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ACCEPTABLE WORSHIP (11): Bow Down Before Him

Man PrayingWhen I was a student at the old Alabama Christian College (now Faulkner University) from 1956 – 58, some of the older professors strongly believed the only acceptable postures in prayer were to be on your knees or prostrate.

Today, this seems to be extreme and legalistic. In those days, it was common for men to kneel when they prayed. I can remember my Grandfather raising one hand when he would “stand praying” (which is strange when some today are highly suspicious of any who “lift up holy hands”).

Today, we are not much concerned with posture as we worship. In this, we may have lost something that could be important.

“To bow down before.”

The most common word for worship in the New Testament means “to bow down before.” The word is proskuneo (verb, worship) or proskunete (noun, worshipper). The literal meaning is “to kiss the hand toward,” but came to be “bow down”. Originally, this was to prostrate one’s self before the one worshipped with the face on the ground. Later, it simply meant to bow the knee to someone, and still later to submit to one in the heart.knight-medieval-5

Think of a Medevial knight bowing before his King to pledge his allegiance, and you will have something of the idea of this word.

Examples of this Word in Action

When the Magi from the East came to Jerusalem seeking “the one who has been born king of the Jews,” they said they had “come to worship Him.” This is the word they used (Matthew 2:2; see also verses 8 & 11). In verse 11, when they found the babe, they “fell down and worshipped Him.”

When the Leper came to Jesus saying, “If you are willing, you can make me clean,” Matthew 8:2 says, “He worshipped Him.” Mark 1:40 says, “He begged him on his knees.”

Women who went to the tomb of Jesus, but found it empty, were on their way to tell the disciples. Jesus met them and they “came and held Him by the feet, and worshipped Him” (Matthew 28:9).

Those who crucified Him abused Him by hitting him and spitting on him. Mark also says, “Bowing their knees [they] worshipped him.” Certainly, this was not sincere, for their hearts were definitely not in it. Yet, they bowed before Him in their mock worship.

This worship should be for God alone. When Satan tempted Jesus, he offered Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world “if You will fall down and worship me.” Jesus replied, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve” (Matthew 4:10-11).

Perhaps this is why Peter, when Cornelius “fell down at his feet, and worshipped Him,” immediately made him get up for “I am only a man myself” (Acts 10:25-26).

Even in Heaven, when John fell before his angelic escort to worship him, the angel said, “See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God” (Revelation 22:8-9).

From the beginning of the New Testament to the very last chapter, this word denotes worship as bowing before God, acknowledging his greatness and our own submission to Him. God on the throne is worshipped by angels, cherubim, and the twenty-four elders (Revelation 4:10). Jesus received worship from the Wise Men, the Leper, and Jairus when he came because his daughter was sick near death.

Satan sought to have Jesus worship him, but Jesus refused, saying, “Worship none but God.” In Revelation, men worshipped the dragon and the beast from the sea (Revelation 13:4). They also worshipped demons and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone and wood (Revelation 9:20). They refused to repent and to worship God.

What Does This Mean for Us?

At no time is there any specific act associated with this word other than bowing in obeisance. None of the sixty places this word appears in the New Testament talks about a specific ritual of worship. In a few passages, John 12:20; Acts 7:43; 8:27; 24:11, someone goes to Jerusalem to worship. The first of these is a group of Greeks, who could not participate in the Temple ritual. In Acts 8 it is the eunuch of Ethiopia, again one who could not participate in the Temple ritual, who had gone to Jerusalem to worship. In Acts 24 Paul speaks of having come to Jerusalem to worship. Acts 7 speaks of Israel’s having made idols to worship, or bow before.

The general meaning denotes submissive adoration signified by bowing before or praising the one worshipped. Even the giving of gifts by the Magi was not a worship ritual, but an expression of adoration.

The greatest commandment, Jesus said, is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Jesus also said we are to worship God and serve only Him. In the Sermon on the Mount, He said we are to seek first the Kingdom of  God and His righteousness.

This meaning of the word worship means we are to put God first, subjecting self to Him in all things. The bowing before God symbolizes the subjection. Even if we do not physically bow to express this subjection, we must bow in heart, soul, and spirit. James said, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up” (James 4:10). Peter likewise said, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6). We exalt God that God may exalt us.

Love and adoration humbly expressed would be one way of describing this worship. Rituals of worship without this adoration in the heart are never acceptable, even if God commands those rituals, as He did in the Old Testament.

The people of Israel who honored God with their lips while their hearts were far from him did not honor Him. Even when they had correct ritual, they did not walk with God. The Pharisees continued that line of vain worshippers. The church in Colosse also worshipped without exalting God, as they worshipped angels, thinking they could gain God’s favor by strict discipline of their bodies, even to the point of abuse.

On the other hand, God heard the prayer of Hezekiah regarding the observance of Passover “contrary to what was written” (2 Chronicles 30:18-19) because the people who were ritually impure had set their “heart[s] on seeking God.” See this post for more about that.

True Worship

This submission to God must be genuine. Hearts must truly be seeking Him. He must have first place in our lives. We must really be humble before Him. This is what makes worship “true worship.”

Acceptable worship is not doing the right thing in the right place at the right time and in the right way. Will one who is genuinely submissive want to do things right? Insofar as God has told us what is “right,” he will. Will he sometimes make a mistake in this? Being human, he very well might, especially when we determine “what is right” by inferences and a few examples more than by direct command. However, an honest mistake does not cause God to reject the adoration of a submissive, seeking, humble heart.

In 1 John 3:16-19, the apostle of love wrote:

By this we know love, because he laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.

The grammatical construction of the words emphasized is like the construction of John 4:24 where Jesus said, “Worship in spirit and in truth.” This helps us understand what it means to worship in truth. Love in truth contrasts with seeing a brother in need while refusing to help him. Worship in truth contrasts with giving God lip service while our hearts are far from Him.

In other words, worship in truth is genuine worship, not hypocritical. Such worship truly honors God because it comes from hearts in subjection to God.

God seeks this worship; this is acceptable worship. This worship draws us near to the heart of our Lord and Master where He re-forms us into His own image so we can serve Him as we ought.

The next post of this series will deal with how we worship God under the New Covenant.

NEXT (12) Regulations for Divine Service

PREVIOUS (10) Worship in Spirit and in Truth

Series Index


5 Responses

  1. plese sir my mind is troubled i say there is no one like the beast in my heart but idont mean it from my heart does that mean i have worship the beast of revelation

    • Oluwatobi,
      If you are worried that you might be worshiping the beast, I do not believe you are. That is not something you would do accidentally. The beast from the sea is, in my understanding, oppressive government. When we worship such government, thinking that this is how we will find blessings from God, THEN we worship the beast. When we get our patriotism and our Christianity mixed together (as Nazi Germany did), we are probably worshiping the beast. The fact you recognize a beast in your heart simply means that you recognize the indwelling sin that Paul spoke of in Romans 7:15ff. We must recognize our sin before the Lord can cast it out. Do you remember the time when Jesus asked the man who had many demons, “What is your name?” That was before He cast the demons out (See Mark 5:1-20). If you can recognize the beast in your heart and pray the Lord, He will help you overcome that beast. See Revelation 12:11 where the saints overcame even the dragon whom the beast worships “by the blood of the Lamb, and the word of their testimony, and [because] they did not love their lives even unto death.” That last part simply means they were willing to die for their testimony – and many did. But, in dying they overcame as martyrs for Christ.


      • please i said in my heart that Whose God is like the beast and there is no one like the beast but i did not meant it from my heart as worship so will God count that as worship because in revelation it says They worsipped the beast aloso saying who is like the beast? who can fight against it

      • Worshiping the beast (even if you have) is not the unforgivable sin. Repent of any tendency to worship the beast, trust in God, and obey Him – and you will be forgiven.

  2. John 4:24,we should worship God in truth and spirit.we should learn to do it faithful,consistently and dependable.We must do allow the holy spirit of God to inspire us and teach us how to woship him for He is in spirit.Amen

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