Speak to One Another

As I continue my series on Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, I want to explore a common key thought in our two key passages: to speak to or admonish one another.

Here are the passages again.

Ephesians 5:18-20:

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Colossians 3:16:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

The Direction of Worship

The concept of speaking to, teaching and admonishing one another goes to the direction of our worship. It is surprising because you would have thought the primary direction of worship is God, not our fellow believers. And yet, when Paul talks about psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, he was concerned that the church should “make music in their hearts to the Lord”, but also, in the same breath, that the church should “speak to one another”.

In the many years I’ve been involved in worship ministry, worship leaders often get worried about loss of focus and they say something like this: “I feel the songs we are singing are getting too subjective. We should focus more on objectively praising God”. That is a very legitimate view, but somehow, I think it limits the work of the Spirit in worship. For example, as I mentioned in my previous post, even though the song “How He Loves” is very much me-focussed, it is ultimately God-glorifying. And I think it is true that sometimes, like Mary, Jesus is more God (if that’s the right phrase) when we are drawing from his sufficiency.

In the olden days, we used to sing a song called “Seek ye first the kingdom of God…” When I think about it, it was quite ludicrous that we would all stare forward towards the screen, look heavenward, and then sing these words to God and as if He needed to be reminded that He ought to seek first His kingdom! In fact, that was probably a prophetic song that we should have been directing to each other. Maybe it would have served its effect better if we had looked into each other’s eyes and sung it!

But it is clear to me from our two key passages that worship actually moves in two directions (and if we must rank them in order of priority, we would say it like this): worship is to God, but also for the people.

This correlation exists precisely because God is God. His goodness cannot be contained within Himself because God (by definition) must be the highest example of selfless generosity.

Tom Inglis put it this way:

“Worship is something that God cannot give Himself. When we give God what He cannot give Himself, He gives us what we cannot give ourselves.”

Jack Hayford in his book Worship His Majesty says this:

A worship service is convened (1) to serve God with our praise and (2) to serve people’s need with His sufficiency…. We gather to worship God. But now, without supplanting the worship of God, we add a second focus: man’s need and God’s ability to supply it.

Our blessing God, and His blessing us, is actually part of the same continuum.

So let’s not be too religious about this. It’s okay to expect God to bless us too! And you can expect this to happen this coming Sunday (or any other time for that matter) when you come to worship.

The Teaching Function of Worship: Being Filled with the Word

I have already touched on the fact that Luther was very astute about the role of music in teaching the masses.

This is why Colossians 3:16 says that we need to let the word of Christ dwell richly in us.

Well after you’ve forgotten the sermon, you might still be singing or humming Brenton Brown’s song “Our strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord / We will wait upon the Lord”. It’s completely scriptural and you don’t even realise you’ve memorised parts of Isaiah 40. Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are actually part of the process that causes the word of Christ to dwell in us. Not just for our brains to process, but to actually “dwell in” us and become part of our lives and character.

There is a further implication however, and that is for ministers of worship to be Scripturally faithful. These days, songs are getting more and more fluffy and less grounded in Scripture. Which is fine to an extent, because as I have said, the Holy Spirit can use anything to speak to us. But if we are not careful, we could be wasting a wonderful opportunity to instruct and teach our congregations, rather than just to leave them with a good feeling.

In a sense, this is a call to songwriters to write songs which don’t only sound good and are catchy, but to responsibly teach the truths of God and to unveil Christ, through those same songs.

Being Filled with the Spirit

So we’ve looked at Colossians 3 and “letting the Word of Christ dwell richly”. It is interesting that whilst Ephesians 5 uses the same sentence template, Paul introduces a complementary foil to the Word of Christ, namely “to be filled with the Spirit”.

Recently, Pastor Benny has been preaching about activating the gifts of the Spirit in Faith Community Church and I think that there is a real avenue to exercising some of the gifts right in the middle of our worship. In fact, I have found that if we’d take the step of faith, there is no more conducive environment for healing, prophecy, tongues/interpretation and words of knowledge than in a corporate worship setting. This is because, as I have said, when we bless God, He stands ready to bless in return.

Have you ever had conversations with people who don’t stop talking? You think sooner or later, they are going to have to breathe, but it seems they have a ventilator or something strapped to them and they never stop.

Worship can be like that: we can get so caught up in a 30 minute routine of our non-stop ramming things down God’s throat and He is just waiting for us to stop saying stuff so He can respond. And I believe that if we will just give Him some room, His response might actually take our breath away!

So in our worship, I want to encourage leaders to make room for the Holy Spirit. Let Him speak through us and to each other through and in our psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. In our worship services, let us gather to worship God, but let us gather also that we might be taught and encouraged and blessed.

Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs

Have you ever had that scary moment when your pastor comes up to you and says “Can we have a quick chat?” You hesitate but then say, “uh, okay” and then you both translate five steps towards the side of the room where he clears his throat a little, narrows his eyes ever so slightly and then says to you in a hushed tone: “Do you think we can do more hymns?”

This happened to a friend of mine lately. And I could sympathise with the dread he (my friend) felt.

Not because I don’t like hymns, mind you. By hymns, I assume that this pastor was talking about some of the older songs like “Amazing Grace”, “I Surrender All” and “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”. I love those songs. I love their richness and their theological depth. But as an unskilled musician (should I even admit that?), I find these types of songs incredibly difficult to arrange successfully.

Even when skilled musicians do them, I don’t always like them. An example a few years back was the Passion album, Hymns Ancient and Modern. I felt that all the use of electric guitars and simplified power chords really took away some of the beauty and majesty of those “hymns”.

And actually, what are “hymns” anyway?

So this got me thinking and today, I want to begin a series on “Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs” using as my texts the following key verses.

Firstly, Ephesians 5:18-20:

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The second passage is Colossians 3:16:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

These passages seem to characterise the songs of the church into three distinct types: psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.

In this series, I want to explore this triptych and ask some of the following questions: are these three different types of songs or is Paul just using telescopic language to describe the same type of song expressed in three ways? Can we read these songs (as some often do) as representing historical eras in the church and if so, what of their significance? Should we go back to singing those old songs that my friend’s pastor was talking about?

Before I launch into some of these issues in my next few posts, I want to end this introductory post by sharing something which a friend of mine had posted on Facebook and I found quite amusing. It was about the difference between a “chorus” (which apparently those of us in charismatic circles like to sing) and “hymns” which are the staple of mainline churches. I found it pretty insightful. Enjoy!