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Word Study: (AVODAH) — Work/Worship

BY WILLIAM D. BJORAKER

Avodah is the transliteration of the Hebrew word for worship and work. Have you ever thought about the connection? Is worship work? Is work worship?

The root word means to work or to serve. The cluster of words derived from the root give us insight into the nature of both worship and work.

An oved is a worker. An evid is a slave. Avdut is slavery. Work involves the idea of serving someone. Avodat Elohim is the service or worship of the true God. Avodah zara is literally strange worship (it is also the title of one of the tractates of the Talmud, which discusses the subject of idolatry and corrupt and false worship).

Avodat Elillim is idolatry, the worship of false gods. Indeed, false worship or idolatry is in essence serving the devil and leads to avdut-bondage, slavery to Satan.

Worship of the true God in Messiah Jesus through the Holy Spirit and in truth is hard work. It demands expenditure of energy. Worship is not mere campfire singing. It requires focus and concentration of our faculties. "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10*).

Worship requires an inner humbling, a surrender of self-will, a repentance of sin, and trust. It requires cultivating the presence of God. It ascribes to Him the supreme value of who He is and acknowledges His worthiness (worth-ship) in words, deeds, and posture. Worship is hard work.

Work (labor, enterprise, exertion) is always serving. For the worshiper of God, the believer in Jesus, it is serving God. "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Colossians 3:17).

One of the great recoveries of the Protestant Reformation was an affirmation of the dignity of all honest occupations and manual labor as vocations (literally, callings). Historically, the Jewish father was considered derelict if he didn’t teach his son a trade. Most rabbis also plied a trade (for example, Rabbi Moshe, the shoemaker or Rabbi Shaul, the tentmaker).

Work is an essential part and expression of our humanness. It is not, as some mistakenly assume, a result of the Fall. Work was part of Adam and Eve’s activity in Eden before they sinned. They were to "work" the Garden "and take care of it" (Genesis 2:15). Work is an expression of the creativity inherent in human nature made in the "image of God." After all, God is continually working, as Jesus pointed out: "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working" (John 5:17).

Only work that is drudgery is a consequence of the Fall. In Messiah we can experience a substantial redemption from drudgery to meaningful, enjoyable work and achievement. Whatever your job, it can be an expression of worship if you do it unto the Lord.

In modern Hebrew, uv-dah means fact. A fact works in or with reality because it is true to reality. Likewise, in modern Hebrew, u-vad means adapted—something worked over to fit reality.

One more point is necessary: "Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind [worship].’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ " (Matthew 22:37–39). These commands are always in that order. If you get them turned around, it will destroy you. That’s a fact. It won’t work; it is not true to reality. If you give yourself first to neighbor-love, you will find out it cannot be sustained. You will burn out. Only neighbor-love growing out of primary love for God has staying power. Neighbor-love works when it flows out of a life of worship.

Worship has priority over work, yet true worship is hard work. Work can be a form of worship, and the work of worship has priority over all other work.

"Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:58). Let’s remember, "Night is coming, when no one can work" (John 9:4).

Let’s worship God and get to work.

*Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.

This word study is adapted from Hebrew Nuggets, a series of Hebrew word studies by William D. Bjoraker.


William D. Bjoraker is an Assemblies of God home missionary to the Israeli Jewish emigres of greater Los Angeles, Operation Ezekiel.