What Does the Bible Say About Expressive Worship?

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  • September 13, 2013

Have you ever wondered what our physical expression should look like during corporate worship on Sunday mornings? I mean, literally – what should we be doing with our hands, eyes, feet, mouths when we gather together in worship? Some people may have never even known that was a question. While for others it is an inseparable function when considering the subject of worship.

When it comes to ‘worship styles’, Seven Mile Road has people with little to no religious background, conservative backgrounds, charismatic backgrounds, and everything in between. What an amazing testament itself to the unifying bond that we have in Christ. Nevertheless, to give us some time to consider this in light of our wide array of experiences, we’ll be doing a 4-part blog series called, Worship: Expressing Outwardly What We Experience Inwardly. 

Just a quick clarification of the term ‘worship.’ This word encompasses way more than what we gather to do together on a Sunday morning. But for our purposes in this series and for simplicity, ‘worship’ will refer to the corporate singing of God’s people when gathered. I should also say that this subject of expression in worship, though very important, is a secondary one. What is primary is proclaiming and singing the truths of Jesus and his gospel rightly. So there is room for conversation, so feel free to leave comments.

For this first week, we’ll ask the question: What Does the Bible Have to Say?

To give you some background of where I’m coming from, I grew up in a very charismatic and expressive church that was exuberant, loud, and overflowing with tambourines! It’s actually where I grew to learn and love music. But as I grew older, it seemed that people (including myself) were seeking these emotional experiences more than anything else, and it seemed to have little effect on practical living. I became quickly disillusioned, even walking away from the Christian faith at one point. Since then, I reacted and swung to the other end of the spectrum and convinced myself that right theology and doctrine are all that you need and that physical expression muddies the waters of pure worship. For the past couples of years, I’ve been on a journey of allowing the Scriptures to speak and inform my worship, not just experiences and reactions.

So the first question when it comes to all of this isn’t ‘what do we want’, but ‘what does God want?’ What do the Scriptures say regarding our worship of God? What pleases God? We surely have our own opinions and very real backgrounds as a part of who we are. But with that said, sit with me under the Scriptures and allow it to inform our living.

First, the Scriptures tell us that our bodies were created to glorify God:

  • 1 Cor 6:20 – “…for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
  • Rom 12:1 – “…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
  • Phil 1:20 –  “…as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.”

The worship of God, bringing glory to Christ, it’s what we were made to do. This is why we were created! When we worship God, we are living out what it means to be truly human. But what else do these verses tell us? That glorifying God, spiritual worship, honoring Christ – it all involves our very physical being. The worship of God is not something purely mystical that has no bearing on the physical world. It is mind, soul, and body together offering worship to the Creator.

So if worship does involve are our actually physical bodies, how does that play out ? Do we just form a soul-train line or do the electric slide while singing hymns? What does physical worship look like in the Bible? Here’s just a few of the many mentions in the Scriptures:

  • Job 1:20 – “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.”
  • Ps 47:1 – “Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!”
  • Ps 134:2 – “Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord!”
  • Psalm 61:1,8 – “Hear my cry o God listen to my prayer…so will I ever sing praises to your name…”

What do we see here? Lifting of hands, singing, clapping, kneeling, singing loudly ‘songs of joy!’, and even weeping. Other Scriptures show that standing in awe, playing instruments, moving your feet are all expressions of worship. Many of the Greek and Hebrew words themselves that are used in the Scriptures contain this idea of bodily movement in worship. So the worship of God means that our bodies are involved in this glorious expression of what we are experiencing inwardly.

But we don’t want to be a people that are just enthusiastically expressive, pursuing experiences and emotionalism more than Jesus. Nor do we want to just sing profoundly biblical lyrics with no visible effect in our worship. The simple question would be, why not pursue both biblically and passionately? May God, by the Spirit and through his words in Scripture, give us a vision over these next weeks of how we can do that.

Next week, we’ll talk through Genuine Worship.

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About Siby Varghese

Siby lives in Willow Grove, PA with his wife Stephanie and daughter Reagan. He serves as a pastor at Seven Mile Road Church. As a Philly native, it’s his deep hope to see the people of the city come to a knowledge of Christ. And for the Eagles to finally win a stinkin Super Bowl already!

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