Service That Makes SenseRomans 12:1-2Theme: Reasonable sacrifices.This week’s lessons explore the reasons we should be eager to offer ourselves to God. LessonToday we come to the last phrase of Romans 12:1, “which is your spiritual worship,” and I want to begin by saying something that I know will be disturbing to some people. The Greek words of this phrase are ambiguous. That is, they can be translated more than one way.
The noun translated “worship” is latreia which can mean either “service” or “worship,” which is not too puzzling since worship of God can easily be understood to be service. 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 that 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 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 1 John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968), vol. 2, p. 112.2 Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, vol. 2, p. 112.
What are the two ways “spiritual worship” can be understood?
Which is a more literal translation?
How is serving God a rational act?
ReflectionGod desires our worship to come from our minds and hearts. Have you ever served God in a mechanical, dutiful way without really entering into the experience heartily? Is service to God spiritual service if it’s offered without heartfelt devotion to God?