In this passage in Ephesians, Paul encourages us to “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Similarly, in Colossians 3:16, he says, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms hymns and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”
Psalms and hymns we are familiar with, but what are ‘spiritual songs’? Many pages of theological discussion have been given over to trying to answer this question! Perhaps the most straightforward way of looking at it is to think of ‘spiritual songs’ as those inspired by the Holy Spirit – the passage from Ephesians speaks of being filled with the Spirit.
Songs inspired by the Holy Spirit can be songs of personal testimony; can express thankfulness, joy or love for God; can emphasise the grace of God, or focus on his greatness of power. They bubble up from the spirit of a person whose heart is overflowing with praise for God. Their purpose, as with all of our worship, is to glorify God.
We have a rich resource of praise inspired by the Holy Spirit in the Word of God. It is high praise indeed to offer back to God the very words he has gifted to us. As we read and internalise the scriptures, we take on board a ready supply of Holy Spirit inspired words with which to praise God.
In 1 Corinthians 14:14, Paul also uses the phrase “sing with my spirit”. Here he is referring to singing in tongues, or heavenly languages. This is another way in which we might sing praises inspired by the Holy Spirit. Paul says, “I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding.”
Whether with our spirit, or with our understanding, God requires of us that we sing those ‘spiritual songs’ of praise to him!