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Revelation chapters 4 and 5 present a majestic picture of heavenly worship. Those who are redeemed join the spiritual beings of heaven in bowing before and praising God; first as their Creator, then as the Redeemer of God’s people through the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.
The real presence of God among us, especially in times of worship, calls upon us for an appropriate response.1 This response will be distinctive because God is extraordinary. And as the author of Hebrews points out, the symbolism of the Old Covenant pointed to spiritual realities, but in the New Covenant we have come to those spiritual realities (Hebrews 12:18-29).
There was one Tabernacle for all of the Israelites and those who joined with them - later, one Temple building in Jerusalem - and one way of worship that was defined at this Tabernacle for all who were faithful to God. Now that we have come to the spiritual realities pointed to by the Tabernacle and the form of worship God defined there, this form of worship is no longer required (Hebrews 12:18-29).
We might understand this better by taking a moment to consider how people learn to fly. One of the best things a person can do when he or she wants to learn to fly is to spend some time in a flight simulator. When in a flight simulator, student pilots never leave the ground, but many aspects of flight are simulated for them. When they climb into the cockpits of actual aircraft, the symbolic aspects of flight are no longer present. Pilots then experience the real freedom of flight. But once pilots begin to deal with the realities of flight, their actions also have real consequences. The possibilities in a real airplane are far greater, but so are the risks - especially for the unthinking, the proud, and the reckless.
In a similar manner, Christian worship does not involve the same “props” or rituals that were mandated in the Law of Moses for worship at the Tabernacle. In comparison, there is a much greater amount of freedom today. But that freedom is only a blessing to those humble enough and spiritually astute enough to take advantage of it. The naïve, the proud, and the reckless risk destructive consequences from their practices; consequences that may affect their relationship with God for eternity (Matthew 7:13-27; 1 Peter 2:16; James 3:1,2; 2 Peter 1:2-11; 2 Timothy 3:1-16).
The uniqueness of the worship offered by those who have become the children of God through Jesus Christ may be understood through many Scriptures. Two passages we can use to begin to understand this are found in Ephesians and Luke. In Ephesians, Paul writes,
So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart . . . that in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self . . . and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. Ephesians 4:17, 18, 22-24and in Luke’s Gospel, where Zacharias - a priest and the father of John the Baptist - says that through Christ God will,
. . . grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all of our days. Luke 1:74, 75.Paul’s words make it plain that he is referring to all of life, which includes worship. The word “to serve” in Luke 1:75 is latreuein, a word which means “to worship” when the context is appropriate.
The words translated “holiness” and “righteousness” are also of interest. In the Greek in which the New Testament was originally written, not only the same words, but the same form of these words is used in Ephesians 4:24 and Luke 1:75. The word translated “holiness” in both is one of several Greek words translated “holiness” in our English New Testaments; each adding nuances that improve our understanding of Scriptural holiness.
In the New Testament, all (not just some) Christians are called “holy ones” as a result of the work that God has done in them through Jesus Christ; the transformation we referred to in our last article on worship.2 The word “saints” in our English Bible derives from the Latin word for “holy ones.” The New Testament Greek word for “saint” is hagios. The New Testament Greek word for “holy one” that corresponds to the vocabulary of Ephesians 4:24 and Luke 1:75 is, in contrast, hosios.
Of the two terms, hagios is the more general, having to do with the separation, exaltedness, purity, and moral excellence of God. It is the Greek Word used to describe Jesus as “the Holy One of God” in Mark 1:24, Luke 4:34, and 1 John 2:20. It is also the Greek Word that is used in the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint version, the version used most widely by early Christians) to render “Holy One” in the phrase “the Holy One of Israel” (for example, Isaiah 30:12, Psalm 71:22, 78:41) and in Hosea 11:9 where God says, “For I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst . . ." (cf. Isaiah 12:6). It is applicable to those whom God makes Christ-like though the blood of Christ and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit; without, of course, the connotation of exaltedness that belongs only to God, but with the added idea of consecration - dedication to the Lord (Leviticus 19:2, Titus 3:5, Hebrews 12).
Hosios, on the other hand, has to do with faithfulness to one’s personal obligations to another individual or a group - before God. The words “before God” take on great significance here. In the Greek of the New Testament it is enopion tou theou (Luke 1:19, 12:6, 16:15, Acts 4:19, 10:31, 33, Romans 14:22, 1 Corinthians 1:29, 2 Timothy 4:1, 1 Peter 3:4, Revelation 3:2, cf. Hebrews 4:1-16), often translated “in the sight of God” or “in the presence of God.” The corresponding Latin phrase coram Deo has a prominent place in the writings of Protestant Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin. I cite these to underscore the spiritual significance of this phrase “before God” in a Christian understanding of how life is to be lived.
The word hosios describes, therefore, a person who is faithful to his or her obligations in covenant relationship with God; whether the Mosaic covenant of the Old Testament or the New Covenant ratified by the blood of Christ. Paul’s words to Felix, a Roman governor, show perfectly the attitude and lifestyle of the person described by the Hebrew word chasiyd and the Greek word hosios, even though those words are not used in the passage,
. . . But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets; having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and wicked. In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience before God and before men. Acts 24:14-16A covenant was a solemn, formal agreement between two parties in the ancient world. It was often ratified by the sacrifice of an animal, from whence came the expression “cutting a covenant.”3 In the New Testament, the covenant is ratified by the blood of Christ shed at Calvary (Hebrews 9:11-28, 1 Corinthians 11:23-25, Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 20:19-20). It is one of the most prominent analogies by which Scripture describes God’s relationship with His people. Our covenantal relationship with God through Jesus Christ is to be the center of our lives, ordering all of our behavior.
In his well-known study of Greek words used in the New Testament, Richard Trench wrote, “. . . Joseph, when tempted to sin by his Egyptian mistress (Genesis 39:7-12), approved himself hosios, in reverencing those everlasting sanctities of the marriage bond which God had founded, and which he could not violate without sinning against Him . . . .”4 Notice that, according to this way of viewing things, a sin against others is a sin against God (Psalm 51:4, Matthew 5:23, 24). It is in this respect that Jesus, as our High Priest, is referred to as hosios in Hebrews 7:26; having completely fulfilled all of His obligations to God and mankind - both as a man before God and as the Christ (John 5:30, 8:29, 46).
Having been careful to make a distinction between hagios and hosios in the New Testament, we need to remember their relationship to one another as well. For, all of the Hebrew and Greek words for holiness in the Scriptures denote different aspects of the same quality. The person who is hosios is also hagios. Any person truly distinguished by one will also be distinguished by the other. But hosios has a particular interest for us in our study of worship. This is because worship is a form of conduct. And because we are creatures, this falls in the realm of obligations in relation to God, our Creator and Redeemer (1 Timothy 4:9, 10).
One way to describe this unique form of worship Biblically is to refer to it as worship “in the Name of Jesus Christ” - which refers both to His character and that worship of which He is worthy (Colossians 3:17, cf. Deuteronomy 28:10, 2 Chronicles 7:14, Daniel 9:19).
The Hebrew word chasiyd is known to most people today in the form “Hasidic,” which describes a sect of Jews - often called “orthodox Jews” - in our time. Although the origin of this term goes back to Scriptures, and was the term applied to the ancestors of the Pharisees in the time before Christ, neither the practice of the Pharisees in Jesus’ time nor the way of life of the Hasidic Jews of our time provide the best model for understanding this term in the Old Testament. It is related to the Hebrew word chesed, which is used in the Old Testament to refer to the eternal and steadfast love of God, whereby He cares for His people, and sometimes to those people who are faithful in their covenant relationship with God. It connotes mercy and kindness. It is always closely tied to the covenant relationship that binds God and His people together. Therefore, in the Old Testament it focuses upon the keeping of the Mosaic Law. But in the New Testament it is clearly seen that devotion to God rises above devotion to Mosaic Law and is driven by devotion to God through Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15, 1 John 4:10).
Even in the Old Testament, however, the concept of chesed goes beyond covenant and law. It is never demonstrated in a simple adherence to covenantal agreements or legal requirements; because it is driven by a steadfast, faithful, overcoming love that surmounts barriers. In this sense, it not only applies to God’s faithfulness to Israel in spite of the constant tendency to turn away from Him, so that God is called chasiyd in Jeremiah 3:12 and Psalm 145:17; it is applied to the resurrected Christ in Psalm 16:10 - translated by the Greek word hosios in the Septuagint and where the New Testament quotes Psalm 16:10 (Acts 2:27, 13:35). It is through Jesus Christ that God supremely demonstrates His faithful love not only to the Jews, but to all the peoples of the world as well (Ephesians 2:11-22).
How, then, can we pull all of this together in understanding what kind of holiness the word hosios refers to in the New Testament? It can be translated by the words holiness, reverence, devotion, and piety. Because it has to do with behavior, it is closely related to righteousness and justice. It may also be described by the word “godliness.”
If we think of godliness as a response to God, and look beyond this term to how the New Testament describes an appropriate response to God, His Christ, and His Word, we come quickly, through familiarity, to 1 Corinthians 13. The central theme of this well-known chapter is love. But while Paul focuses upon love as the subject of this chapter, he ends this discussion of love by joining love with two other things of abiding importance, as he writes, “faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love” (v. 13, cf. 1 Timothy 1:5, 1 Peter 1:13, 1 John 3:1-3).7 Certainly these three describe the appropriate posture of the one who responds appropriately to God, His Word, and His Christ. They orient our lives towards God and lead to the godliness described in Scripture. They will certainly, therefore, be seen in the worship of God’s people in response to the presence of God, His Word, and His “Anointed One” - His Christ.
David was speaking in this positive sense when he wrote, “The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever” (Psalms 19:9, cf. Psalms 111:10, Proverbs 1;7, 9:10). Isaiah wrote, “For thus says the high and exalted One, who lives forever, whose name is Holy, ‘I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit . . .’” (Isaiah 57:15, cf. Matthew 5:3-4). James Orr wrote, “Godliness, as denoting character and conduct determined by the principle of love or fear of God in the heart, is the summing up of genuine religion. There can be no true religion without it: only a dead form."8 Taking some time to understand this is, therefore, very worthwhile.
Sometimes, the Scriptures use the word phobos, which literally means “fear,” to describe the proper attitude of those who offer true worship to God (1 Peter 1:17, Revelation 11:18). More often, other words mitigate the terror of fear for those who know the Lord.
The apocryphal book “The Wisdom of Sirach,” a book not recognized to be inspired of God, but having such devotional value that it came to be called “Ecclesasticus” because it was so often read by early Christians, is included with the Greek Old Testament. It was written after the last books of the Old Testament, but almost two hundred years before the birth of Christ. We have noted that the Greek word hosios is often, but not exclusively, used to translate the Hebrew word chasiyd in the Greek Old Testament. In Sirach 43:33, chasiyd is translated by another Greek word, eusebeia, where it refers to the “godly.” In Sirach 49:3, a form of the word eusebeia is used to translate the Hebrew word chesed. In this verse, chesed refers to the true worship and righteous conduct before God that Josiah restored in his reign over Judah over against the pagan wickedness that prevailed when Josiah ascended to the throne.9 While this provides some connection to the use of eusebeia in the New Testament, it is in the New Testament that eusebeia has its most important usage, with a meaning very close to that of hosios - reverence, piety, godliness - right behavior before God that is the manifestation of a Christ-like character.
Eusebeia is actually one of a family of Greek words that are related to the Greek word sebomai; a verb that refers to “respect” and “awe,” often in a religious or spiritual sense. In the New Testament, sebomai and its related forms are used to describe “worship” in a very general sense (2 Thessalonians 2:4), so that it is even used of pagan worship (Romans 1:25, Acts 17:23) and false worship (Matthew 15:9, Mark 7:7, and Isaiah 29:13 in the Septuagint). In fact, a form of this word, the adjective sebastos, is used of Caesar in Acts 25:21, 25, and 27:1; it is often translated “Augustus”; and refers to the fact that Caesar is considered, by the Romans, to be greater than other men, and thus worthy of veneration.10
Sebomai is used in a more positive sense in Acts 16:14 and 18:7, where it is used of Lydia and Titius Justus, who worshipped in a manner that was faithful to the teachings of the Old Testament in contrast to Gospel of Jesus Christ. Sebomai is joined with theos, “God,” to form theosebeia, “God-fearing;” a word which refers to those who give sincere, true worship to God in John 9:31 and 1 Timothy 2:10. We will discuss another related term semnos, when we discuss deportment in worship a little later in this discussion.
Eusebeia, like theosebeia, is used in the New Testament of Christian worship, especially in Paul’s “pastoral” letters (1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus). These passages are worthy of our attention as we seek to understand that worship which is uniquely acceptable to God.
In eusebeia, the “eu-“ prefix means “good” or “beneficial,” as in “euphoric,” “euphony,” “eulogy,” and “euphemism;” and is coupled with -sebeia, or “fear.” We find it being translated by words like reverence, piety, religion, and godliness in our English Bibles. It is used in the sense of being descriptive of a truly Christian character in Titus 2:12 and in 2 Peter 1:6, 7 and 3:11. It is, therefore, a goal to be diligently pursued by Christians. Paul wrote to Timothy to “. . . discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7, 8). Other passages that give eusebeia as a goal are 1 Timothy 5:4, and 6:6, 11. However, Paul also cautions Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:5 to beware that godliness (eusebeia) is not just that of outward appearance. In 2 Timothy 3:12, Paul links true eusebeia to persecution. Compare Jesus’ words in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:10, 11, 6:16, 7:21-27).
Other important passages that contain eusebeia describe the close relationship between true spirituality - including worship - and Truth. In Titus 1:1, Paul speaks of becoming a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ in accordance with “the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth that is according to godliness”(cf. Ephesians 4:24). In 1 Timothy 6:3, Paul spoke of the need to teach that which conforms to “sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine (= teaching, Greek didaskalia) conforming to godliness.” “Sound words” here is literally “healthy words.” In his second letter, Peter proclaims that the power of God through Jesus Christ, “has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (1:3). Moreover, in the following verse, Peter states that it is the “precious and magnificent promises of God” that enable us - if we stand upon them in faith - both to avoid the moral and spiritual corruption of the world and to be conformed to the image of Christ; thereby tying godliness to the Word of God.
We should not miss the meaning of this for true, Christian worship. It is worship that promotes the knowledge of God through the preaching of the Gospel as presented in the Holy Scriptures. In true, Christian worship, the Scriptures are read, presented, preached, explained, prayed, and sung - not as “magical words” or incantations - but in a manner that presents the teaching of Scripture and promotes a true understanding of the faith; and the confession of faith both by our words and by the manner in which we conduct our lives.
It sometimes seems difficult to promote the love of God without seeming to promote over-familiarity and flippance towards a transcendent God. It can also seem difficult to promote piety without seeming to promote stiff, stuffy, wooden worship, without seeming to rob worship of true joy, and without seeming to overemphasize the distance between God and people, His creatures. But an attitude of true reverence is important in recognizing who God is and who we are. And the balance between the joyfulness that stems from being a child of God and the reverence due Him as Creator and Redeemer can be maintained; as seen in the words of Abraham to the Lord at the Oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18:16-33), Moses at Sinai (Exodus 32:30-33:10), and our Lord Himself (John 17:1-26).
The gravity that is appropriate to worship is communicated by several words in the New Testament. One is semnos, which is related to the word sebomai that we discussed earlier. It is linked with eusebeia as being characteristic of Christian life in 1 Timothy 2:2. Semnos connotes an attitude of solemnity appropriate to sacred things. Truly, redemption through Jesus Christ is a very serious thing, inasmuch as it is accomplished through the blood of Jesus Christ, and addresses the deepest concerns and torments of the human soul. In the Gospel we address awesome issues of eternal life and death, terribly destructive wickedness and supremely costly righteousness; clearly not trite issues for which silliness is appropriate (1 Peter 1:17-18).
There are a number of words used for “sobriety” in the New Testament, which also concerns the seriousness of sacred things. Peter exhorts his readers to maintain sound mindedness and sobriety concerning prayer (1 Peter 4:7) where the word used for “sober” here means “not to be intoxicated as with alcohol.” Thus, the meaning here is the same as in Ephesians 4:18.11 This is especially important to notice in our time, when, for some, an attitude of irrationality and silliness is held to be an indication of true worshipfulness. Here, Peter clearly shows us that prayer, as part of our worship, must also be an appropriate response to the presence of the Living God. -SMD
Note: We will continue this discussion in our next Mid-Watch Report, which will explore “The Activities of Worship.”
1 Appropriate behavior is indicated by the word hieroprepes in Titus 2:3, where it means to act reverently, in other words, “appropriately concerning whatever is sacred.” The verb “prepo,” one of the two words which comprise this compound word, describes conduct that is suitable, appropriate, fitting, becoming. It is used of the behavior of Jesus in Matthew 3:15 and Hebrews 2:10, of the behavior of Christian women in 1 Corinthians 11:13 and 1 Timothy 2:10, and of all Christians in Ephesians 5:3. In 1 Timothy 2:10 it is used to describe speech that is consistent with sound Christian teaching (doctrine).
2 See the article in the previous Mid-Watch Report entitled “The True Worship of God: The Characteristics of True Worship.”
3 In Genesis 15:18, the words generally translated “God made a covenant with Abraham” actually read “God cut a covenant with Abraham” in the Hebrew text; where “cut” is the Hebrew carath.
4 Richard Chenevix Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969, based upon the ninth edition published in London in 1880), 333.
5 In contrast, in the Septuagint, hagios is always used to translate the Hebrew word qadosh, as in “the Holy One of Israel.” A frequent expression in Isaiah, this expression is also seen in Exodus 19:6, Numbers 6:5, and Psalms 15:1 (Psalms 14:1 in the Septuagint). Trench, ibid., 330, 331.
6 The name of this ministry, The American Night Watch, derives from such passages.
7 For discussions of faith, hope, and love, see the articles on "Things That Abide."
8 “Godliness; Godly,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr gen. ed. (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1915), [volume on-line] available at the web site of StudyLight.org, "http://www.studylight.org/enc/, accessed February 7, 2002.
9 Josiah brought one of the great religious revivals in ancient history, during which the books of Moses were rediscovered in the Temple in Jerusalem (2 Kings 22:1-23:30, 2 Chronicles 34-35, cf. Nehemiah 8:1-8).
10 The refusal to worship the Roman Emperor was characteristic of Christians, and was later used as a test to see if a person was a Christian. Those who failed to worship the Emperor were felt to be a security risk, and so were sentenced to execution. The Romans despised the Jews for the same reason, and the Jewish rebellions of the late first and early second centuries A.D. were taken as confirmation that Jews, and by association Christians, were to be treated as traitors.
11 For a fuller discussion of Ephesians 5:18 in this respect, see the articles “Reading From, not Into, the Scriptures."
The American Night Watch Mid-Watch Report is an occasional publication of The American Night Watch Christian ministry in support of Scriptural Christianity and Scriptural holiness.
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