The Purpose of the Church is Worship
Last week I began talking about the purpose of the church, and I suggested a 5 fold purpose for the Church of Jesus Christ based on the Great Commandment and the Great Commission:
The Purpose of the Church is:
Worship Fellowship Ministry Evangelism Education.
Tonight I want to focus on the first purpose of the church: worship.
Let me begin with a question: what’s the most important thing you did last week?
You did a lot of important things last week. You went to work- that’s important if you want to eat, and pay your bills. You ate some important meals like breakfast, lunch, supper- that’s important if you want to stay healthy. Maybe you went to the doctor, or visited a friend, or helped somebody who needed you. Out of all your activities, which one do you think rank as the most important thing you did last week?
Let me offer you some possible answers. The most important thing you did last week was come to church. The most important thing you did last week was pray. The most important thing you did last week was put your offering in the plate. The most important thing you did last week was read your Bible. The most important thing you did last week was tell someone else about Jesus. The most important thing you did last week was to worship God.
These were the most important things you did because they are specific ways you obey the greatest commandment, which Jesus gave us in
Mk 12:30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.
They were most important because they were focused on the purpose of our existence.
Re 4:11 You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created.
The church exists as a community dedicated first and foremost to glorifying God.
Eph 3:21 …to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Tonight I want us to talk about what true worship is, and how worship fulfills the purpose of the church. To do this, let’s look at the words of Jesus in John 4:19-24 which deal specifically with worship. Begin in vs. 19-23.
These verses are part of a longer conversation Jesus has with a Samaritan woman at a well. He is trying to help her find her way to God, but she’s dodging the issue.
The subject of worship comes up, and Jesus explains 3 very important aspects of true worship. Each of these aspects of worship touch on the purpose of the church
I. TRUE WORSHIP IS FOCUSED ON GOD, NOT US (v. 19-23)
A wife remarked to her husband after the church service: "Did you see the hat Mrs. Jones was wearing?"
"No," said her husband, "I didn't."
"Did you see the new dress Mrs. Smith had on?" she asked.
"I'm afraid I didn't," said her husband.
“Surely you noticed the ugly tie Mr. Brown was wearing!”
“No dear, I didn’t notice it!”
"Well a fat lot of good it does YOU to go to church!"
Sometimes it’s easy to get distracted about why we come to church. When they come to church, they are so focused on other people, or other things, or even on themselves, they forget true worship focuses on God.
The lady at the well certainly has her share of distractions. When the conversation starts to hit too close to home, she goes off on a tangent about religious controversies between the Samaritans and the Jews.
The Jews worshipped at the Temple in Jerusalem. But because the Samaritans were not considered to be pure blooded Jews, they were excluded from worshipping there. So the Samaritans built a Temple on Mt. Gerazim. There was a long standing argument over who were God’s people and where was the proper place to worship God. In fact they were so focused on all these secondary matters they often lost sight of Who they were supposed to be worshipping!
Jesus explains in vs. 21 that who we are, or where we are is not as important as Who we worship. Worship is not focused on us, or our location, but on God.
True worship focuses on God, not us. That is so easy to forget, even in church.
Max Lucado tells a story in his book The Applause of Heaven:
The favorite wife of the emperor Sha Jahan died. Devastated, he resolved to honor her by constructing a temple that would serve as her tomb. Her coffin was placed in the center of a large parcel of land and construction of the temple began around it. No expense would be spared to make her final resting place magnificent.
But as the weeks turned into months, the Shah’s grief was eclipsed by his passion for his project. He no longer mourned her absence. The construction consumed him. One day, while walking from one side of the construction site to the other, his leg bumped a wooden box. The prince brushed the dust off his leg and ordered the workers to throw the box out. Shah Jahan didn’t know he had ordered the disposal of the coffin of his once beloved bride-now forgotten- hidden beneath layers of dust and time. The one the temple was intended to honor was forgotten, but the temple was built anyway.
Worship is not about nice buildings or nice people getting together with one another. Worship is not real unless it is focused on God Himself.
The church is supposed be a gathering of people who are focused on God above all else. Everything we do should be focused on Him.
It’s not about just going to church- it’s about gathering together to worship God.
It’s not about just making music; it’s about singing our hearts out of love for Him.
It’s not about just teaching lessons—it’s about helping people know God better.
It’s not about throwing money in the offering plate- it’s about giving to the Lord Who gave His life for us.
In other words, worship is not about you—it’s all about Him.
When a church ever forgets to focus on the Lord, it loses its purpose. True worship is all about Him, not all about us. At the same time, it is important that as we focus on God, we remember:
II. TRUE WORSHIP IS IN SPIRIT (v. 24a)
Three-year-old Mark, accidentally spilled his fruit punch on the floor one day. He decided to clean up the mess himself and dashed to the back porch to get the mop. Suddenly realizing it was dark outside, he got a little scared. His mother reminded him Jesus is everywhere--even in the dark. Mark thought for a minute. Then, putting his face to the door, he said, "Jesus, if you're out there, will you hand me the mop?"[i]
One of the challenges of focusing on God is He is an invisible Spirit. This is what Jesus means when He reminds this lady God is Spirit= God is invisible. Because God is Spirit, Jesus says in vs. 24, those who worship Him must worship in spirit…
He does not have a physical body. He cannot be seen by your eyes, nor touched by your hands, and yet you can see His work throughout the universe.
Colossians 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
1 Timothy 1:17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Hebrews 11:27 By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.
In John 3:8 Jesus compares God’s Spirit to the wind that you cannot see, but you can see its effects on other things.
What this means is to worship the unseen God involves the unseen part of us. Warren Wiersbe, in his wonderful book Real Worship explains spiritual worship this way:
True worship…involves the mind, the emotions and the will. It must be intelligent; it must reach deep within and be motivated by love; and it must lead to obedient actions that glorify God. True worship is the response of all we are to all that God is and does[ii]
The point here is that worship is not just “going through the motions” of praying or going to church. It must spring from a heart of love and sincere adoration of God. It affects what we do, but it does not begin there. Our outward actions are a result of spiritual worship.
That is why it is possible to sit in a church service and never really worship God. You can sing songs that speak of God’s glory and love without even thinking about what you sing. You can say prayers that mean nothing to you, and they mean nothing to God. You can be in the right place, saying the right words, but never really worship God in Spirit. It is too easy to have a ritual with no reality. When this is the case, we have not truly worshipped God in spirit.
A great violin player was listening to one of his students give a flawless rendition of a very difficult piece of music. When the student finished, the old man simply walked over to his pupil, put his arm around him, and said, You are playing the notes, but you are missing the music.
The church is supposed to be a gathering of those whose hearts and minds are full of love and adoration—not just a place where people get together to do religious things. Do you see the difference? I assure you that God does.
Mt 15:8 ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me.
There is an old story about a man who dreamed that an angel escorted him to church one Sunday. There he saw the keyboard musician playing vigorously, the praise team singing, the musicians playing their instruments with gusto. But the man heard no sound. The congregation was singing, but the sound was utterly muted. When the minister rose to speak, his lips moved, but there was no volume. In amazement, the man turned to his escort for an explanation.
“This is the way it sounds to us in heaven,” said the angel. “You hear nothing because there is nothing to hear. These people are engaged in the form of worship, but their thoughts are on other things and their hearts are far away.” [iii]
What can we do to help our congregation worship God in Spirit? We ought to be asking that question, because true worship is worshipping God in spirit, not just going through the motions. At the same time, Jesus also says here that
III. TRUE WORSHIP IS IN TRUTH (v. 24b).
Worship is a natural instinct. People all over the world worship all kinds of deities, because there is something within each person that moves him or her to worship something. Many of these folks worship with great fervor and emotion. The sad truth, however, is that no matter how sincere a person is, their worship is in vain unless they worship God in truth.
That is why Jesus tells us here that true worship is not merely an emotional experience. True worship is our response to God’s revelation. This involves 2 essential aspects:
1) we must worship God as He has revealed Himself. The critical error in religions other than Christianity is in what Jesus told this woman- you worship what you do not know.
It is much worse to have a false idea of God than no idea at all. -- William Temple
People invent all kinds of ideas about what God is like, and how we can know Him. Religion becomes a matter of personal taste for whatever makes you happy.
The Bible, of course, has a different view. It tells us that there is only one way to know God- through Jesus Christ. And there is only one way to know Christ- by faith in His Word.
John 1:18 No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.
John 14:9 … He who has seen Me has seen the Father…
The real danger here is that if you don’t worship God as He is, you will create a god to suit your own tastes and comforts. There are people who worship the great mushy god of love—the god who wouldn’t hurt a fly, who is to kind and understanding, never gets angry or upset. This god is pretty easy to get along with, but he isn’t real.
There are others who worship the god of thunder, who is always out to zap those awful sinners, always mad at anybody who has a good time, the god who’s always on our side. He isn’t real, either.
The church is meant to worship God as He is, not as we would like for Him to be. The only way to do this is to worship God as He is revealed through Christ by His Word.
2) we must worship Him as He has instructed us. God has given us instructions in His Word about how He wants us to worship Him. Any worship that is not Biblical is unacceptable to God. Your worship must be grounded in the truth of God’s Word if you want to please Him.
Some people want to worship God on their own terms. Let me give you an example: I’ve heard folks tell me about how they worship God in a deer stand, while they are fishing, or at work, or at home. They don’t need to come to church to worship God. The snag in this kind of thinking is that it contains a kernel of truth. You can appreciate God’s beauty in creation-whether out in the woods, or at the river. You can fellowship with God no matter where you are- at work, or at home. But God gave us a command in His word:
Hebrews 10:24-25 24And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
When someone tells me that coming to church is not important, what they are really saying is that they can worship God the way they want to, instead of the way God commands us.
Let me give you another example: There are a variety of worship practices that claim divine approval, everything from being “slain in the Spirit’, “laughing in the Spirit”, “running in the Spirit”, “drunk in the Spirit” and even, believe it or not, “barking in the Spirit”. But a lot of noise and movement does not necessarily equal Biblical worship. Paul wrote
1 Corinthians 14:33; 40 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. Let all things be done decently and in order.
The key to understanding worship is not just reading the Bible, but also practicing what 2 Tim. 2:15 calls rightly dividing the Word of truth. In other words, you have to take time to study what Scripture means, not just say well, they did it in the Bible, so it must be OK. Let me inch out a little farther on a limb here. Some good Christian people look at
2 Sa 6:14 Then David danced before the Lord with all his might…
So dancing must be OK in a worship service, right? But think this through---David also worshipped the Lord by slaughtering bulls and sheep. Should we follow his model there? Why not? It might be good to check out David’s worship against what the NT says about worship before you make that decision.
I’m not trying to offend you, or to say that anybody who does any of these things doesn’t love the Lord. My point is that worship needs to line up with the truth of God’s Word as it is rightly divided, not just any way we want to interpret it.
As the church, worship should line up with God’s truth- not the other way around. He, and He alone, gives the guidelines for how you and I are to worship Him in spirit and in truth.
Chuck Swindoll writes: After a morning church service a man stopped me and said, “…I’ve got a question that may take a long time to answer. I want to know from you, what is the truth?...What do you mean when you refer to the truth?” I [pointed at] the cover of his Bible and said, “Everything within the covers of that Book, and nothing else.”[iv]
That is especially true when it comes to worship. The worship of the church must line up with God’s truth.
Of all the things we do here at Gray’s Chapel, nothing is more important than worshipping God in spirit and in truth. It’s that important.
The purpose of the church is to worship God in spirit and truth. Are you fulfilling that purpose in your life?
[i] Kathy Gunter Martin, Dandridge, TN. "Small Talk," Today's Christian Woman.
[ii] Real Worship-Warren Wiersbe, p. 21
[iii]Robert J. Morgan, Nelson's Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, and Quotes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000),
[iv]Swindoll, Charles R. The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart and 1501 Other Stories. electronic ed. Logos Library System; Swindoll leadership library