Is All of Life Worship?

Is worship that which we render to God by living all of life to God’s glory? If so, has the regulative principle of worship (ie., we are to worship God only as He has commanded, explicitly or by good and necessary consequence, and whatever He has forbidden or not commanded in His worship is prohibited) been evacuated of all meaning? Or is our “reasonable service” (Rom. 12.1) that we do all to God’s glory in a general way, even prayerfully, while worship is a distinct act aimed at God’s glory which is specific, stated, and circumscribed from all of life in its parameters of content and regulations of what is authorized? Two modern writers address these questions below.

Frank J. Smith, “What is Worship?” in David Lachman and Frank J. Smith, eds., Worship in the Presence of God (1992), pp. 11-12:

One of the more popular concepts today is that all of life is worship. Often this thought is connected with the notion that in the New Covenant, somewhat in contrast with the Old, there is a broadening of the concept of worship. Advocates of this viewpoint illustrate it with such Scripture passages as Zechariah 14, where even the bells on the horses will be inscribed, “HOLY TO THE LORD,” in the day of the Messiah. Paul wrote that we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy, acceptable to God, which is our “reasonable service.” He also wrote that whatever we do, we are to do it to God’s glory. Another passage which has been used is John 4, where Jesus told the woman at the well that neither this mountain nor Jerusalem would be the only appropriate place for true worship; He was thereby laying the groundwork for the truth that not only is the (now worldwide) church the dwelling-place for God, but also that individual believers are temples of the Holy Spirit.

All of this merely highlights that which the Reformers taught: that all of life is dedicated to the service of God and that all believers are priests before Him. Both of these notions are contrary to Romanism, which retained much of the Old Covenant sacrificial system.

But this is not to say that there are no distinctions to be made. Yes, we are to brush our teeth, drive our cars, shoot our basketballs, balance our checkbooks, wash our dishes, enjoy our music, and so forth, all for God’s glory and honor. All these things may be regarded as being done, in general way, in the service of God. When done in a God-pleasing way, they are done in accordance with the right standard (God’s Word — the only infallible rule of faith and practice), the right motive (love for God), and the right goal (the glory of God). However, the distinction between general service (those things which are performed in life in general) and specific worship (those things which are done in God’s ‘special presence,’ which in a very direct and immediate way bring glory to Him) does indeed remain today. Worship is special.

The fact that there may be a broadening of New Covenant worship does not in the least preclude either the fact that all life in the Old Covenant was to be lived for the glory of God, or that there is a continuing distinction today.

The distinction between general service and specific worship can be illustrated by the fact of God’s special presence. The Biblical position respecting the Lord’s Supper, for example, is that of Christ’s special spiritual presence. This special presence can be seen in a negative fashion in I Corinthians 11, where unworthy partaking of the Lord’s Supper could be fatal.

The Lord Jesus Christ spoke of His being specially present among two or three gathered together in His Name (Mt. 18). His occasion for speaking that, however, is in the context of ecclesiastical discipline, and shows its serious nature. But, the very fact that He is so present for effecting discipline would appear to bear on worship, by means of an argument from the lesser to the greater (worship being of a higher order than discipline).

The special presence of the heavenly court may also be adduced in support of this argument. Although one may argue that the presence of heavenly Jerusalem in Hebrews 12 relates to all of a Christian’s walk in this life, yet it seems that the reason why women are to have their heads covered in worship is because of the special presence of the royal court (I Cor. 11).

John Murray, “Worship,” in Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. 1, p. 165:

When we are thinking of worship we must distinguish between the generic and the specific. The generic is the devotion we owe to God in the whole of life. God is sovereign, he is Lord, having sovereignty over us and propriety in us, and therefore, in all that we do we owe subjection to him, devotion to his revealed will, obedience to his commandments. There is no area of life where the injunction does not apply: ‘Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God’ (I Cor. 10:31). In view of the lordship of Christ as Mediator all of life comes under his dominion. ‘Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men, knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ’ (Col. 3:23, 24).

The specific is the exercise of worship in the specialized sense — prayer, thanksgiving, reading the Word, preaching, singing God’s praises, administering the sacraments. Some of these may be exercised in private, all of them in the public worship of God, which is God’s instituted communal worship in the assembly of the saints. There are exercises of worship that should be attached to other functions or may be properly attached to other functions. Food is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer, and in partaking of food we ought to ask God’s blessing. But a meal is not a part of the instituted worship in the assemblies of the saints. Compare also marriage, the burial of the dead, the convening of political assemblies etc.