There is a satisfaction to reaching the end of a long walk, especially if that walk has been along beautiful and interesting vistas. So it has been with our walk in this section of Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians that presents the Christian walk. Stretching from 4:1 to 5:21, we have been given a view of the walk that is worthy of the calling to which we have been called. We have been shown the traits we are to exhibit, the fellowship to which we belong, the path to follow through the forest of the world, and now to our destination…the end of this section.
In chapter 5 Paul has been telling the Ephesians what not to do and what to do instead. Do not engage in crude speech but rather join in thanksgiving. Do not partner in sexual immorality with “sons of disobedience,” but instead walk as children of light. Take no part in works of darkness; instead, by the way you live, expose these unfruitful works of darkness for what they are. Look carefully how you walk, not as unwise but as wise. Do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Verse 18 presents the last of the do not/do instructions.
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.
Let’s be clear as to what is forbidden. As Scripture does not forbid sexual relations but that which is in excess, i.e. outside the prescribed marital boundaries, so it does not forbid the drinking of wine but that which is in excess. Our translation has debauchery. Overdrinking can certainly lead to debauchery. That term gives the image of a person acting out of his senses and being vulgar. That often happens to a drunk person, but this verse here is speaking to drunkenness in whatever way it is expressed. There are some who grow boisterous; some who grow quiet; some who act boorishly; some who become the life of the party. Becoming under the influence of alcohol affects people in different ways. Paul is saying that none of the ways a drunk acts is proper. Being controlled by alcohol is itself excess that is not acceptable.
But then, being controlled is not necessarily bad in itself. It is what we are controlled by that is the issue. And so, instead of being filled with wine, we are to be filled with the Spirit. What then is it to be filled with the Spirit? How can one get filled by the Spirit of God, who, as Jesus explained, is like the wind that blows where it wishes (cf John 3:8)? For that matter, are we not already filled with the Spirit? In this same letter, Paul has told his readers that they are “sealed” with the Holy Spirit (1:13) and that the Spirit is in our inner being (3:16).
In truth, we do have the Holy Spirit. He is in us. It is the Spirit who has regenerated us and who applies the benefits of Christ’s work to us. The Spirit convicts us and gives us faith. The Spirit sanctifies us so that we can walk in the worthy manner of our calling. But though God is at work in us through his Spirit, and he alone receives all glory for what is done in us, Scripture, nevertheless, does not treat us as automatons. It instructs as to what to do, not merely inform us what is being done in us. Here, we are being instructed to the things that exhibit and encourage a Spirit-filled life.
What are those things? Fortunately, Paul tells his readers. To be filled with the Spirit is:
addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
To be filled with the Spirit is to sing! That does not encompass all of what it means, but it is not difficult to see why this activity comes to Paul’s mind here. What do drunk people often like to do? Sing. They lose their normal inhibition, no longer fearful of being embarrassed, and they sing out. And the more who sing with them, the merrier. And being merry is the right word. There are sullen drunks and mean drunks, but there are not sullen and mean singing drunks. And when they sing, they sing heartily. And as they sing heartily they feel camaraderie with their fellow singers.
Paul is saying, instead of depending upon wine to loosen your tongues and to fellowship together in song, do the same in the Spirit. And whereas, drunks will bond together while singing the glory of immorality and drunkenness, you bond together through making melody to the Lord, through giving thanks to the Lord for all that is good.
I suppose the singing together can be in a number of contexts, and no doubt we should include singing in more of our activities that we have together. When Phil Ryken established the monthly commissions night, he made sure we sang a hymn together. Tom Elliott has gotten the elders to sing the doxology at the close of each session meeting. But certainly Paul is including worship, if not meaning the worship service exclusively. He gives insight to the roles that singing plays for the gathered worshipping community.
Paul gives three terms for songs: psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. There is debate on what these different terms specifically refer to. All three are used, for example, in the Psalms, which was the hymnbook of the Jewish congregation. At minimum, we can conclude that there was to be a variety of musical expression. The point is that we are, indeed, to sing. And I would say, to make music with instruments.
The term for “making melody” is psallo. It originally referred to plucking a stringed instrument, but came to also mean singing a psalm. It is here coupled with an explicit term for singing – ado. Some contend that Paul is using one synonym to reinforce another. Maybe. Others contend that ado refers to singing to one another and psallo to singing to God. Perhaps. But it seems more than reasonable to conclude that we are being told to sing and to make music, i.e. to accompany our singing with music from instruments.
Those who believe there ought not to be instruments in worship because the New Testament does not explicitly instruct the use of instruments overstate their case. There is no New Testament Scripture instructing or recording the observance of baptism in a worship service. Even so, we reason from Scripture that the sacrament best fits in the context of worship. Why then should we think that Scripture forbids a reasonable and natural practice of accompanying song with musical instruments simply because there is not clear instruction about it? Indeed, why would Paul unnecessarily add an ambiguous musical term that could lead to misunderstanding in his own day, if he opposed musical instruments?
So, we are to sing. And if we have musicians with us, they are to make melody for us. Now note the first two terms in verse 19 – “addressing one another.” “Addressing” means simply “to speak.” The worshippers are to speak to one another through their songs. What does Paul mean? The parallel passage to these verses is Colossians 3:16. It reads: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” The speaking there is “teaching and admonishing,” and is probably what is meant here.
Paul Jones, in his booklet What is Worship Music, identifies three roles for worship music: praise, prayer, and proclamation. He explains: “Praise is the lauding of God for his acts and attributes, acknowledging his supremacy in all things. Prayer is communication addressed to God. Proclamation encompasses any activity that proclaims the Word of Go – quotation, explanation, teaching, and preaching.” The hymns this morning fulfill these rolls. The first hymn, “God, the Lord, a King Remaineth,” is a hymn of praise, praising God for his sovereign activity. The second hymn, “Let All things Now Living,” is proclamation teaching and admonishing God’s people to worship him as Creator. The next two hymns are prayers. “Gracious Spirit, Dwell with Me,” is a prayer to the Holy Spirit asking him to dwell in us, i.e. to be filled with the Spirit. The last hymn following communion is a prayer to God asking him to spiritually feed us in the midst of worship.
These are helpful distinctions to make, but all proper songs of worship are songs that teach truth. And when brothers and sisters are jointly singing these “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” we are teaching and admonishing one another in wisdom. We are not merely an audience at a concert singing along with each other songs that we like. The Holy Spirit is ministering through us to one another, building each other up in the unity of the faith.
That is why it is necessary for us all to sing. If you are not singing, you are communicating to your fellow worshippers that you either do not believe the message of the hymn or that you do not care to share in worship with them. That may not be your intent. It may more likely be a matter of a sore throat or an unmelodic voice, but your lack of joining in does impact your fellow brothers and sisters who have come together with you to worship. It certainly has a negative impact if you will not even make the effort to look at the words in the hymnbook.
The worshippers are furthermore told to do this singing and melody making “with all your heart.” To put it simple, they are to mean what they sing. And they are to sing “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father.” This is what drives all true worship songs – thanksgiving. It is the antidote to the crude speech of the cynics and the bawdy songs of the drunkards. For we above all persons have cause to be thankful with all our hearts to God the Father. If you forget what you have to be thankful for, reread chapters 1-3. Whatever happens in our lives we have the blessed eternal life that can never be lost. We who were dead in our trespasses and sins, who were under the wrath of God have been made the children of God. And the list of treasures go on and on. Life is hard; make no mistake. But it is also full of rich blessing, and no matter what we face, nothing compares with the weight of eternal glory that awaits us.
You say that sometimes you don’t feel the blessing and that singing is drudgery. Sing! And as you sing, pay attention to the words. As you sing, look about you and listen to your fellow worshippers. Take in the truth that is addressed to you, and don’t be surprised to find that your heart is stirred and thankfulness is rekindled in your spirit. That is the wonderful thing about melody. It can move the heart so that you can sing with all your heart and sincerely give thanks to God.
The last participle connected with being filled with the Spirit is one that doesn’t seem to fit at this point: “submitting to one another.” It may be that it serves as an introduction to the next section of the letter, which presents the roles in a household. I think it serves as a segue providing both a conclusion and an introduction. How then does it relate to this text?
Consider again what we are doing with our singing. We are addressing one another. We are ministering to each other. And for us to receive from the fellowship, we must be submissive to one another. Submissively receiving is difficult to do but is essential to growing in Christ, or, to put it another away, to getting out of our funk. You’ve had this experience, maybe even this morning. You are out of sorts. You didn’t even feel like coming. You certainly didn’t want to look at a smiling face or listen to people being happy in the Lord. But worship begins. The music is played. Oh, they have the Westminster Brass playing. You see the words to the music printed in the bulletin.
Jesu, Word of God incarnate, of the Virgin Mary born,
On the cross thy sacred body for us men with nails was torn.
Cleanse us by the blood and water streaming from thy pierced side;
Feed us thy body broken in death’s agony.
You needed to be reminded what the Lord had done for you. And as you reflect upon his death, the next tune has these words:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in his wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.
And when your brothers and sisters rise to sing the doxology, you join them. You join your voice together with them. And in this submissive spirit of joining and receiving, the Spirit fills you and speaks to you.
We are left now with two phrases that form the key to carrying out the instruction of this text and the whole section on the Christian walk. They are “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and “out of reverence for Christ.” We are giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
If it were not for the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross, all the blessings of this life would serve only to taunt us for what we will lose for eternity. Indeed, is not the fear of death this – that we move into the unknown losing all that we hold dear in this life? Without being able to come to God in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, we offer thanksgiving and worship that falls on deaf ears, for we cannot come to the Father without coming through the Son. And we will not submit to one another, if we do not relate to one another out of reverence for Christ who is Lord of us all. What do we have in common if it is not Christ? What can lead us to go against our nature of self-reliance and pride, if is not reverence for the Lord who humbled himself for our common salvation?
Look back over this section of the Christian walk, and you will see how the Apostle Paul comes back again and again to Christ. He makes the very exhortations as a “prisoner for the Lord” (4:1). Our unity is founded in there being “one Lord” (4:5). The grace to serve with spiritual gifts comes from Christ (4:6). It is Christ who gave gifts and gifted leaders (4:11). It is Christ’s body that we are members of (4:12); we are to attain unity in the knowledge of him (4:13); we are to grow up into him as our head (4:15). In our new lives we have learned Christ (4:20); we were taught the truth that is in Jesus (4:21). We are to forgive one another as God in Christ forgave us (4:32). We are to walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us (5:2). Our inheritance is in the kingdom of Christ and God (5:5). We are light in the Lord (5:8). We prove what is pleasing to the Lord (5:10). It is Christ who will shine on us (5:14). It is his will that we are to understand (5:17). To him we are to make melody (5:19). The Christian walk is the walk carried out with Christ, for Christ, through Christ.
And it is to be carried out together. It was in the fellowship of the church that Paul began his exhortation for us to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have received. It is back into this fellowship that he brings the walk. The world is tough; it is filled with all kinds of snares and lures and obstacles. We need the church; we need one another. We need to relate to one another with all humility and gentleness and to address each other with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with prayers and Scripture, with encouragement and with accountability, exhorting and admonishing. We need to listen to one another, grieving with those who grieve and rejoicing with those who rejoice. Fot it is together in Christ that we can be filled with the Spirit.
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