Thursday, August 18, 2005

Ephesians 5:18-21 Worship Through Song

If you love singing as much as I, then you should know this passage by heart.  If worship through song is one of the most joyful and formative experiences that you have in the Holy Spirit, then you should not only memorize this passage, but you should study it phrase by phrase.  I hope to help you do that with this short summary, and I pray that you have the patience to get through this post.  I think that it may be beneficial.  I know of no other clearer New Testament passage dealing with music, singing, personal, and congregational worship.  Here's the passage:

And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.

Let's do a quick phrase by phrase analysis:

"And do not be drunk with wine...but be filled with the Spirit"-
The Scripture equates drunkenness with foolishness and the height of folly (Proverbs 20:1; 23:29-25).  In contrast, being filled with the Holy Spirit leads to wisdom and truth.  

"Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs"

In this phrase Paul uses the word "speaking".  Ordinarily, we do not think of "speaking" a song, but Paul wants us to think that way.  Though you are singing, you are also speaking.  You should pay attention to what you are saying.

Also, when you speak these songs, you are addressing them "to one another".  In musical worship, you are not only speaking to God.  You are also speaking to man.  That is why we should think about what we sing/say.  Does it pass the test of Ephesians 4:29?  Do you realize that your robust singing/saying of your faith builds up those around you?

"in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs"

These words are all nearly synonymous.  So why does Paul use all three?  He does this to emphasize the fact that we ought to utilize all sorts of godly songs to encourage one another.  That is as long as what we are singing is edifying.

The natural question is whether or not any type of "song" is off limits.  Since Paul includes many different types of song, we should be cautious to exclude anything.  One thing we know for certain, if the lyrics are not edifying, then they are off limits.  Secondly, if the music itself distracts from the message of the song, then it should be discarded.  We should not attempt to convey a harmonious message through discordant music.  It is contradictory.  

"singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord"

The first emphasis rests on the corporate aspect of musical worship.  The second rests on the personal aspect.  This does not mean that you should have a silent song in your heart.  Rather, it means that what you sing with your lips should be felt in your heart.  We should put our whole being into our singing worship.  If you cannot find joy in the musical melody due to personal taste, then the truth of the doctrine that you sing should cause joy in your heart.  It further indicates that we ought to think on what we are saying/singing.

Many times, due to personal preference, a song will be sung that we do not like due to the music.  My advice on this from this passage would be this:  Imagine that your singing this song might cause the person next to you to understand the truth of the words.  Maybe you dislike the music to "There is a Fountain".  But what would your delight be if a person next to you realized that "The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day, and there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sin away."  Oh the melody my heart would make if such words could reverberate in the heart of some needy soul!  So sing good theology heartily, think about it, and pray that the person next to you will feel the impact of its truth.  Its your chance to preach in song.

"giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ"

Do you see the Trinity at work in this passage?  Notice that we are to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit comes to "convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment" (John 16:8).  He will do this through you if you sing a song that pleases Him, and a song that pleases Him will be one that adores the Lord Jesus Christ.  Secondly, we are to give thanks to the Father for all things.  The Father sent the Son to save.  Do our songs reflect gratitude?  He ordained our voices, our days, our lives, and our very salvation.  Do our songs reflect this?  Finally, we sing in the name of the Lord Jesus.  This simply means that we sing according to our love of who He is and what He has done for us.  It is the death of Jesus Christ and His resurrection that enables our joy and thanksgiving to the Father.

Do you notice that this is very similar to the "formula" for prayer.  We are taught to pray to the Father, in the Name of the Son, while filled with the Holy Spirit.  Like prayer, singing to God is intensely personal, corporately beneficial, and infinitely powerful when used by the Holy Spirit to bring glory to Jesus Christ.

"submitting to one another in the fear of God"

This phrase should be the death of petty worship wars.  Musical worship is not primarily about our personal, musical tastes.  It is about enjoying the truth of God with others.  Are you one who says, "This music just doesn't 'speak' to me."  Or, "I want to hear some drums in my worship".  Or perhaps, "If there's no organ, there's no Holy Spirit!"  How petty and grievous our selfishness must be to our Self-Sacrificing God!  We who say the music does not move us, does it help others?  You who hate being musically neglected, will you alienate others for your personal preference?  You who refuse to participate and rejoice in worship, have you no fear of God?  Is the music discordant?  Does it genuinely distract from the message?  Is the message unclear or false?  If the answer is no to all three, then beware of a bad attitude.  For if such songs delight the ear of the Spirit and bring glory to the Name of Jesus, then you stifle the very thing which God seeks:  Worship in Spirit and in Truth.


The selfishness of our generation is apparent through our lack of flexibility in music.  We do not submit to one another, and we are not patient.  We believe worship to be an entirely personal experience, but that is certainly false.  It is as much corporate as it is private.  We should be singing to others as much to ourselves.  Our songs should be directed to man as well as God.  My advice to everyone in parting is this:  Next Sunday, instead of closing your eyes and going into your own world of worship, open your eyes and look around at others.  And sing to them.  Sing to them like you want them to know the joy that's in your heart.  Sing to them like they are precious.  Sing to them with the hope that they will hear the words of your worship, and that their hearts will be lifted up to God through song.

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