Why We Sing at Church Wonder & Awe 8 (Ephesians 5:18-20)
Our awesome God has always been moving progressively closer to us:
In the Old Testament, He was “above us” in the cloud, mysterious, shrouded in smoke like at Mt. Sinai or in fire like at the burning bush. Isaiah saw Him “high and lifted up” (Isaiah 6:1ff.).
In the gospels, He came “among us”: “The Word was God… and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). “I have come to show you the Father” (John 14:16)
After His death, resurrection, and ascension, He is “in us” – “I will ask the Father and he will send you a Helper (the Holy Spirit) and he will be with you forever and in you” (John 14:16).
“Awesome” is an overused word, but it does not over-compliment our God! Our ability to walk out these church doors and live righteous lives is only possible by His Holy Spirit being in us.
Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:18-20…
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Yes, Paul said, “Don’t be drunk with wine,” but he’s really not preaching about drinking here, though drunkenness is sinful. He mentions drinking because he writes from the city of Ephesus which had a temple where a part of the worship was drinking till completely smashed. The worshippers believed intoxication made them one with their God. Paul knows the true God and a better way to be one with Him: “be filled with the Spirit.”
The time action of “be filled” in the Gk. language tells us we’re to begin now “being filled with the Spirit” and as we live into our future, keep on “being filled” with Him.
An interesting question arises: how exactly are we “filled with the Spirit”? We know that the Holy Spirit is a “gift” for every Christian at baptism (Acts 2:38), yet Paul informs us here that He may not always “filling” us. In fact, we have to do something to keep on being filled with Him. Think exercise we do to shed flab… we can work hard and get in great shape. But then, we have to keep exercising or we’ll go straight back to flabby. Keeping on “being filled with the Spirit” means staying plugged in to God’s power; if we stop “being filled,” it means we’re unplugged.
So then, another question: how do we plug in? There are two ways… The first way is having God’s Word, having Christ’s teaching in us. Look at what Paul says in Colossians 3:16, 17, a parallel text to Ephesians 5, in fact, an almost identical text:
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
Paul here says that the Word needs to be in us “richly” – “richly” is the key word. For the Spirit to be in us, we need a breadth and depth of God’s Word in us, more than just a verse a day, more than a 30 min. sermon on Sun. morning. The Word in us “richly” won’t mean we’ll walk around all the time feeling supernatural power from God; but it will mean we have God’s wisdom in our heads and a trust of Him in our hearts that will be available for the challenges we face.
Do you know someone mired in sin? Ask them to tell you about their time in the Word. They will always answer, “There is none.” Someone entangled in an affair can’t be spending quality time in God’s Word. Neither could anyone doing drugs. Two things are always true of one living a sinful life: (1) they’ve left the community of God, and (2) they’ve left the Word. There’s a direct correlation between time in God’s Word and living a pure life – God’s Word fills with the Spirit who enable living a pure life. So, note again, our getting into the Word needs to be enough that it will “dwell richly” in us.
Still in Colossians, Paul says that the second way of being constantly filled with the Spirit is in “addressing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” – SINGING! This is the first way in Paul’s Ephesians text.
Have you ever wondered why we spend so much time singing? Why do a bunch of people, a lot of them fully grown, sing and sing and sing? I’ve read about two English chaps – atheists – who came to America to check out American churches to see what made them tick. They were totally befuddled as to why intelligent-looking people would sing so much. We know the answer they couldn’t see: people singing are filling themselves with the Spirit!
There are three notable aspects of Christian worship. The first is VERTICAL. Our singing is first to God. The Psalms over and over – hundreds of times – say “sing to the Lord.” The Hebrews would have never considered each other to be the main audience. God was their main audience and He’s our main audience! The reason praising God gushes from our hearts is disclosed in Paul’s last phrase in Ephesians (v 20): “giving thanks always and forever to God…” Singing to God in praise is easy and natural when we, “filled with the Spirit,” are consumed by all His grace and goodness to us, and full of thanksgiving. Really, if we can’t come in here and sing because of what God’s done for us, something’s seriously wrong in our hearts. We need to... pray, talk to someone; ask the church for spiritual help.
A second aspect is INWARD. Paul wrote of, “making melody in your heart” (v 19). Songs pierce our hearts with their words and lofty truths. Along with the Spirit coming into us as the Word gets into us “richly,” singing fills us with the Spirit. When we arrive here we may not be “filled with the Spirit,” but we should be when we walk out. Why? Every time I come, the church sings eternal truths.
The third aspect is HORIZONTAL… Paul writes that we “…address one another.” Some versions say we “encourage one another.” So we address God and also “one another.” When we’re together singing, Paul says we’re “filling” each other “with the Spirit.”
I want to give some real life examples of that happening:
John was baptized before he was a teen, but as a freshman in college was practicing just about every imaginable sin. One night he walked into a dorm Bible study where a group of guys were singing “Lord, You are more precious than silver; Lord, You are more costly than gold; Lord, You are more beautiful than diamonds… and nothing I desire compares with You.” He says it pierced his heart and changed his life – the song gave the Spirit a chance to shake him awake.
Bill, a minister, tells of working with a church of “tough people” who had bruised and battered him to the point he was giving up and leaving ministry. But at a Tulsa Workshop session he sat with 3,000 people singing “Holy, holy, holy” and his heart yielded to the Spirit again.
Terry, a university student, was lonely and struggling with classes and finances, and wondering if God loved her at all. A friend invited her to a college ministry “retreat” where she heard several hundred students singing “When peace like a river attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea-billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul’.” She says that she was reminded that it was well with her soul and she had always been living in the warmest rays of God’s love, and the Spirit came alive in her heart again.
Jane, diagnosed with cancer, was devastated by the news and scared to death of what was ahead for her. But the very next Sunday she sat down with her church family and they sang “Blessed be Your name in a land that is plentiful… blessed be your name on a road marked with suffering… You give and take away…” And God’s Spirit filled and renewed her and she was able to move forward.
Has this kind of thing happened to you? I’ve often thought God aimed what at first seemed a random song or sermon or Bible class or word from a friend (or even a stranger) directly at my heart.
When we come and sing, yes, God hears and is honored; yes, we benefit by filling our heart and soul with God’s Spirit; and yes, our songs fill others around us in the same way:
In front of you may be a brother who’s been sick a long, long time and your singing “Does Jesus care when my heart is pained? Oh yes, He cares, I know He cares” can fill him with God’s comfort and love.
Next to you may be a sister struggling with self-worth who will be reminded of Jesus’ blood and His love as you sing “See from His head… hands… feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down…”
Behind you may be a fellow-Christian in a difficult marriage with a hard-to-love spouse and your praise saying “anywhere with Jesus I can safely go” might send them home with new hope that He will be with them and see them through the struggle, wherever it leads.
Across the room may be someone who’s recently lost a loved one who can’t hear you because they’re too far away but they can see you putting your whole heart into “God is so good… He’s so good to me,” or “Some glad morning when this life is over I’ll fly away to a home on God’s celestial shore…” and they can be reminded of God’s sovereignty and constant, tender care and His future for all who are faithful.
We sing because we need to praise our wonderful God, because we need to be filled with the Spirit, and because those around us need filling.
A few objections need to be handled. Some say, “Hey man, I’m just not into singing.” So far in your life, maybe you’re not, but Paul’s saying here that you ought to be and you need to be, both for your own sake, and for the sake of people you love. Your fellow Christians need you singing; the one seeking salvation needs you singing about where to find it – maybe your song-sermon will strike their heart far better than the sermon-sermon.
Then, some say, “Hey, Preacher, my voice sounds like a goat being slaughtered…” This could be true, but God gave us our voices and He longs to hear us using them to praise Him. So apologize to the folks around you if you think you need to, then let ‘er rip! WE’D ALL BEST BE CAREFUL FROWNING AT SOMETHING DOWN HERE WHEN GOD IS SMILING AT IT UP THERE… and He will be smiling at your praise that won’t hurt His ears at all. Let’s let others’ expressions of faith in God, on key or off, and love for Him “fill us with the Spirit.”
And then, here’s one more: “Hey… I’m a manly man and I’m uncomfortable singing.” That just won’t wash! David was manly man – he killed a lion and a bear while a boy, took down a nine-foot tall giant as a teenager, and battled God’s enemies all around as a man. But notice please that when a man he shouted and sang and played and danced for joy to his God! If you’re a man who wants to be “after God’s heart,” you’ll sing, too, with joy that God’s in your life!
If the ideas of praising our awesome God, filling our own souls with the Spirit, and others’ souls, too, don’t stir us to sing, then let’s sing out of obedience to God. We’re His children and Paul’s commanding us here. Singing, if only out of obedience, God will bless! We’ll be reminded of Him, who He is, who we are to Him, how He loves us, and of Jesus and all His grace did for us. And the words and truths will fill us and others with the Spirit. Then we can sing full, with the goodness of God overflowing our heart.
Now, let’s sing for a while to be “doers” and not just “hearers.”
· to God because He’s the awesome one and only True and Living God
· to ourselves to fill up our own tanks with God’s Spirit so we’ll walk out of here different than when we came in and be able to live for Him
· to others to bless them with both the truths of the songs and the testimony of our faith
· to be obedient
Father, we love You.Thank You that You’re a God who is worthy of praise, that You are an Almighty but also a tender loving God.I pray that there will be some people here today who, for the first time in a long time, or perhaps the first time ever in their lives, will be “filled with the Spirit” and say, “Thank You, Lord, I’ve been longing for that.In Jesus’ name, Amen.