Why Do You Worship?

Worship BG - Not To Us

This blog post was adapted from a sermon that I gave at the Harvard Avenue Student Ministry youth group on Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Key Text: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34


You and I are worshiping every second of every day. We are continually pouring ourselves out for people, causes, things, or experiences. Worship never stops.

So what is worship? It is much more than just singing songs or playing an instrument (though that is certainly part of it). Christian worship is a biblically faithful response to a biblically faithful understanding of God. It is both internal and external. The internal spirit of worship comes from experiencing and treasuring the beauty and worth of God as presented in the Bible. This results in an external response that shows what we have experienced and treasure. Worship begins in the heart as a matter of spirit and truth, and then flows out of the heart to impact every part of our daily life.

The opposite of selfless Christian worship is selfish worship, or idolatry. Idolatry is an unbiblical, unfaithful understanding of God and/or an unbiblical, unfaithful response to Him. Just like true worship, idolatry begins internally long before it manifests itself externally. And like true worship, it eventually flows from our heart to impact every area of our life.

John Calvin famously said, “The human heart is an idol factory.” Because of the sinful tendencies of our heart, we can twist things that are meant to bring glory to God and make them into idols. In other words, sin is not just doing bad things, but also making good things into ultimate things. This turns selfless worship into selfish worship. This is the very issue that Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34


Paul is pretty upset with the Corinthian church. He has heard that they are not taking the Lord’s Supper seriously. In response, he wants to challenge how they view, not only the Lord’s Supper, but worship in general. To do this, Paul contrasts two different type of worship: selfish worship that is “for the worse” and selfless worship that is “for the better” (v 17). Let’s take a closer look at each of these in order to be better worshipers ourselves.

Characteristics of Selfish Worship

The main thing Paul is disturbed by in the Corinthian church is their careless and irreverent approach to the Lord’s Supper (v 20-22, 27). Instead of observing the Lord’s Supper as a symbol of the gospel, they were using it as an opportunity to indulge themselves. Their motives were wrong. They were seeking to gratify natural desires by abandoning spiritual desires. This should be a warning to all of us: religious actions (taking the Lord’s Supper, singing, reading your Bible, helping others, etc) done with selfish motives results in sin. Sin, of course, damages our relationship with God.

If we know that sin distorts our relationship with God, then why do we sin? Ultimately, it is because we have a faulty view of who God is. When asked what sin was, John Piper once said,

“The glory of God not honored.

The holiness of God not reverenced.

The greatness of God not admired.

The power of God not praised.

The truth of God not sought.

The wisdom of God not esteemed.

The beauty of God not treasured.

The goodness of God not savored.

The faithfulness of God not trusted.

The promises of God not relied upon.

The commandments of God not obeyed.

The justice of God not respected.

The wrath of God not feared.

The grace of God not cherished.

The presence of God not prized.

The person of God not loved.

That is sin!”

Sin leads to selfish worship because it makes us honor and value ourselves and created things more than we honor and value God. The suppression of the truth about who God is leads to all kinds of problems including futile thinking, darkened hearts, and impure actions (Romans 1:18-23).

Selfish worship not only harms our relationship with God; it also affects how we interact with others. When selfishness creeps into our worship, unity in the church dissolves. Instead of seeing each other as Christ sees us, we focus on the outward appearance. This leads to factions and divisions in the church based on these manmade distinctions, so you end up with “the homeschool families,” “the modern worship advocates,” and “the bring back the hymnals and banners group” instead of one big family of brothers and sisters in Christ (v 18-19). The pride that is at the root of selfish worship causes us to seek to fulfill our own desires or advance the agenda of our clique while the needs of others are neglected (v 21-22). As a result, other people are alienated, angered, and distracted from worshiping well themselves.

Why is disunity such a big deal? It leads to unbelievers despising the church of God (v23). Those that are still living in their sin look at a divided, selfish church and see nothing different from their own friend groups. Not only does this lead to unbelievers speaking negatively about the gospel and God’s people, it hardens their heart to wanting to hear the gospel.

God responds to selfish worship with judgment and discipline (v 29-32). When a Christian’s worship dishonors God, He responds by correcting us and even removing the things that distract us. This discipline from God is done out of love, not out of hate, in order that we may worship Him in the best way possible (Hebrews 12:5-11).

Characteristics of Selfless Worship

What does true, selfless worship look like? Worship should stir up godly fear and awe as we marvel at the justice of God, the sacrifice of Christ, and the mercy of the Holy Spirit. It is an act of love in response to the true gift of love found in Jesus Christ. As we worship selflessly, we are dying to ourselves. We lay aside the selfish desires and plans that distract us in order to focus on and follow Christ’s example of humility (Matthew 16:24-26; Philippians 2:1-11).

True Christian worship has to do with a Person, not practices. God cares not only about what we do, but also why we do it. That is why Paul tells believers to examine and judge their own motivations for worship to make sure they are sincere and selfless (v 28, 31). Worship gives us a proper view of ourselves in relation to God’s holiness. We find that we are all equal in God’s sight. Being “in Christ” erases all of the labels we use to distinguish our status (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11) and puts all believers on a level playing field before God. He sees past the cultural distinctions we make and looks straight at the motivations of our heart. No Christian did anything to earn or deserve God’s salvation, but He mercifully freed us from sin and made us His children (Romans 6:23, 8:12-17).

If we seek to be one with Christ, we must also seek to be one with each other (v 19, 33-34). Because of this, Christians are to be unified in our purpose (Ephesians 4:1-16). As C.H. Spurgeon put it: “No real spiritual unity can exist where there is not a supreme affection for the same being. Christ is the only uniting Center for souls.” This is why the local church is so important. God set up the church to be a culture set apart for Him, a way of life that is different from the self-seeking world around us. Corporate worship helps us identify and destroy our idols, grow personally, express joy collectively, and witness culturally. Using Paul’s example of the Lord’s Supper, we can see that it is a way to remember the gospel until Jesus returns (v 23-26). The Lord’s Supper is an educational symbol. It is meant to proclaim the central fact of the gospel: that Christ died and gave himself up for us. It celebrates the world’s most self-sacrificing man who served the world by delivering it from sin and death by giving his very life for it. As we worship together, we should have this in the front of our minds: that as we praise God and live holy lives, others are watching and will see how the gospel transforms every part of who we are.


G.K. Beale said that “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration.” Idolatry (selfish worship) leads us into sin and death whereas selfless Christian worship leads us towards obedience and righteousness (Romans 6:15-23). The only solution to selfish worship is a complete reorientation of our heart’s desires. The only person who can accomplish that is the Holy Spirit (John 3:1-21). He transforms us and empowers us by giving us a deep desire to worship God with pure motives and pure actions. That kind of worship not only brings the most glory to God, but also leads to the highest satisfaction for us.

Learn It. Love It. Live It.

Read more of Lawson’s sermons by clicking here.

[image credit: Ben Ehmke on Flickr]

About Lawson Hembree
Serving others by building brands. Disciple || Marketer || Entrepreneur || Meatatarian Want to continue the discussion or write a guest post? Let's Connect!

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