Ephesians 5:15-20 – Speak to One Another with Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

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.

Why sing? 

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.

Psalms

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.

 

Hymns

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

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.

So, what?

Quick review:

  • 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:

  1. A variety of songs is inferred and expected.
  2. 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.

1 Corinthians 3:10-17 – Being a Holy Temple

Albi Cathedral in Sainte-Chapelle, France

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. (New International Version)

God is holy, pure, beautiful, and completely separated from all that is evil. 

However, there is a problem; but it isn’t with God. 

Ever since the fall of humanity into guilt, shame, and impurity, people cannot be near or approach a perfect Being. Just as we will surely go blind by looking directly at the sun – or be totally disintegrated by getting too close to it – so humans cannot be with such a holy God.

In the Old Testament, God graciously devised a system whereby people could approach the divine. A temple was built. It had very detailed and strict prescriptions about how it was to be built. There needed to be curtains, walls, and borders everywhere to shield the people from being destroyed by the sheer holiness of God.

Entering the New Testament, Jesus is the exact representation of God’s holy being and presence. In Christ, God became intimately close to people. Through the redemptive events of Jesus, humanity is delivered from the vexing problem of being far away from God. 

If that were not enough, God the Father and Son sent God the Holy Spirit to be the continuing presence of Jesus on this earth. 

In today’s New Testament lesson, the Apostle Paul tells us that, as the church, we are a holy temple which is graciously, patiently, and with great care being built into a spiritual house that can be the place where God meets with humanity.

The triune God has conspired and gone out of the way to be with us. The Lord has bended the arc of history for good purposes to be with us. Like a lover separated from his beloved, God has pulled out all the stops to make us holy so that we can abide with him in divine holiness.

From the solid foundation of Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone, we take care to build a spiritual infrastructure worthy of holiness.

As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct;for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16, NRSV)

God’s will is for you to be holy… God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. (1 Thessalonians 4:3, 7, NLT)

Some Christians mistakenly believe that holiness means to exclusively separate as far from everything and everyone who is impure. Any hint or smell of unsound dogma or nonconformity with established rules results in separation. Yet, this predilection for separation is really a form of division – which is contrary to the holiness of God. Because the Lord bends over backwards to accommodate the sinner’s ability to approach the divine presence.

Indeed, holiness involves a separation from all that is evil so that we can attach ourselves to God and others. Holiness isn’t simply an end in itself. To be holy means we are prepared and ready to engage in the highest of aims: Love.

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:22-23, NIV)

Holiness without a clear trajectory toward love is like putting a new collar on a dead dog. It just doesn’t make any sense.

Yet, too many folks have put a leash on that shiny new collar and are dragging the deceased around – much to the chagrin and revulsion of the world – who rightly sees this behavior as both downright crazy and plain stupid.

Paul would say that kind of behavior will be shown for what it is: Building on the wrong spiritual foundation.

It’s really all about Jesus. Christians bear the name of Christ because we (ideally) center our entire existence – past, present, and future – on the redemption provided through Jesus.

And that’s what this Christian season of the year is about: We celebrate the birth of Christ, God’s breaking into this world, to bridge the great divide between divinity and humanity.

The incarnation of Jesus Christ is our foundation.

Being a holy temple means being a sacred space large enough to hold love for all people.

From that strong support, there is no limit to the breadth and height of God’s kingdom. So, may you, along with the Apostle Paul pray:

I’m asking God to give you a gift from the wealth of his glory. I pray that he would give you inner strength and power through his Spirit. Then Christ will live in you through faith. I also pray that love may be the ground into which you sink your roots and on which you have your foundation. This way, with all of God’s people you will be able to understand how wide, long, high, and deep his love is. You will know Christ’s love, which goes far beyond any knowledge. I am praying this so that you may be completely filled with God. (Ephesians 3:16-19, GW)

Amen.

Romans 8:18-30 – Anticipating Hope

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hopethat the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope, we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. (New Revised Standard Version)

Christians everywhere are presently anticipating the Nativity of the Lord, the birth of the Christ child. Not only Christians, but all people anticipate better days, hoping that during this season of goodwill that basic human kindness will be prolific and extend into the new year.

The brokenness of the world is dominated by disease and dissent. As of this writing, well over five million people have died worldwide due to COVID-19. I myself have attended dozens of those deaths. The grief, not only of losing a loved one, but many of them dying alone, is palpable.

If that weren’t bad enough, disease has become a political game. While there are currently two-hundred fifty million people infected with some strain of the coronavirus, far too many without the disease are using it to posture and position for their shortsighted rights.

And I haven’t even mentioned the hundreds of other world and national problems, beset with such a cacophony of dissenting voices bickering at one another, that innocent lives get ruined or lost. Who will rescue us from this body of death?

“The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Thanks be to God. There is an intervention. Hope is imminent. A star rises in the east. A leader is to be born – one who is deeply concerned for the common good of all people – one who will rule with equity and justice.

The believer’s salvation, in a gestation period of anticipation, is nearly full term. Expectation, patience, joy, and pain are part of the experience while we wait. Meanwhile, we must remain encouraged and healthy, keeping our future hope always in front of us so that we will not lose heart.

When injustice runs amok, and we are limited in what we can do about it, we pray. And then, there are times when we are flat on our backs, overwhelmed with our circumstances, not even able to utter any words in prayer.

Christians are awaiting their redemption. So, perseverance is needed. While waiting, it does no good to be like Eeyore and feel sorry for ourselves. Yet, on the other hand, it also does no good to always be smiling, positive, and upbeat as if nothing is worth grieving over. 

Grief and lament, hope and joy, must all be held together at the same time. Without the simultaneous embrace, we will live in abject denial – tightly gripping one hand while ignoring the other, as if we don’t have two of them.

Indeed, we live in an awkward time. Nothing is as it was, and nothing is as it should be… yet. This time of spiritual pregnancy, in which we possess salvation but do not yet possess it in all its fullness, is a weird liminal space in which we often don’t quite know what to do.

There is so much groaning going on because we realize there is such a large gap between where we are and where we want to be. If women could have babies without nine months of struggle, limitation, and pain I think they would opt for that instead of the way it is now. There is a time coming when every tear will be wiped away and unending joy will rule. No more disease. No more dissent. No more death.

All of creation groans because where it is now and where it will be seems like such a long time in coming.  Every creature and every living thing will experience decay and death. The world is not yet redeemed from its cursed bondage. So, the earth vomits disasters and diseases because we live in this fallen world that is not yet redeemed.

Humanity groans because we fall victim to circumstances beyond our control. We also groan because of our own poor choices that give us grief. Although we have been delivered from sin, death, and hell and experience spiritual power… we still must wait eagerly for the redemption of our bodies.

Yes, we are keenly aware of the terrible disconnect between where we are as people and where we want to be. It is something of feeling like Pinocchio, not yet a real boy who has to deal with strings and other puppeteers who do not care about him; and, who feels the need to lie because of his situation and pays the consequence of his nose growing.

Yet, a deeper thing is happening under the surface: Our frustrations, longings, lusts, jealousies, and escapist daydreams, things we might be ashamed of to take to prayer, are in fact already lifting our hearts and minds to God in more honest ways than we ever do consciously.

Take courage. The time is at hand.

“Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11, NRSV)

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward humanity.

John 3:31-36 – Believe the Son

The Trinity by Alex Rapoport, 1994

God’s Son comes from heaven and is above all others. Everyone who comes from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all others. He speaks about what he has seen and heard, and yet no one believes him. But everyone who does believe him has shown that God is truthful. The Son was sent to speak God’s message, and he has been given the full power of God’s Spirit.

The Father loves the Son and has given him everything. Everyone who has faith in the Son has eternal life. But no one who rejects him will ever share in that life, and God will be angry with them forever. (Contemporary English Version)

When Jesus ascended to heaven, he left instructions to his disciples to pray and to witness (Acts 1:1-11). Jesus asks of us what he himself does or has already done. The life and ministry of Christ on this earth was marked continually with prayer and bearing witness. Just as Jesus bore witness to what he saw and heard as the Divine Word, so his followers are to do likewise. The evidence and the veracity of Christ’s witness is the giving of God’s Spirit – the One whom confirms this testimony to us.

I, personally, have found Jesus to be precisely whom he claims to be. I have come to accept his testimony as gracious, truthful, and life-giving. I have wholeheartedly embraced the New Testament Gospel accounts of his birth, life, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension. This belief came neither quickly nor easily for me – it resulted from an honest straightforward reading of the Bible, along with the gracious wooing of the Holy Spirit.

It really isn’t my job to convince you of Jesus Christ’s authenticity and trustworthiness. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. Instead, it is my task to bear witness of the things I have seen and heard concerning Jesus. 

My life has been thoroughly turned upside-down because of Jesus. With Jesus, I have been invited into the life of God. By the wounds of Jesus, I have experienced healing of damaged emotions and recovery from spiritual hurts inflicted by others. Through union with Christ, I have grace and forgiveness of things I have done and left undone. With Brother Jesus as my friend and companion, I enjoy loving attention and am never dismissed by him.

The Trinity by Jyoti Sahi

For those who have not read the Gospel accounts and refuse Christ, then, for honesty’s sake, please have the integrity to give Jesus a hearing before you dismiss him with a slight of hand. It is one thing to genuinely no little about Jesus, and it is quite another thing to ignore him when you have knowledge about how to discover him.

For those of us who have read the New Testament Gospels and accept the testimony of Jesus, we come back again and again to his life-giving words and seek continually to follow him in his way of mercy, purity, and peace. We bear witness to how Jesus has changed our lives and offers a life worth living.

Everyone with faith in Jesus has a life-giving connection with God. Those who don’t, don’t. If you disagree with this, then contend with Jesus himself. Give him a hearing. Watch him in action. Observe how he deals with people. See if he lives up to his words. Then, bear witness to what you have seen and heard.

Christian faith is a complete trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Because God has been revealed as faithful through steadfast love, the Lord gifts people with faith to know the Divine.

Faith, a noun, is closely accompanied by it’s verb, believe. Together, as identical twin sisters, they let us know that both knowledge and action are needed. We need information in knowing what step to take, and an active commitment to actually take that step.

Others’ faith in Jesus led to a man’s healing of both body and soul:

And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2, ESV)

The size of faith is irrelevant; even a smidge of Jesus has incredible power:

“I [Jesus] assure you that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Go from here to there,’ and it will go. There will be nothing that you can’t do.” (Matthew 17:20, CEV)

Human weakness and inability is no problem because of faith in Christ:

Everyone who believes has God’s approval through faith in Jesus Christ…. We conclude that a person has God’s approval by faith, not by his own efforts.

Romans 3:22, 28, GW

A person acts upon knowledge of Jesus with total trust in Christ’s finished work of deliverance from all which is evil:

It’s the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching. Say the welcoming word to God — “Jesus is my Master”— embracing, body and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: “God has set everything right between him and me!” (Romans 10:9-12, MSG)

Faith is not an event; it is continual trust in the person and work of Christ for practical living and compassionate serving:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:19b-20, NRSV)

Outward rituals only have their proper place as they help inform belief in order to engage in loving actions:

For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6, NAB)

You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives. (Ephesians 2:8-10, CEB)

Understanding and experience go together like a hand in a glove:

I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people.  And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. (Philemon 5-6, NLT)

Absolute certainty isn’t in the realm of Christian spirituality – there’s always more information one could obtain. Faith discerns, intuits, and knows God is there, and orders it’s steps accordingly with faithful activity:

And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6, NRSV)

My brothers and sisters, if people say they have faith, but do nothing, their faith is worth nothing. Can faith like that save them?… Just as a person’s body that does not have a spirit is dead, so faith that does nothing is dead! (James 2:14, 26, NCV)

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, I pray to you, the God and Father of all:

For empowerment by the Spirit, that I may be a faithful witness

For those who wait on You, that they may find renewal

For all people, that they may acknowledge the kingdom of the ascended Christ

For all who are struggling with broken relationships

I commend myself and all for whom I pray, to Your mercy and protection through Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. Amen.