A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 5:19a. a). Fellowship: addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.
The familiar AV version of this sentence begins, ‘Speaking to yourselves in psalms…’ This does not mean that Spirit-filled believers talk to themselves, however, for the Greek use of the reflexive here can equally be translated ‘each other’ (as in 4:32). Nor does it mean that, if we are filled with the Spirit, we stop speaking to one another and start singing to one another instead. No, the reference is to Christian fellowship, and the mention of ‘psalms, hymns and spiritual songs’ (which are not easily distinguishable, although the first word implies a musical accompaniment) indicates that the context is public worship. Whenever Christians assemble, they love to sing both to God and to each other. Sometimes we sing responsively, as the Jews did in the temple and synagogue, and as the early Christians did also, meeting before daybreak ‘to recite a hymn antiphonally to Christ as to a God’. Also some of the Psalms we sing are in reality not worship of God but mutual exhortation. A good example is Psalm 95, the *Venite*, in the singing of which we should turn to one another: ‘O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!’ Here is fellowship in worship, a reciprocal invitation to praise.
b). Worship: singing and making melody (perhaps the verbs combine vocal and instrumental music) to the Lord with all your heart (Verse 19).
Here the singing is not ‘to one another’ but ‘to the Lord’. Although RSV may be right in translating the following words ‘with all your heart’, the Greek phrase probably means ‘in your heart (AV), as in Colossians 3:16, referring to either the sincerity or the inwardness of authentic Christian praise, or both. Perhaps JBP has caught the point with ‘making music in your hearts for the ears of the Lord’, an instruction from which unmusical people unable to sing in tune have always derived much comfort. In this case it may be silent worship, although at the same time inwardly joyful and melodious. Without doubt Spirit-filled Christians have a song of joy in their hearts, and Spirit-filled public worship is a joyful celebration of God’s mighty acts, though J.Armitage Robinson suggests that Paul ‘contrasts the merriment of wine with the sober gladness of sacred psalmody’.
c). Gratitude: always and for everything giving thanks in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father (verse 20).
The call to thanksgiving is not uncommon in Paul’s letters (Cf. the three references to it in Col.3:15-17; also 1 Thess.5:18). The grumbling spirit is not compatible with the Holy Spirit. Grumbling was one of the besetting sins of the people of Israel; they were always ‘murmuring’ against the Lord and against Moses. But the Spirit-filled believer is full not of complaining, but of thanksgiving.
Although the text reads that we are to give thanks *always and for everything*, we must not press these words literally. For we cannot thank God for absolutely ‘everything’, including blatant evil. The strange notion is gaining popularity in some Christian circles that the major secret of Christian freedom and victory is unconditional praise; that a husband should praise God for his wife’s adultery and a wife for her husband’s drunkenness; and that even the most appalling calamities of life should become subjects for thanksgiving and praise. Such a suggestion is at best a dangerous half-truth, and at worst ludicrous, even blasphemous. Of course God’s children learn not to argue with him in their suffering, but to trust him, and indeed to thank him for his loving providence by which he can turn even evil to good purposes (e.g. Rom.8:28). But that is praising God for being God; it is not praising him for evil. To do this would be to react insensitively to people’s pain (when Scripture tells us to weep with those who weep) and to condone and even encourage evil (when Scripture tells us to hate it and to resist the devil). God abominates evil, and we cannot praise or thank him for what he abominates.
So then the ‘everything’ for which we are to give thanks to God must be qualified by its context, namely *in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father*. Our thanksgiving is to be for everything which is consistent with the loving Fatherhood of God and the self-revelation he has given us in Jesus Christ. Once again the doctrine of the Trinity informs and directs our devotion. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit we give thanks to God our Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Tomorrow: Ephesians 5:21. d). Submission: be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.