Worship: What Is “Worship”? Latreuō

cainandabelLatreuō is a Greek verb usually translated either “worship” or “serve.” In the Septuagint (LXX), it’s the verb most commonly used of worship at the tabernacle or Temple. It is also used of worshiping an idol.

(Deu 6:12-15 ESV)  12 then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.  13 It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.  14 You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you — 15 for the LORD your God in your midst is a jealous God — lest the anger of the LORD your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth!

And so, latreuō takes on the flavor of “be loyal to” or “honor” or even “obey.” The God or god your latreuō is the God or god who commands your allegiance.

(Deu 10:12-13 ESV) “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul,  13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?”

Thus, when Paul says to his shipmates as he was being taken to Rome —

(Act 27:23-24 ESV)  23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship,  24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’

— Paul didn’t mean by “whom I worship” that he attended weekly song services or listened to sermons. He meant that he had given his allegiance to the God of the Jews, and that his life was dedicated to him. He was speaking of the entirety of how he lived his life, not a Sunday morning assembly merely.

Just so, in —

(Rom 1:9-10 ESV)  9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you  10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 

— Paul has in mind his life as a missionary much more than the Sunday assembly. The parallel with Temple worship is not the assembly but a life devoted to God.

And consider —

(Phi 3:2-6 ESV) Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.  3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh — 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:  5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;  6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

In v. 3, Paul is comparing Christian worship (latreuō) to the worship of God by the Jews at the Temple. His point is that we Christians have the true “glory” (Heb: Shekinah) of God. God’s Glory once dwelled in the Holy of Holies, but the Second Temple never received the presence of God’s Glory as did Solomon’s Temple and the tabernacle before it. God has rejected the Second Temple and place his Shekinah in the church by means of the Spirit.’

When Paul claims that the church is “the circumcision” he is also referring to the Spirit, based on such passages as —

(Deu 30:6 ESV)  6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. 

Hence, the idea of circumcision of the heart by the Spirit replaces physical circumcision and also suggests that the church has become the true Temple where God’s Shekinah dwells in the form of the Spirit.

This makes Christian worship the only true worship because it’s offered in the only true Temple — the body of Christ — which contains the true Holy of Holies in which God dwells by his Spirit — the church.

This is not mere poetry and pretty pictures. In Paul’s mind, this is all quite real. The Spirit really does live within the church. The church really does sacrifice in honor of God in Jesus the Temple, altar, and high priest. The role of the Temple has been completely replaced by a new and better Temple — Jesus of Nazareth, dwelling on earth through his church, his body.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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4 Responses to Worship: What Is “Worship”? Latreuō

  1. Paul’s statements about his worship seem to be less indicative of actions and more of identity. He is speaking of his relationship with God, his identification of himself with God, not just some act he performs for God. I think Jesus uses the term “worshippers” in John 9:31 (KJV) in the same way. IMO, Jesus’ admonition to the Samaritans in John 4 speaks to this reality of relationship rather than the correctness of just where sacrifices were to be burned. To be in relationship with God in Spirit and in reality (rather than by genetics and ritual) is easily counterposed to our traditional interpretation of “spirit and truth” — which has been “with enthusiasm and procedural precision”.

  2. Dwight says:

    And yet there is a certian amount of reverence and fear associated with doing it the way God asks and asked with purpose. When Uzzah placed his hands on the Ark, he must have thought that it must need to be studied, as the oxen were stumbling, but God punished him. Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire before the Lord, one could argue that they they didn’t do it perfectly, but they set out not to do it perfectly, but it was at least fire. This is an important thing though.
    But we seem to be coming from the negative as if to make excuses.
    When we are asked to run the race as Paul indicates, we are being asked to run the race as to win, not to lose. When we see God’s request we should act like it is the utmost important thing to do. Not argue that to do it imperectly will not be counted against us, because if we appraoch it from that angle, then we will do it as if it doens’t matter and if it didn’t matter, then God wouldn’t have said something about it. Things are as Holy as we approach them to be when told they are.
    Now I am not saying God will mark us for every mistake, but we shouldn’t be setting up to fail.

  3. Jay Guin says:

    “Worshippers” in John 9:31 is spoken by Bartimaeus, not Jesus.

    (Joh 9:30-31 ESV) 30 The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.”

    THe Greek word is theosebes, which most dictionaries translate as “devout” or “God fearing” rather than “God worshipper.” The NET Bible translates “devout,” but there are those who prefer “God fearing” as in the LXX for Job 1:1.

    The point is that worship isn’t really the subject of the verse.

    Nonetheless, I agree that identity is more in mind in 9:31 — which god do you serve? — rather than whether one worships according to certain rules.

    However, in John 4, the word choice clearly indicates the use of the LXX word for tabernacle or Temple worship, although the word can be used in a more general sense. The Samaritan woman’s question was in terms of temple worship — the Samaritan or Jewish temple?

    But in answering “in Spirit and truth,” Jesus was not playing by her rules. He redefines “worship” to be more about whom we serve than where or how we serve. I agree entirely. Ultimately, it’s about serving/worshiping the Messiah in the Spirit.

    It’s also interesting that Jesus sometimes uses “worship” in a much broader sense than Temple worship.

    (Mat 15:7-9 ESV) You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: 8 “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'”

    Worship= sebomai. BDAG translates: “to express in gestures, rites, or ceremonies one’s allegiance or devotion to deity, worship.”

    Jesus is actually speaking of the Oral Law command to wash hands before eating, to avoid consuming uncleanness from dirt that may have contacted an unclean animal or person. So washing hands in a private home or market is “worship” in this sense to Jesus — just as a modern Christian says a prayer before a meal. Most of our rites are limited to the meeting house but a few survive for the rest of the week, but not many.

    Paul speaks of asceticism as a form of false “worship” in Col 2:23 —

    (Col 2:23 KJV) Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

    (Col 2:23 ESV) These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

    “Will worship” is ἐθελοθρησκείᾳ BDAG defines “self-made religion, do-it-yourself religion, idiosyncratic religion, perh. would-be religion.”

    The translators ignore the context —

    (Col 2:18 ESV) Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind,

    “Worship” is threskeia or θρησκείᾳ and seems to mean “worship.”

    V. 23 adds “ethelo” as a prefix, which means, per BDAG, “to wish to be or do someth. that a person is not or cannot do, so that it remains a wish and nothing more.” worship that is nothing but a wish. Wishful worship. Hence, Paul is referring to the “worship of angels” as “worship you only wish to be true worship.” He apparently coins the compound word here, and so context and etymology controls.

    Both refer to a false worship made up of rules that God doesn’t impose — adding rules in hopes of pleasing God. In both cases, the usual words for Jewish worship are avoided.

    So I’m wandering all over the place to agree. To Jesus and Paul, “worship” is anything someone does to honor God, whether or not part of an assembly or cultic worship. Even washing hands is “worship” if done because one believes God wishes this.

    However, when we add commands that God didn’t actually give, not only are we not be conservative and careful and cautious, we’re engaging in acts that Jesus and Paul won’t dignify with the usual Jewish words for worship. Rather, these are false worship, mere wishful thinking, and therefore “in vain” and “of no value.”

    The great irony is that these are favorite proof texts for those who want to impose all sorts of rules, such as “Thou must sing a cappella” or “Thou must not clap to the music” or “Thou must not engage in two acts of worship at once.” It is all wishful-thinking-worship and of no value at all in pleasing God. In fact, such commands violate the very verses cited as requiring obedience to manmade commands.

    As you say, Jesus is far more about identity — are you in the Messiah? do you have the Spirit? — than whether you obey rules inferred from silences. In fact, he specifically contrasts identity with rule keeping.

  4. Dwight says:

    We see things from our limited view. If all of life is a sacrifice, then all of life is to be worship in the sense that we are dedicating our life to God in all things. There is not one moment of worship, although we can dedicate certain times to things that focus on God more than others in our approach. We can make Holy times within our Holy life.
    Paul fought hard against the notion that a man could impose that which God did not on man in regards to righteousness in Col. Many groups were emerging that tied abstinence to being Godly and taught that doing things that were done within the Jewish system as not commanded and thus sinful. We have followed up these teachings with our own teachings, even while ignoring the fact that the Jews, even the Apostles, did Jewish things towards God like incense, feast, that were not commanded, but were within their right in regards to worship.
    Col.2:16 “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths…”
    This is probably why Paul said in I cor.10 “Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons.” in that Paul wasn’t arguing against sacrifice to God if they wished, just demons. All things were to be done to the glory of God.

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