This article was published by Pastor Sam Storms.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:21-24).
Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit [more literally, “in the spirit”], but I will sing with my mind also (1 Corinthians 14:13-15).
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 your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:18-20).
For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3).
And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31).
While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God (Acts 10:44-46a).
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2).
These biblical texts draw a clear and direct relationship between the ministry of the Holy Spirit and proclamation and praise. Our worship is certainly to be grounded in God’s Word and to be an accurate theological reflection of the truth of Scripture. But true worship must also be characterized by the presence and power of the Spirit. On several occasions in these texts we see that when people are filled with the Spirit they break out spontaneously in praise and celebration and occasionally during those times the Spirit speaks and imparts spiritual gifts and perhaps even brings healing to those in need.
I want to focus on two primary themes. Both of these themes are related to how we worship here at Bridgeway. So let’s look more closely at Ephesians 5.18-20.
“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 your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:18-20).
The first thing we need to observe is the relationship between being “filled with the Spirit” and worship or singing. A few observations are in order.
First, being filled with the Holy Spirit is contrasted with being drunk with wine. The issue here is one of influence, control, or power. If you insist on getting drunk, be inebriated with the Holy Spirit! Please note, however, that the force of this exhortation is not that Christians should stagger and slur their speech as those drunk with wine do. The influence of the infilling Spirit is moral in nature, the results and tangible evidence of which is the spiritual and relational fruit that Paul describes in Galatians 5. Paul envisions a community of people (the church) whose lives are so totally given over to the Spirit “that the life and deeds of the Spirit are as obvious in their case as the effects of too much wine are obvious in the other” (Gordon Fee, 721).
Second, notice that Paul does not say, “be full of the Spirit,” as though one were full of the Spirit in the same way one is full of wine. He says, “be filled by/with the Spirit.” The emphasis is on being filled to the full by the Spirit’s presence. Compare Eph. 3:19 where Paul speaks of being “filled unto the fullness of God,” i.e., of being filled up with God himself.
Does Paul mean we are to be filled “with” the Spirit, as if the Spirit is himself the content with which we are filled? Or does he mean we are to be filled “by” the Spirit, the content of which is not clearly specified? We can’t be certain, but my sense is that it is the Spirit himself who fills us or empowers us.
Third, you need to know that the verb, “be filled,” is imperative; i.e., it is a command. This is not a suggestion or a mild recommendation or a polite piece of advice. Being filled with the Holy Spirit is not optional. It is obligatory.
Fourth, the verb is also plural. “The fullness of the Holy Spirit is emphatically not a privilege reserved for some, but a duty resting on all” (John Stott, 60).
The exhortation has primarily to do with community life, i.e., the need for God’s people to be so collectively full of God’s presence that their worship is transformed, their relationships are transformed, and their lives as a totality are transformed.
Fifth, the verb is present tense, indicating that Paul envisions a continuous, on-going experience. This is not so much a dramatic or decisive experience that settles things for good, but a daily appropriation. This command is relevant to all Christians throughout the course of their lives. Short of death itself, we are to continually seek the filling and empower of the Spirit!
Sixth, the mere fact that we are commanded to be filled implies that a Christian faces the danger of being “low” (but never empty!). We are always in need of refreshing and renewal. Therefore, in view of this command, we should cease speaking of the “second” blessing and begin to seek God for a “third” and a “fourth” and a “fifth” and . . .
Seventh, and finally, be careful to note what Paul says is the consequential evidence of being filled with/by the Holy Spirit? In other words, what happens when one is filled with the Spirit? What indication is there that this has actually happened? The answer is found in vv. 18ff.
a) Speaking to one another in ministry b) Singing to God (wholehearted worship in corporate fellowship). c) Gratitude (for all things at all times). d) Mutual submission (as over against being self-assertive and demanding).
Our concern is with vv. 19-20 – addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .
Clearly, Paul envisions believers communicating truth and knowledge and instruction by means of these various forms of singing.
But what’s the difference, if any, between “psalms” and “hymns” and “spiritual songs”? Some insist there is no difference between these items. But if he meant only one thing, what is the point of employing three different words? More likely Paul had a distinction in mind that’s important for us to note.
“Psalms” most likely refers to those inspired compositions in the OT book of that name. Luke uses the word in this way in his writings (20:42; 24:44; Acts 1:20; 13:33) and Paul encouraged Christians to come to corporate worship with a “psalm” to offer (1 Cor. 14:26). The word literally meant “to pluck” or “to strike or twitch the fingers on a string” and thus could possibly refer to singing with instrumental accompaniment (although we shouldn’t restrict it to that).
The word “hymns” would be any human composition that focuses on God or Christ. Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2 or the Song of Moses in Exodus 15 would qualify, as would Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1. Perhaps the most explicit examples would be the so-called “Christ Hymns” in Philippians 2:6-11,Colossians 1:15-20, and 1 Timothy 3:16.
Why is the third expression of singing designated not simply as “songs” but as “spiritual songs”(although some contend that this adjective applies to all three)? Could it be Paul’s way of differentiating between those songs that are previously composed as over against those that are spontaneously evoked by the Spirit himself? Yes, I think so. In other words, “spiritual songs” are most likely unrehearsed and improvised, perhaps short melodies or choruses extolling the beauty of Christ. They aren’t prepared in advance but are prompted by the Spirit and thus are uniquely and especially appropriate to the occasion or the emphasis of the moment.
These are probably songs that we sing under the immediate prompting and infilling of the Holy Spirit! Paul probably has in mind spontaneous songs that break out unexpectedly in the midst of our worship.
This interpretation strikes many as strange for the simple fact that, outside of charismatic churches, there are virtually no opportunities for expressions of spontaneous praise. The only songs permitted are those listed in the bulletin, the words of which are either in the hymnbook or in liturgy. In these churches, singing is highly structured, orchestrated, and carefully controlled (but not for that reason any less godly or edifying). There is typically a distinct beginning and ending without the possibility of improvisation or free vocalization. People are expected to sing what is written in the hymnal or projected on a screen, nothing more and nothing less.
But Paul seems to envision a “singing” in which the individual is given freedom to vocalize his/her own passions, prayers, and declarations of praise. Although this may strike some as chaotic and aimless the first time it is heard (it certainly did me!), it can quickly become a beautiful and inspiring experience as the Spirit is given free rein in the hearts of Christ’s people. As the instrumentalists play a simple chord progression or perhaps even the melody of a familiar song, the people spontaneously supply whatever words are most appropriate to their state of mind and heart.
On countless occasions I have been blessed and edified by what some have called “prophetic singing” (so called because it is believed the Spirit reveals something to the person who in turn puts it to music). Typically an individual who is part of a worship team is led by the Spirit into a spontaneous song that may well evoke another to respond antiphonally. Such “spiritual songs” can last a few seconds or several minutes. Often, what one person sings will stir up yet another with a similar refrain, which on occasion will lead back into a verse or the chorus of a hymn previously sung.
More important still is the fact that such singing, whether psalms, hymns, or spiritual songs, are designed not simply to extol God but to educate his people. By means of them we “teach” and “admonish” one another. Clearly Paul envisioned songs that were biblically grounded and theologically substantive, songs that both communicated truth and called for heartfelt consecration, repentance, and devotion to the Lord. Let’s not forget that Paul is describing a situation far in advance of the printing press and hymnbooks. Thus these various expressions of singing were an invaluable means for transmitting and inculcating Christian truth.
Although many today may never experience a worship service that incorporates these elements in the way I described, the educational and convicting power in music and song cannot be denied. In his book, Real Worship, Warren Wiersbe wrote:
“I am convinced that congregations learn more theology (good and bad) from the songs they sing than from the sermons they hear. Many sermons are doctrinally sound and contain a fair amount of biblical information, but they lack that necessary emotional content that gets hold of the listener’s heart. Music, however, reaches the mind and the heart at the same time. It has power to touch and move the emotions, and for that reason can become a wonderful tool in the hands of the Spirit or a terrible weapon in the hands of the Adversary” (137).
But what should you and I do when someone leading our worship launches out into a “spiritual song”? What are we to do when “prophetic singing” occurs? How do we keep ourselves from disengaging, thinking that this is only for the benefit of the person singing and has nothing to do with me?
(1) Listen and Learn! Note v. 19a – “addressing one another” . . . in “spiritual songs.” Meditate on what is being sung. Focus on the words. Ask the Spirit to quicken in your own heart and mind the truth of what is being sung. Be open to being taught in those times of prophetic worship. The Spirit may well have prepared something uniquely and especially for you!
(2) Sing the same song. Listen for recurring phrases and the melody line and if it lasts long enough, join the singer in whatever “spiritual song” he/she is singing.
(3) Sing your own “spiritual song”. Take whatever truth about God or Jesus the Spirit has awakened in your heart and put it in your own words, adapting it to the melody of the leader. It may be a short, simple phrase of praise or thanksgiving or proclamation or prayer.
(4) Pray. Use the time to intercede for yourself or others. Or perhaps take the truth of what is being sung and let that shape and form the content of your prayers. Turn their “spiritual song” into personal intercession!
(5) Give thanks (v. 20)! Spend time thanking God (either in prayer or in song) for all that he has done.