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  • Writer's pictureJosh Wredberg

What Is Worship? (Sermon)

1 Corinthians 10

This morning we’re going to tackle the question, “What is worship?” Worship is more than what we do when we gather in a church building on Sundays. It’s more than the music played by the worship band. If we limit worship to music or the public gathering of the church, we’ve severely misunderstood what worship is. Worship gets to the heart of who we are as people.

Jared Wilson defines worship this way: “Worship means to give worth or value to something. It expresses what we find most valuable or satisfying.”[i] We all find something most valuable, and that something captivates our hearts and drives our decisions because we believe it will satisfy us. We value most what we think will bring most satisfaction.

This fall I went to a University of Michigan football game at the Big House in Ann Arbor. I saw was a great football game in a stadium filled with more than 100,000 worshippers. They came to the temple of football, having sacrificed hundreds of dollars, and together they worshipped their god through cheers and chants. Maybe you think I’m being ridiculous comparing a football game to a worship service. In the early 20th century, Michigan football coach Fielding Yost said this about Michigan football: “The Spirit of Michigan is based on a deathless loyalty to Michigan and all her ways, and enthusiasm that makes it second nature for Michigan Men to spread the gospel of their University to the world’s distant outposts, and a conviction that nowhere is there a better university, in any way, than this Michigan of ours.”[ii]

Did you catch the religious terms he used to describe followers of Michigan football? They have a title: Michigan Men, they demonstrate “deathless loyalty,” and they spread the “gospel of their University to the world’s distant outposts.”

Worship expresses what we find most valuable and most satisfying. It’s what we demonstrate deathless loyalty to, and why we’d travel to distant outposts. Understanding what we worship helps us understand our hearts, and reveals what’s shaping the course of our life.

The goal of this morning’s sermon is not only to help you understand what worship is, but also to help you identify what you worship. There are three truths about worship you need to understand.

We All Worship All the Time

The word worship is used 192 times in the Bible, but nowhere are we commanded simply to worship. We’re always commanded to worship someone. In other words, God (perfectly aware of human nature) knows we’re always worshipping, so He doesn’t command us to worship. He commands us to worship Him. The focus of all the commands to worship is on the object being worshipped. The Bible assumes we are worshipping and is concerned with whom we worship. Examples:

(1 Chronicles 16:29 ESV) Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.
(Psalm 99:5 ESV) Exalt the LORD our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he!

I’ve visited multiple continents, and each time I’ve found people worshipping.

  • I remember walking into the African tribal cathedral and seeing the strange blend of ancestor worship and Roman Catholicism.

  • Or entering the Eastern Orthodox church in Moldova and watching as people knelt before a portrait of Jesus encased in glass, and watching as person after person kissed the same spot.

  • In China, I watched people enter the Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happinesses. Inside is an 85-foot tall statue of Buddha, carved from a single piece of wood. They knelt before the statue, mumbled prayers and waved incense.

We all worship all the time. No matter where on the globe we live. Whether you call yourself a Christian, Buddhist, agonistic or atheist, you worship all the time.

Bob Kauflin, in his book, Worship Matters, defined worship this way: “Worship is about what we love. What we live for.”[iii] We all love things, and we all live for things, therefore, we all worship. When we understand worship as what we give worth to, what we value and love, what we believe will satisfy us, then worship is no longer limited to organized religion.

Secular, non-religious society, worships as well. The rituals look a little different. The temples have different names, and the sacrifices take on slightly different forms, but worship still takes place. I go to the gym every week, and for many people, the gym is their temple. They offer sacrifices of money, time, and sweat because they believe working out will bring them the greatest value and is the key to satisfaction. Like churches, gyms have different denominations—Gold’s Gym, LA Fitness, Crossfit—where communities gather in deference to their chosen god.

I just read an article about the amount of time bankers on Wall Street spend working each week. There’s a goal to lower the amount of time ever since an intern died from exhaustion.[iv] Died from exhaustion? That’s worship. Giving your life for something you value. Exhibiting deathless loyalty to your career.

If worship means, “giving value to something,” then the question is not, “Do I worship?” The question is, “What do I worship?”

We Gravitate Toward Idol Worship

Centuries ago, John Calvin called the human heart an “idol-making factory.” Nothing has changed in the past 500 years. In fact, earlier this decade, a British theologian addressed a worldwide conference on evangelism and said, “Idolatry … is the biggest single obstacle to world mission.”[v]

In 1 Corinthians 10, we find a clear illustration of how we gravitate toward idolatry. Here the apostle Paul doesn’t give us a definition of idolatry. Instead he gives us an illustration—actually, multiple illustrations. He points us back to the nation of Israel and twice instructs us to learn from their example (6, 11).

He begins this illustration by reminding us of the amazing spiritual blessings the people of God experienced.

(1 Cor 10:1–4 ESV) I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

The nation of Israel was enslaved in Egypt, but God miraculously delivered them from Pharaoh’s bondage. He not only led them out of the country, but he also rescued them from the armies of Egypt by parting the Red Sea. As they continued their journey from Egypt to the Land of Promise, God guided them by means of a cloud. Their every need was met as God, through Christ, provided them with food and water as they trekked through the wilderness.

Paul’s point in these first 4 verses is that God worked powerfully on their behalf. He rescued them and provided for them. He met every need they had. They were lacking nothing. But notice verse 5:

(1 Cor 10:5 ESV) Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

In spite of God’s remarkable care, something happened that caused His displeasure with them. Something happened which caused them to be scattered in the wilderness. What happened?

(1 Cor 10:6–10 ESV) Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.

Though God met every single need, they desired something else. Their hearts turned from God and looked for something more valuable and more satisfying. Their desire led to worshipping a golden calf, committing immorality, testing God, and grumbling against Him.

The heart of idolatry is not making a statue. It’s violating the very first command—“you shall have no other gods before me.” It’s wanting more than God. It’s longing for something in His place. Idolatry is taking good things and making them ultimate. Martin Lloyd Jones defined idolatry this way: “A man’s god is that for which he lives, for which he is prepared to give his time, his energy, his money, that which stimulates him and rouses him, excites him, and enthuses him.”[vi] Here’s a summarized definition: Idolatry is when we find something more valuable and satisfying than God.

The idolatry of Israel extended beyond the golden calf. It was a persistent attitude of worshipping something in place of God. Instead of a right desire to worship and serve God, they craved more than what God provided.

In verses 6-10, the apostle Paul refers to three different experiences in Israel’s history. Each has in common a sinful craving for something other than God. In each, a choice is made to pursue something in place of God.

The first account comes from Numbers chapter 11. The people of God are in the wilderness, making their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. God is meeting all of their needs with water flowing from a rock and bread falling from heaven. But the people complain about how they’re stuck in the wilderness with no food. They long to be back in Egypt where the food is plentiful. God meets every need, but it isn’t enough. They decide meat is more important than God. The desire for meat becomes their ultimate desire. At that moment, God is no longer on the throne of their hearts. A slab of meat has taken His place. Do you see how quickly a person can turn to idolatry?

A few chapters later (Number 21), they start to complain against God again, and their complaining exposes their idolatry. God has delivered them and is feeding them, but the desire of their hearts has turned from God to their own comfort. Comfort has become their idol. The difficulty of walking through the wilderness causes them to turn their allegiance from the Sovereign Creator to personal comfort. In their heart, a new god now reigns. There is now another god before the Lord in their affections.

Four chapters later, the people of Israel begin to “whore with the daughters of Moab” (Num. 25:1). What follows are pagan feasts and sacrifices. Their new craving is women and sex. Immorality is the god to whom they give their time, energy, and attention. Idolatry always replaces God with something else. Their idolatry is revealed in their craving to gratify appetites apart from God’s provision or in ways God has prohibited.

These accounts are recorded to expose sin in our lives. They’re written down to give us instruction. So I ask you: what competes with God for your affection? What contends with Jesus for your allegiance? It’s probably not a golden calf or an 85’ statue of Buddha. It’s probably much more sophisticated. Your idol could be politics, money, painkillers, food, sex, exercise, work or a relationship. Remember, it’s often good things that become idols. For the Israelites, it was meat, comfort, and sex—all wonderful things. We tend to believe the good gifts from God are more valuable and satisfying than He is.

If you’re serious about fleeing from idolatry, then consider your own heart:

  • Where do you find meaning in your life?

  • What can you not do without?

  • What do you dream about?

  • What makes you most happy? Most sad?

  • What do you get most angry about?

  • What defines your life?

  • What will you sacrifice to get or to keep?

  • What do you want to achieve?

  • How do you define success?

  • What do you complain about?

  • Where do you look for safety and security?

  • Where do you find your identity?

A million different things can push God off the throne of your heart. When I’ve visited foreign countries I’ve joked I could never survive without air conditioning. I was joking, sort of. The reality is I struggle with the idol of comfort. I can see myself complaining about wandering in the wilderness. I love good food. I can see myself complaining about eating only manna and drinking only water. I’ll sacrifice a lot for a good meal and a comfortable chair.

But idolatry and Christianity are incompatible. They’re irreconcilable. What that means, friend, is that you can’t live for God and something else. Jesus gave one example of modern idolatry when He said a man couldn’t serve God and money. It’s impossible to serve two masters. So pick your side.

Let me illustrate this for you. You can’t cheer for the Cubs and Cardinals at the same time. By choosing to be a fan of one, you forfeit the right to cheer for the other. If you show up at Wrigley Field wearing blue, you can’t show up the next night at Busch Stadium wearing red. The two are incompatible. Many of you would be appalled at someone playing both sides.

Idolatry and Christianity are incompatible because idolatry is antithetical to our position in Christ. Jesus died not only to forgive sin, but He also died to defeat death and hell. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus conquered the cosmic powers of evil. When His heel was bruised on the cross, He crushed the head of Satan.

An idol is a tool of Satan to cause men and women to turn from worshipping the true God. Whether it’s Buddha or a beach, a calf or comfort, idolatry stands for everything Jesus died to defeat.

The message of Christianity is that God sent Jesus to free you from an abusive master that enslaves. Jesus came, died on the cross, rose from the dead, so your slavery to sin could end and you could serve God and enjoy His presence forever. If you’ve never turned from your sinful idolatry, turn today. Repent of your false worship and begin worshipping Jesus Christ this morning. You will find a freedom and joy in His service that this world can never offer.

Idolatry is when we find something more valuable and satisfying than God. Some idols can be seen—like money, jobs, cars, children, and vacations. And some are unseen—like security, comfort, control, reputation, and people-pleasing. But all idolatry—seen and unseen—is dangerous. Notice the command in verse 14:

(1 Cor 10:14 ESV) Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

This is exactly the same wording Paul used when discussing sexual sin in chapter 6. In 6:18, he instructed them to “flee from sexual immorality.” Both immorality and idolatry present life-threatening, soul-damning dangers. Think about that word “flee”—have you ever told someone to flee? Have you ever instructed someone to run for their life? What does that command imply? It implies clear and present danger. I was trying to think of occasions when I might give that command.

  • I would give that command if I was taking a walk with my boys and we stumbled upon a snake (of any kind—venomous, non-venomous, garter, rubber, doesn’t matter). As I sprinted in the other direction, I would yell over my shoulder, “Run for your life.”

  • I might give that command if I was in an open field and saw a tornado coming right at me. I would turn to whoever was with me and say, “Run! Find shelter!”

  • I would teach my boys to flee if someone approached them looking to do harm. If a stranger tried to grab them or asked them to come with him, they should turn and sprint the other direction.

We flee from danger. We flee from harm. We flee from peril and threats.

Idolatry is dangerous. It’s harmful. It brings eternal peril by threatening your very soul. It’s not to be toyed with. It’s not to be tolerated. It’s not to be ignored. When it’s discovered, you drop everything and run the other direction.

Before we move on this morning, we need to get this. We need to recognize the danger and our response. We need to be committed to radical action. So do whatever is necessary right now to cement this danger in your mind. Picture idolatry with venomous fangs. Associate it with a tornado. Think of it as an assassin. Determine in advance you will flee at the first hint of idolatry.

We Were Made to Worship God

(1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV) So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

We exist to worship God, and we worship God when we find Him more valuable and satisfying than anything else. In every moment of every day, in every activity no matter how trivial, we worship God by finding him more valuable and satisfying than anyone or anything else.

This leads to a very important question: Is God more valuable and satisfying than anything else? A shady salesman will try to convince you something worthless is really valuable. He’ll market the inferior object as something special, and try to convince you it will meet your needs. Is that what’s going on here? In other words, do we find God more valuable and satisfying than anything else because He is more valuable and satisfying than anything else or simply because we’re supposed to?

The word “glory” can help us answer that question. Glory, in the biblical sense, is heaviness or weightiness. God has intrinsic weightiness.

  • No one gave it to Him.

  • He didn’t earn it.

  • It wasn’t bestowed upon Him when He turned 18.

  • It wasn’t granted to Him when He conquered an enemy.

God has glory because by His nature He is glorious. He is weighty. He has never been dependent on anyone. He has never needed anyone’s help.

The glory of man is always a derived glory. Glory is bestowed on a man by other men for some reason.

  • The reason could be their family background, maybe they were born into royalty.

  • It could be military achievement, like the conquering Roman general.

  • It could be nourished talent—a great thinker, athlete or actor.

No man has inherent glory. Our glory is always derivative.

The difference between God’s glory and man’s glory is the difference between gold and brass. They look very similar, but when you pick up the gold object in one hand and the brass object in another, there’s an obvious difference. The gold object is weighty, and the brass is a cheap imitation.

Everything exists to reveal the glorious nature of God. Everything exists to funnel attention to the only one in existence with intrinsic glory.

(Psalm 19:1 ESV) The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Do you hear it? Everything is shouting, “God is glorious!”

  • Every leaf on every tree.

  • Every star in the night sky.

  • Every acorn falling to the ground.

  • Every cell in your body.

  • Every whisker on a cheek.

  • Every rainbow after a storm.

  • Every bolt of lightning.

  • Every morning fog.

  • Every undiscovered insect.

Every atom in every molecule in all of creation exists to make a single, universal declaration, “God is glorious.” How glorious must the God who created all of this be? How majestic must the King of this creation be? How creative, powerful and happy He must be to design all of this!

I read about a NASA spacecraft called Kepler that discovered a planet which orbits 2 stars (no, it’s not Tatooine). In the past, this was sci-fi movie speculation. But now, for the very first time, we’ve discovered that it’s not only possible, but that it exists. Why is it there? Why does this dual-sun planet exist light years away? It exists so someday it would be discovered, and we could be more awe-struck by God. All of creation serves as a symphony of praise to our glorious God.

We were made to see and experience the glory of God. This is why we exist! You were made for this reason—to see the glory of God.

Here’s the best part—God’s glory is not at odds with your joy. God’s glory is the ground of real joy. We find our greatest joy in the experience of God’s glory. John Piper said it this way; “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

Let me give you an illustration of this: Suppose I was to take my wife, Cari, out to a nice dinner. I buy her flowers, spray on the cologne, and I even wear a tie. At the end of the dinner, she says, “Josh, why did you do all this?” What happens if I answer, “Because I’m your husband, and it’s my duty”? Does that honor her? What if I answer, “Because nothing makes me happier than spending time with you”? My happiness is not at odds with honoring her. In fact, the happier I am with her, the more it honors her.

The same is true with God. The more we find Him to be valuable and satisfying—more valuable and satisfying than anything else—the more we glorify Him. The experience of delight is fundamental to true worship.

Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, invited the great cello player Yo Yo Ma “to play at his wedding, but he was out of the country on tour. He came by the Jobs house a few years later, sat in the living room, pulled out his 1733 Stradivarius cello, and played Bach. ‘This is what I would have played for your wedding,’ he told them. Jobs teared up and told him, ‘You playing is the best argument I’ve ever heard for the existence of God, because I don’t really believe a human alone can do this.’”[vii]

A deep and profound joy points us to God. The great joys we experience hint at a greater, yet-to-be experienced joy—a joy humans are incapable of producing alone. We understand it’s a god-like joy, and only the true God could give us this lasting and complete joy. Short-lived moments of sweeping joy make our hearts ache for a lasting experience of joy, and that joy can only be found in God.

(Psa 16:11 ESV) You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

If we were made for God’s glory, then we will find our greatest joy in living for His glory. The glory of God should guide every decision we make. The glory of God causes us to ask, “What will this decision say about God? Will this action reveal to others that God is more valuable than anything else in the universe?”

Obviously, God is not glorified when we give His glory to an idol. God is not glorified when we give our primary attention and affection to something else. God is not glorified when I live as if something He made is more valuable and satisfying than He is.


Since we were made to worship God, let’s end with a few thoughts on how we worship God. Sometimes we struggle with that because we limit worshipping God to going to a church service. But if worship encompasses all of life, then our worship of God cannot be confined to Sunday mornings. We are all proficient worshippers—our struggle is with false worship or idolatry. We know how to worship, we just don’t apply the same principles to our worship of God. So, instead of acting like the worship of God is something foreign, let’s ask how we worship our idols. How do you worship idols?

You think about them

Whether it’s a job or a relationship, when you live for it and find it most valuable, you constantly think about it. All your daydreams go here. Well, to worship God requires you to think about God. To proactively ponder who God is and what He’s like.

You plan around them

If your idol is the gym, you put your workouts on a calendar and prioritize them. If your idol is your family, then nothing gets in the way of family time. If you’re going to worship God, then you must plan around Him. You put Him first in your calendar—time in His Word, with His people, in prayer, in serving—and nothing gets in the way of it.

You talk about them

When you get a new house, you tell everyone about it and show pictures of it. Same with a car or a child or a boyfriend. Joy is not complete if it’s not shared. If you want to worship God—to value Him above everything else—you must talk about Him. Frankly, if you never talk about God, you don’t value Him. We share what we value.

You spend on them

Idols always demand monetary sacrifice. The football god demands you buy tickets to the game. The security god requires you to put more money in retirement. The prestige god commands you to renovate your kitchen. And we do it happily. Our checkbooks follow our worship. Do you want to worship God? For many in this room, it starts with spending on Him. He doesn’t need your money, but your money shows what you truly value. Do you truly value God? Open up your bank statement and show me.

You seek for them

We will go to great lengths to get what we think will satisfy us. We’ll work crazy hours. We’ll move across the country. We’ll borrow ridiculous amounts of money. We’ll stay awake all night. We’ll cut off relationships. We seek with all our hearts what we think is most valuable.

One of the reasons we love the classic movie Princess Bride (besides the number of quotable lines) is because of the great lengths the hero will go to rescue his bride. He not only survives the pirate raid, but he bests a giant, tricks a genius, and travels through a fire swamp. Later, he survives torture and assaults the castle to save her. He will go to unimaginable lengths for her because he values her more than anything.

What we value, we seek for with all our hearts. Do you value God? Before you answer, ask: do I seek Him? If the answer is no, or not really, or a little bit, then you’ve found your answer. We seek what we value. Maybe you need to start this series on worship by repenting of your failure to worship God, your failure to value God, and your failure to seek God.

What you seek with all your heart is what you worship. What are you worshipping?

This sermon was originally preached at Calvary Baptist Church in 2015.


[I] Jared Wilson, Gospel Shaped Worship (The Good Book Compay, 2015), p.35.

[ii] John U. Bacon, Endzone (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2015), p. 424.

[iii] Bob Kauflin, Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), p.17.

[iv], accessed on 3/30/16

[vi] Quoted in Lawson, Psalms, p. 216.

[vii] Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), kindle ed. loc, 7362.

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