Small group Bible study curriculum with lessons by:
Scott Aniol, Tom Ascol, Voddie Baucham, Josh Buice, Costi Hinn, Phil Johnson,
Steven Lawson, John MacArthur, Laramie Minga, Matthew Sikes, Paul Washer, James White
Main Point: Worship that is rooted in our adoption in Christ will produce conformity to Christ.
Main Passage: Ephesians 5:1–25
Memory: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph 5:1–2)
What comes to your mind when someone says, “Wow, those people can worship”? Usually, we talk about the volume of their singing, the emotion they exhibit, the passion that we see from them, or their style. We look at some worshipers with contorted faces and tears, and we tend to think, “Wow, those people really can worship.” Some Christians might even attend churches where they get no spiritual nourishment from the Word, but they are attracted to the excitement and passion of the worship music. What this reveals is that Christians today tend to define worship as music, but is that what worship is?
The apostle Paul addresses the subject of singing in Ephesians 5:19, but he does so in a larger context that helps to set singing in worship in its proper place. Understanding singing in this broader context reveals that our worship is so much more than the songs that we sing. Paul’s discussion of singing in Ephesians 5:19 falls in a passage that is bookended with a focus on Christ’s love for us and his sacrifice for us. Notice verse 1:
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Now notice the same reference to Christ’s love and sacrifice in verse 25:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
This focus on Christ’s love and sacrifice in both verse 1 and verse 25 reveals the larger context for his discussion of singing in verse 19. This passage reveals the fundamental essence for our worship, singing being just one part of a larger whole.
Worship Is Rooted in our Adoption in Christ (Eph 5:1–14)
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Notice the worship language at the end of verse 2: when Jesus died for us, he was “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ultimately, our worship is not acceptable to God because of the quality of our offerings or the passion of our music; Jesus Christ is the sacrifice that God accepts as a fragrant offering. This reveals that our relationship to Christ is fundamentally important for our worship. Notice how the passage describes us in the first verse: we are God’s “beloved children” because Christ loved us and gave himself for us.
|Old Testament Offerings|
Lev 1:9 The Burnt Offering – “And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.”
Lev 2:9 The Grain Offering – “And the priest shall take from the grain offering its memorial portion and burn this on the altar, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.”
Lev 3:16 The Peace Offering – “And the priest shall burn them on the altar as a food offering with a pleasing aroma. All fat is the Lord’s.”
Lev 4:31 The Sin Offering – “And all its fat he shall remove, as the fat is removed from the peace offerings, and the priest shall burn it on the altar for a pleasing aroma to the Lord. And the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven.”
Lev 7:5 The Guilt Offering – “The priest shall burn them on the altar as a food offering to the Lord; it is a guilt offering.”
In other words, our worship is about so much more than the songs we sing because our worship is rooted and grounded in our adoption in Christ. There are a lot of ways that we can define worship, but one key way to define it is simply communion with God and with his people. Worship is communion in this sense because of the reality of our adoption—we are God’s “beloved children.”
The apostle refers to the doctrine of adoption several times throughout the book of Ephesians. For example, he says in Ephesians 1:3,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Our communion with God and with one another is rooted and grounded in this idea of our adoption. Our salvation began with our justification, and it includes our sanctification and future glorification, but we often forget that our salvation also includes our adoption. We have been justified—saved from the penalty of sin; we are being sanctified—saved from the power of sin; and we will be glorified—saved from the presence of sin. But we are also adopted as children of God.
(the logical order of salvation)
We often forget that important part of our salvation, however, and this leads to a deficiency in our personal experience of our relationship with God. We know that we are justified because of the finished work of Christ, but when we sin, we still conceive of God as a judge, standing with his gavel, ready to condemn us. So when we feel emotionally close to God, things are good, but if we don’t feel emotionally close to God, we feel far from him. This often leads us to seek after things that will make us feel emotionally close to God.
It is true that God is a righteous judge and we sinners deserve to die, and it is true that the judge declared us righteous because of the finished work of Christ. But God is not standing with his gavel as our judge now. He has adopted us as his children. Our Father looks upon us with pleasure, just as he looks upon Christ with pleasure, because we have been adopted as fellow heirs with Christ.
So, Paul admonishes us in Ephesians 5 to be imitators of God, not just as forgiven sinners standing before a judge, but as beloved children. He exhorts us in the following verses to forsake sin, not out of fear of judgment, but because we are God’s beloved children:
3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
Sinners have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ, but we who have been adopted into his family do have an inheritance. The judge says, “Not guilty,” and then the judge also says, “I also issue a degree of adoption so that you are as much my beloved child as Christ who died on your behalf.” We are forgiven, but we also have an inheritance. This is why he calls us in verse 8 “children of light.”
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.
11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
The doctrine of adoption is important for our understanding of worship, because when we view worship through a lens that does not include this idea of adoption, we often look at worship as performance. We approach worship as a way to appease God or manipulate him. We think that if we can just be loud enough or cry enough, perhaps we will please God and he will hear us. But this is not the worship of beloved children—this is pagan worship. Biblical worship is the idea of communing with God who is our Father.
|Think About It|
|1. What are the implications of the fact that Christ’s sacrifice is the pleasant offering that God accepts?|
2. Why is it important to remember that we are both justified and adopted?
How does our adoption as God’s beloved children affect our understanding of the nature of true worship?
Worship Produces Conformity to Christ (Eph 5:15–20)
Worship is rooted in our relationship with God by adoption, and second, as has already been clear through the beginning of Ephesians 5, this communion we have with God produces our sanctification. We are justified—declared righteous—and adopted into God’s family, so it makes sense that we will begin to conform to the image of the family that has adopted us. This is why Paul continues in verse 15 with a further explanation of what it will mean for us to be imitators of God as his beloved children:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.
Paul explains what will characterize the life of an adopted, beloved child of God by presenting three contrasts in this passage. First, “not as unwise but as wise”—that’s a contrast. Second, “do not be foolish but understand what the will of the Lord is”—that’s a contrast. And third, “do not get drunk with wine … but be filled with the Spirit”—another contrast.
In contrast to fools, who ignore God’s law and live apart from him, adopted children of God must be wise, actively applying the truth we know about God and his Word to our daily lives. This will cause us to use every opportunity in our lives to serve and worship the Lord. As God’s children, our worship is not restricted to singing on Sunday morning; the entirety of our lives ought to exhibit consecration to the Lord.
The contrast to foolishness is understanding the Lord’s will. This exhortation connects us to Ephesians 4. Ephesians 1–3 present a glorious picture of the things that are true about us because of the person and work of Christ. And then beginning in chapter 4, Paul shifts to the fruit of the gospel, contrasting the pagans—those who are apart from Christ—with who we are because of Christ. He describes pagan people beginning in verse 17:
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.
20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!
In contrast, we ought to live according to what we have learned about Christ:
21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Why? Because you are an adopted child of God. As God’s children, we engage in this communion with God that conforms us and transforms us. Paul says something similar in Romans 12:1–2:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Do you see the similarities here? Paul is arguing that because of your transformed mind, you are able to discern the will of God, very similar to what he is arguing in Ephesians 5:15–17. We do not turn off our minds in order to engage with God in worship, as Christians often assume today. Rather, as Paul emphasizes in Romans 12 and here in Ephesians 5, true worship is engaging our minds with the truth of God’s Word such that our minds are transformed and we are able to discern God’s will for our lives.
We often miss this reality because we have a poor understanding of the nature of worship and of who the Spirit of God is. We see the Spirit as a force and not a person, and we think that being spiritual means turning off your mind. Yet Paul’s emphasis here is that children of God who are living in communion with him will engage their minds with his truth and conduct themselves in wisdom and understanding of his will.
Paul further emphasizes this by explaining the nature of the Spirit’s work in the third contrast: “Do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit.” This third contrast opens up like a telescope into three commands. What does a Spirit-filled life with Spirit-filled worship look like? You don’t have to wonder. He answers the question with three commands that explain this idea of being filled with the Spirit.
|The “Telescope” of Paul’s Argument in Ephesians 5–6|
1. “not as unwise but as wise” (5:15).
2. “do not be foolish but understand what the will of the Lord is” (5:17).
3. “do not get drunk with wine … but be filled with the Spirit” (5:18).
1. “addressing one another in psalms hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making
melody to the Lord with your hearts” (5:19).
2. “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord
Jesus Christ” (5:20).
3. “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21).
1. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (5:22).
2. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (6:1).
3. “Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a
sincere heart, as you would Christ” (6:5).
The first evidence we are filled with the Spirit is “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your hearts” (5:19). Notice the expansion of our communion with God to communion also with God’s people. Another beauty of the doctrine of adoption is that it not only makes sense of me belonging to God, but it also makes sense of me belonging to other Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ. Because we all have been adopted by the same Father, there is two-way communion in our worship. And so we sing to one another in communion, and we sing to the Lord in communion. Is our audience one another or the Lord? The answer is yes! We address one another as we sing and make melody to the Lord with our hearts. We encourage one another in the Lord because we not only commune with the Lord, we also commune with one another in our worship.
We often make far too much of the three terms in this command—psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Paul is not intending to strictly identify three different kinds of song. No, this is a rhetorical device in which Paul is stressing that we ought to sing a variety of songs to one another and to the Lord.
The second command that explains the nature of Spirit-filling is found in verse 20:
… giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
A Spirit-filled believer will exhibit thankfulness to the Lord.
|Think About It|
|1. Why does our adoption by God in Christ necessarily produce conformity to Christ?|
2. Why is a life of conformity to Christ better evidence of true worship than passionate singing or emotional experience in a church service?
What are some biblical characteristics of truly Spirit-filled worship?
Worship is Submission to Christ
The third command that explains what it means to be Spirit-filled is found in verse 21:
… submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
This third command, then, expands like a telescope again to reveal three contexts in which Spirit-filled submission of beloved children of God will take place: wives to husbands, children to parents, and slaves to masters.
In other words, our Spirit-filled communion with God because of our adoption in Christ is so much more than a feeling, intense passion, or singing; Spirit-filled worship is about a life of submission to Christ and conformity to his image. And our submission to Christ is manifested by our submission to one another:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (5:22)
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. (6:1)
Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ. (6:5)
All three of these are contexts in which Spirit-filled children of God exhibit submission to Christ out of reverence to him. If you have a submission problem, it is actually a worship disorder. If we want to truly worship God, we must submit to God by obeying and submitting to those authorities that God has placed in our lives.
In other words, we may say we want Spirit-filled worship, but if our desire is really about how loudly and emotionally we sing our songs—regardless of our communion with God or lack thereof, regardless of our conformity to Christ or lack thereof, regardless of our submission to Christ and the authorities he has placed in our lives or lack thereof, then we really do not want Spirit-filled worship.
You see, one of the reasons we often take a shortcut in worship and reduce it to a performance for God that appeases or manipulates him is that it is a whole lot easier than truly Spirit-filled worship in which we conform to the image of Christ by submitting to him with the entirety of our lives. Enjoying loud, emotional, vibrant singing divorced from communion with God is easier than submitting to him. And further, if we are just singing in worship for the experience, we can end up singing songs that contradict the truth of God’s Word, thinking we have met with God because of the emotional experience we had through the hot band. But in essence, we are ripping Ephesians 5:19 out of the fuller context of what Paul is saying in this letter.
But if we place Paul’s command to sing in its fuller context, then we will understand that our worship is about far more than just the songs we sing. Our worship is communion with God as his child, because the person and work of Jesus Christ purchased not only our forgiveness but also our adoption. And then we will recognize that our worship is within the context of our conformity to Christ by renewing and transforming our minds with his Word. And we will understand our worship in terms of our submission to Christ and the authorities he has placed over us, submitting as an act of worship.
Worship is not dependent on volume, and it is not dependent on emotion. We may not look like the pagans with sweat pouring down, and we will not sound like them with their raucous music; rather, we have a far deeper connection to the God who redeemed us, adopted us, and with whom we commune in worship because of the person and work of Jesus Christ.
|Think About It|
|1. What are some practical ways we will manifest communion with God through submission to God-given authorities in our lives?|
2. Why are we often tempted to define worship by emotional experiences?
What would you say to someone who has passionate experiences on Sunday but who lives in rebellion to God the rest of the week?
Prayer: Our Father, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who by virtue of his person and work not only redeemed us, but adopted us as your own, we bow before you as grateful and humble children, beloved children of the most high God. Grant by your grace that as we come before you in worship, we would recognize that our worship is about so much more than the songs that we sing. Grant that we would set our mind’s attention and heart’s affection on you, praising you for who you are and for what you have done. Let us recognize that we are communing with you, our Father, and with our brothers and sisters around us. Grant that we might never again sell ourselves short by merely seeking emotional experiences based on externals. But instead,grant that our fellowship and communion with you might be as deep as the reality of our redemption in Christ. In his name and for his sake. Amen.
For Further Study:
Aniol, Scott. “Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs: Assessing the Debate.” Artistic Theologian 6 (2018): 13–18.
Peterson, David. Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993.
Thielman, Frank. Ephesians. BECNT. Baker, 2010.