What is true worship? Does it require candles, cassocks and choirs? Is it about ‘smells and bells’? Or do you need a modern music group, multi-media displays and a massive sound system?! The Australian theologian David Peterson says that if you ever want to start an argument between Christians, just ask them what ‘good worship’ consists of and then stand well back. Sparks will fly!
Fortunately, God has not left us in the dark. As we look at today’s passage in Romans, we learn what true worship, really looks like! To be precise, in Romans 12 today we discover the motive for worship, and the methods of true worship. We can also discern the mystery ingredient that makes true worship possible. So today’s sermon is about the three “M’s” of worship – its Motive, its Methods and its Mystery ingredient. Let’s look at each in turn, starting with the motive for worship…
The Motive for Worship
In verse 1 Paul clearly tells us that the mercies of God should be our motive for worshipping him. In fact, all of Romans prior to today’s passage lays out the great story of God’s mercies towards humanity, culminating in the salvation he offers through faith in Christ.
Gratitude, in the form of praise and service, is the appropriate response to God’s grace, and is a message that recurs throughout the whole Bible. Unlike other religions, Christianity sees obedience to God as our joyful response to God’s grace & favour, NOT the way we earn it.
In Victor Hugo’s book Les Miserables there is a moving scene when an ex-convict Jean Valjean is caught having stolen silverware from the house of a bishop. Brought to his door by the police, the bishop pretends that he had given Valjean the silverware, and gives him two additional silver candlesticks! This amazing act of grace by the bishop secures Valjean’s freedom and inspires tremendous gratitude in him. So much so that Valjean commits the rest of his life to helping the needy.
Grace and mercy transformed Jean Valjean’s life, and God’s mercy should transform our Christians lives so that we want to serve and worship him wholeheartedly. God’s mercy is the wonderful motive for worship.
The Methods of Worship
So if the correct motive for worship is gratitude for God’s mercies, how should we actually worship him in practice? What does true worship actually look like? Helpfully, Paul tells us in today’s passage that true worship should involve all of our body, and all of the time.
Verse 1 today tells us we are to “offer our bodies as living sacrifices, a spiritual act of worship”. Our whole being is created by God, so its no surprise that we’re called to commit all of ourselves to his service. As Jesus puts it in our Gosple reading, we are to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength” (Mk 12:30).
In his little book called “True Worship”, Vaughan Roberts tells the story of a young boy who received the collection plate at his local church. He wanted to give God his best, but like most little boys, could only find a soggy handkerchief, some bubblegum and a small toy in his pocket. He therefore put the collection plate on the ground and stepped onto it! He may have damaged the brass plate and given the Church Warden a heart attack – but theologically he was spot on! We are to offer our whole selves to God in worship.
Such whole-hearted, bodily worship is very challenging. Not just our thoughts, but our actions, words and attitudes should honour God, and express our gratitude for his grace. The type of wholehearted worship God wants from us is spelled out in several verses of our Romans reading today. In no particular order, Romans 12 says that wholehearted worship includes:
• Serving the needy
• Encouraging the discouraged
• Giving to the poor
• Guiding the lost
• Showing mercy to sufferers
• Perservering in prayer
• Comforting the bereaved; and
• Feeding the hungry.
Exactly the sort of things, in fact, that we see Jesus doing throughout his earthly ministry. We should not forget that he is our perfect example and role model, as well as our Heaven-sent Saviour. He was fully human as well as divine. He trusted and obeyed his Heavenly Father, just as we ought to too.
As well as occupying all of our bodies, true worship is something that we can perform all of the time, on Mondays to Saturdays as well as in church on Sunday. There is a danger of simply attending church, just receiving Communion or merely acquiring biblical head-knowledge, but not honouring God in our lives day by day. A single religious act once a week isn’t true worship, and spiritual zeal on Sunday cannot compensate for a lack of holiness from Monday to Saturday.
It is actually a liberating privilege to know that we can worship God at any and every occasion, all of the time. Even the most mundane daily tasks, done with the right intention, can become worship that honours and serves God. Apparently Billy Graham’s wife Ruth had a sign above her sink that said: “Divine Worship offered here daily”. And a church in Edgbaston has a sign above its Exit (not its Entrance) that says: “You are now entering a place of worship!”So may our homes, workplaces and community spaces be our places of worship, as well as inside this church.
The Mystery ingredient of Worship
So the methods of true worship are that it is about all of our being, all of the time. But that can sound a demanding duty, a daunting challenge. Fortunately there is an added ‘Mystery ingredient’ to true worship that makes it much more feasible. The mystery ingredient for true worship is the work of the Holy Spirit. The third person of the Trinity is not mentioned by name in today’s passage, but elsewhere in Scripture we are told that it is he who renews our minds and distributes gifts among Christians. As the Spirit renews our mind, he helps us identify those beliefs and behaviour that are holy and pleasing to God. He can direct our attention to those things we ought to be doing in the places and circumstances where God has set us. And the Spirit also provides the gifts and talents needed to fulfil the tasks that God sets before us. Some of these spiritual aifts are mentioned in verse 6 of our Romans reading today aren’t they? Gifts like the ability to serve, or teach or prophecy or encourage or give or lead or love.
So as I finish, today’s passage from Romans 12 has given us insight into the three “M’s” of worship:
- Firstly, the motive for worship is gratitude for God’s great mercies to us in Christ. Our great salvation should spur us to grateful service.
- Secondly, The method of true worship is to serve God with all of our being, all of our time. We are to be “living sacrifices”, to use Paul’s words.
- And, thirdly, in case that all sounds far too daunting, we’ve seen that the mystery ingredient of worship is the work of the Holy Spirit within us. It is God’s Spirit who directs Christian’s sacrificial service and simultaneously equips us for the task. God’s Spirit is the great gift-giver, and all we need to do is ask for his help to become living sacrifices, “holy and pleasing to God”!