In the middle of a list of practical and specific instructions about how being a Christian should result in a changed life (Ephesians 4:17-32), Paul inserts this instruction, in verse 27: “Neither give place to the devil.” The ESV gives a good modern rendering here, expressing this as “give no opportunity to the devil” which accurately translates Paul’s point in contemporary English. As we reform and improve our lives we are to avoid opening doors of opportunity for temptation and sin! This involves recognizing the difference between things which are not sinful and those which are (for example, it is not necessarily sinful to be angry; but it is wrong to let our anger to lead us into sin, vs. 26). Paul had previously pointed out (vs. 20) that the Ephesians had not “learned Christ” in a way that would allow for them to continue “walking” in the excesses of their Gentile society or as a way to “get away with sin;” rather, their experience of new life in Him should result in the “renewal” (literally, improvement, “remodeling”) of their minds so that they become more like Christ. In exactly the same way, we are to change and grow in Christ!
Chapter five opens with the point that Christians ought to be “copiers” of our Heavenly Father just as earnestly and diligently as our own little children seek to imitate their earthly fathers. The root of this admonition lies in chapter 4:32, where the inspired writer upholds God as our Heavenly Model for forgiveness toward one another, and echoes Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 11:1. The corollary to such imitation of the Father is that we should also “copy” the Son in His love, and in the self-sacrificing spirit He displayed in offering Himself in our stead (verses 2-3). In contrast (verses 4- 14), Christians should not be known for impurity of any kind, vulgar speech, or participation in any of the “unfruitful works of darkness” (verse 11); instead, thanksgiving (a grateful spirit) and an emphasis on purity and the “fruit of the Spirit” (verse 9) should be among the obvious and visible characteristics of every Christian.
In Ephesians 5:19 we find one of the clearest, most concise instructions about “religious music” in all the bible; the NKJ renders it as “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;” thus emphasizing the mutual obligation involved here. There are at least three important points we need to understand from this single verse:
1. The instruction applies to every Christian, not just to those with lots of musical knowledge and beautiful voices. Every Christian is instructed to sing!
2. “Spiritual” or worship songs must necessarily incorporate words – a spiritual message – in order for us to “speak to one another.” This means that psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are defined by their message, NOT by their musical style or their “setting” (i.e. a worship service or church building). What makes a song like “Amazing Grace” a spiritual song is its lyric; without the words, it’s just a tune (even if the tune calls the words to our minds!).
3. Note that there is no mention here of any “musical instruments” other than the human voice and the human heart! When the Lord specifies what we are to do, and how we are to do it, that leaves no room for us to add to His commandment!
Our Lord’s instructions about “worship music” are not difficult to understand nor to obey; difficulty only enters the matter when we insist on inserting our own preferences, whims or desires into His commandments, thus altering them from what He said. Among the final words of the new testament is a warning (Revelation 22:18-19) against such “modifications” of God’s word; let us be content to obey the instructions of our Lord as He has delivered them to us!