How can we know that we are filled with the Spirit? There are at least eight manifestations of Spirit-filling in the New Testament. Four of the seven are right here in our text. The first is music—Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody (Eph. 5:19a).
Here is a truly amazing principle! There is nothing more indicative of the Spirit-filled life than the expression of song. Whether a person has an angelic voice or can’t “carry a tune in a bucket,” the Spirit-filled Christian is a singing Christian. Whether a person has a college degree in music or doesn’t know the difference between a music stand and a sixteenth note, the Spirit-filled Christian loves music.
I spent a great deal of time on this point when I preached on it, but space allows only a brief mention. Paul speaks here of three different types of church music.
First, there are psalms. A Psalm is, “A sacred, inspired poem of praise.” Psalms were actually designed to be sung with the accompaniment of a stringed musical instrument, such as the harp, the lute, or the lyre (all of which are in the guitar family). In fact, the word psalms is merely a transliteration of the Greek title of the book of Psalms—psalmoi—which originally meant plucking the stings of a musical instrument. So the first type of Christian music is the Psalm, a sacred, inspired poem of praise. May we also point out that new Psalms are not being written today; no inspired writings are being produced. However, some hymn writers have adapted certain Psalms. Robert Grant (1785-1838), for example, adapted Psalm 104 into that great hymn “O Worship The King.” Likewise, Martin Luther adapted his glorious hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” from Psalm 46.
Second, there are hymns. While a gospel song is “a religious exhortation to fellow man,” and a carol is “a simple narrative in verse of some outstanding biblical event,” a hymn is “an ode of praise to Almighty God.” The word hymns is a transliteration of the Greek humnos. While its origin in uncertain, the word goes as far back as in secular Greek as Homer (8th Century B.C. Greek poet) and was a general word used to include the most varied poetical forms. Also in general, it referred to songs to the gods, particularly a song in praise of the divinity. It’s interesting that because of that origin, the word “hymn” nowhere occurs in the writings of the apostolic fathers because it was used as a praise of heathen deities and thus the early Christians instinctively shrank from it.”
All that, however, still does not change the fact that Paul used the word hymnos for a reason., namely, to show that instead of hymns being dedicated to pagan gods, Christians sing hymns to the one true God. According to Augustine, a hymn has three characteristics: It must be sung; it must be praise; it must be to God.
Third, there are spiritual songs. The word songs is the Greek ōdē (English “ode”), which in ancient times referred to “any kind of song, as of battle, harvest, [or] festal.” Paul, therefore, qualifies it here with the word spiritual. He didn’t have to say “spiritual psalm” or “spiritual hymn” because these are already spiritual in content, but he had to qualify songs as being spiritual songs.
What are the differences between a “hymn” and a “spiritual song?” There are actually several subtle differences. (1) A hymn is a direct praise of God while a spiritual song is an expression to other people, as is illustrated in the song, “In My Heart There Rings A Melody.” (2) A hymn is objective and presents objective facts, while a spiritual song is more subjective in expressing personal feelings. A good example of this is found in the song, “It Is Well With My Soul.” (3) A hymn focuses on the attributes and majesty of God while a spiritual song is often evangelistic as is the song, “Have You Any Room For Jesus?” (4) The tune (or melody) of a hymn is more staid, sober, and sedate while a spiritual song often has a catchy melody or lifted rhythm as in the songs, “He Lives” and “Are You Washed In The Blood?” (5) A hymn usually does not have a chorus while a spiritual song usually does.