What does Worthy mean in the Bible?

Scripture Reading

And when ye come into an house, salute it. And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.

Matt. 10:12-15

Early Origins of Worthy

The one word that tends to stands out in this passage of scripture on what does worthy mean in the Bible is indeed the word worthy,  Worthy is first noted in the scriptures by Jacob when he addressed the Lord God in admission of his own sense of worthiness before the Lord by saying, “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan.” [Gen. 32:10] Worthy by definition, tends to fall under the premise of being good, moral, upright, holding to honesty and respectable living.

Worthy in the Old Testament

When asking the question of what does worthy mean in the Bible, it is the Lord who is truly worthy, “I will call on the LORD, [who is] worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies.” [2 Sam. 22:4] Notice the contrast of worthiness to wickedness from Old Testament scriptures and the ensuing consequences, “And Solomon said, If he will shew himself a worthy man, there shall not an hair of him fall to the earth: but if wickedness shall be found in him, he shall die.” [1 Kings 1:52] Worthy is indeed the very opposite of wickedness in scripture.

I will call on the LORD, [who is] worthy to be praised:

2 Sam. 22:4a

A Pharisee and a Publican

Let us now have a look at two notable instances of what does worthy mean in the Bible? The first example was shared by Jesus in the parable of a man who deemed himself worthy through his own religious self-righteousness. This man was called a Pharisee and this group of people were considered the religious rulers of the Jews. Take careful note how this parable starts out with the phrase, trusted in themselves , “And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.” [Luke 18:9] This is important to note since the Bible records countless instances of true believers trusting in the Lord instead of themselves. Take for example, a frequently quoted passage from Solomon, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” [Prov. 3:5-6] Therefore, trusting in themselves tends to be the opposite of trusting in God.

Returning back to the parable, Jesus continues the storyline by saying, “Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.” [Luke 18:10]  A publican was also known as a tax collector who would typically collect taxes for the Roman Empire in unscrupulous ways. The contrast is drawn then between someone who would be esteemed highly within society (the Pharisee) in comparison to someone who was of lower standing and respect (the publican).

In the mind of the Pharisee, this plays out by his own admission as he prays to God, “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men [are,] extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.” [Luke 18:11-12]  Here the Pharisee is really patting himself on the back by contrasting his upstanding position against people of ill repute and if that were not enough, he then proudly affirms his religious fasting and tithing, which is the giving of money. What a pride filled Pharisee!

Self-Righteous Worth

Then in the next verse, the person of low esteem and societal standing is coming into prayer with God as noted in this passage, “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as [his] eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.” [Luke 18:13]   Therein is the distinct contrast between the Pharisee and the publican. The Pharisee was filled with pride and self righteousness. The publican was filled with a sense of unworthiness before God where he would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his chest as a form of petition and prayed for God’s mercy upon him as a confessed sinner. What a loathsome publican!

Or was this contrast of the two men all just a set up for Jesus to now make his closing statement as expressed in this scripture when he says, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified [rather] than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. ” [Luke 18:14] Does not this help to define the concept of what does worthy mean in the Bible?  It is not in a sense of prideful and boasting self righteousness, it is rather through a genuine sense of contrite humility and repentance before the holy God of the scriptures.

for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

Luke 18:14b

Worth in Riches

Still not sure what does worthy mean in the Bible? Let us have another look at a similar example shared by Jesus from the scriptures as this one comes with more lasting and eternal consequences. Jesus starts out in a similar manner by describing someone but in this case it is one who is draped in his own self worth of riches and material possessions. The parable starts by outlining the setting, “There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day.” [Luke 16:19] The color purple was associated with status since it was noted on another occasion from someone named Lydia who was a seller or purple (Acts 16:14). The great city of Babylon was also arrayed in fine linen and purple in chapter eighteen of Revelation.

Returning back to the story, Jesus once again contrasts this very wealthy person who trusts in his riches against someone who was in the most pitiful state, “And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.” [Luke 16:20]  How often do we simply walk by individuals with a beggarly appearance such as this and just shrug it off by looking the other way.

Futility of Riches

Jesus now gets to the heart of the matter by describing the eternal fate of the two contrasted individuals, starting with the beggar, “And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom.” [Luke 16:22a]  Jesus then continues on to describe the fate of the first man, “…the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” [Luke 16:22b-23]

But wait, didn’t the rich man have it all in this world, wealth, riches, material possessions, fame? Well, unfortunately, many people choose to trust in those things but that has no bearing on where your eternal destiny lies with God. Jesus spoke about trusting in riches during another encounter with someone who had great possessions but he said to him, “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!” [Mark 10:23b]

Heeding the Scriptures

Now comes the heartbreaking part of the story when Jesus shares the plea of the rich man in the midst of his torments in hell by saying, “And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.” [Luke 16:24-25]  Despite his earnest and no doubt heartfelt plea for mercy, it was too late for him.

This is why the Bible proclaims the importance of why a decision must be made on this side of death and eternity, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” [Heb. 9:27] The Bible also speaks about today as the day for salvation, “…behold, now [is] the accepted time; behold, now [is] the day of salvation.” [2 Cor. 6:2b] Never underestimate the clear warnings given in the scriptures for many will put it off for another day only to realize that day may never come for them.

Jesus then continues the eventual and unchangeable fate of man by describing the uncrossable chasm between heaven and hell, “And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that [would come] from thence.” [Luke 16:26]  Although the man now realizes his eternal fate he continues his plea for his family members as he petitions Abraham in the next few verses, “Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” [Luke 16:27-31]  The mind can only fathom the countless number of times people have made such a petition in their eternal place of torment.

But the story concludes by reminding people of the importance of heeding the message of the gospel of grace that is already given to them in the scriptures. This is in contrast to thinking some supernatural visitation from heaven will wake them up from their slumber, “Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” [Luke 16:29-31]

…but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and [with] fire.

Matt. 3:11b

Worthy in the New Testament

Let us now continue further to review where the word worthy appears in the New Testament. Worthy is first noted in the New Testament by John the Baptist while contrasting himself with Jesus, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and [with] fire.” [Matt. 3:11] To think that the dirtiest item of clothing on a person is his shoes and yet John the Baptist saw it not within himself to be worthy of even bearing the shoes worn by Jesus. That truly is a mark of humility in the scriptures.

Returning now back to this week’s scripture reading on what it means to be worthy in the Bible, the word worthy is noted five times in this same chapter from Matthew. It is notable that Jesus makes the statement,  “And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, enquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence.” [Matt. 10:11]  Give some thought to what Jesus is saying because it relates to a person’s reputation of worthiness. This tends to indicate that a person’s worthiness, or reputation, is likely known amongst other people, whether he or she knows those people or not; much like the saying, your reputation precedes you!

Parting Glances of Humility

A few more verses on what does worthy mean in the Bible are worth noting for this study. There was an event when a prominent Roman military ruler approached Jesus in a plea for one of his ailing servants. Here is this Centurion serving in the military of the world dominating power of the Roman Empire but he saw himself unworthy to have Jesus come into his home, “…for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof.” [Luke 7:6] This again is a mark of true humility.

…for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof.

Luke 7:6

In another parable shared by Jesus, the prodigal son did not see himself to be worthy of his father, “And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.” [Luke 15:21]  Keen readers of scripture will see this is a story reflective of the heavenly Father and his enduring mercy for those who come back to him in repentance and humility.

Let us also look at the opposing contrast of worthiness as shown in this event with a Roman ruler named Herod for he himself admittedly did not see anything in Jesus worthy of death, “No, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him.” [Luke 23:15] This was despite the Jews, Pharisees and scribes demanding that Jesus be sentenced to death for supposed blasphemy and causing dissension among the people. Yet, not even a ruler of a wicked empire could judge him worthy of death.

Consider also the apostles in how they saw themselves worthy to suffer punishment in Jesus’ name for preaching the gospel message to the multitudes, “And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.” [Acts 5:41] Yet, once again when the Roman rulers were faced with dealing with one of the apostles, in this case Paul, they deemed him not worthy of punishment.  Claudius Lysias did not see the apostle Paul worthy of death or bonds, Acts 23:29. Festus said the same thing to King Agrippa, “But when I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death, and that he himself hath appealed to Augustus, I have determined to send him.” [Acts 25:25]

That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.

1 Thes. 2:12

Worthiness of the Apostles

In closing this Bible study on what does worthy mean in the Bible, consider also how Paul wrote about worthiness in his letters to the churches on the subject of Christian living. He often opened his letters with similar statements such as this one, “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.” [Eph. 4:1] Paul also stated in another letter how our conduct should be one that is befitting of our holy Lord, “That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.” [Col. 1:10] This is also noted in yet another one of his letters, “That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.” [1 Thes. 2:12]

True Worthiness

In the end, it is not our own self imposed or self proclaimed righteousness, or a perceived righteousness that comes from riches and material possessions. We saw the fateful consequences of these in the above parables with people trusting in their good works and self effort. Does not the ancient prophet Isaiah rightly proclaim this, “But we are all as an unclean [thing,] and all our righteousnesses [are] as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” [Is. 64:6]  Did not Paul consider everything he had before knowing Christ as nothing, “Yea doubtless, and I count all things [but] loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them [but] dung, that I may win Christ,” [Phil. 3:8]

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.

Rev. 4:11

It is only through our sense of realization that nothing in ourselves is worthy before the Lord. This is when we come to our senses and humbly proclaim the statement, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” [Rev. 4:11] From there, we can also herald the proclamation of the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, “Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.” [Rev. 5:12]

This is the answer on what it means to be worthy in the Bible. Why? Because the Lord has done it all, “For he hath made him [to be] sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” [2 Cor. 5:21] As believers in Christ, this is the only way we are worthy to stand in the Lord’s holy presence, through his righteousness upon us!

Bible Study Questions

  1. In this Bible study on what does worthy mean in the Bible, why do you think so many people trust in their own sense of self-righteousness, self worth, effort and good works before God?
  2. In 1 Kings 1:52, what does Solomon contrast worthiness with in this verse on what does worthy mean in the Bible?
  3. In Luke 18:13, fill in the blanks of this verse, God be _______________________ to me a _______________________.
  4. What was John the Baptist not worthy to carry or unloose that belonged to the Lord Jesus?
  5. In Luke 7:6, the Centurion was comfortable with Jesus coming into his house, true or false?
  6. In is. 64:6, why do you think the prophet Isaiah describes our own righteousness as filthy rags before the Lord?
  7. is there something you can do today to acknowledge where true worthiness comes from in submitting to the Lord?

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