Criswell Theological Review 2.2 (1988) 335-344.

          Copyright © 1988 by The Criswell CollegeCited with permission. 




                "WORSHIP" AS SERVICE:

                   THE NEW TESTAMENT

                     USAGE OF LATREUO




                                     A. BOYD LUTER, JR.

                   Talbot School of Theology, La Mirada, CA 90639



Over 25 years ago the venerable A. W. Tozer concluded, "Worship

is the missing jewel of the evangelical church."1 In their 1982 volume

on worship, R. Allen and G. Borror reflect upon Tozer's words,

returning a very similar diagnosis for the contemporary evangelical

arena. They write, "The situation seems not to have changed ap-

preciably. . . ."2 Happily, though, they do observe a growing sen-

sitivity to the problem.3

            This sensitivity has resulted in the publication of an impressive

number of volumes on worship by evangelicals in the last few years.4

The various writers approach worship from different angles, making

somewhat different points in their discussions, and arguing for their

own particular solutions. Yet, these varied efforts still add up to an

overall trend: a mushrooming interest and accelerating impetus by

evangelicals addressing the field of worship.


            1 A. W. Tozer, Worship: The Missing Jewel of the Evangelical Church (Harris-

burg, PA: Christian Publications, n.d.) 1.

            2 R. Allen and G. Borror, Worship: Recovering the Missing Jewel (Portland:

Multnomah, 1982) 7.

            3 Ibid., 7.

            4 Some of the significant evangelical works since 1980 are: Allen and Borror,

Worship; L. Flynn, Worship: Together We Celebrate (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1983);

R. P. Martin, The Worship of God: Some Theological, Pastoral, and Practical Re-

flections (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980); R. Schaper, In His Presence: Appreciating Your

Worship Tradition (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1984); R. Webber, Worship Old and

New (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), and Worship is a Verb (Waco: Word, 1985). It

is noteworthy that most of the major evangelical publishing houses are represented in

just this short list.




            Out of this unity in diversity in regard to the renewal of evan-

gelical worship some commonly-held points of interest have emerged.

Two of the more prominent of these have to do with: 1) a necessary

change in attitude toward worship, and 2) a focused pre-occupation

with the church worship service.5

            The first of these is the almost unanimous emphasis that wor-

shippers must be, in R. Webber's words, "active participants and

doers"6 not mere spectators. The strong focus on the worship service,

while very helpful, has not seen the same level of agreement in detail,

although significant similarities are present.7

            Yet, while appreciation is due these authors for their contribu-

tions to the renovation of evangelical worship, one crucial point of

concern should be voiced. Could it be that the spotlight on worship is

focused too narrowly? Is it possible that our pre-occupation with the

worship service could lead to harmful neglect of the broader concept

of worship seen in the NT?

            In an attempt to redress a balance in the relationship between the

individual and corporate aspects of worship, this article will probe

four key passages: 1) Phil 3:3, which provides crucial teaching on this

subject that is often overlooked; 2) John 4:23-24; 3) Heb 13:15-16;

and 4) Rom 12:1.

            This study is not a comprehensive view of the NT idea of wor-

ship. However, the data is sufficient to demonstrate the need to

restore a wider understanding of worship within the present worship-

renewal movement.


            I. Phil 3:3: Reconsidering a Neglected Aspect of Worship


            Although there is little present consensus on the theme (and

structure) of Philippians,8 Swift's recent proposal of "partnership in

the gospel" (Phil 1:5, NIV) as the central and structuring theme of the

epistle9 has much to say for itself. Following the formal prologue (Phil


            5 The choice of these two themes is not to be taken as the excluding or over-

looking of other significant concepts and needs that worship renewal writers are


            6 Webber, Worship is a Verb, 199. It is interesting that Webber could state this

conviction with force even though he is found at a highly liturgical end of the evan-

gelical spectrum on worship.

            7 See, for example, the books listed in n. 4 (above) for their varied individual

prescriptions for public worship.

            8 R. C. Swift, "The Theme and Structure of Philippians," BibSac 141 (1984)


            9 Swift, "Philippians," 237; For a more in-depth exposition of this theme, see

A. Boyd Luter, Jr., "Philippians," in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (ed.

Walter A. Elwell; Grand Rapids: Baker, forthcoming).

                                    Luter: USAGE OF LATREUO                      337


1:3-11) and a vivid biographical prologue (1:12-26), in which Paul

describes his own costly side of their gospel partnership (1:5), this

theme is broadly applied in 1:27: "Whatever happens, conduct your-

selves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ" (NIV).

            Swift contends rightly that ". . .what constitutes a worthy walk

occupies the body of the epistle."10  He goes on to demonstrate from

the following verses that this worthy "lifestyle" (1:27), in obedience to

their partnership in the gospel (1:5), consists of Christian unity (1:27)

and steadfastness against enemies of the gospel (1:27-30).11 Seen from

this perspective, it becomes clear that unity is the overarching concern

of chap. 2 and steadfastness is the linking subject in 3:1-4:1.12

            When it is seen that the section beginning with Phil 3:1 is picking

up and developing another facet of the previous brief discussion on

steadfastness in 1:28-30, the supposed rough or unexpected transition

between 3:1 and 3:2 disappears.13 Earlier, Paul had spoken of the

need to suffer for Christ in the face of the opposition provided by

enemies of the progress of the gospel in Philippi (1:28-30). At this

point, after his strong ironic description of the Judaizing legalists

(3:2),14 the Apostle proceeds to expose the subtle seductiveness of this

distortion of the gospel by presenting the striking contrast of the

nature of true Christianity (3:3) and the "before and after" example of

his own life (3:4-14).

            The third of the harsh epithets in 3:2 penetrates to the "heart" of

the matter. In calling the Judaizers "the false circumcision" (NASB;

"mutilators of the flesh," NIV) Paul states in no uncertain terms that

these false teachers have misconstrued the covenant sign of circum-

cision given to Abraham (Gen 17:10, 14). They fail to realize the need

to internalize and apply the covenant relationship with the Lord

(Deut 30:6), one of the prime benefits that Jer 31:33 (compare Ezek

36:26-27) said would be forthcoming from God in connection with

the New Covenant (31:31).15 Their grasp of a proper relationship with

the Lord and the corresponding lifestyle (Phil 1:27; cf. 3:9ff) is thus

totally deficient.

            The Apostle now asserts that it is Christians who are "the cir-

cumcision" (Phil 3:3, NIV; "the true circumcision," NASB). In saying


            10 Swift, "Philippians," 243.

            11 Ibid., 243.

            12 Ibid., 244.

            13 Ibid., 247; See R. P. Martin, The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians (Grand

Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), 37-39, 136.

            14 H. A. Kent, Jr., "Philippians," The Expositor's Bible Commentary (12 vols.; ed.

F. E. Gaebelein; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978) 11.137-38.

            15 See the excellent discussion in C. L. Feinberg, Jeremiah: A Commentary (Grand

Rapids: Zondervan, 1985) 218-20.



this he undoubtedly has in mind the same idea that he expressed

in Rom 2:28-29 and Col 2:11, referring to believers " . . . who have

received the circumcision of the heart, whether they be Jew or


            The rest of v 3 " . . . enlarges upon this idea by a series of par-

ticipial phrases."17 As the true spiritual circumcision, Christians "wor-

ship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no

confidence in the flesh" (3:3, NASB). In the first phrase we encounter

the focal usage of "worship."

            To better understand the sharp contrast Paul draws here between

the spiritual and Spirit-led worship of the true circumcision (3:3) and

the external focus of the legalists (3:2) and his own unregenerate self

(3:4-6), it is insightful to consider some of the additional passages on

worship in the NT. But, first, a comparison of the two primary words

for worship will prove useful.

            In a brief, but helpful, discussion of this subject, L. Perry writes,

"There are two Greek words for worship. One means 'to fall down'

and the other means 'to serve.' These imply that Christian worship is

motivated by a sense of awe and of love."18

            The first of these Greek words for worship is proskune<w, which

can also be rendered as "do obeisance to," "prostrate oneself before,"

and "do reverence to."19 It is the more common in usage, appearing

60 times in the NT. However, it is used only once by Paul, speaking

of literally falling on one's face in worship in 1 Cor 14:25.

            The other Greek word is latreu<w, which is more commonly

translated "serve,"20 but is understood as "worship" in Phil 3:3 by

NASB, NIV, KJV, and RSV. It is rendered the same way in the

articles in the Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich Greek Lexicon and the New

International Dictionary of New Testament Theology.21

            This second word for "worship" is used three other times by the

Apostle Paul. In Rom 1:9 and 2 Tim 1:3 it means "serve." In Rom 1:25

the flavor of "worship" is undeniably present, although it should

certainly be translated as "serve" (so NASB, NIV, KJV, RSV). The

cognate latrei<a is also found in Rom 9:4 of the Jewish "temple

worship" (NIV; "service," NASB), as well as the significant usage in

Rom 12:1, which will be discussed later.


            16 Kent, "Philippians," 138.

            17 G. F. Hawthorne, Philippians (Waco: Word, 1983), 126.

            18 L. Perry, Getting the Church on Target (Chicago: Moody Press, 1977) 210.

            19 BDF, 723.

            20 Ibid., 468.

            21 Ibid., 468; K. Hess, "latreu<w," New International Dictionary of New Testament

Theology (3 vols.; ed. C. Brown; Gra:nd Rapids: Zondervan, 1978) 3.549-51.

                        Luter: USAGE OF LATREUO                     339


            Thus, it is seen that the Greek word which Paul more often uses

for "worship" frequently includes the wider shade of meaning of

service (Rom 1:9, 25; 2 Tim 1:3). It would seem that, for the Apostle,

"worship" is a broader concept within which narrower formal wor-

ship is occasionally referred to (Rom 9:4; 1 Cor 14:25).

            Of all the uses by Paul, Phil 3:3 speaks most directly to what is at

the core of Christian worship. It is something of a crux statement on

this subject. Yet, there is good reason to hold that this pronouncement

is basically a brief, though important, commentary and application of

Jesus Christ's teaching about worship in John 4.22


            II. John 4:23-24: True Worshippers, Spiritual Worship


            Z. C. Hodges has aptly expounded the importance of this passage

for a proper understanding of the biblical concept of worship.


            . . . The Savior's reply was as pregnant a statement on this theme as had

            ever escaped the lips of man. Indeed, once He had uttered it, it would

            be impossible thereafter for any man intelligently to ponder this theme

            without returning to consider those priceless words. As an utterance on

            worship they were timeless and absolutely definitive.23


            Against the backdrop of the Samaritan woman's misconceptions

and maneuvering (John 4:9-20), Jesus explains who "true worship-

pers" are (4:22) and why (4:23). E. F. Harrison, D. Guthrie, and E. A.

Blum all note that 4:20-21 teach that the place of worship is not the

primary factor in the new phase of God's economy which Jesus is

inaugurating.24 What the Father seeks is those who worship "in spirit

and truth" (4:23). Such worshippers must

            . . . Realize that Jesus is the Truth of God (3:21; 14:6) and the one and

            only way to the Father (Acts 4:12). To worship in truth is to worship

            God through Jesus. To worship in spirit is to worship in the new realm

            which God has revealed. . . . 25


            As Guthrie observes, "These are genuine worshippers as opposed

to those who merely appear to be so by participating only in outward


            22 Martin, Philippians, 138-39; Hawthorne, Philippians, 126.

            23 Z. C. Hodges, The Hungry Inherit (rev. ed.; Portland: Multnomah, 1980) 18.

            24 E. F. Harrison, "John" in Wycliffe Bible Commentary (ed. C. F. Pfeiffer

and E. Harrison; Chicago: Moody, 1962), 1081; D. Guthrie, "John" in New Bible

Commentary-Revised (ed. D. Guthrie and J. A. Motyer; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

1970) 938-39; E. A. Blum, "John" in Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament

(ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck; Wheaton: Victor, 1983) 286.

            25 Blum, “John,” 286.



ceremonies."26 Thus, the form of worship is not primary to our under-

standing of true worship either. "The main emphasis is on spirit,"27 as

4:24 makes clear.

            It is important to realize that, throughout this epochal passage,

John uses proskune<w for "worship." That is in keeping with his nor-

mal choice. Of the 60 occurrences of the verb in the NT, 35 are in

John's writings (11 in the fourth Gospel and 24 in Revelation). Of the

11 uses in his gospel, nine are in 4:20-24. Also, the lone use of the

noun proskunhth<j ("worshipper") is in 4:23.

            Thus, there is a highly significant concentration of the common

NT term for worship in John's Gospel, particularly in Jesus' prescrip-

tive words of worship. On the other hand, John uses latreu<w only in

Rev 7:15 and 22:3, and latrei<a, in a negative sense, in John 16:2.

            It would seem that there are two possible ways of explaining why

Paul, in his parallel pronouncement on worship in Phil 3:3, chose to

use not proskune<w, as in John 4, but latreu<w. The simpler possibility,

as noted earlier, is that latreu<w is the word Paul used much more

commonly. However, it is also quite conceivable that he is seeking to

broaden and flavor the overall concept of "worship." Even though

Jesus' words about the priorities of genuine worship being "spirit and

truth" (John 4:23-24) should have been clear, perhaps the Apostle

consciously sought to apply this idea for worship to service in the

power of the Spirit (Phil 3:3; cf. Rom 1:9).


            III. Heb 13:15-16: New Covenant Sacrifices and Worship


            Because of the Jewish background that the Savior and Apostle

Paul (Phil 3:4-6) had in common, it should be helpful to observe how

another Jewish Christian writer employs his terminology. The writer

of Hebrews provides a classic case in point.

            The only occurrences of proskune<w are in Heb 1:6 and 11:23,

with no significant insight for the present study being provided by

either verse. By comparison latreu<w is found six times, and latrei<a.

twice. The bulk of these inclusions are in the section in which Jesus'

high-priestly ministry under the New Covenant is developed (8:5;

9:1, 6, 9, 14; 10:2). They generally employ the imagery of the Old

Covenant tabernacle and temple service/worship in contrast to the

present ministry of Christ. The use in 9:14 is significant because it


            26 Guthrie, "John," 939.

            27 Ibid., 939; For the option that "spirit" here (John 4:23-24) is the human spirit

helped to worship by the Holy Spirit, see L. Morris, The Gospel According to John

(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,1971) 270-71.

                 Luter:  Usage of LATREUO                         341


refers to having our consciences cleansed "from dead works to serve

the living God" (NASB, emphasis mine), similar to Phil 3:2-6.

            For the purposes of this investigation, the most helpful use of

latreu<w in Hebrews is 13:10. It initiates a final contrast between the

obsolete Old Covenant set-up (8:13) and the new order of Christ.28

The participle of latreu<w, translated "those who minister" (NIV) or

"those who serve" (NASB), could just as easily be speaking of "Jewish

worshippers in general," because it is so employed elsewhere in

Hebrews (9:9,10:2).29

            In sharp distinction from such worship/service (13:10), which is

clearly inadequate under the New Covenant, the writer proceeds to

list several "sacrifices" (13:15-16) that are offered "through Jesus"

(13:15). While we normally associate praise and thanksgiving (13:15)

with corporate worship, the same is not necessarily true of the actions

mentioned in 13:16: doing good and sharing.30 L. Morris understands

the "sharing" (koinwni<a) here as "money, goods, and . . . those intan-

gibles that make up fellowship.31

            If such "sacrifices" can be legitimately constituted as New Cove-

nant worship, then it is seen that the worship concept is indeed broad

enough to encompass all the believer's life, as Phil 3:3 implies and

Rom 12:1 clearly teaches. However, a beautiful balance is seen

between such a wider understanding of worship and the memorable

exhortation to continue to gather together for worship in Heb 10:24-

25, as well as in connection with the spiritual sacrifices in 13:15-16.32

In their worship together (10:25) the Hebrews were to "spur one

another on toward love and good deeds" (10:24, NIV), wording

substantially similar in meaning to 13:16.

            Unlike Paul (Phil 3:3) or Jesus (John 4:23-24), the writer of

Hebrews does not directly utilize either latreu<w or proskune<w to

make his main point about New Covenant worship. However, the

preparatory use of latreu<w and latrei<a throughout the book and the

climatic teaching of Heb 13:15-16, in connection with Heb 10:24-25,

coincides with the previous evidence considered. It also brings the


            28 L. Morris, "Hebrews" in The Expositors Bible Commentary, 12.149-50; Z. C.

Hodges, "Hebrews" in Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, 812; P. E.

Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

1977) 577; S. J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids:

Baker, 1984) 418.

            29 Morris, "Hebrews," 150.

            30 Kistemaker, Hebrews, 425, understands "sharing" as descriptive of "doing

good," based on the Greek construction.

            31 Morris, "Hebrews," 152.

            32 Kistemaker, Hebrews, 424; Hodges, "Hebrews," 812.



worship service into clearer perspective in relation to the wider 



            IV. Rom 12:1: Living Sacrifice, Spiritual Worship


            The final passage to be considered is well known. It occurs at the

hinge of Romans, the breaking point between the primarily doctrinal

section of the epistle (chaps. 1-11) and the notably ethical (applica-

tional) portion (chaps. 12-15).33 It also picks up the theme of offering

oneself to God, introduced in Rom 6:13ff.,34 as well as the imagery of

the OT sacrifices (qusi<a; cf. Heb 13:15-16) in connection with the

temple worship, spoken of previously in 9:4 (where latrei<a is also

used). Therefore, it is truly at a pivotal juncture for both under-

standing and application that the concept of "spiritual ("reasonable"

or "rational" is the more accurate rendering, according to Murray35)

worship" (NIV; "service of worship," NASB) is brought forward.

            Cranfield understands the presenting of one's body as a living sac-

jrifice as becoming "wholly God's property."36 This "self-surrender,"

as with any type of worship, "has, of course, to be continually

repeated."37 “A constant dedication"38 is at the heart of this holy,

God-pleasing worship (Rom 12:1).

            In focusing on the use of the term for "worship" in Rom 12:1,

Cranfield reaches the following conclusion:

            It implies that the true worship which God desires embraces the whole

            of the Christian's life from day to day. It implies that any cultic worship

            which is not accompanied by obedience in the ordinary affairs of life

            must be regarded as false worship, unacceptable to God. . . . 39


            Such a perspective dovetails perfectly with the thought of the

Apostle in Phil 3:3, as well as the teaching of Jesus in John 4:23-24,

and that of the writer of Hebrews, in 13:15-16. However, Cranfield


            33 For further elaboration of the "hinge" idea, see, e.g., E. F. Harrison, "Romans,"

in The Expositors Bible Commentary 10.126; J. A. Witmer, "Romans" in Bible Knowl-

edge Commentary: New Testament, 487.

            34 J. Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (2 vols.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968)


            35 Ibid., 112: However, C.E.B. Cranfield (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary

on the Epistle to the Romans [2 vols.; Edinburg: T. & T. Clark, 1979] 2.602-5) argues

strongly for the rendering "spiritual" for logiko<j.

            36 Cranfield, Romans, 2.599.

            37 Ibid., 600.

            38 Murray, Romans, 2.111.

            39 Cranfield, Romans, 2.601.

                        Luter: USAGE OF LATREUO                                  343


also observes that Rom 12:1 "worship" is not rejecting the corporate

sense of worship, but balancing it. He writes

            Provided that such worship in the narrower sense is always practiced as

            part of the wider worship embracing the whole of the Christian's living

            and is not thought of as something acceptable to God apart from

            obedience of life, there is nothing here to deny it its place in the life of

            the faithful. . . In fact. . . it ought to be the focus point of that whole

            wider worship. . . . 40


            On the basis of Rom 12:1 and Phil 3:3, perhaps it is appropriate to

propose a needed clarification in evangelical terminology. Would it be

helpful to refer to something like the "congregational worship service"

and broader "individual service worship?" While the exact terms used

are not decisive, it is important to distinguish clearly between these

two complementary aspects, that each might strengthen the other as

we seek to live out our "spiritual service of worship" (Rom 12:1,





            If worship is indeed still the missing jewel in the evangelical

church, as Allen and Borror contend,41 a portion of the problem

would seem to be the neglect of several key NT passages on worship

looked at in this article. If they were studied and applied more

closely, it would surely help reinstate worship to the rightful place it

deserves as the beating heart of the entire Christian life.

            Let there be no illusion that this presentation represents an overall

NT position on worship. However, it is successful if it has provided

sufficient food for thought to cause a reappraisal of the popular

misconception that worship is wrapped up in the Sunday "worship

service" at a certain special location, A wider understanding of wor-

ship can link Sunday to the rest of the week and the gathered con-

gregation to the scattered believers in interrelated ongoing worship.

            If, as Perry says, "Worship functions for the glorification of God

and the sanctification of man,"42 then worship is never-ending. Webber

is certainly correct in saying, "God has called us to worship Him, and

worship Him throughout all eternity we will do."43


            40 Ibid., 602.

            41 Allen and Borror, Worship, 7.

            42 Perry, Getting the Church on Target, 210.

            43 Webber, Worship is a Verb, 199.




            However, the balance in worship recommended in this article44 is

vitally possible here and now if the attitude recommended by Allen

and Borror is embodied: "May God grant us a hunger for Him which

will cause us to pursue Him in worship as a way of life (Co13:17), a

hunger which will drive us to closer friendship with His people."45



            44 See C. C. Ryrie, Basic Theology (Wheaton: Victor, 1986) 428-29, for a compact,

but significant, recent expression of such a balanced outlook. "

            45 Allen and Borror, Worship, 100.






This material is cited with gracious permission from:

The Criswell College

4010 Gaston Ave. 

Dallas, TX   75246


Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: