Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (New International Version)
As you likely well know, an inebriated person tends to say and do things that they do not typically say or do when they’re sober. The Apostle Paul’s point about being filled with the Spirit is that, instead of doing and saying stupid things, we are so filled with God that we do things and say things that we would not typically do and say if we were not filled with God – that is, good things.
Apart from being full of God’s Spirit, we tend toward mumbling, not singing; worry, not making music in our hearts; and complaining and arguing, not giving thanks. Half-filled Christians practice a half-hearted Christianity. They’re only half-baked in their service and devotion to Christ.
Because singing is part of being filled with the Spirit of God. Singing happens when we experience God’s overflowing grace in our lives through the blessings of being chosen, adopted, and redeemed into God’s new community. (Ephesians 1:3-11)
Music is powerful. It’s not only a means of expressing praise and commitment to Christ and each other, it is also a powerful means of being impressed. For example, when we first teach kids the alphabet, we teach it in a song. Trying to teach letters in a rote fashion typically doesn’t work well for pre-school kids. Words set to music is why we still remember words from old TV shows, because those words were set to a catchy tune. Music is why an Alzheimer’s patient cannot remember her daughter’s name but can flawlessly sing all four verses of Amazing Grace.
Singing is an offering and a sacrifice of praise to God (Hebrews 13:15). And singing is also a vehicle whereby we are taught, encouraged, and built up in the community of believers. We sing to God, one another, and even ourselves.
Church music, then, is to be both a means of praising God and a practice of encouraging each other. We do it through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
The word “psalm” helps us rightly think of the biblical book of Psalms. Singing the psalms is an ancient practice, going all the way back to the Israelites singing psalms in the temple and synagogue. The early church maintained this practice, especially as a means of being faithful to praying without ceasing.
However, over time, medieval congregations began neglecting the practice. In fact, the congregations eventually gave up most singing altogether. Almost all the singing was done by church choirs and professional musicians employed by the state (no separation of church and state) to write, compose, and perform in worship services.
Five-hundred years ago, with the Reformation, Martin Luther reinstituted congregational singing. He gave music back to the people. One of the results of this change was putting the book of psalms to song – the Psalter. For many Protestant denominations, the Psalter became the primary means of singing. The Psalter chiefly set prayers to song. It was both a means of expressing prayer to God and learning Scripture.
There have always been hymns in the church. Yet, it was not until the Reformation that hymns began to be written and sung by congregations. For the Reformers, hymns were used to teach sound doctrine and theology, as well as a means of confessing the faith together
Spiritual songs are the present day equivalent of praise and worship choruses, or what some refer to as contemporary songs. These are songs purposefully designed to be emotional expressions of praise to God and to give powerful testimony for what God has done or is doing.
- Psalms are used to pray and learn Scripture.
- Hymns are used to teach us sound doctrine and confess the faith together.
- Spiritual songs are an important way of expressing praise to God and being encouraged in the faith.
Therefore, church music is to serve as both a revelation from God, and as a response from God’s people.
There are two important deductions from this verse:
- A variety of songs is inferred and expected.
- Paul commanded their use.
The reason worship style is such a hot topic in a lot of churches is because we all have our personal preferences. And yet, if we are to be faithful to today’s New Testament lesson, we will not just lock in on what I want.
Truth be told, we are selfish people when it comes to music. We want what we want, and we don’t care what somebody else wants. And we will persist in that self-absorbed spirit until somebody calls us on it. That somebody is the Apostle Paul. The Word of God calls us to encompass psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs – all three of them – in our worship.
I have a good friend who is an accomplished church musician and worship pastor. I once asked him how I can lead a worship service among such a variety of preferences concerning music. He answered my question with a question: “How highly do people, including and especially your musicians, value the unity of the church? Do they love each other so much that they can allow for a wider range of style, and do so without vocally complaining about it?”
My friend went on to say, “When I arrived at one church as their pastor, some people were in a rather bad habit of saying very openly, ‘Oh I hate that song,’ or, ‘If I hear this song one more time I’m walking out.’ What I tried to do was teach people that this is not the most loving or mature approach and does little to build up the rest of the Body of Christ.”
If a group of people are being faithful to Scripture, and doing their best musically, then – if the music seems lifeless, dull, or strange to us – the real issue isn’t style but our hearts.
Is that heart filled with the Spirit of God? If it is, then we will speak to one another using the Psalter, using time-honored hymns, and utilizing fresh contemporary praise songs. And the result will be the Body of Christ, the Church, built up in the faith.
Gracious God, give us grace to take to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions about music. Take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may from this time forward be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of peace, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.