Ripping the Heart Out of Sunday Worship

Ripping the Heart Out of Sunday Worship

Why do we attend church on Sundays? Fundamentally, we come to church starved for God. Coming with our need, we seek God in our worship and in hearing the word faithfully preached. We arrive at church with a God-sized appetite for spiritual pleasures that only the Living God can fill.

But is it honorable to find our motivation to get to church in seeking blessing from God? Or is that a selfishness that spoils the whole morning and embarrases God? Isn’t it more honorable to arrive at church with disinterested motives?

Pastor John says no. Here’s why.

Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher who died in 1804, was the most powerful exponent of the notion that the moral value of an act decreases as we aim to derive any benefit from it. Acts are good if the doer is "disinterested." We should do the good because it is good. Any motivation to seek joy or reward corrupts the act.

Piper goes on to explain what’s on the line.

Kant loves a disinterested giver. God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). Disinterested performance of duty displeases God. He wills that we delight in doing good and that we do it with the confidence that our obedience secures and increases our joy in God.

Oh, that I could drive the notion out of our churches that virtue requires a stoical performance of duty — the notion that good things are promised merely as the result of obedience but not as an incentive for it. The Bible is replete with promises which are not appended carefully as nonmotivational results, but which clearly and boldly and hedonistically aim to motivate our behavior.

What sets off Biblical morality from worldly hedonism is not that Biblical morality is disinterested, but that it is interested in vastly greater and purer things. Some examples:

Luke 6:35 says, “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great.” Note: We should never be motivated by worldly aggrandizement (“expect nothing in return”); but we are given strength to suffer loss in service of love by the promise of a future reward.

Again, in Luke 14:12–14: “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor,… and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Note: Don’t do good deeds for worldly advantage; but do them for spiritual, heavenly benefits.

And here’s why all this matters for us on Sunday.

Therefore, a resounding no to Kantian morality. No in the pew, and no in the pulpit.

In the pew, the heart is ripped out of worship by the notion that it can be performed as a mere duty. There are two possible attitudes in genuine worship: delight in God or repentance for the lack of it.

Sunday at 11 A.M., Hebrews 11:6 enters combat with Immanuel Kant. “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” You cannot please God if you do not come to Him as rewarder. Therefore, worship which pleases God is the hedonistic pursuit of God in whose presence is fullness of joy and in whose hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).

Today, join me in bringing your God-starved soul before God. He is the filler of souls and the One who rewards those who seek him.


Quote taken from John Piper’s book, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry (B&H, 2002), 46–50.

Tony Reinke (@tonyreinke) is a content strategist and staff writer for Desiring God and the author of Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books (2011) and John Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ (2015). He hosts the Ask Pastor John and Authors on the Line podcasts, and lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and their three children.