“God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24)
I would argue that one of the most misunderstand concepts in the life of the church today is that of worship. This misunderstanding, in fact, has grown increasingly murky in recent years with the growing tendency to use the term worship to identify the musical part of a church service. Churches have musical calls to worship, worship pastors, worship songs, worship teams, worship bands, worship centers, worship concerts, worship folders (bulletins), and on and on. None of that is necessarily wrong—for the scriptures tell us to:
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16; emphasis added)
…speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord… (Ephesians 5:19; emphasis added)
Nevertheless, while musical praise is one facet of worship, the truth is that worship is much broader and much deeper than just the songs we sing or the way those songs are presented. The term worship comes from the old English word “worthship.” Originally this word spoke of the dignity or worthiness of someone or something, but developed into the idea of giving or ascribing glory, worth, honor, or dignity to someone—eventually focusing on declaring the worth and dignity of God Himself.
While I have heard that definition explained repeatedly over the years, I wonder if the truth of it has ever grasped our imagination. Worship is ultimately done for Him, not for ourselves. This demands that we expand our thinking about worship as we understand it today. In fact, perhaps the best biblical text for this conversation is one that doesn’t even use the word worship, but it is well and truly about the foundational idea of worship:
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
I encourage you to ponder for a moment the phrase “whatever you do.” That is a massively all-inclusive statement that declares that every aspect of how we live is an opportunity to ascribe worth and glory to God. While one facet of worship is what transpires in a church service, the act of worship encompasses exceedingly more—both in personal life and in church life.
As a former pastor, I readily acknowledge that worship is a key element in the life of a local church. However, as we have seen, worship is not limited to the musical portion of the service. If we take seriously the challenge to do “all” for the glory of God, then it would seem that everything in church life is to be seen as an act by which we are giving worth, honor, and glory to God. To make it an act of worship—whether it is giving an offering, saying a prayer, leading a meeting, teaching a class, or offering a word of encouragement. If we are to do “all” for God’s glory, all the things that we do in the life of the church (including the music) become acts of worship that point beyond ourselves and to our God who truly is worthy.
While we often associate worship with corporate church life, the reality is that, just as everything in the life of the church is to be done as an expression of worship, the same is true of how we live our lives outside the walls or activities of the church we attend.
This important concept is at the core of the one of the most significant challenges in the New Testament scriptures, Romans 12:1:
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.
Here, Paul gives us the motivation for our living—the mercies of God—and also describes our response to that motivation—presenting our lives as living and holy (set apart for God’s use) sacrifices. The phrase “the mercies of God” seems to reflect back on Romans 1–11, and the eternal work of rescue that God has done to redeem us and forgive us of our sins. As God has lavished His mercies upon us, how can we respond but to make the living of our lives a sacrifice to Him? Clearly, nothing less than our all—what Oswald Chambers called “my utmost for his highest”—is a fitting response to His great love and grace.
Perhaps that is why it is appropriate that the apostle describes this living sacrifice as our “spiritual service of worship.” The Greek term for worship is latreian, which The Bible Knowledge Commentary describes this way:
Latreian refers to any ministry performed for God, such as that of the priests and the Levites. Christians are believer-priests, identified with the great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Heb. 7:23–28; 1 Peter 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6). A believer’s offering of his total life as a sacrifice to God is therefore sacred service.
As followers of Christ, we have been made priests unto God (Revelation 5:10), and the sacrifice of worship we bring is our lives. So, worship must fuel all that we do and all that we are. Why? Because He is worthy, and because, in spite of our unworthiness, He has poured His mercies out on us through Jesus. So, as the psalmist put it in Psalm 95:5:
Come, let us worship and bow down, Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. (Psalm 95:6–7)