Read Ephesians 5:15-20.
Good, now re-read it again, this time, like you’ve just read it for the first time in your life, trying to forget anything and everything you’ve ever thought or have heard said or written about it before.
I have to wonder what sort of scenario Paul had in mind when he penned that paragraph. The entire chapter of which it is a part (and much of the chapter before it, for that matter), clearly deals with matters of everyday Christian living. There’s hardly a subject Paul doesn’t address – honesty (4:25), anger (4:26-27), working for a living (4:28), bitterness (4:31), sex (5:3), the use of humor (5:4), greed (5:5), deception (5:6), drinking wine (5:18), marriage (5:21-33) and more.
All of these subjects have most obvious and direct bearing not so much with what we do as a congregation when we’re assembled together on the Lord’s Day, but what we do (and don’t do) all the time as Christians, no matter the day of the week or even if if we’re in the presence of other believers. Indeed, what immediately precedes this paragraph is a reminder that Christians, are to live their lives all the time in a way that is clearly distinct from the way they used to live them before they stepped into the light of life, Jesus Christ (5:3-14).
At the same time, Paul very rarely thinks of Christians as individuals living their lives by themselves. He ever has Christians – note the plural – in mind whenever he speaks. And that’s the case simply because, as in this letter, he is usually writing to a church, a group of Christians, but is true because for Paul, Christian living, all day, everyday, is a corporate, not merely individual, thing. He continually paints word pictures that illustrate such (soldiers in an army, members of a body, etc.). This paragraph, surrounded as it is by references to everyday life, is also surrounded (and composed itself) by words and phrases that continually remind us of our connectedness in Christ. They spill from his pen naturally and frequently, phrases like “among you” (5:3a), “the Lord’s people” (5:3b), “the kingdom of Christ” (5:5), “children” (5:8b), “one another” (5:19), and many more. Those connections are most obvious and “doable” when we’re in each other’s presence, as in “a church assembly.”
All of that clearly says something, namely that Paul does not think here like a great many Christians think today. Many believers make a hard and fast distinction between “what goes on down at church on Sunday mornings” and “what goes on in the rest of life.” But for Paul, it’s all one and the same; it’s not about two realms or times, but about one life lived for Jesus all the time. What is done “in church” affects us all the rest of the week and what we do during the week before we gather strongly influences what’s done down “at church.” Our lives flow together as a single river, not as independent, parallel creeks that intersect in one place at one time and then goes their separate ways again.
Now if that be true – and it’s undeniable if we let Paul speak – all of this this dramatically shifts the way we tend to look at this text. For example, when Paul said “don’t get drunk on wine” (5:18) he could have just as easily been talking about a love feast or Lord’s Supper gone out of control (as certainly was the case in Corinth – cf. 1 Cor. 10-11) as much as he could have have been thinking about hangin’ out in the hood with your posse on a Friday night. Another example – when he said “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21), he could have been thinking about husbands and wives dealing rightly with each other on Monday (5:22-33) as he could have had in mind the many and various relationships that make up the network that is a Christian gathering on a Sunday.
All of which leads me ask (warning: run on sentence approaching) – when Paul said we’re to be about “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit” (5:18) and to “sing and make music” from our “heart to the Lord” (5:19), was he trying to say every Christian, in every church gathering on the Lord’s day, in every culture in, in every age had better sing acappella or else they’d be sinning in a big way or was he simply trying to say, in effect, “Choose to find your happiness not in drinking songs, but whenever and wherever you find yourself singing, do it in every way from the prompting of God’s Holy Spirit and with thanks to God your Father who is saving your soul through the work of his Son, Jesus Christ?”
To me the answer is obvious. And it’s an answer that’s good every day of the week – and twice on Sunday.
Heavenly Father, you know I don’t think I can hardly carry a tune in a bucket most of the time, but I pray that my heart will always be on key with your Spirit. May I never seek my pleasure in any thing or way, but find your praise to be my never-ending source of joy. Help me ever seek this wisdom, this wise way of living. Show me how to do so, I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.