They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him.
One of the great “discoveries” in recent times, made by many biblically grounded Christians, is that work can be worship. This insight is based, in part, on the fact that one of the key Old Testament words for worship, avodah, also means “work” or “service.” Moreover, Scripture teaches in many places that when we offer our work to the Lord for his purposes and pleasure, we are worshiping him, every bit as much as we do when we praise him in church gatherings. In Romans 12:1, for example, we learn that our “true and proper worship” involves offering our “bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” So, our work, yes, our daily work can be an essential element of our “true and proper worship.”
But this does not mean that all work is worship. Sometimes human work can be dishonoring to God. We see an ironic and heartbreaking example of this in Mark 15:17-19. Jesus has been arrested and is being examined by Pontius Pilate, the Roman praetor (or magistrate) who has authority over Judaea. Though Pilate suggests that Jesus has not committed a crime (15:14), he nevertheless has Jesus flogged and sent to be crucified. But, before the Roman soldiers actually nail Jesus to a cross, they drag him into Pilate’s palace, put a purple robe and a crown of thorns on him, and call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” (15:16-18). As they strike Jesus and spit on him, the soldiers also pretend to honor him: “Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him” (15:19). The Greek verb translated here as “paid homage” is proskuneo, which is usually translated as “worship” (for example, Matt 2:11; 4:10; Luke 4:8; 24:52).
Of course, we recognize the tragic irony of this sentence. The soldiers were pretending to worship Jesus when in fact that were mocking, belittling, and scorning him. Their attitudes were about as far from true worship as they could be. The soldiers were doing their work, preparing Jesus for crucifixion that he would soon suffer at their hands. Yes, they were working, but their work was anything but worship.
You and I have the opportunity and privilege of worshiping God through our daily work. We don’t have to be doing “church work” or “missionary work” for this to happen. We can worship God when working as bankers, lawyers, teachers, doctors, painters, plumbers, actors, and street sweepers. But, if we seek to worship God through our work, we should ask if our work does in fact honor God. Does it contribute to his work in the world? Does it enrich and ennoble the lives of people? Does it help to steward well the earth God has entrusted to us? Does it reflect the justice and grace of God? Does our work contribute to wise and fruitful productivity? When we do our work each day, are we able to present to God our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, thus offering our true and proper worship?
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Questions like those I’ve just suggested are best answered through careful biblical reflection in the community of God’s people. They require not just faithful study, but also faithful prayer. It may very well take us months, years, or even a lifetime to discover how our work can be worship. But, in these moments, I invite you to reflect on one or more of the questions I just asked. Allow the Spirit of God to help you see how your work – yes, even the work you will do today – can be worship.
Gracious God, thank you for the honor and privilege of worshiping you. Thank you for all the various ways we can worship. Thank you, in particular, for the opportunity we have to worship you through our daily work.
Dear Lord, help us to understand how our work honors you. May we step away from aspects of our work that are not pleasing to you or consistent with your purposes. May we offer our bodies to you as we work, whether we’re sweeping floors, planting vines, or tapping on keyboards. Be glorified in our work today. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary: Involving the Community in Your Decisions (Romans 12:1–3)
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