In Paul’s letter to the saints at Rome, in the section that has been designated the 1st verse of the 12th chapter, we read: “Therefore I exhort you, brethren, by God’s mercies, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, well pleasing to God …”1 The next expression (tēn logikēn latreían humōn) has been variously rendered (a) “your spiritual service” (ASV); (b) “your reasonable service” (NKJV); (c) “your spiritual worship” (ESV); (d) “your spiritual service of worship” (NASB); (e) “your spiritual act of worship” (NIV 1984); and (f) “your true and proper worship” (NIV 2011). Which rendering most accurately conveys the sense of the text?
The Greek adjective logikós means “reasonable,” “rational,” or “spiritual.” The noun latreía is “service or worship” (BAGD 467), with emphasis on divine service (cf. Rom. 9:4; John 16:2; Heb. 12:28). The verbal form latreúō means to “serve,” especially the carrying out of religious duties (BAGD 467). This is not the same concept as what is communicated by the verb proskunéō, which means to “worship, do obeisance to, prostrate oneself before, do reverence to …” (BAGD 716). Paul is not discussing or describing proskunéō (“worship”) in Rom. 12:1; in fact, this word does not appear anywhere in Romans.2
Scriptural worship [proskunéō] is something that is done purposefully, involving concentration, consideration, and reverence (John 4:20-24; 12:20; Acts 8:27). The intentionality of worship is demonstrated in Acts 24:11, where Paul says he had traveled to Jerusalem “to worship” [proskunéō]. Obviously worship is something that is done on purpose; one cannot worship unintentionally or by accident.
While we serve the Lord in all that we do (Rom. 12:1; Col. 3:17), not everything we do in life constitutes worship (e.g. reading the newspaper, sleeping, watching a movie, et al.). When we set aside time and attention for the express purpose of worshiping God, let us do so according to biblical guidelines (1 Cor. 11:17-29; 14:12-19; 16:1-2; etc.). In everything else, may we be God’s faithful servants.
--Kevin L. Moore
1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
2 The only biblical record of Paul’s use of the word proskunéō (“worship”) is Acts 24:11 and 1 Cor. 14:25.