The phrase that is sometimes heard among those leading worship is that we must come and “minister to the Lord,” and since the word “minister” can bring to our minds the idea of “meeting needs,” we need to think seriously what we are saying. This is particularly interesting since God is self sufficient and needs nothing. The following found its spark from discussions in our Bible Study last Sunday, as well as a followup conversation with my wife, Kathy.
To be able to talk about the subject, I’ll list the more prominent passages that deal with ministering to the Lord as well as ministering before the Lord, which is similar. The goal here is not to provide commentary for each passage, but see the common elements that exist.
My eyes will be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; the one whose walk is blameless will minister to me.
And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant—
with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, ministering before it.) They asked, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites, or not?” The LORD responded, “Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands.”
1 Samuel 2:18
But Samuel was ministering before the LORD—a boy wearing a linen ephod.
1 Chronicles 16:1
[ Ministering Before the Ark ] They brought the ark of God and set it inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and they presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before God.
then my covenant with David my servant—and my covenant with the Levites who are priests ministering before me—can be broken and David will no longer have a descendant to reign on his throne.
New American Standard Bible (©1995)
While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."
Acts 13:2 New International Version (©1984)
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."
New Living Translation (©2007)
One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them."
English Standard Version (©2001)
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
Bring your fellow Levites from your ancestral tribe to join you and assist you when you and your sons minister before the tent of the covenant law.
1 Samuel 2:30
“Therefore the LORD, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that members of your family would minister before me forever.’ But now the LORD declares: ‘Far be it from me! Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained.
1 Samuel 2:35
I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his priestly house, and they will minister before my anointed one always.
1 Chronicles 15:2
Then David said, “No one but the Levites may carry the ark of God, because the LORD chose them to carry the ark of the LORD and to minister before him forever.”
1 Chronicles 16:4
He appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the LORD, to extol, thank, and praise the LORD, the God of Israel:
1 Chronicles 23:13
The sons of Amram: Aaron and Moses. Aaron was set apart, he and his descendants forever, to consecrate the most holy things, to offer sacrifices before the LORD, to minister before him and to pronounce blessings in his name forever.
2 Chronicles 29:11
My sons, do not be negligent now, for the LORD has chosen you to stand before him and serve him, to minister before him and to burn incense.”
I will make the descendants of David my servant and the Levites who minister before me as countless as the stars in the sky and as measureless as the sand on the seashore.’”
and the room facing north is for the priests who guard the altar. These are the sons of Zadok, who are the only Levites who may draw near to the LORD to minister before him.”
You are to give a young bull as a sin offering to the Levitical priests of the family of Zadok, who come near to minister before me, declares the Sovereign LORD.
“‘But the Levitical priests, who are descendants of Zadok and who guarded my sanctuary when the Israelites went astray from me, are to come near to minister before me; they are to stand before me to offer sacrifices of fat and blood, declares the Sovereign LORD.
They alone are to enter my sanctuary; they alone are to come near my table to minister before me and serve me as guards.
It will be the sacred portion of the land for the priests, who minister in the sanctuary and who draw near to minister before the LORD. It will be a place for their houses as well as a holy place for the sanctuary.
Grain offerings and drink offerings are cut off from the house of the LORD. The priests are in mourning, those who minister before the LORD.
Put on sackcloth, you priests, and mourn; wail, you who minister before the altar. Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you who minister before my God; for the grain offerings and drink offerings are withheld from the house of your God.
Let the priests, who minister before the LORD, weep between the portico and the altar. Let them say, “Spare your people, LORD. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”
There is an interesting addition in two passages in 1 Chronicles 16:4 and 1 Chronicles 25: 6-7. The first passage were to lead the praising of God through music, while the other describes their particular work was that of leading, being “trained and skilled” in music.
Old Testament Summary:
1. It was restricted to the priesthood.
2. It was tied to the carrying out of their responsibilities to offer sacrifices on behalf of themselves and the people.
3. It was done in recognition of who God was and what He had done for them.
4. It was done in obedience to what God had commanded.
5. It was tied to worship.
The passages related to “ministering to the Lord” in the New Testament are limited.
The Acts 13:2 passage [“While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." NASB ©1995] might equally be translated “while they were worshiping the Lord” [NIV, NLT, ESV].
There are few instances where Jesus is “ministered to:” the first is after the temptation account in the wilderness and he was ministered to by angels [Matthew 4:11]. Another is Jesus being anointed in the house of Simon the leper by the adulterous woman [Matthew 26:6-13], and a general reference to the women that offered help to Jesus and the disciples [ Matthew 27:55-56] and the anointing of the Lord’s body after the crucifixion might be considered in this same light [Mark 16:1]. With the possible exception of the adulterous woman, which might be considered worship as well as service, the instances revolve around meeting the physical needs of Christ. The motivation for doing so was no doubt out of love.
In the Apostle John’s Revelation, the idea of ministering seems to center around a constant recognition of the character and nature of God, from the angelic beings that proclaim His holiness [Revelation 4:8-11], and His work of salvation, who in response bow down before the throne saying “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain” [Revelation 5:12-14].
General Summary and Conclusions:
The common thread seems to be an awesome recognition of the greatness and majesty of the character of God and the recognition of His gracious redemption of His people through His great acts. Ministering to God would then involve an obedient response to God’s character and work, or how worship itself may be defined: “The obedience response to the revealed nature, character, and work of God.” As we worship God then, we are ministering to Him. The more that we understand about who God is and what He has done, the more that we can allow Him to renew and remold our minds and our thinking, the more that we will be better able to minister or worship Him.
God needs nothing, so there is no need in Him that we might possible meet, however God does have desires: He desires to have a relationship with us. He knows that the most satisfying relationship that meets our inmost needs is found in our recognition of who He is and our submission to the plan that He has for us. We can only come to that relationship through the confession of our sins and recognition of God’s saving act of redemption through His Son, Jesus. We must come to realization of the absolute power and authority of God over everything, and begin the process of grasping the depth of His love for us in what He did through Christ in redemption.
Our submission and obedience are tied to our understanding of who God is and what He has done. As we live our lives allowing His love and work as our point of reference, we joyfully submit our wills and lives to the One who loved us enough to give His own life to reclaim us, rising from the dead, showing His power and authority over even death itself. We respond in obedience to His nature and work. We can do nothing less than worship Him.