We’ve been misled about the meaning of praise and worship. It’s important we correctly understand these terms else we deceive ourselves into believing we’re pleasing God when we’re not. 

Some mainstream Christian teachers have led people to believe that praise and worship are interchangeable but slightly different. They define praise as singing a song to or about God, and worship as a higher level of praise, but the Bible says something different.

Biblical definitions

It’s important we correctly understand these two terms else we deceive ourselves into believing we’re pleasing God when we’re not. A study of the Bible is the best place to start.

Praise defined

Praise is mentioned 263 times in the King James Bible and it’s defined by the Strong’s Concordance as: to praise, extol, to sing praises in honor (out of respect) to God. Speak well of, to hold out the hand, especially to revere, give thanks: words, songs and hymns.

After examining most of those passages, praise, as defined by mainstream churches, is accurate and aligns with the Bible.

Worship defined

Worship is mentioned 188 times in the King James Bible and it’s defined by the Strong’s Concordance as: to bow down, prostrate oneself, before superior in homage, to god, fall down (flat), humbly beseech, show obeisance (acknowledge another’s superiority and importance), do reverence.

As we can see, worship has a lot do with deep respect for God (and physically showing it), and while it could turn into praise later, worship is not the same as praise. This is where the mainstream understanding of worship is wrong. Additionally, further study of verses involving worship reveal a pattern: worship to God is connected to service to Him. See these passage below:

  • Joshua 5:14-15 — Worship leads to obedience.
  • John 9:31 — Doing God’s will and worship are connected.
  • Deuteronomy 8:19, 11:16, 17:3 — Service was associated with worship.
  • Matthew 15:9 — You can worship god in vain by revering God but failing to obey him.

So, if we say we worship God, then we also serve and obey him. We cannot say we worship God, but don’t do what he commands (Luke 6:46).

Photo by Junior Gabriel on Unsplash

Worship should precede praise

We’ve often heard the two terms in this order: “praise and worship.” After studying the Scriptures, their order should be reversed. Here’s another passage to support this view:

Then the twenty-four elders and the four living beings fell down and worshiped God, who was sitting on the throne. They cried out, “Amen! Praise the Lord!” (Revelation 19:4 NLT)

We see the 24 elders worshiped first and it led right into praise. Worship first, then praise.

The conclusion

Worship is deep respect which leads to obedience and service to God, and praise should come after worship. Never praise God in disobedience and pride. Repent of your sins, obey God, then you can praise God.

Because of the misunderstanding of these terms and because mainstream Christian churches are not teaching their congregants how to live right, many have become guilty of the same thing Jesus said about Israel’s praise to God:

These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me (Matthew 15:8 NLT).

Some people don’t love God (John 14:15) with their whole heart, yet sing praises to him on Sundays and Wednesdays. This behavior is quite insulting to God’s intelligence.

Instead, what must be done is found in Hosea 14:2 which says:

Return to the LORD and repent! Say to him: “Completely forgive our iniquity; accept our penitential prayer, that we may offer the praise of our lips as sacrificial bulls (Hosea 14:2 NET).

Once again, obedience (worship) precedes praise. Finally, we’ve all heard John 4:24 (KJV) quoted saying:

God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

Now that we know worship has nothing to do with singing a song to God, we can understand this verse properly: God is Spirit, and those who worship (respect and serve) God must be powered by the Holy Spirit in all honesty to serve God.

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2 Comments

  1. This was a very well-written article. I also appereciate your point about worship being connected with service. This is so often overlooked in mainstream church. I would like to share a comment on the premise that worship proceeds praise. The psalmist said “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord!” (Ps. 150) While this is possible, only the redeemed of the Lord can worship God. Your aforementioned comments about worship can only be held to one who has both a personal relationship and experience with God. Also looking at the blueprint of the temple we see how the outer court was the place of praise but the holy of holies was reserved for the priests. We, the people of God, are of a royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:9) and therefore are the only ones who can enter in and worship God. Each time an individual’s life was changed by Jesus Christ, they responded by worshipping Him. To worship God requires one to have an encounter with Him.

    1. Amen, Larry. Agreed. Like the majority of the content on this site, it’s targeted at believers.