Called to engage in logical worship

Over the years I have preached a number of times on the opening verses of Romans 12, where after having spent eleven chapters expounding what God has done for Christ, Paul moves to urge his readers to respond to God’s amazing grace. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (12.1-2).

In the sermons I have preached on this passage I have spoken of the difference following Jesus makes. In today’s post-modern world one of the key questions is ‘What’s in it for me?’ Life revolves around self and the satisfaction of self. By contrast the Christian life is the very antithesis of all that. There the question is: ‘What can I do for God?’ Life no longer revolves around self – but rather around the sacrifice of self.  For in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die”.

As Paul makes clear here, to live for Jesus is to live a life of sacrifice. It is precisely “because of God’s mercy to us” (Rom 12.1 GNB), that we are motivated to live for God. David Livingstone, the pioneer missionary explorer, hit the nail on the head when he wrote:

People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege.

Another pioneer Africa missionary, C.T. Studd, said something similar: “No sacrifice can be too great for him who gave his life for me”. Or as Oswald Sanders wrote in his book: The Best I Can Be, sacrifice is “the ecstasy of giving the best we have to the One we love the most”. In seeking to live life for God, we are but responding to his love, his grace, his mercy. In the words of the Revised New Jerusalem Bible, the “remembering the mercies of God” leads us to present out bodies as “a living sacrifice”.

However, not until the other Sunday did I take note of the final phrase, where Paul, describes the offering of our lives as our “spiritual worship” Or at least, that is how the NRSV (along with the RSV & ESV) translate it. However, the adjective in other versions is translated as “due” (RNJB), “intelligent” (J.B. Phillips), “reasonable” (AV), “true” (GNB), “true and proper” (NIV), and “offered by heart and mind” (NEB & REB).

I checked the Greek. I had assumed from the NRSV’s translation, “spiritual”, that the underlying Greek term was pneumatikos, a word which Paul uses many times else and which is from the noun, pneuma, ‘spirit’, and which often refers to the Holy Spirit’. However, in Rom 12.1 the word Paul uses is not pneumatikos but logikos, from which we get our word ‘logical’. Logikos has the sense of “being carefully thought through” or “thoughtful”. There is a famous passage where the Greek philosopher Epictetus wrote:

If indeed, I were a nightingale, I should be singing as a nightingale; if a saw as a swan. But as it is, I am a rational (logikos) being, therefore I must be singing hymns of praise to God… and I exhort you to join me in this same song.

In other words, Paul is saying in Rom 12 that living our lives for God and for God alone, makes sense. In the light of all that God has done for us, it is entirely ‘logical’ or ‘rational’ to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice”. Not surprisingly, in the following verse Paul goes on to speak of the renewing of our “minds” as we seek to “discern what is the will of God.  Worship is rooted in logic.

I find the idea of ‘logical worship’ fascinating – and not least when we apply the phrase to Sunday worship. All too often worship is about our feelings. As an examination of any collection of modern songs quickly reveals, we spend much of our time telling God how we feel. Furthermore, there is often an expectation that worship should always make us feel good. Instead of coming to worship God because he is God, we come to worship God because we need a boost. ‘Join us for worship’, declared a church noticeboard, ‘you will feel better’. The reality is that an encounter with God may prove to be painful, for it involves a call to sacrifice, commitment and self-denials.

The fact is that in worship we express our love for God with both our mind and our heart. ‘Logical worship’ is both a cerebral and an emotional experience. In the words of the NEB & REB it is worship “offered by mind and heart”. What is more this worship cannot be confined to a church service but must spill out into a life lived for and shaped by God. As John Stott commented: “No worship is pleasing to God which is purely inward, abstract and mystical; it must express itself in concrete acts of service performed by our bodies”. Or as we might say, spiritual worship is logical or rational worship powered by love for God and expressed in living wholeheartedly for God and for others.

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