And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanksgiving to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “You are worthy, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You yourself created all things, and because of your will they existed, and were created.”
All the people of God are destined for worship before the throne of God in heaven. Until then, it is a privilege for us to participate in worship both individually and corporately on our journey toward heaven. Worship is the eternal goal and the defining quality of our Christian life, our walk with Jesus and our relationship with God.
The evangelical church in America has enjoyed a renewed interest in biblical worship for the last two or three decades. We have been brought back to some very important biblical aspects of worship, including, the place of the heart and art in worship, the place of celebration in worship, the participatory nature of worship, the centrality of worship. However, with so many useful and positive contributions to our perspective on worship, there may not yet be in the evangelical community a broad understanding and appreciation of the most foundational aspect of worship from a biblical point of view.
This lack of a full appreciation of biblical worship may be contributing to weakness in the evangelical church in America, weakness of commitment among Christians and lack luster influence of the church in many quarters. Is it possible that both scholars and practitioners of worship have tended to overlook or underemphasize the most basic and important biblical characteristic of worship?
It is easy to read passages such as Rev. 4:9-11 and conclude, as some do, that worship is at its core the recognition of the “worth” of God. This is consistent with the Anglo-Saxon roots of the word “worship.” Truly, this is an essential aspect of worship, but just as this is an inadequate reading of Rev. 4:9-11, it is an equally inadequate understanding of worship. It must be noticed that before the elders proclaim the worthiness of God, the elders fall down before the one who sits on the throne and worship Him and then cast their crowns before Him.
Interestingly, the main word for worship in both OT Hebrew and NT Greek literally means to bow down. This is a posture of submission and dependence, consistent with the elders casting their crowns before Him. The crowns are a symbol of authority and power, so that when they cast them at His feet they are showing the subordination of their own selves and status and domain to God. They only made their declaration of the worthiness of God after they had assumed a posture of submission, recognizing their own unworthiness to stand in any sense in competition or sufficiency before God.
It sounds highly spiritual to say that the focus of worship is entirely on God. The ultimate focus in worship is God, but the truth is that proper biblical worship is a comparison between the worshipper(s) and God. In the worship comparison, God’s infinite perfections shine brilliantly compared to our imperfections and limitations. Worship at its core is an act of submission toward the sovereign, creator God.
Like the Gospel (the good news), worship is on the whole very positive, especially in its result. But like the Gospel, we cannot really relate to the good news without first confronting the bad news. The first step in worship is to realize that there is a God, and it is not me. Honestly, that is rather hard to accept at first, and only progressively easier as we mature.
In worship, it is as if we begin by bowing in an act of submission before God, whereupon He graciously raises us up to look full in the face of Jesus; He raises us up enabling us to declare His worthiness and granting us a glorious culmination of worship in the exuberance of praise.
What if we move in our worship right into celebration, or recognition of God’s worthiness, or appreciating the beauty of God, without beginning with humble subordination? If we do, it will not be clear to anyone that we are not simply congratulating God as something of a peer. The humility of submission is indeed necessary and foundational to biblical, Christian worship—in fact, it is the point of it! In worship, we align ourselves with God, not vice versa. Worship puts us in our place before God, which allows Him to put us in a place of blessing.