Doug Van Meter - 12 May 2019
Sing to One Another (Ephesians 5:19)
Singing is a form of speaking, but I want to focus in this study on the limited subject of actually singing to one another. It includes the matter of singing withone another, and that is important. But the more active emphasis of singing toone another is our theme in this brief study. Obviously, if we will sing toone another, we must sing withone another. But how, exactly, do we do that?
Singing plays a large role in the life of a church, and therefore in the life of the Christian. It always has. When God created the world, his holy angels sang together (Job 38:6–7). When God delivered his people from Egypt, the people were provided with a song to sing—together—in celebration of this great deliverance (Exodus 15:1–21). When Moses ended his ministry of leading Israel, just prior to them entering the Promised Land, he wrote a song for them to sing together (Deuteronomy 32). When Saul and Jonathon were killed in battle, David wrote the ‘Song of the Bow’ for the nation to use in its mourning (2 Samuel 1:17–27). When David ruled as king, he wrote many, many songs for the people of God to sing together. (We call this collection of songs the Psalms.) Solomon likewise did the same.
When David made preparations for the temple, which his son Solomon would build, he organised the priests into orders, who would take turns singing there. When Nehemiah dedicated the rebuilt walls, he organised these orders to stand on the walls and to sing in celebration of what God had wrought. When Jesus was born, Mary articulated the Magnificat, likely in song. When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, afterwards he and the disciples sung a hymn (Matthew 26:30). When Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi, remarkably, they sang praise to God (Acts 16:25). When the 24 elders surround the throne in heaven, they sing a new song (Revelation 4:9–11).
In summary, God’s people are a singing people. When the gospel grips the heart, it also does something to the vocal chords. We might say that, when the gospel frees us from sin, it frees us to sing.
I am currently reading a latest biography of Martin Luther, written by Eric Metaxas. He makes the observation that Luther is almost as well-known in some circles for his numerous hymns as he is for his numerous theological books and biblical sermons. The justified soul just can’t help but to sing!
I found it interesting that the first hymn he wrote was the result of the first martyrdom during the Reformation. Two young men in Brussels refused to compromise on the biblical gospel and were burned at the stake. When he heard this, Luther wrote a hymn to honour them. Many more martyrs would die, and many more hymns would arise.
It is because God’s people sing that Paul, after writing so much about the glory of the church, exhorts her to sing.
To and with Whom We are to Sing
In worship, we sing to God. The Scriptures stress that we are to sing to the Lord. The psalmist makes this plea repeatedly. There is a sense in which we must always have a song in our hearts and on our lips.
Paul expected that Christians would sing corporately. We are to sing together. We are to sing to God together and, when we do so, we also are to sing to one another. Paul tells us so here.
Singing in Submission
We are to sing in submission to one another. That is, we should sing conscientiously. We should think about what we are doing and therefore about what we are singing and with whom we are singing. Biblically, the congregation is the choir.
But what is involved in such singing? Since this is such an important part of corporate worship, we should understand what it involves. I will address four aspects, from the text, if we will properly sing to one another.
We Must Sing Dutifully
We are under obligation—under divine command—to sing to one another. Paul did not merely suggest what might be nice to do when we gather. No, he prescribed what we are to do. He regulated what must take place when we gather together. When the Ephesians received this letter and heard it read, they perhaps immediately broke into song. That would have been completely appropriate!
This verse makes it clear that Christians are under obligation to gather together, and when they do, among other prescribed duties, they are to sing together. More specifically, they are under obligation to sing to one another—not as a serenade, but rather as a means of instruction.
If you do not sing, you are not obeying Scripture. Make sure you arrive prepared to obey this Scripture. And by preparation, I primarily mean warming your heart, rather than your vocal chords. Arrive with a communal mindset. Arrive with a ministering mindset. Arrive prepared to sing. And when the church sings, don’t just stand there—sing something! But this raises another important question: What shall we sing?
We Must Sing Dynamically
We should sing to one another as those who are “filled with the Spirit” (v. 18). Verse 19 doesn’t appear in a void. It has a context, and that context is v. 18. Everything from 5:19–6:9 (and perhaps further) is intimately connected with the commandment of 5:18: “Be filled with the Spirit.”
The contrast with not being drunk is most likely a hint that Paul was contrasting pagan worship with Christian worship. The Ephesians had been converted out of pagan idolatry whose worship involved drunken orgies. Paul shows them that Christian worship is orderly and decent. It is guided, not by spirits, but rather by the Spirit.
To be filled with the Spirit is to be Christ-centred (John 16:13). And Christ-centred people sing because they realise, in the words of one song-writer, that “All I Have is Christ.”
Our singing is a duty, as we have seen, but is not a grudging duty; it is a joyful one. So, let’s walk in the Spirit, talk in the Spirit, and sing to one another in the Spirit. And since the Holy Spirit loves to point us to Jesus Christ, the content of what we sing is important.
We Must Sing Doctrinally
As we sing to one another, we must be filled with the Scriptures. The parallel text in Colossians 3:16 makes this clear: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).
In Colossians, Paul likewise instructs his readers to sing to one another. But rather than prefacing his command with the injunction to be filled with the Spirit, he says that they are to be filled with the Scriptures. The word of God (Christ) is to dwell in them richly. Their lives are to be saturated with the gospel. When it is, scriptural singing will flow from their mouths.
There are many lessons we can derive from this text, but the fundamental one for our purposes is that, when we gather to sing together, we must be sure we are singing truth. Singing is to be biblically edifying, but if we are not careful, our singing can be erroneous and therefore dishonouring to God and not helpful to others.
In other words, just because it is in a hymnbook, or just because it is written by a Christian, does not necessarily mean that it is truthful. We need to be discerning in what we sing, just as much as we need to be discerning in what we say.
The word of God is to be central in all that we do in our corporate worship. We often remind ourselves as a church that we gather to read the word, to preach the word, to pray the word, to see the word (in the ordinances), and to sing the word. What we mean by singing the word is not necessarily that we sing Psalms (though we should do more of this), or that we are singing passages for verses from the Bible (though many if not most of our songs do contain these). Rather our commitment is that we will sing what is biblically true.
In our church, we occasionally change the lyrics of hymns to produce a more biblical sentiment. For example, there is a line in What a Friend We Have in Jesusthat reads “we should never be discouraged.” It is hard to square that sentiment with some of Paul’s writings, particularly, perhaps, to the Corinthians. It is perfectly suitable to sing, as we do, that “we should never stay discouraged.”
Many songs about “heaven” are nonsensical because they are unbiblical. We have put materialism to music and called error good!
“You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart!” Where is that answer ever provided in Scripture?
The point is that our singing, as we have seen, is instructive. And therefore we want to be sure that we are providing biblical instruction.
Practically, the songs that we sing corporately are the responsibility of the eldership, who are responsible to teach the congregation. Since the eldership is charged with feeding the flock of God, this obviously calls for care concerning what the congregation eats when we sing.
We Must Sing Devotedly
Finally, we are to sing out of thankfulness to God: “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 20).
As we gather and sing together, to one another, we must do so “making melody in our hearts to the Lord.” What does this mean?
First, it means that our singing is two-dimensional. That is, it is both horizontal (to one another) and vertical (to the Lord). Second, it means that it is also three-dimensional, for we do something personally and individually as well. Paul is telling us that we are to be doing something with our hearts. We are to be “playing” them. Let me explain.
The words, “making melody” translate a word from which we get our English word “psalm.” It means, “to rub or touch the surface; to twitch or twang, i.e. to play on a stringed instrument.” By so doing, a melody is made. Music is made.
In other words, Paul expects Christians, and therefore church members, to make a deliberate effort in turning their hearts into an instrument of praise. Put another way, we are to take ourselves (our hearts) into our hands and bring them under the lordship of Christ, dedicating them to him. And one way we express this is by deliberately opening our mouths and singing to the Lord. This is part of what it means to sing devotedly. We must do something.
In the light of all that we have seen with reference to this commanded, it is clear that, when the congregation gathers to worship together, a lot of effort is required. This is true not only in planning the singing, not only in practicing by the musicians, but also in the preparing of the congregational choir.
We are to make sure that the instruments of our hearts are ready. We are to make sure that we prepare to engage our minds as well as our mouths. This is perhaps why it would be wise for us to more consistently have a moment of pause as we begin corporate worship. What we are about to do is awesome in both its privilege and its responsibility.
So, the next time you gather to sing, take this very seriously. Consider your God; consider your fellow church member; consider yourself.
When we gather to sing, we gather to point each other to the worth of Christ. The person sitting next to you, or even across the hall, may need to hear encouragement from you: “Our God is great!” “Great is his faithfulness!” They might need to be reminded of the “deep, deep love of Jesus,” or to be reminded that “God moves in a mysterious way.” Perhaps they need to be exhorted and convicted that God is “holy, holy, holy” because he is “Lord God Almighty.” Perhaps a broken church member needs to hear a choir of voices reminding her, “Oh yes, he cares, I know he cares, his heart is touched with my grief,” and she might need the encouragement that will arise from hearing you sing to her, “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear.” Perhaps a disillusioned brother needs the reminder to “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” If so, sing this to them—and with them.
Brothers and sisters, let us sing together!