“… 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, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” – Ephesians 5:18b-21 (ESV)
Whenever a person makes the decision to put their trust in Jesus Christ, a couple things happen. 1) The Spirit of Christ Himself immediately comes to live in them. 2) Their life now falls under the control of the Spirit of Christ as they begin and continue to obey God’s commands. One of the commands God gives to His followers is “to be filled with the Spirit.” While the Holy Spirit is given at the moment of salvation (Ephesians 1:13), there is a continuous action of being filled.
What does it look like to “be filled with the Holy Spirit?” Pastor Dave Hart (Wisconsin, 2022) and Pastor John Piper (Minnesota, 1981) both answer this question with one word: joy! Pastor Piper further detailed it: “… it means radiant joy, because the Spirit who fills us is the Spirit of joy that flows between God the Father and God the Son because of the delight they have in each other. Therefore, to be filled with the Spirit means to be caught into the joy that flows among the Holy Trinity and to love God the Father and God the Son with the very love with which they love each other.”
Pastor Hart pointed out that being filled with the Spirit, as found in Ephesians 5, releases a song in us. Sound strange? Let’s think about it. When we are particularly happy about something, we often start humming, whistling, or singing. Music (or a song) is a natural response to happiness! How many movies play cheery, happy music in the background when a couple is falling in love or when something great happens? (Thank you, Disney, for demonstrating that breaking out into song when you’re happy is completely normal.)
You don’t have to be a musician or singer in order to express the song in your heart. God loves the person belting a song out of tune just as much as He loves the formally trained choir member. Just because you can’t play a tune on an instrument doesn’t mean you can’t make music to the Lord. No matter your natural ability, to say that music doesn’t affect you actually isn’t Biblical. When the joy of Christ has filled your life, music becomes part of your new life!
Psalm 96:1- “Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!”
1 Corinthians 14:15- “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, but I will sing with my mind also.”
Isaiah 42:10- “Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the end of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that fills it, the coastlands and their inhabitants.”
In joy, a song is released in us… but it’s not a song of our own making or choosing. This song of joy comes from the One who gave us this great joy.
Psalm 40:3a- “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.”
Psalm 42:8- “By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.”
While it may be easy to think that singing any song is the evidence of joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, we must remember that God knows our hearts far better than we do ourselves. He knows what is genuine. In a sermon about Christian singing in corporate worship (Piper, 1997), John Piper shared a few valuable insights about singing to God from Ephesians 5:19.
Singing is to be from the heart. The opposite of "singing and making melody with your heart" would be singing and making melody with your mouth and whatever willpower it takes to make the mouth move. But "with your heart" signifies that you mean it and that you feel it.
Singing is to be “to the Lord.” When you sing, whether you are singing directly to the Lord or whether you are singing indirectly to the Lord, sing with a focus on the present hearing of Jesus and the Father.
Singing is to be to each other. This has at least three implications for us. One is that we should get together and sing as a congregation and as small groups. We should sing in each other's hearing and want to be heard by each other. The second implication is that it is justifiable that many of our great hymns and newer worship songs are addressed not to God but to each other. The third implication is that the use of solos or musical groupings like worship teams and choirs can be part of this speaking to one another in songs.
To be filled with the Spirit is to be filled with joy, and out of that joy comes a song/music put into our hearts by God. It’s that simple, and also that complex.
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