Psalms, Hymns, and Songs From the Spirit

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.

Ephesians 5:18

As we saw in yesterday’s reflection, the positive imperative of Ephesians 5:18—“be filled with the Spirit”—is grammatically connected to five participles in the following verses: speaking, singing, making music, giving thanks, submitting. Today, we’ll begin to examine the first of these participles, which reads more fully, “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit” (5:19).

As we consider this phrase, we wonder: What are psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit? As you might imagine, biblical scholars have pondered this question for centuries, coming up with a variety of answers. Some commentators believe that psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit are distinct musical types that can be clearly delineated. Others disagree, arguing that Paul is simply stacking up words that overlap in meaning. I believe that psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs should not be seen as completely distinct musical genres, though each term emphasizes different aspects of music used in worship.

The word “psalms,” (plural of Greek psalmos) points to the songs collected in the Old Testament book of Psalms (see, for example, Luke 20:42), but may also include spontaneous songs inspired by the Spirit (see 1 Cor. 14:26). “Hymns” (plural of Greek hymnos) appears only here and in a parallel passage in Colossians (3:16). But the verb “to hymn” (hymneo) suggests the singing of a familiar, previously composed song of praise to God (see Matt. 26:30; Acts 16:25). “Songs from the Spirit” (plural of ode pneumatike) may be spontaneous numbers sung in the context of Christian worship. Though we cannot be exactly sure of the precise meaning of “psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit,” we do know that these are all musical numbers used to praise and glorify God.

The connection between singing and spiritual inspiration is familiar to most Christians. Often, God fills us when we are lifting our voices in praise. At other times, the Lord ministers to us through songs sung by others. Music has a way of opening our hearts and minds, allowing us to offer more of ourselves to God while opening more of ourselves to him. At other times, when God fills us with his Spirit, music provides a way for us to express the praise stirred up inside of us. No matter how and when we sing to the Lord, Ephesians 5:19 encourages us to lift our voices in musical praise. Yet, as we’ll see on Monday, this verse urges an unexpected use of worship music.

For now, take some time to mull over the following questions.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: In your experience, has the filling of the Spirit been connected with music? How would you describe this connection? Why do you think singing is so closely associated with the filling of the Spirit?

PRAYER: Gracious God, thank you for the music you give us to praise and worship you. Thank you for the psalms of the Old Testament, which inspire us and teach us how to pray. Thank you for the hymns and songs that have been composed by musicians and poets throughout the centuries. Thank you for the spontaneous songs that rise in the hearts of your people as we worship you.

Help us, Lord, to worship you with heart, soul, mind, and strength. May we praise you with songs, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. May our worship encourage us to open our lives more fully to you, so that you might fill us afresh with your Spirit. Amen.


Pursue God

What does it mean to pursue God in all aspects of life? How do we live in such a way that every area of our lives and every facet of ourselves is available to the pursuit of God? Are we living fragmented, viewing parts of our lives as sacred and other parts as secular? What would happen if we let the different parts of our lives exist together in an integrated life, pursuing God in every aspect of who we are at work, at home, and at church? offers a few definitions of the word pursue, one of which includes the idea of following in order to overtake or capture, but who can capture God? Instead, let's consider an alternate definition that lifts up the idea of following close upon or going with. In the series, Pursue God, we'll consider how to go with God in every aspect of our lives—inviting him to integrate each part of our lives and to be Lord over all.

Featured image by Marty Hadding. Used with Permission. Source via Flickr.