Several years ago, a preacher in the Christian church made the argument to me that if we cannot play an instrument in worship, we cannot play one anywhere, because everything we do is worship. In the May, 1990 issue of The Examiner, one of the anonymous writers said: “Is it wrong to play a piano and sing to God? If it is, then it is equally wrong to use a piano for any reason. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, ‘Whether then you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.’ If you can’t use mechanical instruments to praise God then how can you justify their use at all?” (p. 8)
It may be difficult to distinguish between “service” and “worship” in some passages, but the fact that not everything we do is “worship” should be obvious from the meaning of the words as well as the way they are used in Scripture.
Let us notice the context of the quote from 1 Corinthians 10:31. Beginning with verse 14, Paul warns against idolatry. He then said that when Israel ate the sacrifices they were “partakers of the altar,” even so if the Corinthians ate the sacrifices of the Gentiles, they were having “fellowship with demons” (v. 20). They were admonished not to have fellowship with idolatry, but they could “eat whatever is sold in the meat market” (v. 25), if they understood that such action was not worship to the idol. However, if a weak brother said, “This was offered to idols, do not eat it for the sake of” his conscience (v. 28). If the action of eating meat was intended as worship to an idol, it was wrong. If the same action was done for a different purpose, there was nothing inherently wrong with it. Likewise, they did not “commune with Christ” every time they drank grape juice. Eating meat, or drinking grape juice may be worship or not worship, depending on your purpose. Verse 31 does not say “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, you are worshiping.” It says that in eating and drinking, we should consider the consciences of our brethren, and thereby “glorify God.”
Jesus cleansed the temple twice, because men had failed to distinguish between “service” and “worship” (John 2:14-16; Matt. 21:12-13). The services of selling doves and making change were good works, but Jesus said that they were in the wrong place. The “house of prayer” had become a “den of thieves.” Maybe they thought that if they could not sell doves and make change in the temple, they could not do those things anywhere! Jesus did not buy their excuses, whatever they may have been!
W.E. Vine summarizes the definition of worship as: “Broadly it may be regarded as the direct acknowledgment to God, of His nature, attributes, ways and claims, whether by the outgoing of the heart in praise and thanksgiving or by deed done in such acknowledgment.” Thayer comments: “Among the Orientals, esp. the Persians, to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence… hence in the New Testament by kneeling or prostration, to do homage (to one) or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or to make supplication.” Regardless of how obedient subjects may have been to the kings, they had not “worshiped” until they performed acts of reverence that were required by the kings. An example of that is found in Daniel 3. Though Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were faithful servants of Nebuchadnezzar, when the order was given: “at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, you shall fall down and worship the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up,” they refused to obey. In this we see a clear distinction between service and worship. If they mean the same, then the Hebrews had already “worshiped” Nebuchadnezzar, so why not bow to the image and avoid the fiery furnace?
In the first century those who refused to worship the Emperor were not permitted to “buy or sell” because they did not have the “mark of the beast” on their forehead or hand (Rev. 13:17; 14:9). Those Christians knew the difference between serving the Emperor and worshiping him, and it cost them dearly! There was, and is, nothing wrong with being obedient to the “decrees of Caesar,” but there is something wrong with worshiping him!
“Service” is a more general word and may be used to describe worship, but not all service is worship. Abraham told the young men with him that “the lad and I will go yonder and worship” (Gen. 22:5). After David’s son died, he “went into the house of the Lord and worshiped,” then he went to his own house and ate food (2 Sam. 12:20). The Ethiopian eunuch had gone to Jerusalem “to worship” (Acts 8:27). True worship has both an inward dimension and an outward dimension. It involves the attitude (“in spirit”) and the acts performed (“in truth”). If the worship was to the Emperor, it involved reverence expressed in whatever actions he required. If the worship is to God, it must be “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
It is not true that if you can serve the emperor, you can worship him. Neither is it true that if you can play an instrument anywhere you can play it in worship, nor if you can wash feet anywhere you can wash them in worship, nor if you can eat meat anywhere you can eat it in worship! Worship is special acts offered reverently to a special Being. Men who made “the washing of hands” a religious requirement were “worshiping in vain” because such was not authorized of God (Matt. 15:9).
We need to be content in doing the things God authorized as “worship,” and “serve” him in all things. Those who make everything we do “worship” are on dangerous ground.
- Guardian of Truth, February 7, 1991