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ACCEPTABLE WORSHIP (13): Serve God Acceptably With Reverence & Awe


Serve God Acceptably

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” – Hebrews 12:28-29 (NIV)

The primary definition of the Greek word for worship here is “priestly service.” This is the same word used in Hebrews 9:1.

Now the first covenant had regulations for worship, and also an earthly sanctuary.

In Romans 9:1-4, Paul used it as well in reference to the blessings enjoyed by the Israelite nation.

I speak the truth in Christ – I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit – I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.

Stephen used the verb form of this word in his defiant defense before the Jewish High Court, the Sanhedrin, just before they stoned him to death:

God spoke to [Abraham] in this way: “Your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves,” God said, “and afterward they will come out of that country and worship me in this place. – Acts 7:6-7

“This place” was the Temple itself where Stephen was on trial for his preaching and teaching in the name of Jesus. The worship there, of course, was the system of sacrifices and offerings administered by the priests.

Hebrews 8:1-6 draws a contrast between the priestly Temple service and the ministry of Jesus.

The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.

Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises.

The ministry of Jesus as our High Priest was the sacrifice of Himself for our sins, the only sacrifice that was effective in taking away sins. This is a different word, but a synonym of the other. This synonym, leitourgia, is the root for our word liturgy.

We use liturgy today to refer to the forms and rituals of worship. Churches of Christ are not much into liturgy. We normally associate this word with the rituals, for example, of the High Churches – the Roman Catholic, the Eastern Orthodox, Anglican (Episcopalian in the USA), some Lutheran churches and such like. We do not think of ourselves as liturgical.

Yet, Paul used this same word in Philippians 2:17.

But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.

Service is the word for liturgy here. What did Paul mean by this? Note that he used another expression of himself as he was suffering for Christ. “I am being poured out like a drink offering.” So there were two different sacrifices in this verse – that of Paul and that of the Philippian Christians. Neither of these refers to anything done in a Christian assembly as they met to worship God. Both refer to the Christian service each accomplished.

The Philippians’ service was to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” doing “everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life…” (Philippians 2:12-16a). Their liturgy of worship was the very lives they lived in service to others and by which they honored God.

They were shining like stars in the universe. This calls to mind Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount:

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. – Matthew 5:14-16

The light shining in them was the result of God’s work within them to desire to do His will and to act out His will in their lives (see Philippians 2:13). While they were working out their salvation, God was working within them the willing and the doing of His good purposes. This is the true Christian liturgical worship. It is not what we may do in our assemblies. It is what we become in our lives as we let the light of God shine through us to a world in darkness.

Paul wrote to the Roman church, “God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you” (Romans 1:9) Here serve is the very form of the noun in Hebrews 9:1 with which we began this study. His priestly service was to preach the gospel of Christ. So preaching the gospel is also serving as a priest of God.

How fitting that is! Jesus’ High Priestly service was to sacrifice Himself on the altar that is the cross. Our service as priests is to tell the world the good news of what He has done and to live out His life in our lives.

This is our worship. As Paul wrote in Romans 12:1-2, after he had written eleven chapters about the greatness of what God has done for us in Christ, he penned this persuasive plea:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, 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 [some translations say service – JS]. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

The Philippian church was a living example of what Paul urged the Roman church to become. The “act of worship” Paul urged on them was for them to allow God to work in them to transform them into His own likeness. We make this sacrifice to God. We present ourselves to Him, our living bodies, so that He might make us what He wants us to be. This is the ultimate Christian worship.

I know some are wondering, “Then why do we come together in Christian assembly on the Lord’s Day? Does that have anything to do with worship?”

I am glad you asked! That will be the subject for the next post in this series.

NEXT (14) – The Christian Assembly

PREVIOUS (12) – Regulations for Divine Service

Series Index

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