I don’t know what it is like for you, but I know that some people find it almost impossible to watch a baseball game through the mesh fence backstop. Their focus is constantly drawn to the mesh and the game beyond becomes a blur. On the other hand, if you are able to focus on the game, the fence is not really a problem at all.
What is our focus in life, is it God and the life that he gives or is it this life and all that it offers? When we focus on this life, then God sometimes becomes blurry and we have a hard time seeing Him, but if we focus on Him, then many matters in this life are not a problem at all.
One of the most important things we do in life is worship. In spite of its great importance, our life is not often focused on worship. We focus on what we will eat, what we will wear, how we will relate to other people, how we will use our time, but how much do we focus on God? As a result, these things sometimes become confused and blurry. We often look at worship as what we do when we gather in church. Worship is that, but it is so much more. It is a life focused on God. This morning, we will look at what worship is and my hope is that we will make worship fully a part of our life.
The text that we will look at to help us think about worship is Romans 12:1. Let us read it once again and think carefully about it.
Paul begins the thought with the words, “I urge you.” This is not a command, but a strong encouragement to follow the teaching. The verse concludes with “this is your spiritual worship.” So what we have in this verse is an explanation of what worship is and an encouragement to worship.
This is a very significant point in the book of Romans. It is a logical transition. Romans 1-8 have presented the mercy of God in a marvellous and comprehensive way. Romans 9-11 have been an explanation of the place of Israel among God’s people. When 12:1 says “therefore…in view of God’s mercy” it looks back to all that has already been written. How often do we reflect on the amazing mercy of God? A study of Romans is a marvellous opportunity to observe the mercy of God.
Romans opens in 1:18 with the announcement that all people are under the wrath of God. That is not good news, but in order to understand mercy, we need to understand wrath. It continues in chapter 1-3 to explain and describe how all people sin and reject God and that is why they are under the wrath of God. Romans 1:18b-20 indicates that people suppress the truth which is plain to them so that they are without excuse. Romans 2 indicates that even those who know the law don’t do it and thus are under condemnation. Thus, the conclusion in Romans 3:9, 10 is that there is none righteous and in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But at that point, a huge change begins. From here on we learn about grace. Because of the grace of God, we are justified freely through faith. Through the death of Jesus on the cross, Romans 5:1 indicates that “we have been justified…” From Romans 5:1 and right to the end of Romans 8, we have verse after verse which list all the benefits and blessings that are ours in Christ. We read in 5:1 that we have peace; in 5:2 that we have access; in 5:9 that we have been “saved from God’s wrath,” in 5:11 that we have reconciliation. Chapter 6 continues with this marvellous list when it assures us in 6:4 of new life and in 6:23 of eternal life. As we move on into chapter 8, we are familiar with a whole range of wonderful mercies that are ours in Christ - “no condemnation…the Spirit of sonship…being God’s children…anticipating the glory that will be revealed…having the Spirit who helps us in our weakness…and intercedes for us…knowing that God works for the good of those who love Him…that Jesus is interceding for us and that nothing can separate us from God’s love.”
When Romans 12:1 says, “in view of God’s mercy” it is looking back to all the mercy described in these chapters. The important lesson we learn is that worship is a response to this mercy. Worship arises in response to the mercy and grace which God has given. I read a sermon which said that “Worship is nothing more or less than expressing in tangible ways how much God means to us; what his worth is; respecting and revering his character; appreciating his forgiveness; reciprocating his love; and replicating his grace. Not because we have to but because we love him and we want to.”
To what extent have we learned about the great mercy of God?
I read a story about “A young man who served in the army of Napoleon. He committed an act so terrible it was deemed worthy of death. The execution was to be by firing squad. His mother pleaded for an audience with the Napoleon. Finally she received her opportunity and fell at the feet of the commander begging mercy for her son. Napoleon looked at her and said, “Woman, your son does not deserve mercy.” “I know.” cried the mother, “If he deserved it, then it would not be mercy.” Let’s imagine for a moment that you were that young soldier waiting in your darkened cell for the fateful day of your execution. One morning the guards arrive and lead you shackled hand and foot down a long darkened passageway into a courtyard. There they tie you to a pole in front of a blank wall, place a hood over your head and draw back leaving you alone in the darkness. Beneath the hood, perspiration begins to pour down your face, every anxious nerve twitches, every muscle tenses, every noise makes you flinch; the beat of the snare drum, heightens the intensity. The sound of the flint hammers being drawn back on the muskets is deafening. It’s only a matter of seconds before you hear that one final word that will seal your fate; you know it’s coming, it’s the moment you’ve tried to prepare for. You brace yourself for the shout and then impact of the bullet that will rip through your chest and stop your now racing heart. It’s coming any moment now that last word. Your life will be over; your eternity hangs in the balance. As the drum beats quicken, your breaths becomes short and shallow, your heart feels as if it will explode, you strain to hear the last word of life as you know it. Ready! Aim…Mercy! Mercy! Mercy! Mercy!!!!!! Let the prisoner go free. How would you feel? How would you respond? You’ve been given a reprieve. Your life by rights should have been over, but you’re alive. You’ve been granted mercy, you don’t deserve it, and you have a second chance. What will you do with your new life? How will you respond to the person who had your life in his hands and has granted you mercy?
If we are to worship, we must know the grace, love, forgiveness, mercy of God which we have received. Do you know?
When we recognize mercy, we worship in response, but that response must be something. It can’t simply be a thought in our minds or a notion. How do we respond appropriately to the tremendous mercy of God?
The language of Old Testament sacrifice is used next to describe the appropriate response. It says, “offer your bodies as living sacrifices.” The language is that of sacrifice and there are some similarities, but there are also some significant differences between what is said here and what the Old Testament says about sacrifices..
What is to be offered is “your bodies.” What does the writer mean by “your body?” Is this a euphemism for ourselves? Does he mean our physical body?
I believe that first of all, it is a way of speaking about our whole self. But the word body is used to let us know that included in our whole self is our physical body. This is consistent with Biblical thinking which does not allow us to separate our mind and body or our soul and our mind or our emotions and our physical body. In the Bible, we are looked at as a whole person with many different parts and when we worship, it involves an offering of every part of us - our emotions, our thoughts, our wills, our spiritual part and our physical part.
In the Old Testament, we have many descriptions about lambs, goats, doves and other animals offered to God as sacrifices. All of them were to be symbolic of the offering of the person to God. Now, since sacrifice has been made for sin, we are invited to offer our own selves to God.
There are three descriptive words about that offering. They connect to the Old Testament sacrifices. In Leviticus 1:1-4, we have a description of the sacrifices required by God. I would like you to notice three things about those sacrifices. One is that they were to be “without defect” that they had to be “acceptable to the Lord” and that they were offered for “slaughter…”
We have all of these ideas included in this description of the nature of the offering we are invited to give to God.
In the Old Testament, the sacrifices were given to be put to death. Here there is a huge difference because we offer our bodies as a living sacrifice. No longer is it required that sacrifices to God be put to death. Christ has paid the penalty once for all and so we are able to make an offering that is alive. We worship God when we offer our life, not our death to God for his use.
The second word is that the offering was to be “without defect.” This does not change. The sacrifices offered to God must still be holy.
The third thing is that the offering must be “acceptable to the Lord.” Again, this word is included here in that it is to be an acceptable offering.
This is worship - when we offer our whole selves - holy, acceptable to God as a living sacrifice to God.
What does that mean? What does it mean that we offer ourselves to God? How is that worship?
To offer ourselves to God like this means that we offer ourselves to God in obedience. We worship when we give our lives to God in obedience to Him. We worship when we develop a lifestyle of integrity, holiness, purity and obedience to God. A life of legalism is not a life of worship. A life of doing as we please is not a life of worship. A life of serving God grudgingly is not worship. When we decide that we will obey God by confessing our sin of lying to our friend, that is worship. To offer ourselves to God in obedience because we love Him and want to serve Him and please Him is worship.
To offer ourselves to God means that we have a passion for God. We worship God when we offer our hearts to God in a loving response to His great mercy. If we think that worship is boring, that loving God is very uninteresting, then we have not really understood what God has done for us. When we know that we are deeply loved and when we realize that love for this world is a dead end and that true satisfaction is found in God alone, then a passion for God rises in our hearts that is a response to his love for us. When we live in that passion, then we worship. When we come to church prepared to express publicly our love for God because we know we have been blessed by Him all week, that is worship.
When we offer our lives to God so that we live a God-centred life in which our thoughts, plans and hopes are all submitted to the will of God, then we worship. Recently I spoke with someone who was wrestling with a problem. I discovered that they had prayed about it and thought it through in light of Scripture. That is worship. Some of you are planning your future. Are you only thinking about how much money you can earn or what will be fulfilling, or fun? Are you asking God for His direction? If we ask for God’s direction in life, that is worship.
Offering ourselves as a living sacrifice is worship. Have we offered ourselves to God?
There is a strange thing that happens to humans. When we started worshiping here, everything had to change. We had no place where we usually sat. But now that we have been here for about a month, we have begun to develop habits. We quickly find a favorite place to sit. There is nothing wrong with that unless we get to the place, which sometimes happens in church, that we get upset if someone sits in our place. Then a habit has become a binding ritual. The same pattern happens in our life of worship. For example, if my devotional life - which is part of my worship - involves reading the Daily Bread every day that is a good thing. If my devotional life becomes a thing that I have to do, and I feel guilty if I don’t and if my ritual is once displaced and that causes me to become greatly distressed, then it has become a legalistic ritual instead of worship.
True worship is not like that. The last part of the verse we are looking at to learn about worship says, “this is your spiritual worship.” The Greek word for “spiritual” is “logikos.” It can be translated in different ways. In NIV, it is translated “spiritual.” In KJV it is translated “reasonable.” In the NASB it is translated “spiritual” but the word “rational” appears as a footnote. As you can hear, the Greek word “logikos” sounds like our word “logical.” Normally the word for spiritual would be “pneumatikos” which means related to the “Spirit.” This is not the word used here, rather it is a word that is related to the concept “word” or “logic.” If the word was “spiritual,” then it would tell us that our worship is formed by and empowered by the Spirit of God, which is a good thought, but that is not the word. Why does the writer use the word “logikos?” This word is most naturally translated “reasonable” or “rational” which means that worship of God is not to be a ritual. It is to be something that makes sense, something which thinks, which responds to God and to all He has done. One writer says “it is rational in contrast with what is mechanical and automatic.”
What I am trying to say is that true worship is real. It is not a habit without thought. It is not a ritual devoid of meaning. It can easily become that, but then it is not worship anymore. That is not to say that we shouldn’t have patterns and habits in our worship, but they must always be filled with meaning. Do you come to church just because you do or do you realize that you want to come because you want to respond to God? Do you obey certain habits of holiness because you have been taught, forced or disciplined to do them, or do you engage in them because you love God and want to bring honor to Him? May our worship be real!
I want to engage your minds and your hearts as I invite you to worship. I want to invite you to think about God and allow that knowledge of God and particularly of His mercy to go down into your soul. I want to invite you to allow your soul to feel the joy and depth of meaning of God’s great mercy. I want to invite you to let that feeling find expression in your will as you choose to respond in obedience to God in all of life as a natural, thought through response of life lived in holiness. I want to invite you to let that feeling find expression in your words as you declare the greatness of God.
Worship is not just the feeling, it is not just the words spoken. Worship is all of this - the thought, the feeling, the obedience and the words. May our reflection on God allow us to bring glory to God as we worship Him with our whole lives.