Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 5:19b “. . .in psalms. . .”
Psalms were originally poems written to be sung accompanied by a harp. When speaking of the highest things, we speak in the highest form of language, poetry. Skilled writers turn intense feelings into poetry.
The greatest Jewish harp-music-poems were collected into one volume, the Old Testament book of Psalms, which served as the hymnbook of the Temple in Jesus and Paul’s day. The Psalms, still a chief part of worship, provide expressions of nearly every mood and emotion of souls before God.
The fact Israel’s songs of worship attained the status of Scripture is a statement in and of itself of the importance of music. Music is a powerful force. Andrew Fletcher (1635-1716) once wrote in a letter, “I knew a very wise man that believed that, if a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation.”
We who grew up in the 1960s understand the power of music. It defined us. Many cultural problems of today are the result of sins magnified in the music of yesterday (and today). This is not to say any particular style of music is all bad. It is unfair, for instance, to say all jazz, country, or rock and roll, music is satanic. As with anything secular, some is, some is not.
Attack the evil, not the box it is packaged in. Some say they will never watch any television, or listen to any radio, or hear rock and roll music, or use the internet. Such abstinances are well meant, but general legalism does not in the long run help. It is the evil within any system which must be avoided.
It is also wrong to say all songs of a particular type of music are okay. To accept any type of music wholesale is to put our stamp of approval on much that is evil. The Christian must always be discerning. If we hear a song which includes profanity, blasphemy, sexual innuendo, or glorifies any form of sin, the music should be turned off immediately. Aristotle rightly claimed, “Music represents the passions of the soul, and if one listens to the wrong music he will become the wrong kind of person.”
Amazingly, the godless society around us is sometimes smarter than Christians are about the power of music. MTV, proud to be a leading contributor to cultural decay worldwide, advertises itself as “not a TV channel, but a cultural force. People don’t watch it. They live it. MTV has affected the way an entire generation thinks, talks, and buys.” Bob Pittman, one of MTV’s creators, brazenly says, “At MTV, we don’t shoot for the 14-year-olds, we own them.” This is being said of a network which, in all of its thirteen years on the air, has never, according to their own Kurt Loder, aired a video which celebrates sex within marriage. Loder said, “There’s definitely a feeling in the media today that marriage is square, it’s over–that we should be talking about non-traditional marriages or something” (MTV info from “Focus on the Family” magazine, August 1994, pp. 2-4).
Parents, music matters, and it will have an impact on our children’s lives, like it or not. They are going to hear evil music, and we must be ready and able to discuss it with them, to refute the bad they are hearing.
Eph. 5:19c “. . .and hymns. . .”
The Psalms, written before Christ, did not give expression to the height of privilege enjoyed in Jesus. Thus, the early believers composed music which allowed them to exalt the precious name of Jesus. In 112 A.D., the Roman Governor Pliny, in a letter to the Emperor Trajan, says the Christians in his province had the custom of meeting on a fixed day before dawn and “reciting a hymn responsively to Christ as God.”
In classic Greek, a hymn was a festive lyric in praise of a god or hero (Foulkes). We borrowed the term to describe our songs which entail praise, especially those addressed directly to God. “How Great Thou Art,” “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” and “Holy, Holy, Holy” are among our most familiar hymns. “Hymns” enhance our worship by directing our thoughts unto God, who is worthy to be praised.
Eph. 5:19d “. . .and spiritual songs,. . .”
“Spiritual songs” contain themes other than praise. This expands the content of our music, and allows for greater variety of matter, including doctrine, testimony, encouragement, and history. “It is Well with My Soul” and “Amazing Grace” are “spiritual songs.” We who grew up on Southern Gospel and Stamps-Baxter music have a huge repertoire of “spiritual songs.”
God’s people have always been singers. At the Red Sea, we sang (EX 15:1). David played the harp, sang, and wrote psalms. Of 38,000 Levites he chose for Temple service, 4,000 were musicians assigned to raise sounds of joy loudly in singing and on musical instruments (1 CH 15:16; 23:5).
In days of captivity, “by the rivers of Babylon,” we wept and “hanged our harps upon the willows,” but never forgot the songs of Zion (PS 137:1-4; 126:1-2). Tertullian, about 200 A.D., describes a Christian feast at which “each is invited to sing to God in the presence of others from what he knows of the holy scripture or from his own heart.” The darkest years of Church history were marked in general by no singing, but there were exceptions, including St. Francis, known as the troubadour of God. In the Reformation, Luther returned hymn singing to the Church. People again began singing by their firesides. Charles Wesley wrote 6,000 songs. Great preachers have been accompanied by gifted singers–Moody/Sankey, Ham/Ramsay, Sunday/Rodeheaver, Graham/Barrows and Shea. Southern Baptist worship would be hard to imagine without B.B. McKinney’s songs. Every believer can say with David, “He hath put a new song in my mouth” (PS 40:3).
Eph. 5:19e “. . .singing and making melody in your heart to the
Be careful not to make outward music an end in itself. It is hypocrisy to draw nigh with the mouth while the heart is far off. The lips are to be prompted by the heart, by a music which cannot be heard by man.
What we do on the outside for the “audience of many”–encouragement, edification, teaching, admonishing, etc.–must be done from an inner motive of pleasing God. The latter is our worship which involves “an audience of One.” “In your heart” you sing for the Divine ear, “to the Lord,” by making sure all motives are pure and that the outward music is being offered as a true reflection of what God Himself would have us do or say.
Eph. 5:20a “Giving thanks. . .”
“In the heart” is the crucible where true worship begins. Thankfulness is the catalyst which kindles this worship. The Spirit’s filling pushes out a sour, ungrateful spirit and replaces it with a sweet, thankful sound.
Few things are more despicable than ingratitude. Shakespeare portrays it as a “marble-hearted fiend!. . . .How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.” Ingratitude certainly characterizes our society. The medieval legend told by John MacArthur applies to our day. Two angels were sent to earth to gather the prayers of God’s people. One was to collect requests, the other thanksgivings. The angel responsible for requests was unable to carry them all in one load. The angel who collected thanksgivings was able to carry them all back in one hand.
In America we have an abundance, and yet characteristically moan and groan about everything–houses, cars, jobs, vacations. I am reminded of God’s description of sinful Israel in the wilderness, “He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul” (PS 106:15). We worship sex and materialism, and cannot lust for them enough. God is letting us have our gods in abundance, and yet at the same time we are absolutely miserable as a society. If you do not believe this, call any counseling agency in town and request an appointment for tomorrow or any other time this week–you might be able to get in sometime next month, if you are lucky.
Our society has forgotten the duty, and thus lost the joy, of thankfulness. When focused on thanks, worries disappear, burdens vanish. Gratitude is a mental healer, and our land needs an inner balm. May God use us believers to display for others this wonderful path to inner calm.
We Christians should buck the cultural trend of complaining. Constant groaning is not a minor matter. It affronts God’s wisdom and love.
Much of our complaining is merely the result of poor habits. We grumble about every little ailment and before we know it, the pattern is established. We need to kick this habit because grumbling is the death-knell of evangelism. Remember the context of our verse. We are to display the real Spirit-filled joy of which wine-filled drunkenness is but a cheap counterfeit. “Our crusty tempers and sour faces will never be evangelists” (Spurgeon), but a grateful spirit glorifies God, and woos sinners to Jesus.