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.
Unlike the Old Testament, there is precious little in the New Testament about musical ministry in corporate worship. But Ephesians 5:18-20 (along with Col. 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 on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. . . .
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
“ . . . speaking to 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
“. . . with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.”
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. An Internal Ministry
“Sing and make music from your heart . . .”
“People look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7)
We are to make melody in our hearts before a song 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 about the external form it takes. Hence, our songs must well up from the inside.
5. A God-focused Ministry
“. . . to the Lord . . .
Ultimately, of course, our song is directed toward 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 God’s bidding and for God’s pleasure and glory.
6. A Responsive Ministry
“. . . always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.”
“Praise him for his surpassing greatness” (Ps. 150:2)
We only have a song to sing because of God’s initiative in revealing himself to us and showing himself mighty in 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 assembly [Jesus] will sing [the Father’s] praises” (Heb. 2:12)
Our song pleases God because we come to worship 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 Christ’s name at the end for maximum effect. Rather, it is acknowledging that it is only in Christ and through Christ, by Christ’s priesthood and dressed in Christ’s righteousness, that we can draw near to God at all.