ï»¿A Sermon By Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga.
February 10, 2013
O God, the challenges of this world seem so great and we feel so small. Inspire in us the conviction that you go before us, that you work through us, and that by your power we can indeed rise against the tides that beset our world. Give us conviction today to stand against injustice and to refuse to accept anger, violence or disrespect as the standard way of relating to one another. Make us your agents to stand against all immorality and anything that degrades your image in another person. Make us each honest in all of our dealings. Make us true in all of our words. Teach us to be righteous in our families, in our communities, in our schools, and at our work. Give us hearts of compassion and a burden for reconciliation in all circumstances. May we be seen doing in our world what we see Christ doing in the Gospels. Teach us to be both trusting and transparent so that others would see Christ in us and know that he is present even now and working still. Accept our lives as our sacrifices of devotion to you. Use our gifts, our talents, and all of our resources to bring peace upon the earth. In the name of Christ, we pray. Amen.
God does not desire “something” from us—He desires us, ourselves; not our works, but our personality, our will, our heart. . . . God does not desire to have us for Himself so that we may lose ourselves in Him in mystical contemplation, but He desires to possess us for His service.
—Emil Brunner in The Divine Imperative
A lot of times when people are looking for a new Bible, they will approach me about translations. “Pastor, what is the best translation?” A lot of times they will say things like, “I just want a literal translation. I just want it word for word, the way it comes over from the old languages.” The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek. That would not be nice if translations worked that way.
If you have worked with any foreign languages, you will know that rarely is it that neat and tidy. A lot of times, there are words that will not translate. When they were trying to translate the New Testament into an African dialect, they had no concept of a lamb. When they tried to translate the “lamb of God,” they finally translated it “the giraffe of God.” In their culture, the giraffe had the same sense of innocence and helplessness and it conveyed the same idea. If they had said “the lamb of God,” it would not have made any sense to the people who were receiving the translation.
There are times where there might be one word that has multiple meanings. Translators always have to make a decision as to which word to use. For instance, in the Gospel of Luke when Jesus is at the Last Supper and the disciples are having a debate about greatness, he says, “Remember I was among you as a servant.” If you look in the Book of Acts, it talks about how the early church elected seven deacons. That is the same word. Surely, you are not going to make Jesus say, “I was among you as a deacon.” You have to make a decision. There are words that have two meanings and you have to decide, at different times, what the word means.
Today, in the beginning of the passage from Romans, there is the word worship. It is really interesting in that in both Greek and Hebrew the word that is there can be translated either worship or service. As a matter of fact, if you have a King James Bible, it says “Present yourselves as a living sacrifice which is your reasonable service.” The King James translators made a decision to go with using the word service instead of worship. Both are absolutely literal translations. We find that in the Bible there are times when the whole concept of worship and service run together. As a matter of fact, it is the roots of why we call this particular gathering a worship service. That is where it comes from. We find phrases like “you must worship God alone” and “you must serve God alone.”
In the Book of Joshua when he is giving that great speech to the children of Israel before they are about to enter into the Promised Land, Joshua says, “Choose whom this day you will serve,” but you could insert the word worship and it would make just as much sense and it would be just as accurate.
Today, we come to the last sermon in the series on Great Themes of the Bible. The theme is service, but we find that it intersects with worship. We really cannot conceive of what it means to serve God without understanding what it means to worship God. They are two sides of the same coin. It is like saying, “Do you like heads or do you like tails?” You cannot divide it. It has to be one coin. For us, worship means we go to church on Sunday morning, sing a hymn, say a prayer, and stay and listen to the preaching. We think of worship as this particular hour.
We think of service as something akin to a religious Boy Scout act: Do a good deed daily. We are doing it on God’s behalf. It is very easy for us in our minds to separate the two. But if we understand the scriptural basis, they are not separable. It is talking about a whole life commitment. If we gather together to sing a hymn, to pray with each other, and to hear the word proclaimed, somehow it is a part of, and results in, God’s work. If we are doing God’s work, we also become aware of how much we need an hour like this where we gather together to sing, to pray, and to listen to God’s word because it helps mold us into the kind of people that do these things. We just cannot separate the two.
In Romans 12, the part about worship and service come together. Paul’s logic is, “Present yourselves as a sacrifice,” and that is a worship act. Then he goes on to list all of the things that we are to use and to do. He lists all the gifts that many people have. Do you speak well? Use that for God. Do you teach well? Use that for God. Are you an encouraging person? Make sure you encourage on behalf of the work for the kingdom. Are you generous? Be generous anywhere, but be sure to be generous for the work of God. Are you a leader? If you are respected in leadership, that is a gift you can use in serving God. Do you show mercy? Are you a kind individual? Be sure to use that gift in God’s service.
What we find is that for kingdom work, we are shaped into these kinds of people. We use these gifts that God has given us to make our living with, to study in school or do any number of things, but we also bring them here for God.
I want to make a couple of points about this. Fifteen years ago, we discovered a way to identify ourselves. We did not make it up and try to live into it, but we looked at ourselves as a congregation and we said that the two key components of what we do as a church is to seek the heart of Christ and to be the hands of Christ. At the time, we talked about how, basically, these two cannot be separated. If we seek God’s heart and if we find it and grow more to be like Jesus Christ, then it can only result in wanting to use our hands for God’s service. If we use our hands for God’s service, we will find ourselves wanting to be more like Jesus Christ. The two go together. Really, this passage in Romans serves as one of two foundational scriptures for the way we understand ourselves as a church. We seek Christ’s heart, we attempt to be Christ’s hands in the world, and we know that we cannot do either without the other. We can’t serve without worshipping and we can’t worship if we are not called to serve.
The Pastoral Blessing that I give at the end of worship says: As you leave this place of worship to face the week ahead, may your lips speak God’s word and may your hands do God’s work. The worship of the people of God always results in service.
I have visited churches where, as you drive into the parking lot, they have a sign that says, Enter to worship. As you leave the parking lot, there is a sign that says, Depart to serve. Two halves of the same part. If our hearts are really in the worship, we want to do something for the kingdom.
What would we use all of these gifts for? In searching to try to understand the theme of service throughout scripture, there are two great things that God asks his people to participate in as a part of service. If we are truly reflecting the nature of God, the personality of God, and the heart of Christ in the world, what are the things that we do as a part of that service? The first thing is we work for justice. God is a god of justice. The Micah verse is a favorite passage of scripture for many people: “to love justice, do mercy, and walk humbly with God.”
Perhaps you are familiar with the Amos passage, “Let justice roll down like rivers.” God is a god who cares about justice. That means we care about the disadvantaged. How can a person have an abundant life if they don’t have an opportunity for a descent life? God is always concerned about the poor and working to care and lift the poor is a part of God’s justice.
Speaking of the word justice, it is one of those words that have two meanings. The word that is often translated justice in the Old Testament is also translated righteousness. If we would be righteous, we would be just. We think of righteousness as morality, as to whether or not we have kept a certain list of rules. In the Old Testament, the righteous person is just, caring for all people. That is a ministry that God has given us. It is why we talk so much about being the hands of Christ in caring for the poor. It is a part of justice.
The second task is reconciliation. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. He has given to us the ministry of reconciliation. That is what Paul says in the Book of Romans. We realize that the whole purpose of the cross was to allow us to be in peace with God. If God so desires for us to be at peace with him, God is also concerned that we be at peace with one another. The ministry of reconciliation about restored relationships. If we would, it is something that any of us can do in our families, with our friends, at work, at school, and even in our church. It means we are to be people who work for relationships to be right. This is the service of God. This is an outcome of our worship.
Chances are when we came to worship today nobody thought that worship included feeding the poor. Chances are no one thought it meant trying to have a civil discussion with people and not increasing the antagonism that exists in many relationships but that is service and, therefore, it is worship. As we worship, we are drawn to the heart of Jesus Christ. As we gain the heart of Christ in worship, would it not lead us to justice and reconciliation? How can we worship and not gain that heart? How can we try to exercise those tasks in life and not realize that we need a greater influx of the heart of Christ? It is two halves of the same whole, two sides of the same coin. It is inseparable. If we ever wonder what is missing in our relationship with Christ, typically we find it is either when we have come to worship and done nothing to serve God or when we have tried to do all the serving without ever drawing on the heart of Christ, without ever worshipping so that we might become more like him.
It is one of the great themes and it is one of the great life-giving themes of scripture. This is life: to worship Christ—to worship, to give ourselves in these moments as much as we can offer ourselves up, and then to receive the confirmation of the spirit and to be a part of God’s work in this world. It is the key and the path to abundant life that Jesus has promised. We have worshipped, now let us serve.
Copyright 2013. P. Joel Snider. All rights reserved.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.