In his book, It Doesn’t Take a Hero, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf writes,
The Army, with its emphasis on rank and medals and efficiency reports, is the easiest institution in the world in which to get consumed with ambition. Some officers spend all their time currying favor and worrying about the next promotion — a miserable way to live. But West Point saved me from that by instilling the ideal of service above self — to do my duty for my country even if it brought no gain at all. It gave me far more than a military career — it gave me a calling.
Often, we as Christians, get caught up in serving and doing for the Lord. We can become very ambitious at times. We work and busy ourselves with all sorts of projects and ministries as if our very salvation depended on it. Although, as we read through the scriptures, we find God is not moved by our works, nor does he view them as necessary for our salvation.
Scripture tells us, “That we are saved by grace and not by our works.” “That the just shall live by faith’ and that ‘Abraham was justified simply because he believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness” Moreover, all those who confess and believe in the finished work of Christ on the cross; that He paid the price for our sins, shall be saved (Jn. 3:16, 4:10; Rom. 3:25, 5:1; Colo 3:20; Eph. 2;8,9; Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:9, 22; Gal. 3:6; James 2:23).
Paul, in his letter to the believers in Rome writes,
But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
–Romans 15:15–16, NASB95
Obviously, there was something about Paul which set him apart from the rest. His heart affected a power greater than all the Roman Empire, and none of our lives would be as they are today had it not been for the missionary heart of the Apostle Paul.What made him different is what makes our text so interesting.
Paul must be admired by all, for he sets the example of a true missionary heart, an ideal which few attain. Paul’s heart is a heart that sees its mission as entirely sacred. In our text, Paul appropriates the vivid imagery of a Hebrew priest ministering at the altar in the Temple.
The imagery here is remarkably forceful due to the words Paul, by divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has chosen. For in our text, the word Paul uses for “minister” in Greek is the same root word from which we derive the word liturgy. The word is—lietourgon, which means religious worship and service. You may ask, “What’s this all about and why is this important.” Well, here’s why this is important, and if you don’t get this you’ll miss the meaning of the whole passage and what God is saying to us. Paul could have used other words to describe himself in relation to his service for the Lord. For example, he could have used the common term doulos to indicate a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, an ambassador of his master who willingly has chosen to give up his own right to freedom to serve his master and King. Or he could have used diakonos, which simply means “servant” and represents the servant under the employ of another; such as a waiter waiting tables or serving food.
But Paul didn’t use either of those words, but instead deliberately chose to use the word lietourgon because he saw his missionary work like that of a priest offering sacred worship to God. As a servant of the Holy things of God, he saw his priestly offering not as that of a lamb or grain offering, but as Gentile converts as he expresses in verse 16, “that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”
Paul saw his missionary work like that of a priest offering sacred worship to God.
Here Paul reveals to us his remarkable self-conception. Though he is involved in the dusty, mundane business of traveling the ancient world on foot, suffering from exposure, threats, beatings, and rejection, in his heart of hearts he sees himself in priestly garb in the Temple, lifting up the souls of men which then ascend as a sweet-smelling fragrance to Christ.
It is common knowledge today that how we perceive ourselves greatly determines how we live our lives.
Psychologists persist in reminding us of the importance of self-image. Imagine then, if you will, what this priestly self-perception did for Paul. His missionary life was to him intensely sacred. The most mundane daily occurrences were holy. Everything was done to please God. All of life was a liturgy (worship). (Philippians 4:18).
If only we could see our service as such, our lives would be transformed.
If when we’re operating cameras, greeting and serving people at church, we would see ourselves before the throne of God offering up the dear and precious souls we serve as sacrifices to the Lord, I believe our service and attitudes would greatly change and we would experience new found joy and adoration for the Lord in our service. In our everyday lives, a child held and loved is a worship service, an employee treated with dignity beatitude. The gospel shared becomes a song in Heaven’s courts, a home study or devotion as a fragrance to God. This sacred view of life was a primary characteristic of the missionary heart of the Apostle Paul.
Peter tells us that we were saved in order that we might offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:5). The most significant verse in the New Testament on this subject, however, is found in the last chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. There we read,
Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
–Hebrews 13:15–16, NASB95
May our self-conception be as Paul’s; that every soul we touch may be a sweet sacrifice of worship to the Lord.
Food for Thought
- How do you view your daily work? Do you see it as insignificant, or do you view it as worship?
- Does your attitude need to change concerning your work and ministry?
- What would change if you were to view your work as worship?
Norman Schwarzkopf, It Doesn’t Take a Hero: The Autobiography of General Norman Schwarzkopf, Bantam Publishers, 2010.