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Physical Sacrifice and Spiritual Worship
Jesus said that God is seeking those who will worship him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23). Unfortunately, for many of us the idea of worshipping God “in spirit and in truth” can seem like an intangible command that has no bearing on our everyday existence. Indeed, Jesus’ words, when misunderstood, can sound as if our Lord is merely telling us to muster up our emotions—as if our spiritual worship were based on the sincerity of our religious enthusiasm. Today, we tend to search for evidence of “true worship” in our feelings and in our mental state, only to be disappointed and unsatisfied with what we find.
In stark contrast with this introspective way of worship, the apostle Paul had this to say: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is you spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1). According to Paul, offering ourselves to God in “spiritual worship” begins with our bodies—that is, our concrete existence in the here and now. Although later in verse 2, Paul linked “physical sacrifice” with the transformation of our minds, he did not begin there. Rather, he explained that our “spiritual act of worship” begins with the tangible side of our existence.
At the most fundamental level, Jesus’ work on the cross serves as the greatest example that we have of physical sacrifice. Jesus’ physical flesh was nailed to a tree, and we are to shirk from nothing less. Christ himself said that if anyone would come after him, that person must deny himself, take up his cross and follow (Mark 8:34). Since we are not all called to be martyrs, Christ’s sacrificial death also must be applied to the way we live our lives—offering everything we have, including our “hard-earned” money, to him and the things he cares about.
Few have applied the sacrifice of Christ’s death to their life more thoroughly than Paul. He “worked night and day, laboring and toiling” so that he would not burden those to whom he brought the gospel (2 Thessalonians 3:8) even though his friends deserted him (2 Timothy 4:10ff). Paul was “frequently” in prison and was flogged “severely” (2 Corinthians 11:23). He received 39 lashes from the Jews on five different occasions and was beaten with rods three times (2 Corinthians 11:24-25). Once he was stoned (2 Corinthians 11:25). While on a missionary journey Paul was shipwrecked and had to spend “a night and a day in the open sea” (2 Corinthians 11:25). As if this were not enough, Paul did more voluntarily. His work in spreading the gospel kept him “constantly on the move” (2 Corinthians 11:26). As Paul himself said, “I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked” (2 Corinthians 11:27).
At the end of his life, Paul’s body was almost certainly a pathetic thing to look at, but he would not have had the psychological difficulties we often experience when we go to praise God. Paul would not have had to muster up his emotions in order to worship “in spirit and in truth.” Paul already had spent his life offering his body as a living sacrifice to God. This was true spiritual worship.
Related Passages: John 4:23; Romans 6:13, 19; 12:1; Philippians 2:17; 4:18; 2 Timothy 4:6-8