Worship and the Power of Song

By Mark D. Roberts

October 21, 2019

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.

Ephesians 5:18-19 (NIV)


As we saw in last Thursday’s Life for Leaders devotion, the positive imperative of Ephesians 5:18 – “be filled with the Spirit” – is grammatically connected to five participles in the following verses: speaking, singing, making music, giving thanks, submitting. Today, we’ll begin to examine the first of these participles, Ephesians 5:19. When we are filled with the Spirit of God, we will speak to each other “with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.” What does this mean? How will we do this?

open hymnal bookFirst of all, what are psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit? As you might imagine, biblical scholars have pondered this question for centuries, coming up with a variety of answers. Some commentators believe that psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit are distinct musical types that can be clearly delineated. Others disagree, arguing that Paul is simply stacking up words that overlap in meaning. I believe that psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs should not be seen as completely distinct musical genres—though each term emphasizes a distinct aspect of music used in worship.

The word “psalms” (plural of Greek psalmos) points to the songs collected in the Old Testament book of Psalms, but may also include spontaneous songs inspired by the Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 14:26). “Hymns” (plural of Greek hymnos) appears twice in the New Testament: here and in a parallel passage in Colossians 3:16. It’s likely that a hymn is a familiar, previously composed song of praise to God (see Matthew 26:30; Acts 16:25). “Songs from the Spirit” (plural of ode pneumatike) may be spontaneous creations sung in the context of Christian worship. Though we cannot be exactly sure of the precise meaning of “psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit,” we do know that these are all musical numbers used to praise and glorify God in the gathering of believers.

The connection between singing and spiritual inspiration is familiar to most Christians. At times, we experience God filling us with the Spirit when we are lifting our voices in praise. At other times, when God fills us with his Spirit, music provides a way for us to express the praise stirred up inside of us. No matter how and when we sing to the Lord, Ephesians 5:19 reminds us to lift our voices in musical praise. Yet, as we’ll see in tomorrow’s devotion, this verse commends a surprising and unexpected use of worship music.

For now, take some time to mull over the following questions.

Something to Think About:

In your experience, has the filling of the Spirit been connected with music? How would you describe this connection?

Why do you think singing is so closely associated with the filling of the Spirit?

Something to Do:

Sometimes we can sing songs and hymns of worship without really attending to what we’re saying, especially if what we’re singing is familiar. The next time you are worshiping God with music, pay attention to what you’re singing. Think about the words, what they mean and how they make you feel. Let your singing be intentional communication with God.


Gracious God, thank you for the music you give us to praise and worship you. Thank you for the psalms of the Old Testament, which inspire us and teach us how to pray. Thank you for the hymns and songs that have been composed by musicians and poets throughout the centuries, right up to this present moment. Thank you for spontaneous songs that rise in the hearts of your people as we worship you.

Help us, Lord, to worship you with songs, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. May our worship encourage us to open our lives more fully to you, so that you might fill us afresh with your Spirit. Amen.

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online
Spiritual Gifts in Community (1 Corinthians 12:1–14:40)

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

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,...

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