Now, let’s return to the image of the pagan banquet, characterized by drunkenness, gluttony, and sexual immorality. This is debauchery. In contrast is the Christian love feast, the agap?. While Paul’s instructions aren’t limited to the agap?, you can’t help but figure this is the setting he had in mind as he wrote these words. The agap? is the obvious contrast. Moreover, it’s a place where Christians would gather, and because they’re gathered, would sing.
The agap? was a key part of the early Christian community (Jude 12; 2 Pet 2:13), from the very beginning of the church —
(Act 2:46-47 ESV) 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
What does this mean if not: they met in homes, ate together, and sang praises to God? Now, we want to extract some commands from this passage, but it’s more about the fulfillment of prophecy, associated with the realization of the long-promised Kingdom.
(Isa 25:6-9) On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines. 7 On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; 8 he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken. 9 In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”
(Jer 31:13-14 ESV) 13 “Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. 14 I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, declares the LORD.”
Jesus tells us more about God’s great banquet–
(Luke 14:16-24) “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. …
21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”
Jesus tells us that not only will God provide for his children in abundance, but he’ll invite, plead, and cajole the poor and the stranger to join in. The early church took communion as part of a weekly common meal — a covered dish dinner — where the congregation enjoyed fellowship and ate well. The meal was called the agap?.
We translate this “love feast,” but the word just means love. And as Thanksgiving shows us, eating together is the most natural way there is to enjoy and bestow love within a family.
But the early church did more than eat a meal and show love to each other. The love feast was also an occasion of sharing with the poor. As Tertullian wrote around 210 AD,
Our feast shows its motive by its name. It is called by the Greek word for love. Whatever … the cost, money spent in the name of religion is gain, since with that refreshment we benefit the needy. … As is so with God, there is a greater consideration for the lowly.
Everett Ferguson explains,
The love feast … was the social, convivial aspect which perhaps especially attracted many persons. The sharing of food by the wealthier with the poorer was an important means of charity.
The Lord’s Supper prefigures the heavenly meal we’ll all eat with God. And just as God seeks the forgotten, lowly of society to join in his meal, this meal must be a remembrance of our obligation to the needy in our society.
Therefore, the contrast of Eph 5:18-19 is a contrast of the pagan banquets, filled with licentiousness, where slaves girls were abused for their masters’ pleasure, with the agap?, where all classes ate together as one, where slaves ate with masters, and where the poor were implored to join with the rich in a celebration of God’s bounty, prefiguring the feast the church will enjoy at the end of time —
(Rev 3:20 ESV) 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
(Rev 19:7-9 ESV) 7 Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; 8 it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure” — for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. 9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”
Paul, therefore, writes,
(Eph 5:18b-21) but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing 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.
He is speaking of congregational life, symbolized by the agap?, to demonstrate how the church must live as a Spirit-filled community. Being filled with the Spirit means we speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs — all kinds of religious songs. The triad of terms emphasizes the wide scope of musical forms allowed. It’s not just psalms. It’s not just hymns. It’s all sorts of spiritual songs! Paul is opening the floodgates of creativity — sing however the Spirit moves you in praise of God!
“Singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks” is borrowed from —
(Psa 108:1-6 ESV) My heart is steadfast, O God! I will sing and make melody with all my being! 2 Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn!
3 I will give thanks to you, O LORD, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations.
4 For your steadfast love is great above the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!
6 That your beloved ones may be delivered, give salvation by your right hand and answer me!
How do you sing and make melody with all your being? With the harp. With the lyre. Giving thanks. Singing praises. It all fits!