Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

“…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, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”

Ephesians 5:18b-20

 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God

Colossians 3:16

Months ago I took it upon myself to do a short study of these two passages, specifically the words “psalms,” “hymns,” and “spiritual songs.” I had heard quite a few people discuss them and I was unclear as to exactly what was being spoken of. I thought it would be worthwhile to share my findings with you.

There are dozens of commands throughout the Bible calling God’s people to sing, however, all of these commands (to my knowledge) are found within the Old Testament. These two passages represent the only two places in the New Testament in which the people of God are called to sing, and even in these two cases, the singing that takes place is the result of a previous command and not commands in and of themselves. 

Both passages recognize the need for us to be moved by the Lord in order to truly worship Him in song. Ephesians says that we are to be filled with the Spirit (as opposed to being drunk with wine) and the resulting action of our hearts will be to speak to one another in psalms hymns and spiritual songs. Likewise, in Colossians we are called to let the Word of Christ dwell richly in us, that is, become saturated with the teachings of Jesus and filled with the power that His word brings, namely the Holy Spirit, and only then will we be able to teach and admonish one another by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

With this in mind, knowing that these “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” come only as a result of God working in our hearts through the Word of Christ and the Power of the Holy Spirit, what does it mean to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs?

This is where things get complicated. Commentators don’t seem to agree on any one particular definition for these three words, and most provide no specific definition at all. Some relegate it to meaning praise in general, some point out that it is a mark of true Christian fellowship, and others argue that it is a colorful description of the overflow within our hearts produced by the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. John MacArthur, who, out of all my commentators is the only one to offer a definition, would say that “psalms” are simply that, the singing of the Psalms in the Old Testament; “hymns” would be praise songs added to the Early church song book that perhaps focused on Jesus Christ (i.e. 1 Timothy 3:16); and “spiritual songs” would perhaps be songs of testimony about what the Lord has done for us.

I have found that many times in Scripture the meaning of the text is simple, but over-analyzation causes us to complicate the text and cast a fog over the meaning. I think that this is one of those places. No commentary or Greek word study is necessary to understand the meaning of this text. each passage tells us what the point is.

Christians sing! those who are moved by the power of the Holy Spirit will sing in joyful response to all that the Lord has done for them. They will sing alone. They will sing together. They will sing old songs, new songs, complicated songs, and simple songs. They will make melody in their hearts with thankfulness to God and they will declare His praise in the congregation of the righteous. What a wonderful challenge and encouragement for our everyday lives. Holy Spirit power produces singing people. The word of Christ in the hearts of believers brings about praise. 

I have learned two things from this study that I want to share in closing:

1. Read Scripture carefully. so much understanding can be gained from simply reading in order to understand the Scriptures rather than to complete your daily reading quota. The Bible is surprisingly simply to understand if you want to hear what it has to say, and it has a lot to say.

2. don’t move to commentaries and word studies until your brain is absolutely exhausted. I have found learning Scripture to be so much more rewarding when I spend significant time in it before ever opening another book for help.

The question that remains is this, “does the word of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit move you to sing?” 


This entry was posted in Singing, Theology, Worship. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s