by Mike Ratliff
18 And do not become drunk with wine in which is dissipation, but be filled by the Spirit, 19 speaking among yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord, (Ephesians 5:18-19 Possessing the Treasure New Testament v1)
In our last post, Be Filled By the Spirit, we studied exegetically what Paul meant by commanding Christians to be filled by the Holy Spirit. Joy is one of the primary evidences of the Spirit-filled life and how that is often expressed is in song as Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:19 (above). The Spirit-filled Christian is a singing Christian regardless of talent. In this post we will look a few aspects of what is often called “church music” using the terms Paul used in this verse. I believe if you compare this study with what goes on in the name of “worship” in many churches nowadays there will be big difference.
The first term Paul used in v19 is “psalms,” which translates ψαλμοῖς (psalmois) the Dative, Plural case of ψαλμός (psalmos), “a sacred, inspired poem of praise.” Psalms were actually designed to be sung with the accompaniment of a stringed musical instrument, such as a harp, the lute, or the lyre. In fact, the word psalm is merely a transliteration of the Greek title of the book of Psalms (psalmoi), which originally meant plucking the strings of a musical instrument. So, the first type of Christian music is the psalm, a sacred, inspired poem of praise. No new psalms are being written today because no inspired writings are being produced, however, some hymn writers have adapted certain psalms. For example, Robert Grant (1785-1838) adapted Psalm 104 inot the hymn “O Worship the King.” Also, Martin Luther adapted his hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” from Psalm 46. The focus of all psalms is to bring glory to God.
The second type of music Paul lists in v19 is “hymns” which translates ὕμνοις (hymnois) the Dative, Plural case of ὕμνος (hymnos), “an ode of praise to Almighty God.” In ancient Greece a ὕμνος referred to “songs to the gods, particularly a song in praise of the divinity.” For this reason the word ὕμνος nowhere occurs in the writings of the apostolic fathers because it was used as praise of heathen deities and so the early Christians instinctively shrank from using it. However, Paul used ὕμνος for a reason. His purpose was to show that instead of hymns being dedicated to pagan gods, Christians sing hymns to the one true God. According to Augustine, a hymn has three characteristics: it must be sung; it must be praise; it must be to God. There is reason to believe that some hymns are inspired such as those found in 1 Timothy 3:16, Philippians 2:6-11 and Hebrews 1:3.
The third type of music Paul lists in v19 are “spiritual songs,” which translates πνευματικαῖς ᾠδαῖς (pneumatikais ōdais) the Dative, Plural of πνευματικός ᾠδή (pneumatikos ōdē), “a spiritual song.” What does this mean? What is the difference between and hymn and a spiritual song? Believe me, this is a huge issue in today’s churches. A hymn is a direct praise of God, while a spiritual song is an expression to other people, as illustrated in the son, “In My Heart There Rings a Melody.” A hymn is objective and presents objective facts, while a spiritual song is more subjective in expressing personal feelings. A good example of this is found in the song, “It Is Well with My Soul.” A hymn focuses on the attributes and majesty of God, while a spiritual song is often evangelistic, as in the song, “Have You Any Room for Jesus?” The tune or melody of a hymn is more staid, sober, and sedate, while a spiritual song often has a catchy melody of lifted rhythm, as in the songs, “He Lives” and “Are You Washed in the Blood?” A hymn usually does not have a chorus, while a spiritual song usually does.
I believe there are many good spiritual songs, but I am grieved that hymns have virtually disappeared have been replaced with the “praise chorus” or something even that would be classified as secular. When proper hymns are not allowed in worship then proper praise to God is missing. Without that then along with that goes the depth of doctrinal truth. Those churches who ban hymns as boring or for any other reason are also guilty of being doctrinally shallow instead of substantive and trite instead of true.
Soli Deo Gloria!