When the Holy Spirit Comes to Church Pt. 2


“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and being subject to one another in the fear of Christ.”

Ephesians 5:18-21

In this series of posts, we are examining worship from Ephesians 5:19-21. We are considering what it looks like when the Holy Spirit gathers with His people. Last time we considered that the first reality of the Holy Spirit in the people of God is that they regularly assemble. 

So, point one was regular assembly, and point two is rejoicing awe

We now hone in on the element of singing. When the Holy Spirit comes to church, God’s people sing with rejoicing awe.

What are the means to this rejoicing awe?

They are psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. God’s people are singing people. In part because God is a singing God, God sings over His people (Zeph. 3:17). 

We are made in the image of God and are being renewed in the image of Christ. We sing because we are the people of God. The Holy Spirit of God is in us. How could we not sing if He is a singing God? 

And of course, we sing because of what has been done to us and for us and in us. Christ was crucified for our sins. He rose again from the dead. We are alive in Him. We have been given grace upon grace. We are full of rejoicing and awe in God. And the means by which we express this rejoicing awe is singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

There are some churches today that practice what is called exclusive psalmody. They sing only psalms and nothing else. And their take on this passage is that “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” are three ways to reference the same type of music. 

I disagree with exclusive psalmody for a few reasons. First, I do not believe this text is teaching that. I think we can make a distinction between psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Subtle perhaps, but differences, nonetheless. Second, if we were only to sing psalms, there are a lot of biblical topics we would not sing about, and that would be sad. 

Third, churches are to do a lot in their worship services that pertains to explicitly reading the Scriptures. But they also ought to do a lot that is guided by the Scriptures. In the same way we pray prayers that are not verbatim from the Scriptures and preach sermons according to the Bible while not merely quoting the Bible, we can sing songs that are not directly breathed out by God in order to be faithful. 

Your church may or may not struggle with this, but although I do not hold to exclusive psalmody in singing, I do think most churches need to do a better job at actually singing psalms. Ephesians 5:19 does specifically say we should sing “psalms,” after all.

We are being disobedient to this text if we entirely neglect singing psalms. Actually singing psalms is something many churches must work to intentionally incorporate into their gatherings. I do not think it means that every time a church gathers it must sing a psalm, but because of this text we should expect that a local church would actually sing psalms and that churches should improve on this as they seek to honor God in worship. 

Besides the command in Ephesians 5:19, here are four more reasons churches should sing the psalms. 

  • The psalms is the church’s oldest hymnbook. We connect ourselves to the saints of all ages by singing the psalms. 
  • The psalms are God-breathed. God wrote these songs through human authors. Think about that! Why would we not want to sing God-breathed songs? 
  • The psalms teach us how and what to sing. There are lines in the psalms that I wonder if we would think it appropriate to sing if God had not given them to us! But because they are in the psalms, we can trust that they are good and right to sing. 
  • The psalms teach us that singing is appropriate in every season. In the book of psalms we have songs of praise and songs of lament. We have times of spiritual highs and times of spiritual lows. We have times of suffering. We have times of lament. We have times of victory. We have times of triumph. 

Do you know what this teaches us? There is never a time in the Christian life when it is not appropriate to sing. Sometimes these songs are full of deep sorrow and pain, but we can express that to God in song because God’s hymnbook, the psalms, teaches us how to do this.I will also mention this: to sing the psalms is to sing songs written for musical accompaniment. As long as instruments are serving the songs and the people while not making a distraction or putting the focus on the instrument, it is appropriate to sing with instruments. 

This does not mean we have to use instruments when we sing. But we should reject any notion of the idea that we cannot use instruments in our worship (Ps. 92:1-4). When instruments are available and used to serve the singing of God’s people, they are good and right.  

When the Holy Spirit comes to church, God’s people are filled with rejoicing awe. The means by which they express this rejoicing awe comes through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. 

What are the motivations for this rejoicing awe?

We are told in this passage that we should be “making melody in your heart.” We are not singing merely because we must. We do not merely sing from the lips. We sing from the heart. 

This is not describing silent singing in your heart. How do I know? Because the word “heart” in our text is singular. And the “your” is plural. Paul is not saying we should make melody “in your hearts” but rather that singing unto the Lord flows from the united heartbeat of the church. 

We sing because we love Christ and our hearts have been redeemed. But we also sing because we love one another. Ephesians emphasizes time and again our unity in Christ. We have one heart together! 

Sing church! And sing loud! When you sing, you are not only expressing your rejoicing awe, but you are also edifying your brothers and sisters in Christ. Our motivation for singing flows from a united heart for Christ and a united heart for one another. 

I will also mention that this word “melody” in our text, could literally be translated as “psalming.” It comes from the Greek word for “psalms.” And it carries the connotation of instrumentation. When we use instruments for singing, we remember that we use them in part to help serve the body for singing. 

Making a melody to the Lord in song is a beautiful thing. Singing various parts to songs together with bass, treble, alto, and tenor is beautiful, as are songs where the ladies sing a part or the men sing a part. These are absent in too many modern worship songs. 

We do not always have to sing in parts. But there is something about the people of God singing parts that compose one beautiful song to honor our Lord. 

That is all for today. We will consider Ephesians 5:19 further in part three.

For further reading
Ephesians by S.M. Baugh
Worship: The Regulative Principle and the Biblical Practice of Accommodation by Ernest Reisinger and D. Matthew Allen
Sin and Temptation (Volume 15) (The Complete Works of John Owen)
The Dangerous Duty of Delight by John Piper
Allen S. Nelson IV

Allen S. Nelson IV

Allen S. Nelson IV is the pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Perryville, AR, where he resides with his wife Stephanie, and their 6 children. Allen is the author of From Death to Life: How Salvation WorksBefore the Throne: Reflections on God’s Holiness, and A Change of Heart: Understanding Regeneration and Why it Matters. He is an M.Div graduate of Grace BIble Theological Seminary in Conway, AR.

February 16, 2024

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