What’s Happening in (Spiritual) Worship?

Here’s pro tip for reading your New Testament, especially Paul: when he gives an -ing word, that often tells how how we are to do the thing he just said for us to do. Now, I share this not to start a Bible study lesson, but to springboard into a crucial truth about our worship together. Let’s look at Ephesians 5, beginning in v. 18. There he tells us not to be drunk and therefore be controlled by wine, but instead to “be filled with the Holy Spirit.” In other words, be controlled by the Holy Spirit, not liquor, marijuana, nicotine, caffeine (ouch), or any other substance.

Now, you and I, we are good, upstanding ’Muricans, which means that we think of obeying this command individually, by ourselves, in our own silo of Christianity. But Paul is thinking nothing of the sort. He is thinking communally. Thus the next phrase, which in our Bibles is a new verse – but ignore the verse numbers for a moment – says this:

Ephesians 5:19–21 (ESV): . . . addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. 

We are physical beings, and we exist with others, and so even our most spiritual activities are concrete and earthy, and they relate to others. In fact, many Christians think of “grieving the Holy Spirit” as having to do with our own really bad sins, when in reality, it is set within a cascade of commands that have to do with other people. See for yourself in 4:30. The way we avoid grieving the Holy Spirit is to obey 4:31-32.

And so now I come to my point for this article, and it is a simple one. The first way that Paul conceives of you and I being filled with the Spirit is our singing to one another. Those three categories of song (“. . . psalms and hymns and spiritual songs . . .”) seem to be three different categories of song that the church should sing. But that’s for another article. 

The point here is this: when you sing in church, your focus should not be on how the band is doing, and whether they’re getting their key changes right, or what-have-you. Well, that is, if you desire to be filled with the Spirit. To be filled with the Spirit means that when you and I sing in church, we are addressing one another, and proclaiming to each other the very truths that we all need to endure in joy. 

One of our elders recently commented that music is the closest thing we have to magic, and I think that’s about right. Music has a near-magical quality that not even preaching has to connect with and speak to our souls. When we come to worship, our worship is not automatically a spiritual activity. Only when we forget ourselves, in a desire for God, and in love for others, does the act of worship actually become filled by the Spirit – spiritual. 

So this Sunday, be filled with the Spirit. In other words, sing for others, that they would hear the glorious truths, and that the God-designed magic of song would work in their hearts, as it does in yours, and we all would be changed. 
And then, and only then, will we fulfill our primary mission on Sunday: 

Romans 15:5–6 (ESV): May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.