We find the word “worship” commonly used in religious spheres. We even encounter it sometimes in the language of romance and love. Yet what do we mean by “worship”?
In its English origins, the word “worship” referred to the “worth-ship” of a person. “Worth-ship” did not signify primarily material worth. It indicated a person’s qualities and social standing. “Worthiness” may be a good equivalent in modern usage. In its older sense then, worship – as in the form of address “Your Worship” – meant showing respect to a person.
In our contemporary context, we may encounter the word “worship” in the context of romance and love. Here it signifies strong emotion and high regard. The person beloved and “worshipped” possesses great value for the one who loves or “worships.”
In our faith context, we combine and heighten the meaning of worship in terms of respect, strong emotion, and high regard. We worship God because of the utter greatness of his being and excellence. Thus we acknowledge God’s “worth-ship.” Our worship includes respect for God but goes beyond to involve giving our love or devotion and pledging our allegiance to him. God possesses the highest value and conveys value to those who worship him. As we worship, God transforms our hearts and minds, thus shaping our very identity and purpose.
The truth is that we all worship something. We may worship in the “weaker” sense of believing strongly in the importance or value of a thing (e.g., money or success) or a person (e.g., a famous person or lover). Or we may worship in the “stronger” sense of having a commanding and abiding commitment or devotion to what we perceive to be a surpassing good or being. In either sense, what we worship shapes us, motivates us, and draws us toward certain ends.
What we find in today’s passage in Revelation is worship in the stronger, truer sense. We see two communities of worship. One community consists of those who worship God as known in Jesus – the slain and now risen Lamb. The other community consists of those who worship some other supposed power – for example, nation, nature, alleged deity, money, success, or the like.
The issue posed in the passage – in dramatic symbols – challenged John’s readers. It challenges us today. What will we worship? Will we worship Jesus? Or will we worship something other than Jesus? Jesus is truly worthy of true worship. The other is not. Jesus leads to goodness and life. The other leads to evil and death. To which community, then, will we belong? Jesus alone is worthy of worship – our commanding and abiding devotion and adoration. Will we worship Jesus? Surpassing goodness and life are his gifts when we do!