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What if true worship turns out to be different than you think – and practice?

What is worship?

In the previous posts, the language of the Bible informs us about worship. We heard the Hebrew and Greek words for bowing down are also translated as worship. Worship expresses dependence on, and submission to, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Another set of Hebrew and Greek words used for worship convey a wholesome fear or reverence for the One True God.

In his book, The Dangerous Act of Worship, Mark Labberton provides a useful understanding of worship. I’ll give you that definition at the end – but first, let’s consider an aspect of worship we haven’t dealt with yet.  

Serving as worship

A third cluster of words used for worship is the Hebrew abad and the Greek latreuō. Both these words are translated as serve and worship.

For instance, in Deuteronomy 6:13 Israel receives this command: “You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship (abad) Him …”

The Greek translation of this text uses the word latreuō for worship.

When Jesus quotes this verse in Matthew 4:11, the word latreuō is again used.

Any concept of worship of the One True God must include serving

Life as worship

Paul uses the word latreuō in the climax of his letter to the Romans.

He writes (Romans 12:1):

I urge you, brothers [and sisters], in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.

The phrase “act of worship” (NIV), or "service of worship" (NASB), or "worship" (ESV), translates the one Greek word: latreuō.

That service, or act of worship, is “to offer your bodies as living sacrifices.”

A sacrifice is irrevocable – you don’t take it back. It is complete – not partial. After all, what part of our bodies is kept back?

In this context, the phrase “our bodies” means everything that we are and have. 

What does this mean for worship and life?  

An illustration

Romans 12 can be pictured as four bowls of different sizes.

The second-largest fits in the largest; the third-largest fits in the second-largest; and the smallest fits in the third-largest.

The central bowl represents service as worship – your latreuō or ‘act of worship’.

If we have responded as Paul urges, that central bowl becomes an unlimited and continuous source of grace – the overflowing life of Jesus Christ by His Spirit. Imagine that overflow as pure water if that helps (see John 7:37-39).

As the central cup fills and overflows, it pours into the next largest bowl, then into the next bowl, and so forth.

What do these ‘bowls’ represent? 

Four spheres of Romans 12

Like the four ‘bowls’, Romans 12 presents us with four ever-larger contexts or spheres.

First, is the central bowl of your ‘act of worship’ (see Romans 12:1-2).

This is the offering all that you are to God revealed as Jesus Christ. It is a response that is described as “holy and pleasing.”

It also enables you to “test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Second, is your gifting (see Romans 12:3-8).

This gifting is the ability or abilities for which God has designed you to serve as his hands, feet, and tongue.

Peter describes these gifts well:

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-11 NIV) 

Third, is your expression of love within the Christian community (see Romans 12:9-16).

As your ‘bowl’ of gifting overflows with God’s life of grace, it begins to pour into the community you share with other followers of Jesus.

Jesus spoke of this during the last supper: “By this all [people] will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:35). 

Fourth, is your presence in the ‘world’ in which you live (see Romans 12:17-21).

It is in this sphere that you overcome evil with good.

This sphere includes your neighborhood, your marketplace, your workplace or school. It is wherever you meet and live among other humans – most of whom do not know God. 

Serving as worship

From your response to God – as a living sacrifice – your act of service flows into your gifting, into your Jesus community, and into the world.

This is service as worship.

As promised, here is Mark Labberton’s definition of worship:

“Worship turns out to be the dangerous act of waking up to God and to the purposes of God in the world, and then living lives that actually show it.”

And so, worship becomes service in all of life! 


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