You Gotta Serve Somebody

Jennifer and I worshiped at the Payne AME Church in Chatham this morning (Sunday, 01 November). It was wonderful, two amazing and spirit-filled hours or worship, prayer, and praise!

The Bible passage on offer for this morning’s worship was Psalm 100:

1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
2 Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
3 Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
5 For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
(Psalms 100:1-5 ESV)

Except the translation being used was the New International Version (NIV), which rendered verse two this way:

Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.

What the translators of the ESV render as “serve” and the NIV translators as “worship” is that wonderful Hebrew word עבד ebed. There is a hint on compulsion in ebed — it’s what happens to Israel in Egypt when a Pharaoh “who did not know Joseph” arose, and it’s what the God of Israel demands of his people when he ends their captivity in Egypt, swaddling the country in darkness, terror, and death before drowning Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea. (I do not use the term “freedom” or “liberate” to describe what happens in Exodus because scripture itself does not.)

I find it interesting that slave and worshiper both arise from this simple word, עבד, with it’s hint of both compulsion and devotion. And in scripture, where God warns Israel against the worship of other gods, he speaks this word, ebed. To worship a god is to serve that god, to work for that god, to make that god your master and to put the wants and needs and commands of that god ahead of your own wants and needs.

We aren’t free, and we never will be. Freedom is not part of the promise of God. (It isn’t.) We serve someone. We serve something. We worship. We adore. We sacrifice. We praise. We labor. It is inescapable. If we are set anything remotely resembling free, it is to serve the living God, the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God who came to us, wrapped in flesh, as Jesus of Nazareth, who blessed and broke bread, who gave his life so that we may live. Who served us. Who sacrificed himself for us.