‘Be filled with the the spirit speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit’ (Ephesians 5:19)
We can see from this verse from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians that singing and music was a central part of Christian worship for the early church 2000 years ago, and has been central ever since. For a large part of the last 2000 years, most people couldn’t read, with only the rich getting a formal education. Hymns and songs with their catchy melodies would be one of the main ways that people would learn about God and Jesus. It is much easier to remember a song than to memorise a piece of scripture. Hymns and songs were and are vital because they build up the church and they instruct us. They speak to the heart and to the mind.
Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws. (Andrew Fletcher – 17th century writer and politician)
Songs are incredibly powerful more so than laws! They mold us from the inside, Paul recognises this and so sees how important it is to make sure that we prioritise sung Christian worship as a central part of living out our faith. If you want to know about the ethics of the Old Testament read the Psalms, not the laws!
‘The multitude of your sacrifices what are they to me? Says the Lord. I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats’ (1:11).
This verse immediately jumped out at me, it is talking about the gap between worship and life. For the Israelites this was offering sacrifices without living the life that should go with this, this meant the sacrifices were meaningless to God. We are told in verse 17 what they should be doing:
‘Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.’ (1:17)
The lives of those that follow God must act within God’s world to bring about God’s Kingdom here on earth, without this our worship is meaningless. Isaiah tells that we need to learn to do good. Learn, seek, correct, Isaiah is telling us that action is required for worship to be authentic. This was the role of the prophet, through prophetic words and action, to bring the people back to God to His heart for justice. The closer we are to God’s heart the higher the priority for justice in our lives will be. This passage reminds me of one of my favourite quotes:
‘seven whole days, not one in seven’ (George Herbert).
George Herbert was talking about how as Christians we often are Christians only on a Sunday when we go to worship at church. We must live as Christians seven days a week. That means each of us in our spheres of influence at home, in work, with family, with friends we should be learning to do good, fighting injustice and bringing about His kingdom. Not a Sunday Christian, but a follower of Jesus every day.