Service that makes Sense

Monday: Our Reasonable Service

Romans 12:1 In this week’s study, we look at the kind of service we are to offer and see why such service is reasonable.
Our Reasonable Service

Today we come to the last phrase of Romans 12:1. The Greek words of this phrase are ambiguous, and can therefore be translated more than one way. 

The noun translated “worship” is latreia,which can mean either “service” or “worship.” The plural of latreia can even mean “rites” or “duties.” However, the adjective in this important combination of words is logikos,which can mean either “spiritual” or “rational,” and when it is coupled to the noun two rather different meanings are possible, as I said. 

The older meaning is preserved in the well-known translation of the King James Bible: “your reasonable service.” The newer meaning is “your spiritual worship,” which is what we have in the New International Version. 

What is it? Is it “reasonable service”? Or is it “spiritual worship”? One answer is that the Greek words may actually embrace both ideas at the same time, spiritual worship being thought of also as rational service. But if I am forced to make a choice, I find myself siding with John Murray who notes rightly that “reasonable or rational is a more literal rendering.”1 Logikos has given us the English word “logical,” which means reasonable or according to reason, and this should also be the preferred meaning, if for no other reason than because in the next verse Paul talks about Christians being transformed by “the renewing of [their] mind[s].” 

So Paul really is talking about something reasonable, saying that the living sacrifice that he is urging upon us here is logical. 

Even more, the service itself is to be performed reasonably or with the mind. Here is the way Murray expands the idea:

The service here in view is worshipful service and the apostle characterizes it as ‘rational’ because it is worship that derives its character as acceptable to God from the fact that it enlists our mind, our reason, our intellect. It is rational in contrast with what is mechanical or automatic…. The lesson to be derived from the term ‘rational’ is that we are not ‘spiritual’ in the biblical sense except as the use of our bodies is characterized by conscious, intelligent, consecrated devotion to the service of God.2

1John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1968), 2: 112.


Study Questions
  1. Explain the different ways in which this last phrase in Rom. 12:1 can be translated, based on the two Greek words that appear.
  2. From our study, which one is preferred, and why?

Application: In your worship and service, are you at times guilty of offering them automatically without thinking very much about what you are doing? How can you correct this and begin to engage in your spiritual activities with a greater use of your mind?

For Further Study: Download for free and listen to Donald Barnhouse’s message, “Serving God.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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