Those who believe in Christ are sealed and indwelt by the Holy Spirit at the time of salvation, but we are also commanded to be filled with the Spirit. Alistair Begg points out that this biblical directive is practical in nature, not merely emotional or esoteric. How are we filled? When our hearts, minds, and wills are ordered and transformed by the Word of God. Spirit-filled lives lead to Spirit-filled praise, enabling believers to sing and make melody in our hearts to the Lord who saved us.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to turn to Ephesians chapter 5 and to the verse that we were in this morning and to one verse along with it—verses 18 and 19 of Ephesians chapter 5. We got so far and didn’t finish, and I said we would come back to it, and so here is our text:
“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.”
Father, we pray that you will enable us, help us, in these moments as we think upon your Word, that it may come to us with clarity and with power so that we might actually be filled with your very fullness and live to the praise of your glory. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.
Well, those of you who were present this morning know that we spent perhaps an inordinate amount of time thinking about the days that are evil. I think it was purposeful. I trust it was helpful. And then we went on to see that Paul is making it very clear that one of the expressions of an absence of wisdom—the presence of foolishness—is to be found in succumbing to the temptation to take something that God has given to us for our good and for our benefit and to use it in a way that is inordinate, that is wrong, that is excessive and leads, in turn, to a lack of control. In contrast, he says, when we are filled with the Spirit of God, then the reverse will be true—namely, that we will be brought under control and under, if you like, the liberating power of Christ himself by the Holy Spirit. And it is to that that we give our attention now and then, to follow up, into verse 19 and to see one of the immediate expressions of the Spirit-filled life.
We said this morning that alcohol is in itself—pharmacologically, at least—a depressant and not a stimulant, as it is often represented as being. Those of us, or those of you—those who have found ourselves tempted to go down that road in search of fulfillment will have discovered along with many that it is at least a By-Path Meadow. It is a dead-end street. It is a sad place to find ourselves. In distinct contrast, the Holy Spirit is, if you like, the ultimate stimulant. And whereas in drunkenness our minds are distorted, our wills are confused, our hearts are confused, when the Spirit of God fills our lives, then it impacts our minds, our intellects, our hearts, our desires, our devotions, and our will.
And when, earlier, we looked in a series before at the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, we realized all of the beauty, all of the wonderful expressions of what it means to be filled with the fullness of God. A hymn came to mind as I was thinking this week. It begins,
Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways;
Reclothe us in our rightful mind.
And then I couldn’t remember it from there, but I did remember one couplet, and it goes like this: “Let [my] ordered [life] confess the beauty of thy peace.” “Let [my] ordered [life] confess the beauty of thy peace.” One of the wonderful things about the gospel, about the power of the Spirit, is that it brings our lives into line. It takes that which is confused and broken and dismantled and tempted to run in a thousand directions and brings us into line with the Lord Jesus.
Now, Paul in this letter has already described his readers as those, back in chapter 1, who have been sealed with the Spirit of God. You’ll see that back in 1:13: “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” And that was commensurate with their profession of faith in Jesus and coming to rest in his love. In chapter 4 and towards the end, down in verse 30, he has made further mention of the Holy Spirit and has said to his readers, “[Make sure that you] do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” And one of the ways in which we would, of course, grieve the Spirit of God is by tracking into the realm that marked our lives before Christ saved us. And so, the reference here to the ongoing work of the Spirit is equally clear.
Now, we noted this morning that this is one of the imperatives of the New Testament. You will see that there: “Do not be foolish. Understand the will of the Lord. Don’t get drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit.” So, in other words, it is a command, and it is a command that is to be obeyed. That is, in terms of the English language—and we have linguists here with us tonight, and I’m always conscious of that—it is in the imperative mood. At the same time, you will notice that it is in the present tense. It is in the present tense. Why is that significant? Because he is not describing a once-for-all event, but he is describing an ongoing reality. And thirdly, again, in terms of language, it is passive. And this actually takes us to where we were last Sunday evening when we were listening to the exposition of Romans 12:2 and Dan was helping us to think through how we can be active in that which is actually passive. I found it very helpful, and I’m sure you did too.
What we’re saying in that is simply this: that we don’t fill ourselves; rather, we are commanded to receive God’s fullness. So how can you be active in something that is actually passive? What are we supposed to do? Is this a call just to, as it were, sit quietly for a while and wait for something to happen to us? Is this an exhortation to go away on our own to have an experience by ourselves? No, it’s not. Some of us would do well to go away on our own and to meditate on things, and we have only encouragement along those lines.
I found it most helpful—and this is why this morning, in anticipation of this, we read from Colossians 3—to turn to what is essentially a parallel passage in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, in chapter 3, in order to answer that question for myself. What does it mean, then? How does it happen that I may be filled with the Holy Spirit on an ongoing, consistent basis? For when you read the Acts of the Apostles, you realize that there were occasions where it says of those who had been baptized in the Holy Spirit that they were “filled.” Sometimes they were filled for a special function, for a peculiar responsibility, but it speaks of it in that way. And clearly, the anticipation on Paul’s part here is that we will then, as the believers in the Lord Jesus, live in such a way as to experience what it is not to be out of control as a result of our desire for other things but to be brought under control. And God’s Word—as we have said to each other routinely—God’s Word does God’s work by God’s Spirit.
And when you read Colossians 3—and you may want just to turn there, to have it in your gaze as I speak to you—it becomes apparent that spiritual fullness is discovered on the path of obedience. And the path of obedience is obedience to the Word of God. So, the very direct and distinct parallel is in Colossians 3:16, where it says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” and then, “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, [and] singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”
So, he says, “I want you not to be drunk with wine but to be filled with the Holy Spirit,” and here, in Colossians, he says, “And I want the word of Christ to dwell in you richly.” The parallel is straightforward and clear. It is as the Word of God dwells in us richly that the Spirit of God consistently and continually fills us. In other words, we should not think for a moment that somehow or another, to be filled with the Holy Spirit on an ongoing basis somehow or another diverts us from the Scriptures. But it is, rather, directly in accord with the Scriptures that we discover the Spirit’s fullness.
Our minds, then, are transformed by the truth of God’s Word, our hearts are then stirred by the teaching of God’s Word, and our wills are subdued by the consistent explanation of God’s Word. So, in other words, as I come to the Bible on a daily basis, as I realize that the Scriptures speak to me, as I come to it not looking for a blessed thought or a peculiar experience but in order that my mind might be trained by it, in order that my heart might be stirred by it, in order that my will might be subdued by it—then and in that context I discover that the Spirit of God is at work to fulfill the purposes of God in and through me as his child.
As I thought about that during the week, again, I was reminded of how as a boy and then as a student at school I used to use the Scripture Union notes. And the Scripture Union notes had a reading for the day and had a brief commentary done by, usually, some theologian or pastor. And the process was the same on every occasion. And if I remember correctly, there was at the beginning of the Scripture Union notes for—let’s say for January and February—there was a little outline of how we ought to approach the Bible. We should ask, the people said, certain questions of the text. And we should ask of the text, “Is there something that I learn here expressly about God the Father? Is there something that I learn in this passage about God the Son? Is there something that I learn here about God the Holy Spirit?” You should look in the passage to see. And if, for example, we discover the love of the Father, then perhaps if we have a note or a journal or whatever it is, we make a note of it: “On the nineteenth of November, I was reminded of what it means to ‘be filled with the Holy Spirit’ and not to be ‘drunk with wine.’”
Now, when we do that, you see, we are opening up, if you like, the door of our minds to all that God has for us. It then went on to say, “When you read the passage today, ask, ‘Is there an example to follow? Is there a warning to heed? Is there a promise to accept? Is there a command to obey?’”
So, you see, immediately it transforms the reading of the Bible. Sometimes we read our Bibles and we don’t really know what to do with it at all. I have people come and say to me, “You know, I read it, but it didn’t really mean very much to me.” And I often to say to them, “What did you expect it to mean to you? Did you apply the normal processes of thought to the reading of the Bible as you would to reading the newspaper or reading a journal in your area of expertise?” “Oh no, it never occurred to me to do that. I thought you just read it and waited for it to hit you.” Well, something may hit you, but it might not be the most helpful thing possible.
So, it is in submission to the Word of God that life, then, in the Spirit impacts the totality of life. And that is, again, why I said to you this morning that Paul, here… And this, incidentally—when Martyn Lloyd-Jones tackles this section in his extensive commentary on Ephesians, he calls from 5:18 through to 6:9 Life in the Spirit: In Marriage, Home, and Work. That’s profoundly helpful, because it allows us to realize that what Paul is actually saying here about what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit is intensely practical in its application. He’s not suggesting some kind of esoteric, individualized experience but rather the ongoing work of the Spirit of God. And we will come to that in due course.
Some of you are very excited to get to the section on husbands and wives. I know, because you’ve written to me. Not all of your letters am I prepared to read out loud, but nevertheless, I recognize there is a sense of anticipation. But before we come to that, you will notice, fascinatingly, that the immediate impact of this filling of the Spirit is to be found in the fellowship and worship of God’s people. Isn’t that what he says? “Don’t get drunk with wine”—this “debauchery” or excess—“but be filled with the Spirit.” And here’s the first expression of it: “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” J. B. Phillips: “Let the Spirit stimulate your souls. Express your joy in singing among yourselves [in] psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”
In other words, the context, first of all, is in public worship. When Calvin writes the preface to the Genevan Psalter, he quite graphically says, “We know by experience that singing has great force and vigor to move and inflame the hearts of men to invoke and praise God with a more vehement and ardent zeal.” And so it is that we ought not to be surprised that the Spirit of God is a stimulant to us in that direction. We know, he says, that this is the case.
Now, there is a horizontal dimension to this, which he mentions immediately. You will notice “addressing one another,” as it is in the ESV, or “speaking to yourselves.” I think the ESV helps us here: “addressing one another.” In Colossians 3, remember: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another.” And this, of course, is where the Psalms are a tremendous help. Because when we turn to the Psalms, we discover that the psalmist is addressing himself: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, … why are you [disquieted] within [you]?” So, he sings a song to himself. He encourages himself and others to sing to one another: “Come, let us worship and bow down; let us [sing to] the Lord [our God], our Maker!” That is on a horizontal basis, so that when the people of God gather, it is incumbent upon us to exhort and encourage each other, and it will be an expression of our spiritual fullness.
If you remember the hymn “We’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion”—it’s a rather archaic hymn. It’s a good one. But if you recall it at all, you know it has the verse:
Let those refuse to sing
[Who] never knew our God;
But children of the heavenly King
Must speak their joys abroad.
That makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?
The people come to church and they say, “I don’t sing the songs.” I was in a service the other day, at a funeral service. If it hadn’t been for a microphone at the front and a very loud singer, there wouldn’t have been a squeak out of anybody in the entire place. I said to myself, “What’s everybody doing in here?” “Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God.” We’ve said to one another again and again, and purposefully so, that for spiritual praise to be genuine amongst the people of God, number one, we have to be spiritually alive, because dead people don’t sing; secondly, we have to be spiritually assisted, hence the importance of the filling of the Spirit of God; and thirdly, we have to be spiritually active. In other words, we have to actually open our mouths and use them and sing, because it is the duty and the privilege of all of us.
Listen to Spurgeon. He’s saying to pastors, he says, “Now, as pastors, make sure that you get your whole congregation to sing”: “One of your great objects should be to induce all the congregation to join in the singing. … [And make sure that you] put forth your own exertions.” And then, classically, Spurgeon goes on to say, “The institution of singers, as a separate order”—in other words, a little group up here that are “the singers” or, in another context, up, you know, behind, in the rafters, if you go to other, different places, and, “These are the ones; these are the singers. We put them up there, and they’ll sing. We’ll just sit around and wait for them or applaud them,” or do whatever it is.
“Oh,” says Spurgeon, “no, no”: “The institution of singers, as a separate order is an evil, a growing evil, and ought to be abated and abolished; and the instruction of the entire congregation is the readiest, surest, and most scriptural mode of curing it.” In other words, unless the congregation engages in Spirit-filled praise, it will be left to other people to fill in the gaps. And you know that you can go to certain places where, essentially, you find yourselves in the position of being a sort of audience at an event, and you wait for others to do the job for you. Spurgeon actually refers to these people in very unkind terms: he says, “A band of godless men and women will often instal themselves in a conspicuous part of the chapel, and monopolise the singing to the grief of the pastor, the injury of the church, and the scandal of public worship.” Okay?
So, in other words, there is only one choir. There is only one group of singers. We’re all together. We may be led from the front, encouraged from the front, but we are not responding to that, except to respond in our own hearts and to say, “I’m committed to this, along with each other.”
So, it’s absolutely clear that Paul anticipates the fact that the church will sing. Will sing. And the singing and the melody is straightforward.
Incidentally, I’ve grown old having people explain to me what Paul means by “psalms” and then by “hymns” and by “spiritual songs.” None of them have been very convincing to me at all, and so I haven’t chosen to delay on that in any way. Clearly, the content of the songs of Paul would have been the Psalms of David, the hymnbook of the church, if you like: 150 songs provided by the Spirit of God to the people of God in order that they may take them up and use them to sing his praise.
Within the framework of the apostolic church—we find this in the Epistles—there are songs, there are hymns, odes of worship to God that have begun to be there. We often wonder whether Philippians 2:5–11 would fit within that category. And when we think in terms of “spiritual songs,” I think that the adjective “spiritual” relates to all three areas. And I think perhaps primarily what Paul is saying is the songs that the Spirit-filled person will sing will be “spiritual songs,” unlike the songs that they used to sing in their preconverted days. And Calvin, he goes on in that quote that I gave to you to say, “There is a great difference between music which one makes to entertain men [and women] … and the Psalms which are sung in … Church in the presence of God and his angels.”
So, Spirit-filled lives lead to Spirit-filled praise that is not simply horizontal but actually is ultimately focused on the vertical axis, so that we are “singing and making melody to the Lord with [our hearts].” “Melody.” Tunes matter. Tunes matter. Or “tunes” matter, as you might prefer it, but they do matter. And it’s unusual for us to take grand words and trivialize them with less-than-substantial melody. And we know and recognize the difference, and it is important that we do so.
Again, Spurgeon is very, very clear on this. He says,
Simple [melodies] are the best, and the most sublime; very few of the more intricate tunes are really musical. Your twists, and [your] fugues, and [your] repetitions, and [your] rattlings up and down the scale, are mostly barbarous noise-makings, fitter for Babel than [for] Bethel. If you … wish to show off your excellent voices, [why not] meet at home for that purpose[? But] the [Lord’s Day] and the church of God must not be desecrated to so poor an end.
You want to tell us how you really feel, Charles?
So, you’ll notice that this singing and this melody-making is directed to the Lord and from the heart—“with your heart,” or perhaps “in your heart”—reminding us that “true praise is heart work.” “True praise is heart work.” I didn’t look to this—it comes to my mind right now—but in his Reflections on the Psalms, C. S. Lewis has a wonderful little section on the nature of praise itself. And he talks about how genuine praise is what happens when somebody says, “Did you see that sunset? Would you look at that? Isn’t she beautiful? Isn’t that attractive?” It doesn’t come from anywhere except from deep within, and it is then an expression of the heart, and therefore, it is an encouragement to others to consider the reality of it too, so that it arises, if you like, like incense from the coals of a devout affection.
It’s a good reminder, too, because not all of us are very melodious, if we’re quite honest. Some of us could do well to go and have some singing lessons. But the essence and life of praise does not actually lie in the voice but lies in the heart. In the heart. Our voices are the vehicle for the expression of the heart, but it is the heart in which this happens.
Now, this, of course, leads to all kinds of questions. Some of us grew up in, you know, the First Church of Christ Frigidaire, where any expression of emotion at all was frowned upon. Someone would come and tap you on the shoulder and suggest that you sit down or sit on your hands or whatever it might be. Others of us were brought up on the other end of that spectrum, and we could do well with sitting down and on our hands, perhaps, from time to time.
There is a difference between Spirit-filled emotion and superficial emotionalism. And I think we probably know the difference. We might not always recognize it in ourselves. But I have to remind myself (and perhaps you do, too) that my emotional response to a piece of music—to the singing of a hymn or a song—my emotional response is not necessarily an indication of the work of the Spirit of God within my heart. Right?
So, if I am singing, you see, a song, and I don’t like the melody, or it’s unfamiliar to me, then if I use as the point of adjudication as to whether this is useful, effective, and meaningful and so on my own emotional response to it, then I will inevitably go wrong. And if I am tempted to look around and see others who are apparently deeply emotionally involved in it, I have no way of knowing exactly what that means. But what I do know is this: that it is about truth, and it is not about our taste. It’s about truth, and it’s not about our taste. True worship, says David Wells, “is clearly to express the greatness of God and not simply to find inward release or, still less, amusement. Worship is theological rather than psychological.” “Theological rather than psychological.”
Now, let me wrap this up. It is, then, making melody to the Lord in my heart—with my heart, but to the Lord. And so, where is all this going?
Well, “You[’ve] exalted above all things your name and your word.” So we say with the psalmist, “Not to us, O Lord, … but to your name [be the] glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” This, then, is the explanation, again, of the words of the psalmist. That was Psalm 115. This is Psalm 84, where the psalmist is expressing how he longs or how she longs to be amongst the people of God. It’s a wonderful expression of anticipation, and you’re familiar with this psalm, but let me quote it to you exactly:
How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and [my] flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home,
… the swallow a nest …
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise!
In other words, amongst the gathering of the people of God, the heart of the Spirit-filled pilgrim gives expression to the wonder of God’s love.
“So,” says Paul, “don’t be foolish; be wise. Don’t waste your time. Make every good use of the time. And don’t get drunk. Be filled with the Holy Spirit. And when you come together and those who are leading you in worship say, ‘Let us worship God,’ then do it, whole-heartedly engaged.” “I don’t like the tune.” Doesn’t matter. If it’s true, sing it out, and if you’re tone-deaf, have your husband help you at home, and remember that it is about your heart and not your voice. But if you have the combo, then be thankful for it.
A brief prayer, and then we’re going to sing a couple of songs to end our time:
Our God and our Father, we thank you that the Bible is a constant guide to us in every facet of our lives. And we praise you for the clarity of Paul as he addressed those dear folks in Ephesus so long ago. And many of them had come out of a background of just heathen nonsense—silly songs and sensual lyrics and emptiness and futility. And then they had been “raised … up with [Christ]” and “seated … in the heavenly places.” They had “a new song” to sing, “a song of praise to [their] God.” They had a melody in their hearts. And in Christ, you have granted this to us as well.
And so, as we come to the end of this Lord’s Day and as we look out on the week that lies ahead, grant that we may, then, on this horizontal level sing out, as it were, to one another and encourage one another and at least make in and with our hearts melody to you, our Lord and King. For we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
 See Ephesians 5:16.
 See Galatians 5:22–23.
 John Greenleaf Whittier, “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind” (1872).
 Ephesians 5:17–18 (paraphrased).
 See Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 9:17; 13:9, 52.
 John Calvin, “Preface to the Psalter” (1543), https://www.ccel.org/ccel/ccel/eee/files/calvinps.htm.
 Ephesians 5:19 (KJV).
 Colossians 3:16 (ESV).
 Psalm 42:5 (ESV).
 Psalm 95:6 (ESV).
 Isaac Watts, “Come, We That Love the Lord” (1707).
 Charles Spurgeon, “How Shall We Sing?,” The Sword and the Trowel (June 1, 1870), 277.
 Calvin, “Preface to the Psalter.”
 Spurgeon, “How Shall We Sing?,” 277.
 Spurgeon, “How Shall We Sing?,” 277.
 C. S. Lewis, “A Word about Praising,” in Reflections on the Psalms (1958). Paraphrased.
 David F. Wells, Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 40.
 Psalm 138:2 (ESV).
 Psalm 115:1 (ESV).
 Psalm 84:1–4 (ESV).
 Ephesians 2:6 (ESV).
 Psalm 40:3 (ESV).
Copyright © 2022, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.