Worship: The Christian's Purpose, Privilege and Pleasure

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I had the privilege of preaching this sermon to my local church family on Sunday, November 14th, 2010

Have you ever kept a journal of how you spend your time? It can be a very eye-opening experience. I did a little bit of research this week into how Americans spend their time and the results were pretty surprising. According to the 2009 American Time Use Survey, the average person age 15 and over spent 8.7 hours sleeping, 1.2 hours eating, 1.8 hours doing housework, 3.5 hours at their job or other work, and 5.3 hours enjoying leisure activities. TV viewing garnered the lion's share of those 5.3 hours of leisure with the average American watching almost 3 hours a day. Nestled into the leisure category was the amount of time people spent doing religious activities or volunteering: a whopping 9 minutes each.

I was also curious about how Americans spend their money. According to the 2009 Consumer Expenditure Survey, the average household spent 34% on shelter, 13% on food, 16% on transportation, 6% on healthcare, 5% on leisure, and a whopping 1.4% of gross income giving to churches of all faiths. Despite the fact that Americans spend 9 minutes a day on religious activities and spend 1.4% of their money giving to church, I submit that we are a deeply religious people. And that's because of a much larger truth – all people, at all times, in all places, are worshipers. Hopefully that shakes up your understanding of worship – it's not simply participating in religious activities like being in church right now. Worship is about what we value, and those values come out in the way we live. A simple definition of worship is this – how we respond to what we value most.

Why did I take the time to quote these statistics? Because they can be some of the clearest pointers to the objects of our worship – they show what we value, treasure, or defend. Even if you don't consider yourself a religious person, you're still a worshiper. The trail of your time, your affections, your energy, your money, and your allegiances all point to someone or something of highest value to you, and on that throne is what you worship.

The title of today's message is "Worship: the Christian's Purpose, Privilege, and Pleasure." My aim today is to show you, from Scripture, that worship of the true God is a privilege that only Christians know, it's the purpose for which we were created, and it's designed bring us everlasting pleasure. Before heading to our first text I want to make sure you understand an important term I'll use in the remainder of our time – idolatry. Worship refers to how we show what we value. When the object of that worship is anything other than the true God it is called idolatry. An idol is anything worshiped that is not God.

Even though my main text is Colossians chapter 3, we need to start in Romans chapter 1. Both of these chapters are about worship, but the emphasis of Romans 1 is on idolatry. I want to start there to show us the fundamental nature of worship and how it becomes transformed into idolatry. We'll pick the text up following the great passage David Mathis explored with us a couple of weeks ago on Reformation Sunday, verses 16-17. Look at verse 18. { Read 1:18-25 }

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

The book of Romans is a brilliant theological and practical explanation of the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to transform sinners from the inside out. Here in chapter 1 Paul explains the fundamental problem of mankind – we have rejected the God we were created to know and love and have exchanged true worship for idolatry. We see this idea in several verses – look first to verse 21. "For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks…" And in verses 23 and 25 he uses the word "exchange" to speak of what has happened to sinners – they exchanged the glory and truth of God for that which is inglorious and false. This implies that humanity was created worshiping the true God and has fallen from that state. We have all been created for the purpose of worshiping God and were created as continuous worshipers, constantly showing by our lives and our lips what is most valuable to us. That's the first part of today's sermon title – Worship is the purpose for which man was created. This idea that man has exchanged true for false worship resonates with what we see happening in the opening chapters of Genesis. Look with me at Genesis 3:5-6.

"For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.

The serpent, identified later in the Bible as Satan, tempts Eve to eat the forbidden fruit in a very deliberate way – he promises that if she asserts her will over and against God's, she will become like Him – possessing knowledge, full of glory, and worthy of praise like God. In that moment, Eve and then her husband Adam, decided that her desires, status, and honor were the most important things in the universe to her. Do you see that the first sin, and thus the entire fall of mankind, was really all about worship? What did Adam and Eve do when they realized they had sinned? They hid from the presence of God. What do beings do in the presence of God? The Bible records a variety of activities by men and angels – bowing down, shouting and singing, or serving – each one an expression of worship. Adam and Eve, and all mankind with them, exchanged the worship of the true God for the empty and wicked worship of created things. Mankind's worship became inverted.

Romans 1 explains this worship inversion in detail. Look again to verse 21. "For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened." The inversion of worship happens in two places – in our minds and in our hearts. The word "speculations" can also be translated "thinking," pointing to our minds. The spiritual darkness of both the mind and the heart is also explained elsewhere in the Bible. And in those places we can see that the mind and heart are spiritually dead. There is no way that we can repair our broken and misplaced worship. Because of the fall, man is incapable of worshiping God. Let's look first at the fall of the mind, and read Romans 6:6-8 to understand this in more detail.

For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

The "mind set on the flesh" means the mind of fallen man. Can you see from this passage that our minds are hostile to God, incapable of doing anything but rebelling against God's law? Mankind is unable to live an obedient life that would bring God glory; we are unable to worship Him. Second, let's consider the heart. In Jeremiah 17:9 we read that "the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick." Our passions and feelings have also become inverted as we look for pleasure in things that will never satisfy – things like wealth, status, achievement, and relationships. Ephesians 2:1 sums up the spiritual condition of humanity, mind and heart, when it says that before their conversion, Christians "were dead in [their] trespasses and sins."

Romans then goes on to explain what the result of this inverted worship, or idolatry, is. Look at the phrase "for this reason" in verse 26. Because of mankind's misplaced worship, God lets them live out their backwards desires. He lets them seek glory and fulfillment in the pleasures of this world; in effect He gives them what they want, only it turns out to never satisfy. The rest of the chapter makes it clear that all ungodly behavior flows from the wellspring of idolatry. Romans 2 goes on to show us the final result of idolatry – ruin, wrath, and suffering. Look to verse 9: "there will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil."

If mankind is incapable of worshiping God and is unable to change his mind and heart so that true worship might be restored, then how can anyone experience and offer true worship? The answer is regeneration, the fancy word for being born again. Our only hope to become right side up again is for our old nature to be killed and replaced with a new one. To see this worked out in the context of worship we're now going to turn to Colossians 3.

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him--a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

At the beginning of the chapter we see the solution to our worship problem – we must be "raised with Christ." Chapter 2 verses 12-13 help us understand what this term means. Speaking about believers, Paul writes, "having been buried with [Jesus] in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him…" We're now ready to understand what I meant by the second part of the sermon title. Worship is a privilege given only to believers. When we are born again, God restores our ability to worship Him; he restores the purpose for which we were created by re-creating our minds and hearts with the capacity to know and love Him and live for His glory. Paul spends the rest of the chapter exhorting us to do the very thing that God has enabled us to do – to worship Him.

Notice the parallels in this chapter with Romans 1. Our minds, which were futile, are restored. In verse 2 he commands believers to "set your mind on the things above" and in verses 9-10 he points out that we "have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him." Also, our hearts, which were darkened, can beat after God again. In verses 15 and 16 we are instructed to let peace and Godward thankfulness drive our hearts. And in verses 5-7 we are reminded that we used to be enslaved to idol worship and are now called to turn from idolatry to worship the true God. The ability to worship God is not just one benefit of conversion; it is the very purpose for which we are redeemed. Look to Ephesians 1:13-14, which says, "In [Jesus], you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation--having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory." Do you see God's purpose for redeeming sinners to be His own possession? It's for the "praise of His glory". He does it to put His glory on display, to magnify the excellencies of His character and works. He does it because He knows there is no greater joy His creatures can have than knowing and loving Him, the only one worthy of worship.

This leads us to the third part of the sermon's title – worship is the Christian's highest delight and pleasure. I get this from verse 4 of Colossians 3. "When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory." Paul is describing the outcome of worship – what happens in us and to us as a result of worshiping God. First, he describes Jesus as "our life." This is getting at more than simply Jesus giving us new life through His death and resurrection. We use this kind of language even today to describe what someone means to us. Don't we say things like "she is my life, my reason for living, she means everything to me, without her I don't think I could go on living." In the words of commentator Matthew Henry, Jesus is the principle and end of a believer's life. Part of what this phrase is getting at is Jesus being of supreme value to us. And when this person of supreme value comes back and we see Him face-to-face, we get to be "with Him."

If you have experienced earthly love, you might know what it is like to be separated from your love for a long time. I experienced it in college before Sherry and I were married. We spent a summer apart, and didn't have phone access to each other. I thought about her every day and sent her things like cassette tapes of songs I had written, lists of hundreds of verses to look up about Calvinism, and even stuffed animals and other gifts. I was consumed with the thought of seeing her again and experienced a deep longing to be reunited with her. That's because she was the person I had come to value most in this world. I certainly looked forward to seeing my family and friends, but not in the same way that I looked forward to seeing Sherry.

This brings us to my final point about worship this morning – the end result of true worship, just like idolatry, is that we get what we want. But instead of getting things that will never satisfy and ultimately lead to judgment, we get Jesus himself … we get to be with Him. We need to look at our times of worship as chances to be with Jesus, our true love. Unless He returns quickly, we won't be fully reunited with Him for quite a while. But until then, we get to have weekly, daily, or even hourly times when we can experience being with Him. We can feel the joy of reading a special letter He's written to us. We can write to Him about our deepest longings and deepest sorrows. We can speak to Him anywhere and at any time with the promise that He hears us and cares for us. This is the essence of true worship – thinking, feeling, and living in a way that shows Jesus is our true treasure.

Let me leave you with a challenge. Consider what others would identity as your objects of worship. If you put it that way, I'm sure most people wouldn't know how to answer. But what if you asked unbelievers you know to tell you who or what they thought was of utmost value to you. What would they say? What is it that occupies your mind and heart and gets communicated in the way you live to others? Where does the trail of your time, your money, your causes, your energy, or your thoughts lead? If you can't honestly say that Jesus is precious to you and can't see love for Him working itself out in your life in some way, please soberly consider whether you've been converted or not. It's easy to be religious but not a worshiper of God through Jesus.

In the end, God will give you the things you're really living for. If it's not Jesus then you'll face the despair and emptiness of an eternity without Him after seeing all of your beloved idols for what they really are – empty and worthless.

If you can say that you treasure Jesus and you're being honest with yourself, you'll still see the trail of your time, money, and affections, pointing to a variety of idols in your life. That's why Paul both reminds us that we have already put off our old selves when we were converted and still need to put on our new selves. Hunt down your remaining idols, armed with the status God has given you, by grace, as one who is already securely loved and accepted. Remember that you are also armed with the promise that God will help you discover your idols and put them off in Christ. Pursue and cultivate a mindset and attitude of worship. Stoke the fire of your love for Jesus by reminding yourself of why He is so worthy to captivate your mind and heart. Don't forsake the disciplines of worship at the end of Colossians 3 – regularly fill yourself with God's Word, sing His praises, and live your life with a view to the glory of Jesus in everything.


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