“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart,
giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:18-20)
Unlike the Old Testament (at least from the time of David onward; see HERE and HERE ), there is precious little in the New Testament about musical ministry in corporate worship; but Ephesians 5:18-20 (along with Colossians 3:16) does provide a helpful foundation. In this passage we see at least seven aspects that should characterize our ministry of song.
1. A Spirit-filled ministry
“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, . . “
“For we are the real circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” (Philippians 3:3)
With all the debates about the filling of the Spirit, it’s intriguing here that the first result of the filling of the Spirit mentioned by Paul is singing!
2. A mutual ministry
” . . . addressing one another . . . “
There is an important horizontal aspect to our ministry of song in corporate worship: it is something we do together. Personal and private worship is an important part of our walk with God; but in the gathering of the church we need to be focused on one another as well as on God. This suggests an important corrective to many of our worship conflicts: congregational worship is to provide a mutual benefit, rather than primarily an individual benefit; hence, the ubiquitous “what’s in it for me?” or “what do I get out of it?” attitude with which so many approach corporate worship shows a severe misunderstanding of why we come together.￼ We minister to one another and encourage one another and draw strength from one another as we sing.
3. A diverse ministry
” . . . in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs . . .”
The exact designations of these three categories of song have been widely debated for the past two thousand years, with no indisputable outcome. However, it is quite certain at least that Paul is saying that we should use different kinds of songs in our corporate praise. Let’s draw from musical riches across stylistic, generational and national boundaries.
4. A God-focused ministry
” . . . singing and making melody to the Lord . . .”
Ultimately of course, our song is directed towards the One who alone is worthy of our praise. We don’t sing for our own enjoyment or benefit (though those may well be positive side-effects), but at His bidding and for His pleasure and glory.
5. An internal ministry
” . . . with all your heart . . .”
“Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
We are to make melody in our hearts before it ever reaches our lips. For worship to be God-honoring and God-pleasing it must be an expression of a devoted heart. Both the Old and the New Testament make it clear that God is far more concerned about the inner attitude of worship than with what external form it takes. Hence our song must well up from the inside.
6. A responsive ministry
” . . . giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father . . .”
“Praise the Lord according to his excellent greatness.” (Psalm 150:2)
We only have a song to sing because of God’s initiative in revealing Himself to us and showing himself mighty in His saving acts on our behalf. All worship is a response to God’s gracious self-revelation.
7. A Christ-empowered ministry
” . . . in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“In the midst of the congregation [Christ] will sing [the Father’s] praise.” (Hebrews 2:12)
Our song pleases God because we come in and through our great High Priest, whose song subsumes and perfects our own. Praying and worshiping in Christ’s name is far more than just tacking on His name at the end for maximum effect; rather it is acknowledging that it is only in Him and through Him, by His priesthood and dressed in His righteousness, that we can draw near to God at all.