We would never be guilty of making worship more about ourselves than God, would we? How many times have you left a worship service only to complain, “I didn’t get anything out of it today!” We make statements that are saturated with self as if worship is all about us:
– “Why can’t we sing more of the songs that I like?”
– “I don’t think the preacher should talk about this or that!”
– “I can’t believe so-and-so didn’t talk to me today!”
– “No one ever notices what I do in the church.”
Here’s the problem: Worship isn’t about getting anything; it’s about giving everything to God! The above attitudes make us idle judges of activity rather than active participants in adoration toward a holy God. Christian consumerism defines the quality of our worship by the number of ministries for people, the size and quality of our buildings, the popularity of our pastors, the style of our music and an obvious determination to make people happy. One concern emerges as primary: “What have you done for me lately?”
Unfortunately, we still fall short of making everyone happy, and God is disgusted with our obvious worship of and preoccupation with ourselves. Our efforts to be seeker-sensitive and self-sensitive have made us insensitive to the Divine Presence who is to be the focus of our worship. Or, as the apostle Paul said, we have “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25).
Personal struggles, selfish ambitions, bickering among God’s people and worship wars are all indications that we desperately need to return to the heart of worship. Doing so requires recognizing who we are in light of who God is and seeking to exalt Him to His rightful place in our lives, our families and our church. Paul gives us three realities that point us to the heart of worship. First, you have to realize . . .
Our Life’s Privilege Is to Receive Christ
Notice how 2 Corinthians 3:18 begins: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord.” Notice two phrases here: “with unveiled face, beholding” and then “the glory of the Lord.” Through Christ, the veil, which covers the glory of the God, is removed. How? John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” In the person of Jesus Christ, we behold the glory of God continually.
The background of this statement is found in Exodus 33, where Moses meets with the Lord on Mount Sinai after the people of Israel committed idolatry. In doing so, he saw the glory of God. Why does Paul use the imagery of an “unveiled face” beholding the Lord here in 2 Corinthians 3:18? After seeing the glory of God, Exodus 34:29-30 reveals: “It came about when Moses was coming down from Mount Sinai . . . that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because of his speaking with Him. So when Aaron and all the sons of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him.” Thus, the Bible says in Exodus 34:33, “When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face.”
Throughout 2 Corinthians 3, Paul offers his commentary on this incident. Notice 2 Corinthians 3:7: “But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was” (emphasis mine). 2 Corinthians 3:13 says that we “are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away” (emphasis mine).
Moses was in the presence of God for a limited time, thus the glory of God faded. Christians, however, abide in the presence of God forever; and the glory never fades. Verse 18 proclaims “with unveiled face” we are beholding “the glory of the Lord.” It is a privilege to receive Christ because in Him we behold the glory of God continually.
Moses understood that leading the people on their journey was impossible without the presence of God. Thus, in Exodus 33:15 he says, “If Your presence does not go [with us,] do not lead us up from here.” The lesson is powerful: Having God is better than having what God gives. Seeing God in all His glory is the primary goal of worship. It’s not about how we do or don’t feel. The privilege of Christianity is God Himself. Beholding His glory must be our agenda.
Our tendency to make worship about ourselves is not new. 2 Corinthians 3:15 describes the religious leaders of Jesus’ day this way: “But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart.” In other words, you can’t see the glory of God and worship yourself at the same time. 2 Corinthians 3:16 presents a better alternative: “whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” Focusing our hearts on Christ is the key.
Beware of subtle diversions that diminish God rather than exalt Him. We trivialize God when:
• we evaluate the worship of others rather than express worship ourselves;
• we seek to attract people rather than God;
• we esteem our importance as more valuable than His presence;
• we no longer stand in awe of His glory because we think we comprehend all there is to know about Him;
• our greatest concern is making people comfortable when we worship.
The real question is not what do we think of God, but what does God think of us?
Pastor Bob Russell offers a helpful analogy about the heart of worship: “The University of Kentucky basketball team won the national championship a couple of years ago. A few days later there was a celebration in the Rupp Arena to honor the team. The audience cheered wildly for each player when he was introduced. The fans carried banners. They painted their faces and proudly wore blue-and-white outfits. They tried to get autographs. Not one fan walked away saying, ‘That event was a dud. It did nothing for me.’ The event was a success, not because the performance was great (they didn’t play basketball at all) or the players’ speeches were inspiring (most of them weren’t very good speakers), but because everyone understood why they were there. The purpose was not to please the fans but to honor the team.
People walked away saying, ‘That was great! I hope the team understands how much we appreciate them!’”1
In a similar way, authentic worship is our attempt to communicate how much we admire, adore and appreciate Jesus Christ.
Our Life’s Purpose Is to Reflect Christ
Just as Moses reflected the glory of God after meeting with Him, we, too, reflect His glory by meeting with Him in worship. Notice another phrase in 2 Corinthians 3:18: “beholding as in a mirror.” The verb translated “beholding” can also be translated “reflecting.” Which is the better rendering of the two? I understand Paul to mean beholding and reflecting. The passive and middle forms of the verb literally mean “to be mirrored.” So we behold the glory of God as if we are looking in a mirror. We look closely, examining carefully the glory we see. By doing so, we see God’s glory and out of necessity reflect it. Thus Paul uses the analogy of a mirror. We see it and reflect it as a mirror of God’s image.
Moses’ face shone because he reflected the presence of God. Likewise, we reflect the glory of God when we behold Jesus Christ. The one difference, however, is that the reflected glory of God in us never fades because the purpose of the Christian life is to display Jesus. We exist as heaven’s advertising agency, promoting the glory of God in every area of our lives.
Max Lucado poses this question: “How well do you know the following people and organizations? Jack Tinker and Partners? Doyle Dane Bernbach? BBDO? Foote, Cone, and Belding? J. Walter Thompson? How did you do? Chances are you don’t know anyone on that list; and, if not, they’re pleased. Advertising companies don’t exist to make names for themselves. Their purpose is to make a name for others.
“While you’re probably not familiar with the companies, most likely you’re very familiar with their work: ‘Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.’ That’s the work of Jack Tinker and Partners for Alka-Seltzer in 1976. ‘We Try Harder’ was the slogan created for AVIS Rent-A-Car by Doyle Dane Bernbach in 1962. ‘M’m! M’m! Good!’ was the catchphrase designed for Campbell’s Soup by BBDO in 1935. Maybe you’ve never heard of Foote, Cone, and Belding; but I bet you have heard the mott ‘When you care enough to send the very best.’ Hallmark has used the line since 1934. You may not know the name J. Walter Thompson, but I guarantee you’ve hummed the jingle he wrote for Kellogg’s: ‘Snap, Crackle, Pop, Rice Krispies!’ We could learn a lot from these companies. What they do for their clients, we should do for Christ.” 2
Like mirrors, we should reflect the glory of the Lord. The heart of worship demands that we remain unknown in order to make Him known.
Every part of our lives is about His glory—past, present and future. God gives us abilities and gifts that we might utilize them to reflect His glory rather than promote ourselves. Unfortunately, many times we are more ambitious about building our kingdom rather than God’s kingdom. God does not bless you so that you can compete with Him but so that you can reflect Him.
Our Life’s Priority Is to Resemble Christ
Notice how 2 Corinthians 3:18 concludes: “[We] are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” Watch the progression: We behold the glory; we reflect the glory; we become the glory. The word “transformed” indicates the continual nature of our transformation. The passive tense reveals that someone is doing the transforming for us. Romans 12:2 marks the only other appearance of this word in reference to a Christian. There, the Bible says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
In what way are we transformed?
Notice the phrase “into the same image.” The word “image” refers to exact representation. 2 Corinthians 4:4 and Colossians 1:15use the same language while describing Jesus as the exact representation of God the Father. Our transformation is “from glory to glory” through various stages of Christlikeness.
In other words, our life’s purpose is to resemble Christ more and more each day—a difficult assignment, to be sure; but notice the last phrase of the verse: “just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” How can we resemble Christ? The Holy Spirit transforms us from the inside out.
Moses experienced outward transformation when he saw the glory of God. Christians enjoy inward transformation when we see the same glory. Working through His Holy Spirit, God completes the work of salvation in our hearts and lives.
Consequently, worship represents the primary means of our transformation into the image of Almighty God. You can’t be like Christ if you’re not reflecting Christ, and you can’t reflect Christ if you don’t first behold Christ. We will not behold Him unless worship becomes the foundation upon which we build our lives for the Lord. This is what Christianity is all about! It’s not about us! It’s about Him! I sense a real emptiness in our souls because we allow our worship of God to focus primarily on our needs and desires. Thus, rather than behold Him, we look in the mirror of God’s Word with veiled faces; and all we see is ourselves. Rather than consider additional ways to worship God individually and corporately, we selfishly strategize how little we can worship God and still call ourselves Christians! No wonder we’re not transformed.
Music leader Matt Redman listened as his pastor instructed him to remove any potential hindrances from the church’s worship service. Sensing they were missing the true spirit of worship, the two church leaders concluded that their music was cold and lifeless despite having quality musicians and a great sound system. Pastor Mike called for a drastic course of action. Suspecting that their aids for worship were actually a distraction, he urged Matt to strip away all the “traditional” means of worship in the church.
When the congregation gathered the next Sunday, there were no musicians and no music. They sat in awkward periods of silence at first, but soon sporadic voices of prayers moved across the gathering. The approach was simple according to Pastor Mike: “We weren’t going to lean so hard on those outward things anymore,” he said. “When you come through the doors of the church on Sunday, what are you bringing as your offering to God? What are you going to sacrifice today?” Soon, the instruments did return, but the people were different. The songs in their hearts caught up with the songs on their lips.
After watching this unfold over a period of several weeks, Matt Redman penned these words:
“When the music fades, all is stripped away,
And I simply come; longing just to bring something that’s of worth
That will bless Your heart. I’ll bring you more than a song,
For a song in itself is not what you have required.
You search much deeper within through the way things appear;
You’re looking into my heart.
I’m coming back to the heart of worship,
And it’s all about You, all about You, Jesus.
I’m sorry Lord, for the thing I’ve made it,
When it’s all about You, all about You, Jesus.”3
Do you remember Jesus’ words to a Samaritan woman in John 4:23? He said, “An hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.” God is seeking people who will worship Him more than anyone or anything else. Are you willing to be that kind of Christian? Is God’s glory more important to you than anything else?
This is the first in a six-part series of sermons called “Getting Back to the Heart of Worship.” The others in the series will appear in Preaching On-Line during the month of July. Be sure to visit www.preaching.com.
1. Bob Russell, When God Builds a Church (Louisiana: Howard Publishing Co., 2000), 42.
2. Max Lucado, It’s Not About Me (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 131-132.
3. Matt Redman, The Unquenchable Worshipper (California: Regal Books, 2001), 102-104.