Jazz vocalist Ella Fitzgerald observed, “The only thing better than singing is more singing.” We usually consider singing a form of entertainment. But in the Scriptures, singing is also a mode or prayer. We often say our prayers, but sometimes we sing them.
When Paul writes about singing in Ephesians 5, it is in a context that focuses on the Christian lifestyle. Its essence is to “walk in the way of love” (v. 2). Those who choose this way break with their past. Some of the features of this former life are listed in verses 3–5: sexual immorality, impurity, greed, obscene or foolish talk, and coarse joking. Paul offers two primary motivations for this change. First, Christians are to lay aside the old ways because they are incompatible with the life of the kingdom. These things are characteristic of those who oppose God (vv. 6–7).
Second, those who are in Christ have experienced a radical change. They were “once darkness” but are now “light in the Lord” (v. 8). Paul does not call Christians to live up to an external standard but to live out the reality of who they are in Christ. Singing is an essential part of this lifestyle. Verses 19–20 describe singing as a form of congregational self-talk. When we sing, we are “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit” (v. 19).
Is there any difference between these three? According to Jeremy Begbie, the term psalm in verse 19 may refer to the Old Testament Psalter, but it can also have a broader meaning (1 Cor. 14:26). A hymn is a song about God or about Christ. Songs “from the Spirit” may have been songs that “were directly generated by the Spirit and thus more spontaneous than psalms or hymns.”
>> Music is part of the church’s prayer vocabulary. Do you have a favorite worship song or hymn? Make that song a part of your prayer time today.
“I love You, Lord / And I lift my voice / To worship You / Oh, my soul rejoice! / Take joy my King / In what You hear / Let it be a sweet, sweet sound in Your ear” (Laurie Klein).