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Worship (3): Its Dimensions

M Sweetnam, Dublin

Few of us would question the statement that the worship of God is the most important activity of our Christian lives. God desires it, Scripture exhorts it, and the saints of old exemplify it. But as well as thinking about the importance of worship, we should think about the dimensions that it has, and that it should have, in our lives.

In spite of the lip service that we pay to the importance of worship, we seem, at times, to be in the grip of a tacit assumption that worship is a fairly confined business, expressed fully on a Lord’s Day morning and then left to one side for another week. As with all our assumptions, we do well to test this idea by Scripture, and when we do so we discover that worship has far more expansive dimensions than we might have imagined.

Worshipful Work

Worship in Scripture can last for seconds. It can hardly have taken Mary more than that to utter the word "Rabboni" when she recognised the Lord Jesus after His resurrection (Jn 20.16). Into that one word she packed a wealth of worship. On the other extreme, worship is seen as occupying a whole lifetime. So, in the opening verses of Romans 12, Paul follows the great doxology of ch.11 with an exhortation for his readers to echo that worship with their own lives: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service (‘spiritual worship’, ESV)" (Rom 12.1).

The word translated "service" here involves more than the work of a servant. As the alternative translation indicates, this service has implicit in it the concept of worship. In this chapter worship means far more than singing hymns and praying – it encompasses the transforming of our minds (v.2), and the exercise of God-given gift. In the same way, the Lord Jesus brings the concepts of worship and service together when, in response to the temptation of Satan, He quotes Deuteronomy 6.13: "Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve" (Mt 4.10).

Similarly, when Paul defended himself before Felix, he asserted the Scriptural orthodoxy of his worship using the same word: "But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets" (Acts 24.14).

This reminds us that worship and service are not isolated concepts. Rather, true service for God - performed in communion with Him, and motivated by a sense of His greatness - is worship. As such, our worship cannot be confined to an hour and a half on Lord’s Day morning. It must permeate our lives and touch all that we do.

Worshipful Workers

Anna

This becomes very clear when we trace the references to worshipful service through our New Testament. In doing so, we first encounter one of the attractive characters of Scripture. Anna "was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day" (Lk 2.37). There was nothing intermittent about Anna’s worship – it was continuous and consistent and had occupied a lifetime of devotion to God. In her prayer life, that least spectacular and yet most vital component of Christian life, she was a faithful worshipper.

Paul

The life of the Apostle Paul was marked by a similar consistency in worship. As he stood on the deck of the storm-tossed ship to reassure his fellow travellers, he summed up his life in two simple clauses: "God, whose I am, and whom I serve" (Acts 27.23). In the life of the apostle that worshipful service took a variety of forms. He reminded the Romans that his worship involved both his preaching and his prayer: "For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers" (Rom 1.9). While Paul’s gospel was motivated by "the terror of the Lord" and "the love of Christ" (2 Cor 5.11,14), and while he felt himself to be "debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise" (Rom 1.14), his ministry in the gospel was also an ongoing act of worship, performed, not half-heartedly, but "with [his] spirit".

Writing to Timothy, he expressed a similar link between his worship and his prayer: "I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day" (2 Tim 1.3).

The Philippians

Material giving is also included within the sphere of worship. In the Epistle to the Philippians, Paul sees the believers at Philippi and himself as united together in sacrificial worship: "yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all" (Phil 2.17). In a humility that is entirely in keeping with his teaching earlier in ch.2, Paul is happy to see his service as merely the drink offering poured out on the far more considerable and consequential offering of the Philippians. And he maintains this theme of worship into ch.4 where he expresses his thankfulness for the gift that he had received from Philippi: "But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God" (Phil 4.18). The Philippians’ act of fellowship with the apostle – their practical desire to assist with his pecuniary needs – was more than a transfer of funds. It was an act of worship that delighted God.

Me?

This sort of worship is open to – and incumbent upon – us all. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that we have been fitted for such worshipful service by "the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God", which has the power to "purge [our] conscience from dead works to serve the living God" (Heb 9.14). Later in the epistle he reminds us that our supreme blessing from God demands a diligent response to God: "Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear" (Heb 12.28).

Worship, is not something to be confined in any one compartment of our lives. Our appreciation of who God is and of what He has and will do ought to affect everything that we undertake for Him. Only this is a sufficient and a satisfactory motivation. Service that is simply routine, or grudgingly performed because it is our turn or something that is expected of us, falls very far short of the Scriptural ideal. In the words of J N Darby: "It is not service at all, if it be merely outward; unless we can say, ‘Of thine own we have given thee’. All true service must flow from communion with the source of service; it is no service if we are not drinking in Christ, and conscious that we are doing His will...Service then, if real, must flow from direct communion with God" (Collected Writings, vol. 26).

We serve and worship God now. The dimensions of that worship should be such as to leave no corner of our lives untouched, no moment of our time unaffected. We all fall far short of this ideal. Our worship is a niggardly business at best. Like the Hebrews, we need God’s grace to serve Him acceptably. As we do so, let us encourage our hearts in the knowledge that one day soon our partial and imperfect worship will swell to fill an eternity of bliss. In the final reference to the service of worship in Scripture we have a most precious promise: "…and his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads" (Rev 22.3-4).

To be continued.

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