By Lloyd Gardner
God has moved strongly upon my heart recently to speak to His people about worship. In recent years we have allowed our understanding of worship to become muddled. Much of the activity referred to as worship is nothing more than man’s attempt to appease God or in some cases to put on a show of reverence in the presence of others. Before I open up this subject let me say that this is not an attempt to judge the hearts of individual worshippers. We should not look around and judge individual worshippers when gathered with the saints, but simply enter into worship before God assuming that the hearts of others are likewise lifted up to God. The message that I am sharing here is prophetic in that God has spoken it to my heart and desires that I share it with those who will hear, but only God can discern the motives and intentions of the heart.
Worship is not defined and methodized in scripture. The reason for this is obvious. God desires that worship flow from our hearts to Him rather than taking on an outward form defined by some religious protocol. Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23,24). The woman was concerned with where and how to worship but Jesus made it clear that God is not concerned with the methodology of worship so much as the source of it. Does it originate in the fleshly desire to appease God or fulfill some outward expectation, or does it come from our spirit and is it true to God’s presence there? God is spirit and dwells in our spirit, so worship must originate there and not pick up the defilement of our fleshly fallen nature.
To the extent that we methodize worship and insist that it always take on a certain form, we are falling prey to the flesh, which is always hostile toward God and His way (Rom. 8:7). Spiritual worship is always changing according to our living relationship with the Lord. The flesh wants to lead us away from God into empty, rote, religious, activity that does not originate in God. The flesh wants to rule and have lordship over the situation and is not about to submit itself to the freedom that comes when the Spirit of God is present. Paul wrote, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). Liberty means the freedom to express oneself openly, without the restrictions of protocol or religious liturgy. Wherever the Holy Spirit is allowed to move among the worshipers of God, there are free expressions of the heart that originate in the Father’s love for us and our love for Him.
Worship: Kissing toward God
The word that Jesus used for worship when He was talking to the Samaritan woman at the well means literally to kiss towards God. It speaks of a tender act of love and devotion towards someone we love. Often when I see my lovely wife across the room I send a silent kiss to her and she tenderly returns it to me. Even when there is no kiss sent there is the tender look that says, “I love you and wish to hold you right now.” Worship is our expression of love to God that flows from a heart that has been touched and transformed by His touch of love.
The well-known revival passage declares, “ If...My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face...” (2 Chron. 7:14). Volumes have been written about what it means to seek the face of God, but let me say that it is a simple matter of wanting to look into His eyes in much the same way that we seek the face of one we love in a crowd. There is one woman who has my heart and it is my Mary. My greatest joy is to find her face and the twinkle in her eye that says, “I love you.” Often when I see her face my heart is taken back to moments of tender love that we have experienced together. Though she is much older now in human years, when I see her face it is always to me the face of the sixteen year old beauty that I first saw in world history class so many years ago. This love that God put in my heart for her is merely an earthly expression of the eternal love He has for us all.
Worship is seeking and finding the face of God and basking in the love that radiates from those eternal eyes that say, “I love you son (or daughter),” and reflecting back with, “I love you Lord.” God has already poured forth His love in eternal abundance. We are able to love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). This love, because it originates in God, will always be expressed in our love for our brethren. Anyone who claims to love God but does not love his brothers and sisters is deceived, because God’s loved will overflow our lives and reach out to those who are His children (1 John 4:20,21). Worship is not activity that takes a certain form or sounds a certain way, but simply our loving approach to a loving God, always changing as the Spirit leads. It is not a certain style of music that creates a more serious, intimate atmosphere. Worship is offering what we are to God because of His compelling presence.
Worship: A corporate experience
Because our love for God will always be reflected in our love for the brethren, worship has a corporate expression in the life of the body of Christ. The twelfth chapter of Romans is a classic chapter on this corporate expression of worship. Paul begins, “I urge you therefore, 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” (v. 1). The word translated “service of worship” here is different from the word used in John 4:24. The word here in Romans means literally the service one renders for hire and is used for the sacred services rendered by the priests in the temple. It is significant that this word is used here. The word is not referring to individual worship that we enter into in our private worship of God, but rather indicates the worship we enter into in behalf of and with the body of Christ. The Old Testament priests offered sacrifices in the temple in behalf of the people of God. It was their chosen assignment before God. They were hired, so to speak, for this purpose. Likewise we, who are all priests unto God, are to render service in the house of the Lord, the spiritual temple, the church (Heb. 10:19-22).
The word translated “spiritual” hear is logican, a form of the word logos, which is usually translated “word,” and from which we get the words logic and logical. I believe the use of this word here means that this is the normal, expected, logical service that God expects us to render to Him and for His people. Some translations use the word “reasonable.” This ministry that Paul is referring to is that which all believers, by virtue of their standing as redeemed people, are to render unto God.
And what is that ministry? Paul says, “...present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God” (v. 1). The words “living” and “sacrifice” normally do not go together. When the Old Testament priests offered up a sacrifice to God it was an animal that had been killed, prepared and burned on the altar, as atonement for sin. In our case Christ, our High Priest, has already made atonement for our sins by offering Himself as the eternal sacrifice (Heb. 9:11-28). A sacrifice means that something is offered or given. The priests offered up animals. Christ offered up Himself. It is our reasonable worship before God to offer up ourselves to God. This requires that we die to ourselves and live unto Him. Paul wrote, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus...He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (Phil. 2:5,8). We offer up to Him the only thing we possess that He desires -- our lives. We offer up that which Christ paid for through His eternal sacrifice. We are not our own but have been “bought with a price,” Paul wrote (1 Cor. 6:20). If we do not belong to ourselves then it follows that what we offer up to God is what belongs to Him in the first place. For this reason it is our reasonable service of worship, the logical outcome of our relationship with Him and His church.
Worship: Much more than an outward act
Many Christians and teachers will stop with verse one of the twelfth chapter of Romans, and apply it in a rather vague and impractical way. If we give ourselves to God each day in prayer that is enough to satisfy this truth, they suppose. If we lift our hands in church and offer ourselves to God every Sunday in a form of worship, that will suffice, it is thought. Worship is much more than an outward act. The whole chapter of Romans is one literary unit dealing with the results of truly offering our bodies to God on the altar. The whole chapter deals with our reasonable service of worship and how it causes the body of Christ to function in our lives. First of all, notice that there is one singular sacrifice, whereas each of us is called to present our bodies. There are many presentations but only one corporate sacrifice that is acceptable to God. The sacrifices that please God are not the religious gestures that are a form of godliness and have no noticeable effect on our lives, but the presentation of our bodies to the body of Christ as a living testimony of His presence and power in the corporate church.
Verse two says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” The word “and” connects this verse to the previous one dealing with our reasonable service of worship. If we are truly rendering this worship to God the natural result will be that we will be affected not by the world and its influences, but by the transforming power of God through the ongoing renewal of the Holy Spirit. It saddens me to say that much of the church today is offering up a form of worship that has conformed to the world. We have adopted the music which the world gave us, the times constraints that the world pushes on us, the gestures and mannerisms of the world, and the disrespectful, entertainment-oriented emphasis on things of the flesh. We walk away from these experiences unchanged as individuals and the body of Christ continues to take on a passive, spectator posture. True worship has nothing to do with music, style, or posture. It is an act that begins in the heart, is offered to God, and results in the formation and ongoing experience of the body of Christ.
Paul tells us that the transformation that comes forth from true worship will enable us to “prove what the will of God is” (12:2). This word “prove” means to test, and examine and thus prove the nature of something. True worship offered to God will offer the evidence concerning His will. People coming into the experience of true corporate worship will see the evidence of God before their eyes, as they behold the presence and power of God manifested in the lives of real people. They will not leave empty and unchanged because they will have experienced God as He can be known only through the body of Christ. The will of God is the church walking in unity, power, humility and love, and that reality can be known, realized, and proven in the lives of those who enter into true worship.
The rest of the chapter is further evidence of this wonderful truth. Paul goes on to write, “For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think;...For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another (vv. 3-5). Many members but one body. Many presentations but one sacrifice. Individual believers given to the corporate sacrifice offered to God, the living evidence of His presence, power and purpose. We are members of one another, part of the body of Christ, which manifests His life to the world. We are not an organization constantly conforming itself to the world’s nonsense, but a Spirit-filled and empowered, living organism continually being transformed by the presence of God.
Worship: Manifesting His grace
In verse six Paul continues, “And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly.” The word gifts here is karismata, which means “manifestations of God’s grace.” Each of us has been given a measure of the grace of God enabling us to be contributing members of the body of Christ. A gift is not a natural ability but an empowerment coming forth as a result of the presence of God’s grace. God’s grace causes each of us to become a unique part of the wondrous whole of the church. No one is left out and no one is allowed to monopolize the ministry of God’s grace. Many members but one body. One body with many distinct and functioning parts, each contributing to the glorious sacrifice offered to God, the visible evidence of his living presence.
Paul lists a few gifts as examples of how this works. He mentions prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and mercy. In other places he mentions other gifts such as speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, healings, miracles, discerning of spirits, word of knowledge, word of wisdom, and faith (1Cor. 12:1-11). It is not in the scope of this message to deal with the gifts individually, but the wonderful thing is that there is an amazing variety of manifestations of the grace of God that are given to the individual members of the church for the purpose of encouraging and building up the church. Notice also that these gifts are included here as evidence of the reasonable service of worship mentioned in verse one. When we present our bodies to the corporate manifestation of God’s church, the result is the manifestation of gifts of grace in our lives, enabling us to be part of this experience of the body. The gifts are part of the proving of the will of God through the church. These gifts are supernatural manifestations of the grace of God and serve as visible evidence that God is at work in His church. They are not toys to play with, natural abilities, or credentials for special ministry, but expressions of grace meant to build up the church so that it can function as God designed it.
There is a movement underway to de-emphasize these gifts because they support the presence of God rather than the agendas of the institutions that have taken control of the church. The gifts of grace enable the church to function corporately, each member having a part as the Spirit directs. Today’s, typical worship gathering is usually a forum for the display of very few gifted teachers and musicians. The church is imbalanced because it is top-heavy with the selected few ministering at the expense of the whole body. True worship, according to Paul involves the presentation of our bodies so that the corporate expression of the church may become an acceptable sacrifice unto God (Rom. 12:1). This is our reasonable service of worship and the gifts have been given as a means of that expression through the many members of the body (12:5,6). Through the gifts there is an expression of the will of God for His church each time we gather together to participate in worship. If there is no opportunity for participation by the members it is unlikely that much true worship is taking place. It is replaced with performance and planned presentations that elevate the flesh rather than exalt God who dwells in His people.
Of course the gifts of grace are not only for the times when we are gathered but it is during those times that we learn to function as viable members of the body of Christ. The functioning of the gifts through the members of the body is evidence of life in the church. The Corinthian church was proof that a church can remain immature while possessing the gifts, but this did not lead Paul to discourage the operation of gifts in the church assembly. To the contrary he encouraged the orderly functioning of members in the gatherings for the mutual building up of the body of Christ
(1 Cor. 14:1-4; 26-40). Yes, the gifts can be abused but that is no reason to abandon them. Ironically, the gift most abused today is the gift of teaching. Teaching dominates our assemblies and generally comes from one person, discouraging the corporate sharing of other members. Those we call “ministers” should sit down and let those who are called to minister (the rest of the body) function as God leads. There are those called to equip the saints but it is the saints who are to do the work of ministry (Eph. 4:12).
Worship: Presenting ourselves to God so we may serve His people
From verse nine on, Romans 12 summarizes many of the ways the presentation of our bodies in worship will be manifested not only in our gatherings but in our daily lives. Paul speaks of loving without hypocrisy, being devoted to one anther in brotherly love, giving preference to one another, being diligent, devoted to prayer and being of the same mind toward one another. These and many other things are the evidences of true worship taking place. Somehow we think that if we sing, “Lord, be gloried” with uplifted hands and closed eyes, that God is glorified. Jesus said, “By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples” (John 15:8). Bearing fruit glorifies God and is the proof of our discipleship. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22,23). Each of these things is expressed in how we treat one another. The Father is glorified by a people who genuinely and actively love one another in their daily lives. This is the truest manifestation of real worship before God, and the living sacrifice that pleases Him. Singing songs with heartfelt sincerity does not glorify Him unless it is an outgrowth of this fruit of the Spirit.
Samuel said it another way: “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15:22). Going through the motions of religious sacrifice without the evidence of a changed life does not please God. What pleases Him is a life lived in His power resulting in the evidence of His glory in our daily lives. This is worship that glorifies God. Referring to the resulting unity that such worship brings, Jesus said, “That the world may believe that that Thou didst send Me. And the glory which Thou has given Me I have given to them;” (John 17:21,22). His glory is reflected in our lives when we are unified in His love and living supernaturally in His power. But when we leave what we call “worship services” and remain unchanged individually and as a body, we not only do not glorify the Lord but convince the world that our spirituality does not work.
Worship: Expressing His life
Let us remember that form follows life. Changing the form of our worship will not bring forth life, but if we learn to walk in the life-giving power of God the forms of our worship will change accordingly. The liberty of the Spirit will produce forms of worship that express the life of God that is within us. That form will change according to the ever-changing effect of the touch of God on our lives. The change will come not because we have calculated a way to reach young people or a means to provide a user-friendly church service, but because we have encountered the living God and His presence has transformed us. Let us seek God, not a form of worship. Then we will be changed by His presence and that will make all of the difference in our worship.