Worship in the Book of Romans
I have often pointed to Romans 12:1-2 as a central passage of Paul’s letter because it so succinctly points the reader to true worship. The idea of worship, as it appears in Romans, may have been a deliberate sub-theme Paul placed within the book, or it may just be the result of Paul’s overall perspective on the Christian life as a lifestyle of worship. He shows how it intertwines with the realities of our daily lives based on the wider perspective he has as an expert and interpreter of the Old Testament. His special understanding of Israel’s stunted relationship with God, as well as God’s gracious gift of salvation to the Gentiles, is revealed throughout the entire book of Romans.
Essentially there is a four-fold outline of worship within Romans that can be delineated in the following way:
- The focus of worship (Romans 1:18-32)
- The faith of worship (Romans 4:19-5:11)
- The form of worship (Romans 12:1-8)
- The fellowship of worship (Romans 15:1-7)
These four principles paint an extensive portrait of what worship is to be, and not be, in the realm of human experience.
The Focus of Worship
Near the beginning of the book of Romans, rather than presenting properly focused worship, Paul describes the wrong focus for worship. Humanity’s sin has so blinded each person that there is no end to the lusts and desires that promote self. Rather than listening to the voice of God found both within themselves (1:19) and without (1:20), they pursue their own lusts and pleasures and their hearts are perpetually darkened (1:21).
This darkened heart leads man continually away from God. Paul even directly refers to this in 3:11-12, “There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside…” Man has become wise in his own eyes and exchanged the true worship and service of the incorruptible God for “an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures” (1:23). Mankind is addicted to idolatry and seeks to fill the inner yearning to worship with everything other than God Himself. This misdirected worship is contrasted by the worship of the patriarch Abraham who rightly focuses his worship toward God through faith.
The Faith of Worship
We find a connection in Romans 4 between Paul’s discussion of Abraham’s faith and the concept of worship as demonstrated by the vocabulary Paul uses. Romans 4 explains the way of faith as exemplified in Abraham. Although he could be considered a man of good works, Abraham’s activities and “goodness” were not able to earn God’s favor. “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God” (4:2). This coincides with what we saw in Romans 1. Man’s ability to worship and serve God properly was damaged by the Fall, and this was true of Abraham as well.
However, Abraham is held up as one who responded to the evidence of God’s mercy around him and believed what he heard and saw. It was this belief—this faith—that allocated God’s saving mercy into his life. This is what Paul designates as righteousness (4:3-5). In simpler terms, righteousness is the status of a rightly restored relationship with God. Paul contrasts Abraham’s faith in God’s word and promises with the lack of faith described in Romans 1. Yet, just as Abraham responded in faith and believed God’s word and promises, Paul recognizes that we also can respond to God’s word and promises by faith. In spite of how things appeared, and our inability on our own to have a relationship with God, He calls us to faith in Christ and to be reconciled with Him (Romans 5:8-11).
The Form of Worship
The specific form, or pattern, of worship we find in Romans is physical and active. This is what it means to present our bodies (12:1). Appropriately, it comes in Romans after the discussion of the faith of worship, for the actions of worship must only be a thankful response to a work already completed in us, rather than a way to earn the favor of God. Faith first, then action–just like Abraham! We balance the physical and active with the internal. Let me phrase it by saying that the appropriate form of worship comes out of, or is the result of, the right attitude about worship. Remember the importance of the “renewed mind” and that our activity is always the result of our internal decisions (12:2).
The form of worship is empowered by God. It is God that has gifted His people to serve Him and others. This is why His love has been “poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (5:5). Our ability to serve God and others is empowered by His indwelling Spirit. Paul’s writings are filled with references to the work of the Spirit in our lives, and this is evidenced in Romans 12 as he has “allotted to each a measure of faith” (12:3). He has given us what we need for what He is asking us to do. Ultimately, the best form of worship is cooperative. As God has gifted each person, we are then responsible to serve others with those gifts (12:4-8). None of us have all the gifts. We need each other to be complete and serve in the fullness of the Body of Christ. This diversity and unity is vital to the proper working of the church.
The Fellowship of Worship
As Romans comes to a close, Paul uses worship terminology to discuss the fellowship of Christians loving and serving one another. He is expecting the combined Christian effort of living godly lives to issue forth in a unity of purpose and voice. “That with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (15:6). Obviously, from the perspective of the larger context, our unified “voice” is not necessarily vocal but a reflection of our daily lives of obedience and service (i.e., faith).
Of course, Paul reiterates the “renewal of the mind” (12:2) idea in 15:4 when he states, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” It is no accident that Paul reuses phrases and terms we have already discussed in previous sections. His thought is interconnected throughout Romans, and his desire is that the Body of Christ becomes a community of loving individuals unified in their service to God, and also that God would be glorified in what we do.
And so we see that worship is an integral theme within the book of Romans. It would be unique if it only appeared here, but these concepts cross through many of Paul’s writings as well as the other writers of the New Testament for we see that they are founded upon principles laid down in the Old Testament. This is why it is important to think properly about worship, that we may then experience a life of worship, which encompasses the whole of our daily lives.
(This article has been adapted from Mark Sooy’s book: The Life of Worship: Rethink, Reform, Renew. For a more complete discussion you can order the book at www.MarkSooy.com.)
(Original Post on October 8, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/20529-worship-in-the-book-of-romans)
Posted on April 21, 2014, in Christian Worldview, Content of Worship, Corporate Worship, theology, Worship Leader and tagged Mark Sooy, theology, worship, worship leader, WorshipThink. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.