A Difference Between Service and Worship

by William J. Stewart

A growing movement exists in the religious world to broaden the common conception of what worship is. Rather than worship being limited to specific activities, many are embracing the idea that worship is a lifestyle; that every moment of our existence is to be an occasion of worship. Are Christian service and worship synonymous, or is there a distinction to be made?

Worship As A Lifestyle?
The desire to worship the Lord is most commendable. As mentioned in a previous article, our worship is to be “altogether momentous, urgent and glorious.”1 For the Christian, worship is a primary concern and activity in life. However, those who are of the “lifestyle worship” persuasion affirm that worship is not confined by time, place or practice, but can be and is in all that we do.

One writer has stated, “Worship is a lifestyle not an event.”2 Again, we read that worship “…is not what we do, but who we are and what we are about, it is (or should be) our life … Worship is the day to day relationship that we have with Christ.”3  Singer and author, Darlene Zschech comments, “As a true worshipper, your heart will long to worship Him at all times, in all ways and with all your life.”4

Does The Bible Distinguish Between Service And Worship?
All robins are birds, but not all birds are robins; all canoes are boats, but not all boats are canoes; and all sandals are shoes, but not all shoes are sandals. Equally, all worship is service to God, but not all service to God is worship. The Bible makes a recognizable distinction between the two.

In John 4, the Samaritan woman was not inquiring whether one should live at Mount Gerizim or in Jerusalem, but whether one should worship. When the Ethiopian eunuch went to Jerusalem, it was to worship, not to live (Acts 8:27). Likewise, the apostle Paul had gone to Jerusalem for worship (Acts 24:11), but clearly his service to God was elsewhere (Acts 9:15; 13:47; Romans 11:13; 15:16). Each of these reveals a distinction between our daily service and worship.

Daniel and his friends served king Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 1:3-7, 19), but they would not worship him nor his gods (Daniel 3:12-18). Daniel faithfully served Darius (6:1-4), but would not obey a mandate

served Darius (6:1-4), but would not obey a mandate which forbade petitions to anyone but the king (6:6-11). Their experiences declare plainly that faithful service and worship are not synonymous. Nebuchadnezzar was not satisfied with their steadfast labour as his subjects; in addition, he sought worship. In like manner, our diligent service before God is not accepted by Him as worship. Beyond our faithful walk as His people, God requires (and is due) our worship.

Service As A Lifestyle, Worship As A Habitual Practice
That our life is to be devoted to God, there is no dispute. Solomon clearly instructs, “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Such a charge will inevitably include worship, but the nature of our service before the Lord reaches beyond our worship.

Paul implored the Roman brethren, “…present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service (Romans 12:1). The apostle urged these brethren to be faithful in their daily lives to the Lord. In the verses which follow, we are to keep ourselves from the way of the world (v 2), use the diverse gifts with which we are been blessed (v 6-8), show kindness to all (v 10-16), and overcome evil with good (v 17-21). Such exhortations deal with our moment to moment service before the Lord, not worship.

Before going to the cross, Jesus warned the apostles, “…the time is coming that whoever kills you will think he offers God service” (John 16:2). Jesus employs the same Greek word (latreia) which Paul used. Surely, the Jewish leaders didn’t consider putting men to death a form of worship, but they believed they were serving God (Deuteronomy 13:1-11; Acts 6:13-14; 7:57-58). They would certainly have differentiated this “service” from their worship.

A centurion described to Jesus the manner of service which he received from those who were under his command. He stated, I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant; ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (Matthew 8:9). So is the nature of our service to the Lord. As the Lord speaks, so we do (Matthew 7:21; Luke 6:46). This faithful obedience is not worship, but is our “reasonable service” to the God of heaven.

May we be cautious of extremes. Every aspect of a Christian’s life is to be service to God, but not all service is worship. However, let us also be careful not to limit our worship to 3 or 4 hours of assembly time with the Lord’s people per week. We ought to habitually set time aside to worship the Lord privately (Matthew 6:6). Recall, Jesus made it a habit to worship the Lord individually in the mountains (Matthew 14:23; Mark 6:46; Luke 6:12; John 6:15). What a blessing to be able to express our thanksgiving and adoration to the Lord through prayer and song (Colossians 4:2; Psalm 69:30). If we will do so, it will bring glory to God and elevate our faith in Him.


  1. Stewart, W. lookinguntojesus.net
  2. Woolley, C. calvary.com
  3. Nadeau Jr., A.J., experiencingworship.com
  4. Zschech, D., integritymusic.com
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