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. (Romans 12:1)
This topic has been on my mind for quite some time now, but I have been hesitant to write about it because, well, it stirs up a lot of emotion. The topic of worship is a hot-button topic in church circles because Christians take worship personally – and it is personal. Most of the debate centers around the kind of music used in worship services. The conflict usually boils down to hymns vs. “praise and worship” (P&W) music, or “reverent” vs. “up-beat” music. Personally, I like all kinds of music – classical, country gospel, “high” church and regular hymns, and, yes, even some P&W music. In a recent article I remarked about listening to “godless” rock and roll; I like that too. For me, it is not about the style of the music, but rather the substance. My personal assessment of modern P&W music is that it is shallow in content, overly repetitious, and manipulative. By manipulative I mean that it is designed to excite and stir up the emotions. Hymns sometimes do that for me, but that happens when the truth of the lyrics strikes a chord in my heart that reveals my fallen condition and God’s awesome grace shed on one so undeserving. That puts a knot in my throat and brings tears to my eyes. It is, for me, an emotional experience that brings to mind the great “worth” of God – worship. Some P&W songs do the same, but by and large, not so much.
But worship has little to do with music, or the lyrics of songs. Worship means to “assign ‘worth’ to.” The hosts of heaven assign worth to the Lamb of God: “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Revelation 4:11). The first occurrence of the word “worship” in the King James Bible is found in Genesis 22:5. Here we see Abraham on his way to sacrifice Isaac in obedience to God’s command. As they arrive at the location of the sacrifice, Abraham tells his servants “Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.” Abraham wasn’t on his way to a song service. In fact, I imagine that he did not feel much like singing at that time. He was on his way to worship. The Hebrew word here is shâchâh and it means to “prostrate (especially reflexively in homage to royalty or God): – to bow down; to crouch; to fall down flat; to humbly beseech; to do or make obeisance; to do reverence; to make to stoop; to worship.” Nothing in that definition says anything about singing or music. I am not saying that music and singing should not be a part of worship. Indeed, the Psalms are a collection of hymns and many of them, like Psalm 150, talk about singing and making music unto to Lord. Psalm 66:4 says, “All the earth shall worship thee, and shall sing unto thee; they shall sing to thy name. Selah.” It might be worth noting that the “worship” comes before the singing, not the other way around. So, there is an aspect of worship that calls for music, but even in the Psalms the focus is on God and His majesty, greatness and awesomeness. Often when a complaint is leveled against modern P&W music the retort comes back, “We’re just singing the Psalms.” That is only partially true. The fact is that one or two lines are taken out of a Psalm (and usually out of context), and repeated ad nauseam. The worshipers seldom know the source of the Psalm much less the context, but it makes them “feel” good.
Worship is more than music. Our lead verse exhorts us to make our bodies, i.e., our lives, a “living sacrifice” (recall Abraham’s sacrifice above) holy, i.e., set apart/sanctified from this world, and acceptable unto God. In the O.T. an acceptable sacrifice had to be spotless and without blemish (Exodus 12:5). In our sinful nature, that is impossible, but when we have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb (Isaiah 1:18), we qualify. Finally, our verse says that our sacrifice is our “reasonable service.” The Greek word translated “service” here is latreia which means “ministration of God, divine service or worship.” That it is “reasonable” (Greek logikos) means that it is logical, or rational. It is not “mindless.”
We may never fully understand God. How can the creature comprehend the Creator! But the closer we get to Him, the better we get to know Him, the more we realize His power and His awesomeness, the more we will recognize and acknowledge that HE IS GOD. And our lives should reflect that. It is not about the style of music we sing. It is not about emotion. It is not about how we feel. It is about who He is and how well we know Him. Worship has little or nothing to do with emotions. We may not feel like “worshiping,” but God is always worthy of our worship; and we show that best with how we conduct our lives.