the weblog of Alan Knox

The connection between worship and service

Posted by on Feb 11, 2011 in missional, service, worship | 20 comments

The connection between worship and service

It is possible to go through motions that are called “worship” (singing, praying, preaching, professing, etc.) without actually worshiping God. It is possible to think you are worshiping God without actually worshiping God.

It is possible to do things for others that are not actually serving in Jesus’ name. It is possible to feed, clothe, care, and heal without doing so in the power that God provides and without giving honor and glory to God through Jesus Christ.

However, it is impossible to actually worship God without serving others. The two go hand in hand.

The Israelites did not understand this connection. So they dutifully carried out the rules and regulations of the sacrificial system while ignoring the needs of the people around them. God did not consider this worship, even though the Israelites thought they were worshiping because they were doing the right things.

In fact, on some occasions, God told them to stop offering sacrifices and stop observing the feasts (that he instituted) until they first learned to care for those around them. (See Isaiah 1:11-17 for one example.)

Similarly, in the NT, we see examples of Christians carrying out the “practices” as they should, but the practices were worthless because they were not caring for the people around them. (See 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 for one example.)

As James wrote, any kind of faith does not include helping a brother or sister who is in need (actually helping by doing something to alleviate that need) is in reality dead faith. John wrote that someone who do not love (in action, not just words) his brother or sister does not love God. These are strong words. We should consider them very carefully.

Also, consider the famous “love chapter” in 1 Corinthians 13. Paul begins by saying that all of our offerings of spiritual gifts (prophesy, tongues, giving, faith,… and you could include any gift here) are nothing if they are not exercised with love. Now, look at his description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Everything in that list is related to how we treat other people!

We can close our eyes while we sing. We can rise early in the morning to pray or pray seven times per day. We can listen to sermons all week long. We can teach Sunday school or even preach sermons. We can put vast sums of money into the collection plate or give to support missions. But, if we are not caring for and serving and helping the hurt and lost and needy around us, then we should not call these things “worship.”


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 2-11-2011

    Hey Alan,

    The translation of Rom 12:1 in KJV says “service” and in NIV says “worship.” Is there some Greek word relationship there, or just nuances?

  2. 2-11-2011


    Yes. The word you are referring to is latreia. It is used to refer to the official rituals carried out by priests for their deity on behalf of others. It is used in both Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts. (You can see it used in Hebrews 9:1 and Hebrews 9:6 for example.) So, properly understanding both terms, either “service” or “worship” are valid translations. Of course, Paul takes it out of the hands of “official priests” and makes latreia the realm of every believer. It is especially interesting when you keep reading and see what things Paul includes in latreia (i.e., using gifts to serve others and unhypocritical love).


  3. 2-13-2011

    Alan, there are many good thoughts here.

    The distinct notions of worship and service are well served — and the Lord is well served, too! — by understanding them as horizontal and vertical. Romans 12 latrein is not vertical worship; it’s horizontal service, as you have pointed out in your reply to Art. This service offered as priests to God can become, depending on the heart and intentions of the server, worship offered vertically to God (in terms of the spirit, which is clearly the realm of worship in the first place) … but I think it’s more helpful to distinguish between proskuneo and latreuo than to say they’re the same, or to say one is not valid without the other — at least until more of us get which is which!

    Worship is truly valid in and of itself–countless Psalm examples and the worship around the timeless throne pictured in Isaiah 6 and Revelation come to mind. Service does indeed go hand in hand, but I would say each is valid, severally and distinctly

    By the way, one of the worst amalgamations in Christendom’s history, in my opinion, is the concatenated term “worship service”!

  4. 2-13-2011


    I guess I see it a little differently. The way I see it, if worship is not both vertical and horizontal, then it is not worship. This is what I understand from passages such as Isaiah 1:11-17 and 1 John 4:20, among others.


  5. 2-20-2011

    Alan, yes, I think we see worship differently. I prefer to distinguish rather than to amalgamate word-concepts. This gets me in a little trouble on my academic campus, too, because those around me are very much into “integrative studies”! 😉

    At first I assumed you had typed John 4:20 and not 1 John. That would have been a bit of a strange reference, since it speaks more to what I was saying than to what you were saying!

    I certainly agree that loving humans is a natural outgrowth of loving God. I just like to speak of things that get confusing a bit more literally–for me, proskuneo is worship, and latreuo is service. They go together in a faithful life, but they are distinct concepts, and each is valid on its own merit, I would say.

    Our group is in Colossians 2 tonight. I’m still benefiting from your Colossians study notes — keep them coming!

  6. 2-20-2011


    Thanks for the response. What do you think about John’s use of latreia in John 16:2?


  7. 2-25-2011

    Thanks for the question. I wasn’t familiar with that reference, so looked it up. It doesn’t mean too much to me since I only have a vague acquaintance with the literary context, but I’d say it probably would have spoken to the Jews more than it speaks clearly to today’s Christians.

    I might further suggest that John 16:2 does speak of a horizontal thing–albeit a horrible one, killing another human–and calls it “service.” It doesn’t call it “proskuneo” and so doesn’t relate this act toward others to the worship described in chapter 4 or even in 12:20. I believe I’ve determined (thanks, Logos software!) that 16:2 is the only use of latreuo or its cognates in John, by the way.

    Were you thinking along these lines, or something different?


    P.S. For some reason the “notify of follow-up” doesn’t seem to be working. I’m pretty sure I checked it, but nothing came to my incoming mail. Had a few mins. tonight so checked back in.

  8. 2-25-2011


    In John 16:2, the “latreia” is said to be offered to God. This is directly vertical in your previous description.

    Also, the Passover is said to be “latreia” in Exodus 12:25, Exodus 12:26, and Exodus 13:5.

    In Joshua 22:27, burnt offerings, sacrifices, and peace offerings are called the “latreia” of God.

    (By the way, those 4 passages (3 in Exodus and 1 in Joshua) are 4 of the only 5 occurrences of “latreia” in the LXX.)

    I think if you check the various other noun and verb forms, you’ll find the same thing. “Latreia” and the associated terms can be used both for worship/service to God (vertical) and to people (horizontal).

    You can also find many instances of “proskuneo” that is offered to other people, not to God. For example, see Genesis 23:7 and Ruth 2:10.

    I don’t think latreia/proskuneo can be easily divided into horizontal/vertical like you said.

    (By the way, in the previous comment, you had entered a different email address. The notifications sent to that email address were bounced back to me. Hopefully you’ll get this notification.)


  9. 2-27-2011

    [Thanks for clarifying the previous notification issue.]

    16:2 speaks initially of an act toward others and then relates it to service to God. This strikes me as a Jewish way of thinking–that sacrifices, acts, and various things done are worship. You’re right that there is a strong vertical aspect, but the original thing done is still a thing done in the flesh, i.e., horizontally.

    I find New Covenant worship not to be a matter of things done so much, but to be a matter of reverent adoration from spirit to spirit, as it were. I’m not trying to suggest that things done have no value; far from it! But service is service (and then may become, symbolically, worship); and worship is worship (but may also have aspects of service attached to it.

    The related problem I try to combat — and this rears a head from more than one angle and one corner of Christendom, in my experience — is that proskuneo has no value in light of Rom. 12. If Rom. 12 were better translated more often, more people would see both things (latr* and proskun*) in a better perspective.

    I’m not saying you have the problem described above, but it may help to explain why I’m a bit stubborn on this. In my own tradition, there was for a time, and in certain corners, way too much emphasis on Sunday assembly worship (doing everything supposedly “according to pattern” and thereby being safe with God). Then the next generation came along and pretty much did away with any emphasis on proskuneo worship, emphasizing instead that if we just love each other, that is our “worship.” This is an oversimplification, of course, but I heartily disavow that service to others IS worship while still affirming the value of service, subordinate to worship. This, for me at least, reflects the priorities of the “greatest” and “second” commandments uttered by Jesus.

    Speaking of oversimplifying, my rather pedantic relating of proskuneo to vertical and latreuo to horizontal wasn’t good enough, and I regret that. To add to my horribly inadequate characterization, I would further suggest that proskuneo is primarily a matter of the spirit, although it comes from clear physical imagery (and yes, it is given to people, too–it’s not that it’s a “holy” concept reserved exclusively for God … it’s just kissing toward, doing homage, that kind of thing…). On the other hand, latreuo is primarily a matter of the body, of the flesh, or physical action which can then become transmuted into a matter of the heart and thus be considered “worship” as well.

    Hope this helps to clarify some. I have no expectations of convincing you down a completely different path, but I sincerely hope I have added to your perspective.

  10. 2-27-2011


    Thanks for the continuing discussion. It is helpful for me.

    Do you think of fasting as a vertical worship (prokuneo) or a horizontal one (latreia)? What about loving God? The same question for the Sabbath?


  11. 2-27-2011


    Off the top, I’d readily relate loving God to proskuneo, and the Jew’s keeping of the Sabbath is easily more of a latreuo item for me. (I prefer not to speak of Sunday in terms of “Sabbath” for the Christian, but for those who do, I think the things done or not done would be something of a mix of prosk* and latr*.)

    Fasting? Hmmm. In the observable sense, it’s latreuo-ish, I suppose, but there is an assumed proskuneo element when prayer is a part of the scenario, and the fasting is often considered to be done “toward” God.

    An apt choice of acts/items to muddy the water! -bc

  12. 2-27-2011


    I think all of those items demonstrate the point of this post. All of those items are (supposed to be) directed to God (vertical). Yet, in Scripture, God says they are worthless without a corresponding right relationship and service towards others (horizontal).

    So, what do you see in Scripture as a purely vertical without being linked to our relationship with others? By the way, I’m simply trying to flesh out and understand your previous statement: “[B]ut I think it’s more helpful to distinguish between proskuneo and latreuo than to say they’re the same, or to say one is not valid without the other.”


  13. 2-27-2011


    You say those three are all “(supposed to be) directed toward God,” but you don’t offer support for the Sabbath part. There’s that old delineation of the Ten Commandments that says #s 1 through 4, or 6, or whatever, are Godward, and the rest are humanward. But the old preacher’s delineation is a cliche and does not for me make any categories clear! 🙂

    You give careful contextual treatment to Colossians. If we give the same to the command in the so-called “Sermon on the Mount” to leave your gift and make things right with your brother, I think we’ll both acknowledge that there was a point there that Jesus was making, foremost, to the Jews of the day who felt they were “right” for doing “right things” toward God. They were doing the “Corban” thing or were just ignoring the needs of fellowman, and they needed to be told of the relationship of worship to service. But Matt. 5:23-24 can’t be extended wholesale to say that being nice to your brother (forgive the oversimplification–this goes more to people in my past than to you, I know) equals worship to God. Jesus had a point, and Matthew had a point in putting that in there in that particular spot. Drawing it out as though it’s a general principle isn’t necessarily apt (nor is it necessarily wrong!).

    It’s not that there isn’t a relationship between the two (latr* & prosk*), but the distinguishing of what’s what is still more helpful to me than the amalgamation of the two. The probing of the gray areas — as you’ve caused me to probe some — is very helpful, too!

    I think a worthy bit of exploration in this context would be a comparison of the nature of Jewish Law, which I take to be more physical, as compared to the nature of Christian covenant and principle, which I take to be more spiritual. My assumptions here may not be your own. If, however, you do more or less agree, then perhaps this would help to bridge our gap: for the Jew, physical acts such as killing/burning lambs or doves, and fasting, were acts of the latreuo sort of worship. Now, our sacrifice is not physical but is spiritual. Yes, we may make physical sacrifices, but our worship consists primarily in spirit-to-spirit communication. No “things” done toward God carry value in themselves anymore; the value is in the heart’s attitude toward God, i.e., when doing things such as fasting, kneeling, “lifting holy hands,” etc.

    On the latreuo side–and for me, latreuo is still primarily in the “others” realm under the New Covenant, and not in the “relating to God” realm–the value of doing things for others, loving our brothers and sisters, giving charitably, treating our “neighbors” with mercy and kindness, etc., is really not in question. A practical example may help. Three months ago, I had no hesitation about going to rescue a sister from our small group who had hit a deer and had to leave her car an hour away. This was service to her and, by extension, was service to God and His kingdom. There was no particular proskuneo involved, and to my discredit, we didn’t even pray on the way back. However, I can well imagine that Rachel prayed later and gave thanks for our close-knit group that she could call on. She may well have offered proskuneo worship that flowed out of the small act of service on my part.

    It could very well be that a sticking point has arisen from my lack of consistency, writing too quickly, using terms without explaining, etc. (Your questions and challenges have always been on point and thoughtful and have made me realize inconsistency or lack of clarity on my part.) Latreuo is definitely used in NC scripture of things done *toward God,* but I have to wonder aloud whether the context is usually, or even always, one of Jewish worship. Hebrews 9:1 would be one example. And Hebrews 13:15-16 offers some clarity in the two categories, as well.

  14. 2-27-2011


    Look at the first four sentences of this post and you’ll see that I’m not saying that serving others is the same as worshiping God. What I’m saying is that (according to Scripture) we are not worshiping God if we are not also serving others. (By the way, I’m not tied to the two terms usually translated “worship/service.”)


  15. 2-28-2011

    I did go back & read the 1st 2 pgpghs in your original piece from 2/11; I see and “get” this.

    I simply don’t agree that worship is worthless without service, nor do I think Bill, a guy who served a lot in my church in DE but who was rather shallow, was not building up the church merely because he didn’t properly amalgamate and sense God’s power. I reject that idea that “scripture” as a whole teaches these things. (Discrete passages here & there do suggest what you’re saying.)

    Jewish background does have impact here, I hope you would agree–both in terms of literary context of, e.g., Matthew 5, and in broader perspective, such as that which is dealt with in Hebrews.

    All the complications I have offered are … well, complications. The intent of your original post is pure and good. I do think you oversimplified, and I acknowledge that I brought in historical baggage on my side that clouded things.

    The false concatenization “worship service” is a real hot-button for me, and I don’t deny that its proliferation has led to a lot of my thinking. Some thoughts from my blog may clarify further what I’m saying, since they’re less reactive, if not more thorough:

    I think we might have taken this as far as either of us wants to, but I’ll certainly read (at least) anything you write further. And I may respond, as well! 🙂 -bc

  16. 2-28-2011


    I genuinely appreciate the push back and the discussion. It has helped me to consider other passages of Scripture that are related to this topic. I may even write about this again, and I hope you’ll comment then as well.


  17. 3-3-2011

    Bro.Alan, Could differentiate worship & entertainment.
    Some churches they said, it’s a communal worship. But my biggest question is why people inside the church enjoying the presentation of a singer or they so called worship dancer.

    I’m sorry for the interruption, Bro. Brian

  18. 3-3-2011


    Yes. I think the connection between music and worship has generated into a connection between entertainment and worship.


  19. 3-5-2011

    I appreciated the question, too (and it’s certainly no “interruption”). I wonder if Alan might have meant “degenerated” in his reply. I would tend to concur with that stronger statement, as well–adding that there are equal amounts of the negative side of “entertainment” on both the liturgical and the “contemporary” sides of Christian worship practice.

    I might also say that entertainment is not all bad; there are elements of entertainment in many worthwhile sermons, and even in announcements. I’d personally prefer not to mix art music with worship, but that’s just me–basically a non-liturgist who doesn’t perceive much congregational worship value in organ music and choral anthems (or worship dancing, if I know what you mean, Coeur … that can be beautifully graceful and, as such, a reflection of the beauty of God, but it can also be overdone and out of place).

    Music, entertainment, and worship. Definitely three ideas that overlap but should not be made out to be synonyms!

  20. 3-5-2011


    In this comment thread, we tended to focus on our differences, but I think if we sat down and talked over coffee that we would agree on much more than we disagree on.



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