Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I will sing with my spirit

Not only because it is the season, but because the presence of the Holy Spirit brings song to God’s people, let us pause to acknowledge the day of Pentecost.

Granted, the book of Acts does not tell us anyone sang on the day the Holy Spirit came and filled the room like a mighty rushing wind and rested on the disciples as tongues of fire. If that were the entire history of the Holy Spirit in the apostolic church, we could leave the manifestation of the Spirit to preachers and writers. But let’s stick with Saint Paul on this matter, and celebrate the gifts the Spirit brings that are expressed musically.

To the church in Ephesus, Paul wrote: … be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart … (Ephesians 5: 18,19) Speculation here: after 40 days of Jesus’ instruction (“everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms …” Luke 24:44) it is not too big a stretch to think that some of those Pentecostal utterances were addresses in psalms.

When correcting the theology of the Holy Spirit to the Corinthian church, Paul seems to take for granted that singing was a common manifestation of the presence of the Spirit: “What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing praise with my mind also” (1 Cor. 14:15). And what does he say as he wraps up his teaching with practical matters for orderly worship? “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn …” (14:26) Now, I don’t think Paul uses “hymn” here as a function of priority, but I am always fascinated that he includes it at all. And in this discussion of the gifts of the Spirit in worship here, he says “Let all things be done for building up.”

Christians are a singing people. That is something, I believe, that simply comes with the presence of the Holy Spirit. And it is my further conviction that the Holy Spirit is always giving the gift of new song to his people. (Though, I believe it was hymn scholar Alan Luff who observed about some claims that the Holy Spirit inspired specific songs, “we are surprised to learn that the Spirit is such a poor craftsman.”)

The Spirit’s role is to point people to Jesus. But perhaps it is not out of place to highlight a hymn text about Himself. The best Holy Spirit hymns do both:

Born by the Holy Spirit's breath,
loosed from the law of sin and death,
now cleared in Christ from every claim
no judgment stands against our name.

In us the Spirit makes his home
that we in him may overcome;
Christ's risen life, in all its powers,
its all-prevailing strength, is ours.

Sons, then, and heirs of God most high,
we by his Spirit 'Father' cry;
that Spirit with our spirit shares
to frame and breathe our wordless prayers.

One is his love, his purpose one;
to form the likeness of his Son
in all who, called and justified,
shall reign in glory at his side.

Nor death nor life, nor powers unseen,
nor height nor depth can come between;
we know through peril, pain and sword,
the love of God in Christ our Lord.

Timothy Dudley-Smith ©1984 Hope Publishing

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