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Is all of life worship?

By David Sproule

The following question was submitted:

“Is everything you do 7 days a week, 24 hours a day WORSHIP to God???? I'm thinking it is not. Can you help me with scriptures?”

It is believed and asserted by some that everything a person does during his life (made up of each act during each day) is to be defined and understood as worship to God.  Think about that for a moment.  Is everything you do “worship”?  Some have so fervently contended for that position they have argued that even changing a baby’s diaper is worship (I’m not making that up).  So, here’s the question: what does Scripture teach?  How does God determine worship?

The most common word for worship in the Greek New Testament is “proskuneo,” which literally means “to kiss” (kuneo) “toward” (pros). The word is defined, “fall down and worship, do obeisance to, prostrate oneself before, do reverence to” (BDAG Greek Lexicon [2000], p. 882).  The definition and New Testament usage of this word clearly indicates an act – an act of homage and reverence.

After the birth of the Christ on earth, “wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?  For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him’” (Matt. 2:1-2).  Notice the understanding and emphasis of this word – worship was something that they had traveled some distance to do in a specific place (and in a specific manner), and it was not something they were already doing or always doing.

This usage is reminiscent of Abraham’s words in Genesis 22.  “Abraham rose early in the morning” (he was not worshiping yet), “and he split the wood for the burnt offering” (he was not worshiping yet, but he was making preparations), “and arose and went to the place of which God had told him” (he was not worshiping yet, but he was going to the place where God told him to worship), “and Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you’” (22:1-5).  Abraham affirmed (by word and action) that he was not yet worshiping, until he would come to the right time and place and with the right preparations.  “Worship” was something that would begin (in a designated location) and would also end (before leaving the designated location).  (This can also be seen in other passages, such as Exodus 4:31; Judges 7:15; 1 Samuel 1:3, 19; 2 Samuel 12:20; Acts 8:27-28; 24:11; etc.)  Scripture presents worship as a definite act of reverence paid to God through specific acts done in a specific location at a specific time.  Worship is never presented in Scripture as something that is done continuously, 24/7.

Nevertheless, there is a word (somewhat related to, yet completely distinct from worship) which requires our constant, daily, hour-by-hour devotion – service.  Jesus emphasized both worship and service, and yet distinguished the two concepts, in Matthew 4:10.  “You shall worship (proskuneo) the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve (latreuo).”  Jesus was not being redundant; there is a distinction.  The same distinction between worship and service is made elsewhere, including by Paul who “went up to Jerusalem to worship (proskuneo)” no more than 12 days earlier in Acts 24:11, but he was “earnestly serving (latreuo) God night and day” (Acts 26:7).  Latreuo is defined simply “to serve, to rend religious service” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary, p. 686), in “the carrying out of religious duties” (BDAG, p. 587).  Sustained daily and hourly service to the Lord (as He defines “service”) is what He commands and expects; sustained daily and hourly worship to the Lord (as He defines “worship”) is impossible.

Some translations of Romans 12:1 have contributed to confusing the issue.  The ASV renders the text: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service (latreuo).”  Some modern versions have translated it, “…which is your spiritual worship,” making it sound as if the offering of one’s body as a living sacrifice is a matter of daily proskuneo worship, rather than daily latreuo service. As the context of Romans 12 demands (yea, even the context of the entirety of Scripture), serving God is a 24/7 responsibility of every Christian!  Whereas, worshiping God (by following His designated pattern, through His designated avenues, at His designated times, etc.) is an act that has a very definite starting point and very definite stopping point.  All of worship may be designated as service, but not all of service can be designated as worship.

May God help us to worship Him and to serve Him as He has prescribed in His Word, and to never confuse or seek to interchange one for the other!