Under the old covenant, the burnt offering was described as producing a ‘pleasing aroma’ to the Lord – an acceptable sacrifice (Genesis 8:21; Exodus 29:18 etc.). The death and resurrection of Christ later produced an offering to God that was completely acceptable for all time – this sacrifice was borne out of a total love and compassion for us. Ephesians 5 asks us to follow that example of Christ – to imitate him.
In verses 3 – 7, Paul lists some examples of how not to live: sexual immorality, impure speech, and greed being some of the main characteristics of the kingdom of darkness and its people. Greed, whether for money, for food or for anything else, is a form of idolatry or covetousness. Paul points out that those not in Christ will be severely punished for sins like that (v6), and that we should not emulate that kind of behaviour. There should not even be a hint or suggestion of what the disobedient do in secret.
We were once ‘darkness’, but we have now changed kingdoms; our new kingdom is all about goodness, righteousness, and truth. Our aim, in doing and saying certain things – and in avoiding other behaviours – is to find out and do what pleases Jesus. That’s the point! It is not legalism but pleasing him that matters.
Paul then talks about the Spirit who empowers us – not the kind of spirit you get from a bottle! – but one who steers us into a life of worship, praise, thanksgiving, and heavenly music. We are called to be continually filled with the Holy Spirit throughout our days, like a glorious heavenly addiction – mimicking the way that an alcoholic will rarely be ‘dry’ of alcohol and will always be reaching for another ‘top-up’. Alcohol is very mind-changing and life-changing, but the Holy Spirit is even more so, as we drink from Him. We should also recall the parallel passage in Colossians 3:16, which commands us to be full of the word of God, the message of Christ.
Psalms are the scriptural Book of Psalms, whereas ‘Hymns’ are probably newly written Christian poetry, set to music. Songs from the Spirit are possibly spontaneous, extemporary songs of praise, inspired by the Holy Spirit and shared in a meeting of the church. Music and singing are a creation of God himself, for his own pleasure and glory and the place of sung music in church life is clearly emphasised here as something that pleases the Lord. However, this is no recommendation for the presence of large ostentatious so-called ‘worship bands’, led by those who secretly wish to the centre of attention (although many are not like this)! I am not convinced that the commercialisation and professionalization of ‘worship-leading’ is a healthy development in western Christian circles; there are many facets to it that are indistinguishable from the way the world does it.
When deciding what is suitable for gatherings of disciples, we should beware of overreaction in either direction. 1 Corinthians 14, as well as giving a strong encouragement to believers to develop and use supernatural gifts such as prophecy, words of knowledge, brief teaching times, and tongues in their meetings, also promotes hymns and music. The overriding goal is that the church may be built up.
What goes on outside meetings is of equal or greater important to Paul: wives must submit to, and show respect to, their husbands, who are their spiritual ‘head’. Husbands must love their wives with the kind of sacrificial love that Christ showed his church. The institution of marriage is a God-given metaphor for the greater reality that is Christ and his Church-bride. Christians in their marriages should therefore make every effort to demonstrate and enact the same quality of relationship on earth as they would expect to find in heaven.