If you are visiting with us this morning I want to let you know that we are beginning to wrap up a short study on the topic of worship. We had been in the book of Philippians and had gotten through chapter 2; we are going back to Philippians and will pick back up in chapter 3 on the first Sunday in April, Lord willing. Two more weeks – this week and next week – we are going to talk about worship, then Mark will preach the Sunday after that, then we have Easter Sunday when we’ll talk about the resurrection of our Lord, then I’m looking forward to getting back to the book of Philippians the first Sunday in April. So if you have missed Philippians, just hang on, we are headed back there soon, and I’m looking forward to that.
I have enjoyed looking more deeply into this topic of worship. The Lord has really stirred my heart personally in this matter of worship as we have studied it together, as is most often the case when we go through any study together. I just hope that others are getting something out of it as well. The Lord gives us all that we need for life and godliness, and I’m so thankful for that; He has certainly instructed my own heart in this important matter of worship. I hope some of you have been stirred as well as we’ve looked into His Word together in this particular area.
So this week and next week we are going to gather many of our thoughts together and come to some practical implications regarding worship. My fear at times is that we stop short of that, that we fill our minds with knowledge and Scripture, things from God, personally and corporately as a church, and then we somehow fall short of application. What does this mean individually, and what does it mean for us as a church? I am convinced if we stop short of that we have really wasted our time.
So as we consider implications for us we will do so in two parts. First, and today, we’ll look at worship for each of us “as we go.” What I mean by that is to consider worship for each one of us personally, that we consider worship as we all go and do what we do in regular life, as we go outside these walls, in all of the responsibilities that each of us have, how do we worship as we go? We all live life, we are a people on the go, aren’t we? We go here and we go there, we have responsibilities all around, we are just a busy people. That’s what we’ve come to in our society, in our day. How does worship fit in to normal, every day life, as we go? I want to be sure that if we get anything out of this series at all, that worship means something we are to do 24/7, all the time. So think of it as worshiping as we go, as we go through life, each one of us individually. And then next week I’d like for us to look at worship a little bit differently, and that is to look at worship “as we gather.” How do we apply what we have learned about worship in a corporate sense, as a church body, as we gather together each week as a local church, as a part of the body of Christ? So this week worship as we go, and next week worship as we gather. That’s the plan. Lord willing, that’s what we’ll do. If you’d like to open up your Bibles this morning, I will be reading from John 12.
1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3 Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8 For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” (John 12:1-8)
This account we see is an account of worship. Not worship in a church building, not worship in singing, not a choreographed worship concert, but worship by one individual, true worship of the Lord. Worship can be described as: “The praise, adoration, and reverence of God, both in public and private. It is a celebration of the worthiness of God by which honor is given to his name.” There are some key words in that definition. Some key words to think about: praise, adoration, reverence, celebration, worthiness, and honor.
True worship is an outflow of what is in us, an outflow of our hearts, of what most dominates our thinking. Worship says something about our focus, about what is important to us. We worship the one or the things that we love most and that have the highest degree of worth in our minds, we worship what we have a passion about. We are a society of worshipers, we are a people who are worshipers, God created us that way. We cannot help but to worship because we were created to worship. In our society it is not most often God that dominates our minds and hearts, so we have this sinful tendency then to place other things in the position of prominence in our hearts and minds, setting up a god in our lives and then proceed to bow down before this new and false god. What may we worship in the place of God? The list is endless, as long as our imaginations. We worship health, security, freedom, education, life free of conflict and pain, cars, houses, fashion, friends, independence, work, entertainment, entertainers, music, sex, popularity, perfect children, peace, quiet, power, position, money, and certainly things that money can buy. We could go on and on. All of these things are just common idols that we may bow down to and worship. We know we are worshiping them by how we treat them, by how we view them, the place that they hold in our hearts and lives. Some of these things are necessary and there’s nothing wrong with them, they’re good things, so how do we know if they have become idols of worship, if they get out of their proper place, if there is a proper place? How can we know? Are we trusting in God with those things? With an attitude of contentment in the way that He gives them to us and the way He takes them away? Can we be content with that? If not, we may be worshiping something other than God. Do we rightly and joyfully lay all those things at His feet as our sovereign God so He can manage them for His glory and for our good? Can we say, “God, I need you more in my life than any of these things, and if any of these things are keeping me from you, if I have allowed any of these things to stand between me and you, then would you please just take them away?” Or is it more like, “God, you can have everything to do with what you want, except ______”?
What is of more value to us? God and His Kingdom? That is the real question that we come face to face with, and it’s not an easy question for us. Which of these things I listed might be more important, may be more consuming to us than a life with God, and worshiping Him as our treasure? I want to read to you a short parable from Matthew 13 in which Jesus tells about the worth of the Kingdom of God, and we need to be reminded of this because, again, we have tendencies as sinful people to put other things in the place of God, to deceive ourselves into thinking that they are worth more. Right?
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:45-46)
Charles Swindoll illustrates this parable in an interesting way, and I’m going to read you his illustration:
A man says, “I want this pearl, how much is it?”
“Well,” the seller says, “it is very expensive.”
“But how much?” we ask
“Well, a very large amount.”
“Do you think I could buy it?”
“Oh of course, everyone can buy it.”
“But didn’t you say it was very expensive?”
“Well, how much is it?”
“Everything you have,” says the seller.
We make up our minds, “Okay, I will buy it.”
“Well what do you have?” He wants to know. “Let’s write it down.
“Well, I have ten thousand dollars in the bank.”
“Good, ten thousand dollars. What else?”
“That’s all. That’s all I have.”
“Well I have a few dollars in my pocket.”
We start digging and counting, “A hundred and twenty dollars.”
“That’s fine. What else do you have?”
“Well, nothing. That’s all.”
“Where do you live?” He’s still probing.
“In my house. Yes, I have a house.”
“The house too then.”
“You mean I have to live in my camper?”
“You have a camper? That too, what else do you have?”
“I’ll have to sleep in my car.”
“You have a car?”
“Two of them.”
“Both become mine, two cars, what else?”
“Well, you already have my money, my house, my camper, my cars. What else do you want?”
“Are you alone in this world?”
“No, I have a wife and two children…”
“Oh yes, your wife and children too. What else?”
“I have nothing left, I am left alone now.”
Suddenly the seller exclaims, “Oh, I almost forgot! You yourself too. Everything becomes mine — wife, children, money, house, cars, and you.” Then he goes on, “Now listen, I will allow you to use all these things for the time being. But don’t forget that they are mine, just as you are. And whenever I need any of them you must give them up because now I am the owner.”
The pearl of great price. What Christ says is that it is worth all that we have. There is no room for idols, not if Christ is at the center of our hearts and minds.
When Jesus, after spending some time away from the crowds, returned to Bethany, it was six days before the Passover. That means it is now six days until Jesus would be killed. He comes to Bethany where He had raised Lazarus from the dead earlier, and at that time Mary, Martha, and Lazarus had prepared a meal for Him. Martha was serving and Lazarus sat at the table with Jesus. As they sat there Mary, who deeply loved Jesus, did something which revealed to those there and to us today what was in her heart in a dramatic way. She anointed Jesus’ feet with a very special kind of oil. Now to us this seems unusual, but in the eastern culture this type of anointing would be common to a certain degree. On the other hand it was not so common because of what she anointed His feet with and the cost of the oil she used. What this is or what it became was a great act of extravagance. It was a pound of costly oil. There is some disagreement as to what type of oil was, but apparently it was an oil from an herb called nard. Nard is grown in the high pasture lands of the Himalayas. It would have been rare, having come from such a remote region of the world, and then to get it to where Mary was with the difficulty of travel and shipping, it was very costly.
You can just picture this scene with Jesus there and Mary, and Mary’s heart overflowing with gratitude and a special love for Christ. Jesus, who had raised her brother from the dead and ministered to her during a very difficult trial, she brings a gift to Him that is of great worth. They had already provided His dinner, they had already welcomed Him to their home, they had already fellowshipped with Him, but that would not be enough, not for Mary. She brings this costly gift. In fact Judas tells us that it is worth the equivalent of three hundred days of an average man’s pay. So if you want to make it personal for you, this is about what we make in a year. Jesus didn’t ask for the gift, no one pressed Mary to do this, no one talked her out of what she owned. This gift wasn’t a requirement for her salvation, or so that she could fellowship with Christ. Jesus didn’t tell her what type of gift might be appropriate for Him. From what we can tell and what we have in the text, it was just an expression of true worship, and it gives us a glimpse into her heart. Judas on the other hand was angry, he was incensed. Verse 5 – “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” And then we see why he says this, from verse 6 – “He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.”
Mary worships with a heart of true gratitude and extravagance, and Judas shows us his heart which was covetous and greedy. One gave all, the other wanted all for himself. This gift was an illustration of the worth of Christ. The critic, Judas, gives an illustration of the depravity of man.
Jesus was pleased with Mary’s worship which means that not only was it outwardly rich, significant, and pleasing to Him, but that it was also a reflection of what was really in her heart and mind, because worship is about the heart. We know that we can have one without the other. We can do the outward while our hearts are far from Him. There are outward forms of worship that do not please God because of where the heart is. Many worship outwardly, many of us have worshiped outwardly, but it can be a false worship because God is not prized as worthy.
I want to give you a quick illustration of this from the Old Testament, this outward worship. I know we’ve talked about this some, but it’s so prevalent in the Scriptures, especially in the Old Testament, these outward forms that are not at all pleasing to God. Let’s see what God says He despises in Malachi 1. We see there Israel engaged in outward performance of sacrifice and worship in ways that greatly displeased God. The Israelites were engaged in religious activity, very busily engaged in religious activity, they were regularly visiting the altar. It looked like obedience. So far, from what you see, it looks good. But in Malachi 1:7 we begin to see this grievous picture. God said, “You offer defiled food on my altar.” Verse 8, “And when you sacrifice you offer the blind as a sacrifice, and when you offer the lame and sick, is that not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you?” The Lord is saying, “Give those sick and lame and blind sheep to your earthly leaders,” knowing that they would never give such gifts to their earthly leaders. In verse 10 the Lord says, “I have no pleasure in you, nor will I accept an offering from your hands.” They were offering blind, lame, and sick animals as sacrifices to the Lord. In Leviticus it states explicitly that that was wrong. The interesting thing is that they didn’t quit sacrificing, they kept up the religious activities. There was this outward form but they gave what was worthless, they gave the animals that were likely to die anyway. Instead of offering the best, they gave the worst. Did God need their best animals? Of course not. They all belong to Him anyways.
Think about it: if you were a shepherd and you raise many sheep, and you have one that from the very beginning you see is going to be something really special, you spend most of your time with that one, you see to it that it gets all the best food and water. I don’t know if you’ve ever done ranching or raised animals to sell. I used to think – until I started doing some of that – that ranching was kind of a nice deal where you buy them when they’re young, put them in a pasture, and a couple years later you make money off of them. That’s not really how it works. Some of you know that there’s a lot of work involved in raising animals. A shepherd finds a special lamb, and they’re not all special but this one is. You see that it is going to be much larger and stronger than any in the herd. That one is clearly worth much more than any others in the marketplace, and you could make a very nice profit off that one. Now it comes time for you to offer a sacrifice for which sheep are required. What do you do? Do you hold that one back and take a lesser animal? Do you justify keeping that one because of the profit that can be made? Or have you been nurturing that animal all this time for the very purpose of some day having the honor of bringing it before the Lord as a sacrifice to Him? Would we delight in offering that one to God? Or would we hold it back for ourselves?
Do you see how the heart is revealed in this? Is God worthy of such a fine sacrifice, such a fine gift? Do we cling to the things of this world, trying to fulfill our own desires, or do we give freely to God with delight? If we follow the command in Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” then we will follow the command from Jesus in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.” You do the one and the other follows automatically.
What about us today? There are many ways we can worship God, many expressions where we can put on display His worth from our hearts. But in all acceptable ways they will be acts that reflect a heart of love for the Lord. None of us will anoint His feet with costly oil, nor offer an unblemished lamb on the altar. So what is left for us? Well we can still offer a sacrifice reflecting true worship of God, even today in the here and now. Worship is largely about what we choose to give to God, it is about our focus, our heart, and what our heart is set on, where our passions are. Where is our focus? Mary gave costly oil. What can we give in true worship? Romans 12:1 – we can give ourselves, our bodies and our minds, our whole self. If the oil that we give is our bodies and our minds, then our sacrifice will be pleasing to our God who deserves and demands both.
If our bodies are His in holiness and service, to do with whatever He wills, and our minds are not conformed to the world but are being renewed day by day by the Holy Spirit, and we give both to Him, then we are proving His worth to people around us, and we will worship Him in Spirit and truth. And if we give our bodies and our minds then there is nothing else we will hold back. For it is in our bodies and in our minds where we create idols and where we feed desires that, left unchecked, will eventually take the place of God.
So what will it be for us? Lame, blind, and sick sheep or costly oil? Keep all our possessions or trade them in for the pearl of great price? Will we love the Lord our God with all of our heart, all of our soul, and all our strength, and then follow the command, “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you”?
Some final considerations for our application: I would like for us to take some practical application away here. What does it look like for us? How can we be worshipers of God with all of our heart, with our focus always on Him? I’m just going to name a few things here, this is not comprehensive. Hopefully as we’ve gone through this study together you’ve been making notes, and you’ve come up with ways for practical application in your personal life, but I did want to give you a few things by way of reminder.
We can foster worship in our lives personally by…
Living in a constant awareness of the presence of the Lord
When Isaiah, the wise men, Mary, and many others were in the presence of the Lord, they worshiped. We are in His presence, we have His Holy Spirit dwelling in us. He is here with us, He’s all around us, but even with that we tend to forget. Our thoughts get choked by the things of the world. We need reminding, so we need to find ways to be reminded of the ever-presence of God. We can find ways to do that, we can be creative in that, with each other, we can send notes to each other reminding of the presence of God, we can post reminders to ourselves. We can build habits of life that train us to focus on His presence always. Wherever we are, whoever we’re with, wherever we go, He’s always around us. We live coram deo, “before the face of God,” and we need to remember that.
Living a life of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord
This is a response to the revelation of God to us from His Word. Living in that. It’s not just something we do before we go to bed, or when we first get up in the morning, or when we come to church, it’s living a life of praise and thanksgiving. I’m talking about a constant thing. Acknowledging everything as from God. Every task that comes your way was allowed into your life by the Lord, every person that crosses your path is an appointment by God, every transition in your day from one thing to the next, God is in that, He’s allowing that, He’s bringing that to us. Be thankful and praise Him for all of those things. Every pain, every joy, every surprise, every sickness, whatever comes into your realm of living as a believer has God’s approval. Praise Him, thank Him for His hand of care. Praise Him and thank Him for what He is doing even when we don’t understand it. Even when life is hard, God is at work. Do we believe that? Can we thank Him even in those times that seem so mysterious to us, can we thank Him that He’s at work? We can build habits of praise and thanksgiving.
Living with an understanding of who we are
Being in a humble place before God in weakness, pain, in want, in every mistake, confusion, anything that seems negative to you, hard or painful. We live in a fallen world as fallen people, but God overcomes that. Yes we are weak, but our God is strong. When we are weak we know we need Him. We humble ourselves before Him and cry out to Him in our weakness. Understanding who we are, a humble place before God.
Freely adoring Him with reverence as the One worthy of all honor
He’s worth everything! He’s the pearl of great price. When excited about something that’s going on in your life, put it in perspective and remember that God is even greater! When you are strongly wanting something that maybe you’re not getting, consider Christ. When craving something you’re not getting, thank God, think of God. Focus on Him, His creation, His character. Be awed by His Word, His work, stay in His word until you have met Him there, until you have bowed before Him, until you’ve given Him all the honor you possibly can, all that is due His name. Adore Him, reverence Him, think of His infinite worth, all honor to Him alone.
In all of these things, if you really distill this idea of worship down, what we are really doing is focusing on the Father and the Son and the Spirit and who they really are. Not on ourselves, not on things we have or want, but a life focused upon Him every day, all day. The pushback to that is usually, “I have work to do, I have things going on. How do you do that?” You know, I can be really busy, but if I’m really hungry I know I’m hungry, no matter how busy or occupied I am. God’s given us this ability to think about more than one thing at a time, and we really can focus on God, focus on Christ. If we are there as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, if we are doing that, we will worship, we will be doing exactly what we were created to do.
When can we do these things? As we go, always, as we go. We have to focus on something: focus on the Lord, worshiping the Lord.