I've never quite understood the concept of worship and how it differs from the concept of love. Are worship and love the same thing? Or is worship = love + something else? If someone loves God, does that automatically imply that they worship God or vice versa? I would appreciate it if answers include illustrative examples of how these concepts materialize in a concrete way in everyday Christian living.
No, they don't mean the same things. My own view is love -> worship + something else. But worship can also arise from non-love sources (something-non-love -> worship). Conceptually, I see worship as a response triggered by love + awe, although in my observation love is responsible for more instances of worship. My answer will show the distinctions & relationships as well as concrete examples.
I understand why the question arose since a quick survey of what Christians write about the relationship between "worship" and "love" is not consistent. It's a sign that there is a close relationship between the two but yet separate enough that Christians continue to link "worship" with a set of acts / practices and "love" with another set. In contrast, worship of God in paganism / non-Christian religions is mostly devoid of love and is instead prominently filled with manipulation, contract, fear, sacrifice, and servility.
Can we then list some stable distinctions that most Christians can agree on? I think so. I will not claim that this is a definitive answer, but I will simply focus on showing the connection between pagan worship & natural love on the one hand and Christian concepts of "worship" and "love" on the other hand. I surely hope this answer can help us worship and love God more truly.
- For a Biblical understanding of "worship", this outline can serve as a litmus test.
- For "love" I'm borrowing 3 concepts out of C.S. Lewis's book The Four Loves: need-love, appreciative-love, gift-love
Christian distinctions of "worship" and "love" to God
- We love God in 3 ways which forms a cycle: need -> appreciation -> gift -> need-> appreciation -> and so on:
- need-love: triggered by our desire for God implanted in us as creature (we are beggars before God)
- appreciative-love : triggered by our recognition of: the Father's gift to us (our very existence), Jesus's gift to us (our salvation), and the Holy Spirit's gift to us (spiritual life) as expensive treasures
- gift-love: triggered by our desire to give something back to God after appreciating Him, although we realize that everything we have actually comes from God, so we give Him from our neediness like a child asking his dad $5 to buy him a gift
- In Christianity, pagan elements of vow/oath/covenant making in worship (i.e. bargaining + manipulating) "graduates" to honest expression of our need-love through prayer and fasting and through trust in God's unfailing love and faithfulness
- Worship flows out of our appreciative-love for God, triggering praise expressed in songs, hymns, poetry, festivals, etc. Some examples:
- The Psalms. See "Why God Commands Praise" section in this blog article by Justin Taylor for how C.S. Lewis links praising God to appreciative-love and to the "appointed consummation" of enjoying God (the goal of our existence, a need-love) in his book Reflections on the Psalms Chapter 9 "A Word about Praising".
- OT: Passover, harvest festivals, celebration after deliverance from enemies, etc.
- NT: Christmas & Easter celebrations, corporate singing & communion in church service
- In Christianity, pagan element of bloody (even child!) sacrifice in worship "graduates" to proper gift-love of a spiritual offering by doing what God said is pleasing to Him: holy living, works of justice, loving our neighbor, obeying his commandments, etc.
- Worship can also flow out of what may not technically categorized under love: awe and fear of God's greatness & power which the Psalmist often expresses as our being as brittle as grass, which makes us feel really small and vulnerable like an ant before an elephant. But in Christianity, pagan servile fear "graduates" to proper fear of the Lord, which translates into:
Worship in the context of romantic love
To make the above distinctions more concrete let's bring everything together using the Biblical analogy of loving God as an exclusive romantic love. That is why idolatry is characterized as adultery and God is characterized as a jealous God. Most of us know how romantic love feels; it is multi-faceted. The 3 concepts of love described above work in romantic love too.
Consider a boy in love with a girl:
- He is incomplete without her (need-love), anxious if he doesn't see her for days, wants her attention, his life is meaningless without her
- He "worships the ground she treads on" (appreciative-love), writes poems, sings love songs, praises her to others, rises to her defense when others speak badly about her or when they don't appreciate her enough, can be violent if they insult her
- He wants to serve her to make her happy (gift-love), denying himself of some pleasures if they bother her, "her wish is my command", purchases expensive gifts for her, finds reasons to celebrate (birthday, anniversary, valentine's day, etc.), writes cards for her
- It's exclusive with the attendant jealousy from both sides
It's quite straightforward to see worship to God flows out of appreciative-love while serving & obedience flow out of gift-love. But with God as the object of worship:
- the praise level goes up many notches because God (by virtue of his being) is incomparably greater than the girl, demanding greater praise
- we can perform to God the level of homage that is NOT proper to do to a human being, although we can easily see how this element of worship builds on what the boy naturally does to the girl as well as what a society does to saints, heroes, kings, great artists + writers + scientists when we give awards & speeches, write obituaries, erect monuments, or celebrate their lives through memorials and festivals
- throughout church history, Christians treasure every trace of God on earth, shown for example by Christian pilgrims trying to trace the steps of Jesus in the Holy Land, building shrines & churches at precious spots, collecting relics of saints touched by God, etc.
- Christians worship corporately (like a fan club) by sharing testimonies and spurring one another to a more complete praise of God in multidimensional form: liturgy, music, hymns, etc.
C.S. Lewis had trouble with the idea of praise and worship, as if God were continually seeking compliments from us. He warmed up to the idea slowly. See this:
One essential aspect of worship is that it is two-way. In praising God through our worship, he imparts his presence and his communicable attributes to us. Like a seal pressed into wax, we waxy people begin to be reshaped into the likeness of the seal. Worship brings wax and seal together. Or God is the light which shines upon us. Our praise lets the light in and we are warmed and energized and made radiant. After Moses met with God, he face literally glowed.
Worship is the treasuring of that which is true treasure, not the junk we store in attics and closets. The act of treasuring the eternal brings the eternal into us and transforms us.
If you read 1 Corinthians 13, the definition of love will confuse you, because love seems to swallow up all the other virtues under its umbrella. Notice how that chapter has negative things to say about some approaches to obedience. Love is not so much the things done as the reason they are done: for the benefit of others, not our own aggrandizement. Thus worship is not love, but love distinguishes acceptable worship from fear, manipulation and bargaining for a benefit.
'Faith worketh by love' we are told, Galatians 5:6, and also it is written that 'Love is of God,' 1 John 4:7. So faith is of God.
Thus it may, sometimes, be difficult to discern between the two, I would say. For where one is, there is also the other.
And, I would suggest, the same is true of love and worship. Love is of God, and is not found, by nature, in humanity. That is to say, not the love which loves God.
Human instincts may well be present, and these are similar to the fleshly instincts of animals : the care of a mother for children, the nurture of offspring, the defence of the weak, the providing of fodder by a father to a child. In short, the natural love of nature for nature. Instincts.
Which instincts can be, and are, called 'love'.
But the love which is of God (that is to say the love which loves God) is another thing and is only found in regeneration, in the presence, within, of the Divine Person of the Holy Spirit. Wherefore it is written, Love is of God.
And if one loves God, one will long for his good, for his fulfillment, for the realisation of his desires and purposes, for that which pleaseth him, that which enriches him, for that which exalts him, for that which glorifies him . . . . .
. . . . . which is an act of worship.
Love and worship are like twin daughters : they go hand in hand and it is difficult to tell them apart.
They're both important but distinct ways of describing our relationship with God.
On one hand it would be possible to love God without worshipping him. Many people have pets that they love, but they don't worship them. We love the people in our families, but we don't worship them. To truly worship God we have to acknowledge that he is not our peer, nor can we make him conform to how we want him to be. John Piper has the helpful analogy that when we worship and make much of God we are magnifying him, but magnifying like a telescope, not like a microscope. We worship God by showing the world through our lives our immensely great and wonderful God is.
On the other hand it would be possible to worship without loving him. Worship is also associated with service and the "fear of the Lord". Many other religious have powerful, dangerous, and scary gods and spiritual beings who must be appeased. Their adherents may find it very difficult to cherish a capricious god who may do them harm at any moment. In comparison the Christian God wants to not just love us but be loved in return. The love of God and our love for him is likened to that of father and children. We are called the friends of God. Yes God is still serious, and his judgement will be severe on those who reject him, but if we do not love God then our salvation and reconciliation with him is incomplete.
The word 'worship' and the word 'worth' have common roots. To worship, in its essence, is to assign worth. It is the result of a 'rightly ordered soul' where God is in first place (i.e., the first commandment, "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:2)), and manifests in all sorts of ways as are befitting of the situation. Worship can be understood as a valuation which leads to various kinds of actions.
Mark 12:30 contains the greatest commandment, which is
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." (Berean Study Bible)
The term for love here is in the Greek from agapao, and as it applies to humans is a reciprocal love, coming out of God's love for us, and then not only being directed towards God but also 'over-flowing' to other humans.
It is difficult to define this love, but rather one must experience it as a response to God's presence. So the words can only point to the reality.
This sort of experience of God's love and reciprocal love for God and other humans can lead to worship in the most authentic sense, i.e., your valuation is most firmly and clearly anchored in your ongoing relationship with God, who actually is love. 1 John 4 sums this up better than I can!
"Beloved, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." (Berean Study Bible)