Who is worship all about? – Romans 12:1-2

Who is worship all about?  Let me start off by telling you a parable.  I wish I could claim it as my own, but it comes from pastor bc comings, of Mountain View CRC in Lynden.[1]
There was a prince whose massive estates were given to the care of certain stewards during an extended time of frequent absence. He was not always absent. From time to time he would return to visit his estates and the people who worked them. Both the master and his subjects seemed agreed that the visits were all too short.
As time progressed, one of the stewards became concerned with the manner in which the common people presented themselves to their sovereign. He took it upon himself to instruct the people as to when and how and in what demeanor they should address the Prince upon his returns. Instruction in protocol was regularly given and became the focus of his administration. He drew up entire books filled with stately etiquette and greetings of carefully worded grandeur. So effective was his training program that the common folk came to believe that they need only repeat the words written in their books of protocol to maintain good relations with the Prince.
On the given days and at the appointed times, the Prince would return to find the workers of this estate well schooled in their etiquette. With pomp and pageantry they greeted his every visitation. The people came in their finest attire and they read blessings, eulogies, and litanies of great eloquence. The occasion always left the people and their prince with the impression that something lofty, gracious, and beautiful had happened—though perhaps they could not say what it was.
On other of the Prince’s estates, the steward was rather more personal and pragmatic. “I am not so much concerned with show as with reality,” he was heard to say. “Our great Prince deserves rich fruits, not fancy words.”
When the Prince visited this estate, he was greeted warmly and directly by people dressed in working garments. There was no pageantry, no ornate words. In fact, little by way of celebration at all. The work paused only long enough to allow for direct and simple words to be exchanged between the Lord and his people. Once the converse was over, it was back to the work and fruitfulness.
Finally the day arrived on which the Prince came into his kingdom. At his coronation the stewards arrived at the palace, each convinced that his administration of the estate was superior. Each anticipated that the people of his estate would receive the better commendation because of the administration under which they had served. Each secretly looked down a rather self-satisfied nose at the other.
The steward of the regal estates was confident his people were more pleasing to the new King because of the stability, propriety and respect of the words he had composed for them to say. At the same time, he was quite sure that the King would be displeased with the low-brow words and tattered apparel of the workers from the other estate. Certainly, the King of such a rich and influential domain was pleased only by the best of words, ceremonies and apparel.
The steward of the more folksome estates was also confident his people would fare better before the King than those of the other estate. Their words were not lofty, but they were genuine. They had not squandered precious time celebrating the King when he had been a Prince. They had remained at their posts—working the ground and bringing forth fruits for the coronation banquet. None of his people had presumed to read someone else’s greeting to their King. Their words were their own.
But when the King turned to the people of his estates, he gave preference to neither the regal estates nor the common estates. Instead he judged each person concerning matters of the heart.
To one he declared, “Your words were not your own in composition, but you strove diligently to make them your own in significance. They became to you an occasion for raising the level of our discourse to loftier, more noble things. Well done.”
To another he frowned, “You spoke to me with high and lofty phrases but your heart and mind never rose above the pig sty. Thus your words were false to you and odious to me, filled with disdainful complacency. Was it not worth it to you to breathe life and meaning into your wonderful words and pretty turns of speech? You are unfaithful and fit only for my contempt.”
When the servants from the common estates approached the throne, they too found the King interested in deeper things than the manner of address and decorum they practiced.
To one he smiled, and bid him approach the throne, “My dear old friend, how I treasure the memory of our long discussions over the feed trough. You have no idea the good you did me by your forthright respect and ready service. I look forward to feeding and grooming the livestock with you again and again in the royal stables.”
Yet at the sign of another his face fell, “Oh, you,” He muttered. “You took my visits for granted and presumed to speak with me as if we were equals. Your so-called service to me was a wispy veil for your self-serving attitude. You were careless in your thoughts and actions toward me, I shall take very little care over what becomes of you in my kingdom.”
By the time the stewards approached the throne, their confidence had melted away. The steward of the royal estates had acted in good conscience for his attempts to dignify the communion of his people with their Master by lending them order and nobility. But he was suddenly aware that in the doing, he had traded away the honest and reverent intimacy his people might have known with their ruler. The steward of the common estates was glad for his emphasis upon service and fruitful labors, but suddenly felt denuded and inappropriate in the presence of such a magnificent King.
The King read the heart of each in their eyes. He said nothing, but under his gaze the stewards turned one to the other and tearfully grasped hands. “We have much to learn from one another,” they agreed.
As they turned to the King, and bowed low before him, no words were exchanged—only the smile of their Master and the prospect of many happy days setting the balance in the kingdom.
Let’s return to the message of Romans in order to bolster up our concept of what worship is all about.  Romans uses the word therefore 20 times. 19 of them are in reference to some past information that Paul is distilling into a consequence or resulting belief.  Our passage in Romans 12 is the 14th such occurrence. In order for us to answer the question at hand: What is worship all about?  It is imperative that we follow Paul’s preceding conclusions. Let’s walk through the book of Romans summarily from therefore to therefore, answering the question, What is this therefore, there for?
After opening the letter and discussion humanities stubborn refusal to admit that God is both Lord Almighty and Creator of the Universe (Romans 1:20) and humanity’s refusal to worship God, Paul tells us the result:
Rom. 1:24 ¶ Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.
The sin of humanity has brought more sin upon themselves.  These in turn results in more idolatry, sexual perversions, and every form of wicked behavior, even approving of sin in others.  To which Paul says, we are all guilty.  Rom. 2:1 ¶ You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. We are all guilty.  Every human being approves of some sin tacitly by considering his or her life acceptable while another’s is unacceptable.  We are condemned, each and every one of us.
And it is because of this reality, that Paul writes, Rom. 3:20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.   This is because none of us can observe the law fully; we all stumble at it in some area, or excuse others and ourselves like us in certain points of adherence.  The law, our actions and obedience to it, cannot save a single sinful human being but because of the atoning life of Christ and the shedding of his blood, salvation is possible but it comes and always has come by faith.  Righteousness was given to Abraham, not for obedience, but for faith in God’s promises.  And so Paul writes, Rom. 4:16  Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring — not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.
And since this righteousness through faith is available to everyone, since everyone is under the same condemnation in regards to fulfilling the law completely, Paul tells us Rom. 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Faith has brought righteousness, which has brought peace and reconciliation with God.  And because of this peace and reconciliation there is the hope of ultimate salvation – redemption from our bodies of sin.  Because of this truth, and its importance, Paul recites the first five chapters in 13 verses beginning at Rom. 5:12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…(Rom 5:21b) so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
In light of this truth, the hope of salvation, Rom. 6:4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If this is indeed true, Paul urges us on in the Christian life saying, Rom. 6:12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.  The Christian is called to change the way he lives, no longer in sinfulness and depravity, estranged from God and denying his very power and authority, no those are the things which got humanity into our present predicament.  Instead, we are to acknowledge God’s power and authority and will undoubtedly lead to a new way of living.  A way of living that doesn’t bring judgment upon others, or ourselves for if you recall, the judging of earlier was a means of self-justification. It was a means whereby one condemned another in order to “uphold the law” in themselves.
But now in Christ and in hope, in submission to the authority of God we no longer need to compare ourselves or sustain ourselves, in fact on the contrary, we recognize our complete vulnerability before God in the face of absolute righteousness and so our only concern is this:  Am I obedient to the promptings of God’s authority in my life?  And it is because of this truth that Paul writes, Rom. 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  There is nothing else, no one else who can condemn us, for all are condemned under the law and by the law, but in Christ we have been raised above the search for righteousness in obedience to the law.  And if this is the case, again Paul draws the conclusion Rom. 8:12 Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation — but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it…but [to be led] by the Spirit…and put to death the misdeeds of the body. 
Our life is now God’s life.  It belongs to him. By recognizing Christ as our righteousness, all believers have essentially allowed God to reverse the original sin, which brought condemnation upon humanity.  We have recognized God’s authority and power and if this is so, we have also recognized the truth of Scripture, which the Heidelberg Catechism succinctly summarizes in its first question and answer.  That truth is That I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death— to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”
Rom. 9:16 It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. If it is true that I am God’s creation and he is my redeemed, then human effort or desire are irrelevant, but everything rests upon the mercy of our Lord.  Rom. 9:18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. And that reality is a hard one for many of us to accept, but it is the natural outworking of every thing that Paul has said until this point.  He goes on to flesh that out in the story of Israel and their rejection of the Messiah while the gentiles accepted him and were grafted into the spiritual Israel.
So Paul says to these grafted in Gentile converts and Jewish believers, Rom. 11:22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. Contemplate God’s mercy to you and his wrath to those who persist in a state of denying God’s power and authority.  Consider it; consider the outcome of those who refuse to acknowledge God as Lord and Creator.  Reflect on the future of those whose lives are lived as their own gods, devoid of any serious acknowledgement of their sin, God’s righteousness and God’s judgment upon those who sin.  Think about it, dwell on it and then reflect on his mercy, his grace, his kindness that allows others and yourself who do acknowledge God’s demands, and God’s provision.  And when your reflection is complete and your acceptance of his Son’s life for you is settled in your mind and heart, then Paul says, here is the natural response, Worship:
Rom. 12:1 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. Rom. 12:2 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.
So let us worship God, remembering that our needs, wants and desires mean nothing, for we have been bought with a price and our master is calling us to be transformed!  Let’s worship God.
Rom. 12:1 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. Rom. 12:2 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.
Worship flows out of proper reflection on God, man, sin and judgment.  It flows out of the heart, not the external as the parable expounds.  Our gathering on Sunday morning is but one aspect of the life of worship, but it all flows from recognizing that God alone is master and Lord.  He alone is sovereign and the creator.  And that means that we are creatures.  If he is creator, then we are creatures.  And if this is true then worship isn’t about anything that we like or prefer, whether it is music style or liturgy, whether it is comfortable or uncomfortable for us.  Whether it challenges us or doesn’t challenge us.  Whether we like the pastor or don’t like the pastor.  None of these things matter.  For each and every one of them is a reflection back upon the root sin, which brought God’s condemnation down upon humanity in the first place – the idea that my wants, desires and preferences are what is most important.  Poohey!
If we are coming on Sunday mornings with any of those thoughts or ideas, we must take time to return to the first 11 chapters of Romans and settle the message in our mind and contemplate that message seriously in our life and if we believe that our savior has truly redeemed us, and we are not our own but have been bought with a price, then the question we must come to worship with is – What is worship all about?  Or better yet “Who is worship all about?” 
It is about God, it is all about God.  It is about offering ourselves to him in service and obedience to the Holy Spirit he has placed within our very soul.  It is about living a life out of the reflection that God has chosen men, women and children to be saved, and I am one of them.  Therefore, I, we, come not with our own agenda, our own desires, our own preferences, but we come with thankfulness and gratefulness to our Lord each and every day, including Sunday morning.
The world says gather with like minded people, get your needs met, plug into a church where your preferences are the preferences of the majority.  But the gospel says, Rom. 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.   The world says, worship is about an emotional response carried out at the end of the service.  The world tells us that worship is for Sunday morning but come Monday, faith and life don’t mix.  The world tells us that my faith need not affect my work ethic, or my politics and definitely not my economics. But the gospel says, Rom. 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  This is your spiritual act of worship…
The world says we need to fill the dying churches with more up to date music, better instruments, nicer, more comfortable décor and this will in turn fill the church with greater numbers of people. But the gospel says, Rom. 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. The task is not to populate public meetings with greater numbers of people, but with greater numbers of worshipers[2] who recognize that it isn’t about their preferences, desires, or even their heart felt plans and ideas about evangelism and making the Gospel message comfortable.  The challenge for every Christian in all of life, including Sunday morning worship, to abandon himself or herself as a slave to the hand of God.
The world says bring a comfortable message to the people so that they will accept it and join the church.  In fact many church-goers believe that worship is to be comfortable for them.  We have enough stress in regular life, they say.  We have enough demands, enough uncertainty, enough surprises, enough people telling us what to do, that we just want to come on Sunday morning and relax, enjoy the service and not have anyone bring more surprises, demands or tension to our lives.  We like the words, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” But it never quite occurs to us that when Jesus speaks of rest it is in terms of His yoke of service—for Jesus continued, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” 
Worship is challenging, it is submission to the leading of the Master and Creator. For the gospel says, Rom. 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Quit thinking that we have any part of directing even our Sunday morning gatherings; they are God’s time for training his people, for receiving their praise and for enjoying His family.  It is not about us, it is all about him.  The promise was never for a comfortable message, it was for a message of Comfort – you aren’t in charge of your life any longer, That is what got you in trouble, but I, God, am in charge of your life, the Father says, and so your ills are no longer, follow me while I lead you out of them.  This is the transforming of the mind.[3]
That is a hard reality to come to grips with.  I have struggled with it and continue to struggle with it. Picture yourself, sitting in a small hut with 50 smelling bodies, 100-degree heat and no windows.  The music is going to be sung to beats you are unfamiliar with and the people are going to dance and jump and bounce so that the 50 smelly bodies are going to become 50 smelly, sweaty bodies and you will be squashed 8 people onto a bench made for 4.  The speaker is going to talk in a language you don’t understand, the message is going to be translated and the doctrine will be bordering on heresy and the next 4 hours are going to be spent in this gathering, only then to be followed by a eating a meal you don’t like while the men of the gathering ask you questions about every conceivable topic from money to sex to politics.  Would you go each week?  Would you consider that worship?  What if you could go another village over and be part of a body that had fans blowing and plenty of space, and the teaching was sounder?  Which gathering would you choose?  That is the life of most missionaries.  It was our life.
When we returned to the states we attended a church that was for most practical purposes the same for us, the veneers were different but the foreignness was the same.  I had never sung hymns, until coming to the CRC, instead of 50 smelling bodies with a lot of movement and cramped quarters, there were 150 scented bodies with plenty of space but absolute stoic resolve not to move one square inch.  The message was doctrinally strong at times but there was little to no fellowship, no gathering for a meal afterward, and no discussion of money, sex, and politics.  Would you go each week?  Would you consider one worship and the other not?   How about if a new gathering started up and they were playing your favorite music?  Would you leave?  Or better yet, if the church you had been a part of was exactly what you wanted and then it started to change?  Would the new worship be better than the old, or worse?  Would it be more worshipful? 
Do you see, everything we are discussing is surface level?  It is a matter of opinion, it is focused on ourselves.  But the gospel says, Rom. 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Don’t view your wants, wishes and desires – come to see worship as occurring anytime, anywhere your mind is set upon God and his rule, his kingdom and his pushing forth into the world. 
Sunday worship, or all worship for that matter, is not about you or me or even the unbeliever we want to know Christ.  It is about the God who saves us and so has a right to direct our lives.  It is about the God who paid the price for our redemption, and so it is about the God who creates freedom and therefore can tell his people how to live.  It is about the God who is gracious and merciful and so it is about the people who recognize His grace and mercy, and understand his right to condemn all men but see his surpassing kindness in their election.  It is about God Almighty who alone dictates truth.  And so worship is the all-encompassing recognition of God’s power and authority, his creative skill and generosity as it is displayed in every act of living in a redeemed person’s life. 
So let us worship God, following where he is leading.  Amen!

[1] Cumings, Waterways of Worship, pg. 226.
[2] BC Cumings, pg. 203.
[3] Cumings, pg. 207.

About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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