Sing…because the days are evil
Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. 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.
Depending on which church tradition we come from, our minds and hearts are drawn to different emphases in this passage of Scripture. One section of the church might want to emphasise evangelism, stressing the need for both clergy and laity to look out for ‘opportunities’ to share the gospel. Others might focus on the encouragement to praise the Lord through music – but we know how this sometimes causes conflict! The ‘charismatic’ prefers experiencing the simplicity and immediacy of contemporary idiom. The ‘traditionalist’ might have in mind old hymns, perhaps led by a choir in the context of the worshipful, ordered solemnity of the liturgy. Anglicanism has room for both styles, which can be “songs from the Spirit”, and sincerely “from the heart”.
This Ephesians passage is a good corrective to a tendency, when rightly prioritising the Word of God, that personal spirituality and the communication of faith can be entirely cerebral, neglecting other ways in which we are impacted through the senses. The purpose of singing in church cannot be seen simply as reciting doctrine to music – here we are actively encouraged to engage with the Lord with our emotions, voice and senses, by means of the Spirit filling us, in an attitude of joy and thanksgiving. Praise through song includes the thrill of understanding and appreciating truth about Christ, and it’s also expressing adoration as part of our relationship with him, individually and communally.
(This video is a reminder of the wonderful experience of men and women from many nations singing praise to God together at the last Gafcon global gathering in Jerusalem, 2018). Also, have a look here at the United Adoration project, connected to Gafcon, seeking to encourage creative arts in gospel-hearted churches around the world).
Because our emotions and even our longings for what we think is good are tainted with sin, the biblical encouragement to engage with God through music, personally and corporately, is always firmly tethered to God’s revealed truth. In this passage in Ephesians, teaching about freedom in worship is mentioned in the context of the reality of the environment in which the Christian lives, and the resources God has given to us to help face it and thrive. We do not sing merely as another way of explaining what we believe, but nor do we sing to escape from, or minimise, the battles we are in. In our praise, we don’t pretend all is well; we lift our hearts to God, with music, in our joys and also our difficulties and the world’s troubles. We sing, because the days are evil.
Why do we need to “be careful how we live”? Because, as the previous verses in the chapter remind us, and as Ephesians chapter 6 makes clear, we are in a spiritual battle, not just internally (the reality of our own personal sinful nature) but externally. We live in a world where sexual immorality, greed and idolatry are normalised (4:17-19; 5:3-5). The word of God gives us wisdom to discern and unmask what is going on, to see salvation in Christ, and to be an example of holy living – not with dourness or judgmentalism but sober thanksgiving in the Holy Spirit. Opportunities will come to share our faith and how it works, with the urgency that comes from knowing that we are not ‘marketing’ a pleasant option to people in a neutral state, but sharing the essential life-giving life of Christ to those in darkness.
The call to “understand what the Lord’s will is” becomes all the more important as many senior church leaders appear not to know where such information can be found. The Living in Love and Faith project of the Church of England, for example, is based on the premise that God’s will for human relationships and self-identity in our current context is unclear, and can only emerge in dialogue with one another and with the world. In the face of what Paul in Ephesians describes as “foolish”, we can choose to act distinctively: standing firmly on God’s word, we can turn to praise and thanksgiving with music, rejoicing in our fellowship with brothers and sisters around the world who are pursuing the wisdom of God’s revealed will and praising him, even in difficult circumstances.