What is the Lord contrasting in John 4:23-24?
The Samaritan woman mentioned worship, pitting “this mountain” against Jerusalem, essentially saying, “That’s your religion; this is mine.” The Lord then contrasted the revelation of God entrusted to the Jews with its absence among the Samaritans. Humanity must be enlightened by God in order to worship Him fittingly. “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship” (verse 22). But the second movement of the Lord’s response addresses a void in both systems. Externalism, formalism, and ritualism must yield to worship from the spirits of men. Since God is spiritual in essence, He has been leading men from formal worship, as instituted under the Law, to the ultimate of His purpose, “true worshipers.” In this age, the Father achieves an ultimate purpose in redemption: worshippers who worship in spirit and in truth. Believers now worship in the heavenly sanctuary and, by the power of the Spirit, their redeemed spirits (“in spirit”) offer worship in keeping with the full revelation of all God is, as revealed in the Word (“in truth”). This transcends sacrifices and means of worship that are neither rational (able to know God) nor spiritual.
Does the word “singing” (1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19) imply musical instruments?
The basis of this question is the derivation of the word, “psallo,” used 5 times in the New Testament and translated “sing,” “sing psalms,” or “making melody.” The noun translated “psalm” (psalmos) comes from this verb. W. E. Vine gives the meaning as “primarily ‘to twitch, twang,’ then, ‘to play a stringed instrument with the fingers,”’ and adds that it means “in the New Testament, ‘to sing a hymn, sing praise.”’ Similarly, Vincent states, “The verb, however, is used in the New Testament of singing praise generally.”
The derivation of a word adds color to the meaning but does not define the word. Ephesians 5:19 uses both forms of the word in a way that clearly removes them from the thought of an accompanying instrument. The noun, “psalms,” is linked with speech and not music, “speaking to yourselves in psalms. The verb, “sing,” cannot involve instrumental music when Paul says, “making melody in your heart.”
What is the place of instrumental music in New Testament teaching?
During early Christian days, instrumental music in assembly gatherings was likely impractical, if not impossible, due to a combination of poverty, mobility, simplicity, and persecution. Its absence is not only practical, but also consistent with New Testament teaching. In this age, worship is in heaven, in the holiest (Hebrews 10:19), and rises from redeemed spirits. A capella singing testifies to this truth. Every aspect of worship and service in the assembly has priestly character. “The sacrifice of praise,” “the fruit of our lips” (Hebrews 13:15), must include songs of praise. New Testament singing is “to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). Gospel hymns have a clear message for unbelievers, but they include notes of praise to God. Songs touch cords of deep emotion in the heart of a believer and thus draw the spiritual response of worship.
This indicates an added reason for not amplifying the emotional impact of gospel singing by the use of instruments. To make songs a primary thrust of reaching those who are spiritually dead is to build on an emotional response, rather than reaching the mind and conscience with the gospel. This directs the Seed of the Word to stony ground that receives the Word “with joy,” an emotional response (Luke 8:13), but is not fruitful. The Lord indicates that fruitful hearts are those who understand the truth (Matthew 13:23). Singing is only a supplement to preaching, the primary thrust of evangelism.
Therefore, there is scriptural reason in every assembly gathering to maintain the public testimony that worship is spiritual in character.
Are there musical instruments in heaven and why will they be used during the Millennium?
If God has always had a “dwelling place,” then heaven is eternal and uncreated. Nothing that was created, apart from spirit beings, and certainly nothing tangible were in heaven until the ascension of our Lord Jesus in a physical body. The three references to harps in heaven in Revelation (5:8; 14:2; 15:2) all appear to be couched in figurative terms where prayers are “odors,” voices sound like harp-singers with harps (JND), and the singers surround “as it were a sea of glass.”
The present age, with its spiritual character and it’s heavenly sanctuary, will have passed during the Millennium. God will have completed one means of dealing with man on earth and will return to complete His promises from a former age. A literal temple on earth will have its sanctuary, its sacrifices, and its priesthood (Ezekiel 40-48). As instruments had a part in Old Testament worship with its sanctuary and sacrifices, they will be appropriate for worship in that coming kingdom. Instruments are not, in themselves, wrong in worship. Their absence in public testimony today indicates the spiritual character of worship as “spiritual sacrifices” (1 Peter 2:5). Instruments will be a delightful accompaniment to the worship of God’s people then, as they are today, apart from assembly gatherings.