The Hebrew word “Avodah” in ancient Hebrew has three meanings that should shake up every Christian. It can mean “work,” “worship”, or “serve.” While it’s obvious in the Scripture passages below that there are differences in how “avodah” is used to indicate various types of activities like “working in a field” as opposed to “a specific act of worship not to be given to any other gods,” apparently God is communicating to us that he saw very little difference between work, worship and serving.
“Whatever you do, work (avodah) at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving (avodah)” -Colossians 3:23-24
“Do not worship (avodah) any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” -Exodus 34:14
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (avodah)” -Romans 12:1
I’m thankful to my good friend David Knibbe for bring these powerful insights to my attention. The ancient Hebrews had a deep understanding of how faith and work came together in their lives as a seamless way of living as an integrated whole!
“Six days you shall work (avodah).” -Exodus 34:21
“Then man goes out to his work (avodah), to his labor until evening.” -Psalm 104:23
In other verses, avodah means worship, as in worship You, O God.
“This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship (avodah) me”. -Exodus 8:1
“But as for me and my household, we will serve (avodah) the Lord”. -Joshua 24:15
These are powerful images to think that the word for working in the fields is the same used for worshiping the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Old Testament believers saw the land, trees, fruit, sun, rain, grass, health, family and animals as all coming from the Lord. They literally lived in and by God’s provision. So to work with gratitude and to eat what God provided was all worship.
Frankly I was raised to think that God expected us to avodah (worship) to him one day each week and do secular work to provide for our families the other six. However, that apparently wasn’t what God had in mind at all. God actually meant just the opposite! He says we should serve him six days a week and rest from that work (worship) on the seventh day. “Keep the Sabbath Day holy.” In other words, do nothing on Sunday, (or more correctly one day a week.) Nowhere in the Bible were the Israelites commanded by God to go worship in the temple or synagogue one day a week. They had festivals, feast days and “sacred assemblies,” which they were commanded to observe but no weekly worship. Just rest. Do I think going to church on Sunday is a good idea? Yes, of course! But it is not a “thus sayeth the Lord,” type of command.
So, I’d urge you to consider how you ought to think of your vocation as worship and your service to others as worship. It is changing me to see both as “unto the Lord.” Next week I'll blog on the topic of what it meanings for us New Testament believers to observe "Sabbath."