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The Heart of Worship [9-10-23]

September 10, 2023

“The Heart of Worship”

{Based on Conference Address by John Piper}

Philippians 1:18-24

God expects our worship. To some, mostly unbelievers, that is a jarring thought. But it goes beyond expectation. It’s not hyperbole to say that God requires our worship.

The most common word for worship is used 26 times in the Gospels. It is used 21 times in The Book of Revelation. It is used once by Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14:24-25, “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” As used here, and in the other 40+ places, the root meaning of the word for worship means “to bow down,” or “to fall down.” In other words, it refers to an admiration and adoration that is represented in a physical act of falling down before


Here’s an interesting thing to consider. That word, for falling down or bowing down, was used to describe worship while Jesus was on the earth. That’s what people did. They ran to him and fell down at his feet. That happened with great regularity. And then in heaven, as described by John in Revelation, how do the elders and angels worship the Risen Christ? They fall down. Specifically, they bow down and lay their crowns at the feet of Jesus. In both places, they do this physical thing as part of their worship.

What about the church after Jesus ascended into heaven? What about us today? Jesus is not here physically, so we can’t fall down at his feet in worship. But, in his physical absence, Jesus has provided a way to worship that is unique to where we are. It is less formal, less physical, and less grounded in a specific geographical place. For our place and time, it is a way that gets to the true heart of worship.

Here’s are some signposts from Jesus’ earthly ministry that set the stage

for our worship.

Listen to John 4:16-26:

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

Did you notice how Jesus framed the options for worship? People thought true worship could only happen in two specific geographical locations. Jesus shifted their conversation from geography to spirit and truth.

Jesus also says, in Matthew 12:6, “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.” You can hear what he means. Jesus is here. He’s the something greater than the temple. And then, in John 2:19, he says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days, I will raise it up.” Here’s the essence of what Jesus is saying:


Make no mistake. Christianity is the only major religion that does not have a geographic center. There’s no Mecca. There’s no Jerusalem. Some Southern regions of the United States claim to be the buckle of the Bible

Belt, but that’s just ego talking. There’s only one center for worship, and that’s the Risen Christ. He is the temple…he is the sacrifice…he is the priesthood….he is the holy of holies.

What, then, is the heart of worship? How do we express the inner experience of joy and praise for the living Christ who loves us, gave himself for us, rose from the dead, and calls us into a relationship that transforms how we see the world and serve others? We search the New Testament for direction on how to do this. What should worship look like? Should we use guitars, organs, keyboards, drums, brass instruments, choirs? How should we do this?

What do you think the New Testament says about worship style or instruments or choirs or other such things? Zero…zilch…nada…nothing. Why? Because the New Testament isn’t a style guide. The New Testament is a missionary handbook for bringing the gospel to the nations. And those places have different cultures. God would never force believers in China to express worship in the same way as Brazil. Authentic worship is indigenous to culture. The New Testament is silent on such things.

So exactly what does the New Testament care about?

Let’s start with Philippians 1:18-24:

What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.

What is Paul saying in verse 20? He’s saying that the primary passion in his life is that Christ would be magnified – that’s what the word translated honored, from the Greek word “megaluno” means – so Paul says he wants his life to shine forth the worthiness, preeminent value, treasure, greatness, of Jesus Christ.

Notice the two notions Paul pairs up. Again, verses 20 and 21, “As it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” In both verses, he pairs up life and death. Christ is magnified both in his living and his dying.

To get at the deeper meaning, let’s separate the pairs…life and death. Clearly it’s a good thing to magnify Christ in and with our lives. That’s the given. Let’s go deeper with a rephrasing:


In other words:


But wait…why is dying seen as gain and what places it at the heart of worship? Weird, right? Why is Christ shown to be magnificent in my death? As Paul says in verse 23, “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Better than what? Well, better than anything you lose when you die. Your family, your friends, your favorite foods, your favorite vacation destination, your hobbies…the list goes on and on. Paul is saying that all of those things pale in comparison to what is gained when we die in Christ.

Time for a side note. It’s always fascinated me how people talk - even Christians; I’ve even heard pastors talk this way – about how heaven is just going to be a continuation of things in this life. You know, grandpa will be fishing, mom will be hosting dinner parties, Billy will be playing with Scruffy the Beagle. There will be a library with all the books you care to read, or roads paved in gold for long walks. You know how it goes. Mormons believe you’re going to be married in heaven, and continue having children. Weird stuff.

“My desire is to depart.” Paul wants to be in the presence of his Savior.

And he knows he’ll get more of Christ when he dies. Don’t misunderstand. Paul isn’t saying anything about ending his own life. To do so is sin. Which is why he says in verse 24, “But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” There are compelling reasons to remain here. There’s valuable, joyful, pleasurable, God-honoring things to do in this life. All he’s saying is none of those things compare to being with Jesus.

Here’s where we’re going to end until next week. And it’s a good place to end. How is Christ magnified in our dying? Simply this…he is magnified when the thought of dying is experienced as tremendous gain, joy, satisfaction. Here’s something you might want to write down. It’s a great way to end today, and it sets the stage for next week when we get to the heart of worship:


Until then:


To the Glory of God Alone

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