October 22, 2019 • Life for Leaders
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.
At first glance, Ephesians 5:19 seems to be confusing, if not just plain confused. According to this verse, as we are filled with the Spirit, we will be “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.” Doesn’t it make more sense for us to speak to God – or, better yet, to sing to God – using these musical genres? How are we to speak to one another with songs that are meant for God?
One answer to this question points to the different audiences of music used in worship. Some songs address God directly. Consider, for example, Psalm 75:1, “We praise you, God, we praise you, for your Name is near; people tell of your wonderful works.” But other songs of worship speak to people, “Praise the LORD, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples” (Psalm 117:1). Thus, we could easily speak to each other with the words of Psalm 117 and similar musical numbers. This is surely part of what is meant in Ephesians 5:19.
But I would suggest that when Paul urges us to speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, he has something more than this in mind. At several points in his writings, Paul quotes or paraphrases a song from early Christian worship. Philippians 2:5-11 would be a salient example (“Christ Jesus . . . who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited. . . .”) Moreover, in Ephesians, only five verses before telling us to speak to each other with the songs of worship, Paul seems to have done this very thing. Ephesians 5:14 reads, “This is why it is said, ‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’” I agree with many commentators that this quotation is a snippet of a song from early Christian worship. It may have been sung in the context of baptism.
So we also might quote from the language of worship as we are speaking to each other. But even if we’re not using the exact words we sing as we worship, our language and thinking can and should be shaped by what we express in worship. If, for example, we sing “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me,” should not our speech be more gracious? Should not the grace we’ve received from God be shared with others as we speak to them at work or at home, in our neighborhood as well as our church?
As I reflect on Ephesians 5:19 and what it means to speak to others in psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, I ask myself the following questions. Perhaps you’d like to join me in this reflection.
Something to Think About:
Do I let the language of worship shape and enrich my everyday speech?
Or do I tend to keep worship “in church” and “in my private devotions”?
How can my speech reflect the language of worship in a way that isn’t silly or off-putting?
Something to Do:
The next time your heart is struck by a phrase from a song of worship, hold onto that phrase. Reflect on it. Pray about it. Let it fill your soul. Then see if the truth contained in that phrase might shape how you speak to others.
Gracious God, once again I thank you for the psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with which I can worship you, either when I am gathered with other believers or when I am alone with you. I’m grateful for the ways these musical numbers allow me to express my heart to you, even as they help me to open my whole life to you.
May what I sing, say, and do in worship not be cloistered there. May the words and truths of worship fill my speaking and my living. May my worship enrich my conversation today. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online
Do Your Work in a Worthy Manner (Philippians 1:27–2:11)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.