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First Things [9-17-23]

September 17, 2023

Philippians 1:18-24

“First Things”

Here’s where we ended last week. And it was 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 speaks to the heart of worship:


Here’s one last look at 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.

Again, the heart of worship is heard in the affirmation, GOD IS MOST GLORIFIED WHEN WE ARE MOST SATISFIED IN HIM. Here’s the beautiful biblical truth from which this flows. It’s centered in Philippians 1.


If you want another way of putting it, I love how John Piper gives us something that is bumper-stickerable:


Praise isn’t primarily singing. Praise isn’t primarily about drawing a crowd or making loud noise or hearing a message that is going to change a life or promise you your best life ever. No, no, no…praise consists primarily in prizing. And if the prizing isn’t there, then worship is only a performance – a show – a self-improvement TED talk.

Here's what Jesus said in Matthew 15:8-9:

“This people honors me with their lips,    but their heart is far from me;in vain do they worship me,    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

That’s the point, isn’t it? The essence of true praise is prizing Christ. In worship, our hearts are first and foremost prizing Christ or we are far away from him. There’s no middle ground.

A while ago, someone I know who now lives in another state was visiting other churches. One church, in this person’s opinion, was a “megachurch wannabe.” It sounded a little derogatory, but I got the point. There are 

churches who think in order to attract a crowd, and to keep a crowd, they have to embrace the popular and/or trendy bells-and-whistles. It’s all about the show. There are consultants who will sell you worship packages designed to hit all the supposed sweet spots of what people want and need in worship. The old term used to be addressing people’s felt needs.

Every week I get an email or two from Caleb, who works for a church marketing firm. They will provide me with complete sermons, arranged around a specific theme and/or book of the Bible. They are guaranteed to grab, hold, and keep an audience. They are relevant and inspiring. My ever-patient wife has grown weary of me sharing the latest come-on from Caleb. She had the audacity to suggest I block his email. My response – what, and give up on our relationship? You can never conjure up true praise.

I love what Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said:

“God has always done His greatest work through a remnant. Get rid of the notion of numbers.”

True praise isn’t a numbers game. True worship has nothing to do with 

filling a sanctuary. If it happens, then good. But again, not the goal. The heart of worship is prizing Christ, whatever it looks like or however many 

are doing it.

Do you prize Jesus Christ above all others? This is a radical statement. It is certainly one that nonbelievers have a hard time understanding.

Make no mistake. Worshiping Christ above all is wanting him above all. We 

treasure Christ because of who he is and what he did, not because we want something from him. Do we want to worship Jesus Christ and Christ alone? Is he supremely valuable to your life? Is he more valuable to you than your family or your job or your bank account or the things you own? Do you cry out to God to make Jesus more precious to you than any of these things?

Here's a little exercise. Write this Bible reference down:

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,    that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

  • Psalm 90:14

What is the best time to let a positive, celebratory, God-honoring affirmation burrow into our wee little brains? When we just wake up, which for a lot of people is a groggy, grumbly start to their day. Affirm Biblical truth when you least feel like affirming Biblical truth. Don’t start your day with thoughts of how you need this or that…to succeed in this thing or that thing…to be better at doing what it is you think you need to be doing…or having your best day ever. Instead, with the Psalmist, we say satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love. Spare me the need to be praised by others. Free me from the desire to make pursuing worldly things of utmost importance. Rescue me from an idolatrous heart. O Lord, I want to make you, and you alone, supremely valuable.

Here's a simple daily affirmation:


That is putting first things first.

After that central affirmation from Philippians 1, Paul then describes for us the depth of what that means. Here’s how he puts it in Philippians 3:8:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

I love how brutally blunt he is. We’ll get to that in a bit. For now, notice the word, “gain.” Paul used it back in chapter 1, when he says to die is gain. Then, he used it in the context of dying. Now it’s in the context of living. That I may gain Christ, right here, right now. Remember what we’ve already said. You cannot truly begin to live until you’ve faced the reality of your death. Once Paul affirms that in chapter 1 – to die is gain – he then moves on to living joyously and happily for Christ every day that he is alive. I have gained Christ.

Let’s see how that affirmation plays out in our lives.

Imagine you’re at the grocery store. You are checking out. By the way, I love what a guy once said: “I do everything I can to avoid self-checkout at the store. Mainly because I don’t work there.” Anyway, imagine it’s time to pay. The machine rejects your debit card. You know there’s more than enough to cover the charge. Unless some ne’er-do-well drained your account. But how likely is that? So, what do you do? How do you feel? How 

do you respond? Remember the affirmation…I have gained Christ.

Or when you are out shopping and you see all kinds of stuff you need. 

Okay, you think you need it, but it’s really just a want. Let’s face it. I don’t 

need a 32-ounce Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper. I want it. But I can do without it. Now, I’m not suggesting we become monks or hermits, living austere, clutter-free lives. Not at all. But the more we’re able to do this, the more content we become. When we remember we have gained Christ, the more we can do without, and the more content we become. It becomes a continuous loop of happiness.

What’s at the heart of worship? Prizing Christ. Treasuring Christ above all others. That’ the kind of language we use here at Covenant Church. “God is good all the time.” “To the Glory of God Alone.” The essence of worship is delighting in Christ. When our thoughts are swarming around those truths, there is nothing but gain. We don’t gain the world. We gain Christ, and Christ alone. That reality is the heart of true worship.

So, what are some of the implications of that?

First, we need to remember that God is absolutely self-sufficient. He doesn’t need our worship. As Paul preached in Acts 17:23-25:

For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I 

found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

That is such good news. God doesn’t need us at all. For us to worship Him is a blessing for us. It puts us in that place of remembering that for us to live is Christ and to die is gain.

To put it as bluntly and directly as possible, God doesn’t need us. He doesn’t need our service. As Jesus said in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” We shouldn’t be trying to serve Jesus. That’s not why he came into the world. What a wonderful truth that is. I’ve got to change the way I speak about such things. We have a God who doesn’t need us. Instead, God is there for us with infinite resources. Not if I will serve Him. But if I would treasure Him above all others. Are you with me on that? If you let God be God for you, you will see more clearly His grace and power and mercy and glory. No matter what you experience or go through in your life, you will only know joy because you are most satisfied in God.

Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Not to serve Him or help Him or complete Him. But to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. Rejoice in the Lord always, and again, I say, rejoice.


To the Glory of God Alone

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