In the last post, we began a consideration of Eph 5:18-21, pointing out that “command” (not really the right word) is to be filled with the Spirit. The rest of the passage is made of three participles modifying — by example — “be filled with the Spirit.”
(Eph 5:18 ESV) And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
The three participles are mistranslated in the NIV as separate sentences, giving the false impression that they are grammatically commands. The KJV and ESV are true to the Greek.
Thee three participles, giving examples of what it means to be filled with the Spirit, are —
- 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.
We’ll take them in reverse order.
Mutual submission — which Paul explains in detail in the next several verses relating to spouses, parents and children, and masters and slaves — is a product of the infilling of the Spirit. Indeed, the goal of the Spirit’s work is to make us like Jesus — and Jesus is the ultimate example of submission and service. (Paul, of course, makes this very argument when he tells husbands how to relate to their wives a few verses later.)
Gratitude, which Paul had urged back in 5:4, is also a product of the Spirit. Ultimately, gratitude comes from humility, from appreciating that what we have is a gift and that we did not earn it. Understand grace, and gratitude will be the natural result. Seek salvation by works and you just might feel like you earned it — and so fail to give God the honor he deserves.
Finally, singing is one of many ways to express joy in the Spirit and to encourage our brothers and sisters whom we love. Why sing? Because the Spirit compels us to worship! Why sing? Because we are too delighted in our God to do otherwise!
(Psa 63:3-5) Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. 4 I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. 5 My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
(Psa 71:23) My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you — I, whom you have redeemed.
Now, properly read in context and grammatically, this is not a command. It’s an explanation of the meaning of “filled with the Spirit” — which is telling us to let God fill us. We can hardly fill ourselves! And the intent is that singing to one another will be the natural outpouring of the Spirit’s work in us.
Remember the context. Paul is warning us against becoming drunk on wine. And as is true today, First Century drunkards were inclined to sing. It was a false, alcohol induced joy. Paul wants us to replace the fake with the real, the synthetic with the genuine. True joy comes from the Spirit. And it, too, leads to singing, but spiritual songs, psalms, and hymns, not the besotted songs of drunkards.
But again the apostle is not merely negative. He does not seek simply to take away joy and pleasure from men’s lives He would replace them by a higher and a better. …
Instead of the drunkenness in asotia, there should be an exhilaration of the Spirit expressed in song and praise. … The fulness of the Spirit will find manifestation in fellowship whenever Christians are found together, and will be given joyful expression in song and praise.
Francis Foulkes, The Epislte of Paul to the Ephesians, 151-2.
And so it has nothing to do with granting authority. It’s not about God granting limited, specific permission to worship him. It’s about how Christians party. Don’t get drunk on wine; rather, be filled with the Spirit and sing spiritual songs!
Does this passage say anything about instrumental music? No. Rather, it tells us how to be like God. God, you see, tells us heaven is all about singing together —
(Heb 12:22-23) But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect … .
Indeed, the Revelation is filled with songs.
And Jesus sits in heaven experiencing complete joy —
(Heb 12:2) Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
You see, God can’t give you what he doesn’t have.
This passage is not specific to the assembly. It applies to any setting where a First Century person might get drunk — a dinner party would be a very likely example in the culture of the day. Indeed, many Grecian religious rituals involved drunkenness.
Of course, many Christians celebrated the Lord’s Supper as part of a common meal, called the love feast. And certainly Paul expected that, despite the fact wine would likely be served, they must not get drunk but instead should be filled with the Spirit — which would be manifested in many ways, including singing together. But the instruction can’t be limited to the love feast. It’s about exchanging a pagan way of life from a God-like way of life.
Rather than lowering yourself to be like the drunken pagans, allow God to elevate you to truly heavenly experience. Be like God — who lives in joy amidst a singing assembly.