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Forget the Theories of Authentic Worship--Please Just Give Me a Bible Verse
Copyright © 2002 - All rights retained by author
Written by: C. W. Booth

During a devotional time at a gathering of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade children, I heard the following well-intentioned message. It was meant to provide the children with the proper motives to perform an act of service for their community that evening. Now, I will hasten to add that it is quite commendable to teach our youth that service is good and proper behavior for all believers. However, what gave me a bit of pause was the reason given for Christian service.

"When we worship at church we get a good, warm, gushy feeling, donít we? We want that warm feeling of worship to overflow into service to God and to our neighbors. This is why we serve. Our good feelings of worship overflow into service."

Is the content of this message true? Do our warm feelings of worship overflow into service? Is the motive for service the fact that we have "good, warm, and gushy feelings"? Picky question, perhaps, but we are talking about the very essence of why we serve God. So perhaps not so picky. But either way, we are going to obediently test the above assumption about service, and why we serve, against the Word of God.

In Romans 12:1 we find that we are to present our bodies as "living sacrifices". What is the reason (motivation) for our action? The verse tells us we are to do this just because it is the right thing to do as ones who have received mercy; we are to do this simply because it is our "spiritual service of worship". Service is our duty, our obligation. The Greek for "spiritual service of worship" is "to serve". There are two central Greek words that are translated as "worship" in the New Testament, "to serve" and "to bow down". Romans 12:1 uses the word "to serve; as a servant serves his master".

Stated in the form of a paraphrase, Romans 12:1 says, "as ones who were shown mercy by God, present your living bodies as productive sacrifices doing acts of service because service is worship and this is what God finds good and acceptable as worship". Then the rest of Romans 12 describes the various kinds of service that are available to us as worship.

Have you seen the point of the verse? Do you "get" it? Do you understand the radical insight being made in Romans 12? Let's take a single question quiz together and see what we may have learned.

Question: What is the definition of worship given in Romans 12?

Answer: If you said "service" or "acts of service" you are correct.

If you said "emotional feasting" or something like that you missed the entire point of Romans 12 because you are approaching God's Word with the intent to impose your own philosophies on Scripture. Having a pre-existing idea that you wish to overlay onto a passage of Scripture or to force fit into the meaning of a verse is called "eisegesis". This word is the concept of "reading your own meaning into" the quotation. "Exegesis" is the discipline of extracting the genuine meaning of the passage from out of the quotation. An honorable approach to studying Godís Word is to use the process of finding the true meaning of a verse by exegesis, then build your doctrine on the basis of that true meaning. Since Scripture does not fight itself, you can test your exegetically derived doctrine by comparing your doctrine to all other passages of Scripture.

We worship (we serve) because this is God's good and proven will (12:2). He commands, we obey. He tells us to not think overly much of ourselves, we submit in humility. He tells us to serve Him because He has granted to us undeserved mercy, so we respond in obedience with gratitude.

Is it our good, warm, gushy feelings that come from emotionally-charged worship services that motivate us to serve, or is it from a desire to please the One who saved us, a desire to show love back to the One who gave mercy to us, a desire to obey and bend to the will of the One who is God? Remember to extract your doctrine from the Bible, not the other way around. Romans 12:1 tells us it is not on the basis of our emotion that we serve (worship) but on the basis of His Will which is our spiritual duty to obey.

Corporate Worship Services

The expression "Sunday morning worship service" is not one that is found in the New Testament. Worship is more often spoken of as the act an individual does alone in submission to God than it is spoken of as a group activity. Worship is not some kind of a special class of group ceremony. A gathering of believers can, and do, come together to participate in collective acts of individual worship, and this is frequently referred to as a "corporate worship service". The name not withstanding, each person worships from their own spirits, encouraged in individual praise, prayer, and repentance by the simultaneous worship of God by those around them. Worship is not the ceremony, it is the actual "service" and the "bowing of the knee" to God by each distinct participant. We do err if we think that merely attending a church ceremony means we have "worshipped" today.

Worship is an act of the will, an act of the mind, and often an act of the physical body. Worship is service, literally serving as a servant would serve (Hebrews 13:16). Worship is also the verbal edification of one's neighbors (1Corinthians 14:26). Worship can be accomplished when a group of believers gather to edify one another, serve one another, and to praise God. Romans 12:4-21 provides an entire list of sample services which God calls "spiritual services of worship" that one believer may offer to another: prophecy, mercy, teaching, financial assistance, forgiving each other, even literally just being a servant to one another. Worship can also be accomplished when one submits his body to God and performs service in obedience to His Word, such as avoiding participation in those Christian liberties that immature believers might construe as a license to sin.

Emotions As a Reason for Worship

But does worship happen when people gather together not to give and receive verbal instruction and exhortation (edification) but rather just to feel good, just to get an emotional boost? When I was young (many years ago) we attended youth conferences. Many times the goal of one session or another was not to learn anything or to be encouraged to be spiritually pure, but to experience the "emotional mountain top". This was often accomplished through an unbroken hour or two of singing "praise choruses". We thought this was the height of being spiritual.

Singing praises to God is never wrong (except when the one singing is hiding sin, God does not want our sacrifices of praise when we are disobedient--1Samuel 15:22). But praising God when done just for the selfish motive of "getting that feeling" misses the spiritual point. The Scriptures call praise a sacrifice because the focus of true praise is on God, putting our own self interests aside and telling others verbally how great and worthy of working in His service is our God. Praise is also our acknowledgment to God that we understand He is Lord, that He has granted us mercy, and that we appreciate what He has done.

Is the difference discernable? "Praising God" just to "feel good" is not sacrifice, service, nor necessarily the worship of God, it may be the worship of emotional gratification. "Praising God" for the purpose of telling others about the God who loves us and to express our appreciation of what that love has accomplished is "the sacrifice of praise" because it is done to "give" and to "serve" the One Who is greater than ourselves.

During the giving of praise, one may well be joyful. One's emotions may well be changed from grief over one's sins to the peace that follows repentance. One may forget their present burden of pain as they realize how much God has given them and express glad gratefulness to God. Such is often the good and biblical impact of putting God first and self second. Do be warned, that when we twist this around and approach God with praise only as a pretext for acquiring good feelings and not in fear of the awesome holiness and greatness of the Ruler of the universe, we may in fact only be worshipping our emotions and giving praise only to human experience. Is that truly the sacrifice of praise of which the Bible speaks (Hebrews 13:15)?

Answering the First Question

Why do we serve? Because we love the One who first loved us (1John 4:19). He tells us to love Him and to love our neighbors (Mark 12:31). We love, therefore we serve God and others (1John 5:1-3). We obey because He has commanded (1John 2:4). We serve (worship) by edifying others and praising God for the purpose of telling others of His greatness and to express our gratitude. Worship for lesser or for selfish reasons may not demonstrate a transformed and renewed mind and therefore may not necessarily prove to be inside the good and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2), and it may not result in the genuine sacrifice of true praise.

If serving God and our neighbors for such unselfish reasons as described in Romans 12:1 is truly not "reason enough" to serve (worship), perhaps it is the motivation that only salvation itself brings that such a one lacks. We prove our faith with our works of service and by our good works (James 2:18, Titus 2:14). If we serve only our self interests and if we worship only for our emotional "warm feelings" then perhaps we have not yet accepted the mercy that God offers which transforms us from self-centered to God-centered.


Worship is not a type of church ceremony. Worship is not a set of good feelings or warm emotions that we generate in order to feel like serving God and one another. Service (worship) is our spiritual duty which God expects us to perform as men who have been shown mercy and as men transformed who have been given spiritual gifts. Let us serve God and edify one another just because it is our "spiritual service of worship."

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