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Posts Tagged ‘Ephesians 5’

Note: this post was first posted at my old blog on 7/24/06, but I’ve copied it here as I was inspired by Cousin Jeremy’s post on worship (linked to here).  It was, as you’ll see, written in response to a question a friend had asked.  Because it was written over 4 years ago (have I been blogging that long?) some of the details (“this past Sunday”) aren’t quite right.  I’ve resisted the temptation to clean this up, though it needs more work. 

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In the comments of my last post, my good friend, Pam, asked this question:

What do you think about speaking to each other in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs? Can I say “Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise” next time I see you? Would that make you chuckle, or be encouraged? What is the not-so-literal interpretation of that charge? (in your thoughts…)

First, yes, I grant you permission to say “Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise” to me next we see each other. Second, yes, I probably would chuckle, but maybe I shouldn’t.

As for your question, you are no doubt referring to Eph 5:18-19, where Paul states, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord…” This passage is similar to Colossians 3:16, where Paul says, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” I’ll deal mainly with the Ephesians passage, but the Colossians passage is helpful, since they are parallel (Ephesians and Colossians are very similar, which has led many scholars to think that they were written around the same time). Anyway, I think they’re basically saying the same thing.

What can we say about the Ephesians passage? First, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” modifies the main verb, “be filled with the Spirit.” This isn’t obvious in the NIV, which treats all the participles (speaking, singing, making melody, giving thanks and submitting) as separate commands. (I really like the NIV, but this is something they consistently get wrong. Thankfully the TNIV has corrected this.) The exact relation between the participles and the main verb can be debated, for now I’ll stick with the idea that the participles (speaking, singing, etc) are results of being filled with the Spirit. Clearly not the only results (Paul elsewhere talks about spiritual gifts, the fruit of the Spirit, and so on), but they are the results Paul chooses to highlight. People who are filled with the Spirit are people who speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (I wouldn’t make too much out of the 3 types of songs mentioned here).

So, part of life in the Spirit is speaking and singing songs. This shouldn’t be surprising, since in 1 Corinthians 14 (an extensive teaching on the Holy Spirit and corporate worship), Paul encourages his audience to have a psalm (among other things) when they assemble (v26). And the Colossians verse is really interesting because there songs are used for teaching and admonishing one another. I think that the same idea is present in Ephesians as well (community expressions of the Spirit filled life). So what we have here is the use of music and singing as a means of encouraging and teaching each other.

So what should we do? Well, for one thing, it affirms the use of music in the life of the Church. This, of course, is to be expected, since there is an entire book of songs in the Old Testament meant for God’s people. It also shows us that songs are used for more than just a nice beginning (and end) to our worship service. Songs of worship play a role in teaching the body (in seminaryspeak, they have a “didactic function”). Music has played an important part in most (if not all, I’m not an expert) cultures, why not the Church?

In my opinion, this should influence the music we choose to play in our churches. Do the songs we choose accurately reflect the teaching of the Bible? Do they reflect the character of God? Do they encourage/inspire/rebuke/challenge the people? I’m thankful that my church has a worship leader who puts a lot of thought into the music and chooses songs that are primarily God-centered (which is rarer than it should be).

Let me also say, however, that it has become more and more common to hear people bash modern worship songs as theologically shallow and weak, especially compared to hymns (this is quite popular in some circles, and amongst many in seminary). This bothers me, and I’m clearly a big fan of hymns. First of all, pick up a hymnal and you’ll find that most of the entries leave a lot to be desired. The best of the hymns are unbelievably powerful, but many are pathetic. Anyway, that’s not my main point, so please don’t get caught up in that.

Second, I think there are a higher percentage of quality modern worship songs than many are willing to admit. There certainly have been plenty of bad ones (anyone remember the Hop on the Bus craze of about 10 years ago?). But there are plenty of good ones. I think part of the problem is that people confuse simple with shallow. Jesus Loves Me is a simple song, but it is hardly shallow (that’s why it works so well with children). I’ve even heard people claim that a worship song was shallow, until I pointed out to them that it was taken practically word for word out of the Bible (I wish I could remember what song it was). It’s a matter of song selection, just like with hymns, we need to choose the ones that glorify God and edify the body.

Let me give an example from our worship service this past Sunday. We sang a song written by David Ruis called We Will Dance. I like this song, but I wouldn’t put it in my top 10 or anything. But the imagery used for the people of God really struck me. It relates the Church as people “from every tribe and tongue and nation” and a “pure, spotless Bride.” What an opportunity to teach about the Church! I thought about how I can look around at the people of God and not see a pure, spotless Bride. I certainly don’t feel pure and spotless. But this song accurately portrays the people of God, especially as we will be seen from God’s eyes at the wedding feast. I think this is a great way to teach people about how Christ has redeemed for Himself a people and the true nature of the Church (ecclesiology). And like I said, this isn’t even necessarily a great example of a theology-laden song (although I do think it has more than first meets the eye).

Let me make one final point about the Ephesians passage. Paul also says “singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.” It seems obvious, but it’s worth saying (in order not to forget) that worship through music exists first and foremost to bring glory to God. It does not exist primarily to provide us a medium through which God can touch us, although He may do that. And the best time for us to learn and be edified is when God is glorified.

Anyway, I’m not really sure I’ve addressed Pam’s question. I thought about this the other night and really wanted to put some great thoughts out, but who has the time? Instead, I’ll throw these out there and hope that someone will respond and refine what I’ve said. Does anyone else have any thoughts about how we can use music to help teach and encourage the Body?

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