated “worship” literally means “serve” or “service.” The people of Israel were saved from slavery in Egypt so that they could serve the Lord (Exod 3:124:238:1). The parallel expressions “offer sacrifices to the Lord” (Exod 3:185:3, 8, 178:8, 25-29) and “hold a festival” (Exod 5:1) indicate that some form of ritual service was immediately in view. The sacrificial system enabled Israel to be cleansing from sin, consecration to God’s service, and expressions of gratitude to God (Lev 1-7).

The New Testament describes Jesus’ death as “a sacrifice of atonement, through shedding of his blood – to be received through faith” (Rom 3:25; cf Heb 2:171 John 2:2). In response to what God has done for us in Christ, we are to present our bodies to him as “a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Rom 12:1; cf Rom 6:13, 16). In particular, Christians are to offer to God through Jesus “a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that openly profess his name” (Heb 13:15).

3) Worship As Reverence or Respect for God

There is a third group of words sometimes describes worship differently than the previous examples. Words meaning fear, reverence, or respect for God indicate the need to keep his commands (Deut 5:296:2, 24Eccl 12:13), obey his voice (1 Sam 12:14Hag 1:12), walk in his ways (Deut 8:610:122 Chr 6:31), turn from evil (Job 1:1, 82:328:28Prov 3:7), and serve him (Deut 6:1310:20Josh 24:14Jonah 1:9).

Sacrifice and other rituals expressed reverence for God, but faithfulness and obedience to the covenant demands of God in every sphere of life also distinguished true from false religion (Exod 18:21Ps 25:14Mal 3:164:2).

The New Testament indicated that humanity’s failure to fear God and show him proper respect brings his wrath (Rom 1:18-25Rev 14:6-7). Only by being “redeemed…with the precious blood of Christ” can we be set free to serve God “in reverent fear” (1 Pet 1:17-21; cf. Heb 12:28-29).

4) Worship And Congregational Gatherings

Worship in the Old Testament sometimes had a corporate expression, encouraging God’s people to serve him faithfully in their individual lives (Isa 1:10-17Jer 7:1-29). The New Testament rarely applies the specific word “worship” to Christian meetings (but see Acts 13:21 Cor 14:25). Nevertheless, prayer, praise, and submission to God’s will were central to congregational gatherings (Acts 2:42-474:23-37Eph 5:18-20Col 3:16-17).

It may be best to speak of congregational worship as a particular expression of the total life-response that is the worship described in the new covenant. In the giving and receiving of various ministries, we may encounter God and submit ourselves to him afresh in praise and obedience, repentance, and faith (Heb 10:24-25).

Singing to God is an important aspect of corporate worship, but it is not the supreme or only way of expressing devotion to God. Ministry exercised for the building up of the body of Christ in teaching, exhorting, and praying is a significant way of worshiping and glorifying God.

Which of these types of worship do you most often engage in?

NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible

NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible Worship

Like what you read? This blog was adapted from content found in the NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, available in our store. You can also find this valuable resource along with other hand-picked tools inside our NIV Bible Study Pack, also available in ESV and NKJV.


  1. My experience- as became aware or prompted to pursue The Word, began to crave, treasure, cherish more, became hungry for more. As I became more aware of Gods love for me, you begin to respond and react in a worship that consumes, reveals His presence. Worship in His presence is a peace, atmosphere of love, revival, refreshing, energizes. In His presence is healing, forgiveness, joy. As we lift up Jesus, Father, Holy Spirit in our body, soul and spirit, He lifts us up. True worship blesses us, free gift Father gave for our sake. As stated above heart of thankfulness… sees… hears…is enlightened …. worship not out of duty or debt but truly thankful whole being mind…. soul… spirit.