We’ve been given the idea that this passage is solely about bodies, that the part translated as “your members” refers only to arms and legs. The thing is that the word melos also means part, as in musical parts (like SATB) or even melody. So Paul is talking as much about the melody of our life and what we do with it as he is about our lips and arms.
While melodies are generally treated as puffball bits of cuteness, they have (as any earworm sufferer can attest) strength within themselves. We use music to evoke emotions even without words and as anyone whose been to a movie or seen a political rally can tell you, music can move us by appealing straight to our gut without even stopping off to visit our brain.
Further, Paul encourages us not to make our melody available as an ‘oplon (tool/weapon) of sin. A class of Greek warriors were called hoplites because they bore the ‘oplon as their tool (s). (the plural is needed here because there is some discussion about whether ‘oplon refers just to the shield or to the whole panoply of armor, weapons and shield). Anyone who has seen the current Wonder Woman movie has seen her use a hoplite shield so you know what a serious tool it is. The appeal Paul is making here is that we not let our living, moving, be-ingness to be used as a tool (insert obligatory “don’t be a tool” joke here) for evil to others.
The opening verse of this passage adds another layer of meaning because while we translate it “do not let sin exercise dominion” the verb is “to rule” as in “to rule a kingdom.” While misrule very often results in domination, using domination implies more in English than is actually there. It’s enough to say “not rule sin in your mortal body” (in a painfully literal, words in the same order as in the Greek, translation). The point of the sentence is that sin is not to rule in your body/your being. And how does sin rule? By taking the melody of your life and using it as a tool, a weapon, against others.
it gets used, hijacked if you will, when there are place in our life where evil can get a finger (or claw) hold. We’re already aware of the spectacular and obvious hooks evil can use to grab us away from ourselves so I’ll just highlight a powerful one in my life which is not so obvious: rumination.
When I start dwelling on some old hurt or imagined injury, I can build up a head of steam just waiting for some unsuspecting passerby to go “Boom!” all over. In part this is an exaggeration, but at the same time the more energy I spend chewing over old soup, the more likely I am to be blinded by old movies and thus vulnerable to being surprised by situations and react out of older, more unhealthy selves instead of the new person I am becoming through Christ. Part of spiritual health then, is being aware of what my guts are churning over, what my mind is spinning on about and checking to see if this is truth or old lies. Part of growth then is built on avoiding bad habits.
However, while much of our preaching has focused on the negative here, the “do not let this happen” Paul is emphasizing, there is also a powerful positive. You see, if our melody can be used as a tool for evil, it means both that we have a melody in our life and that our melody has power. Furthermore, this melody can be a weapon for good, we are not bound forever simply avoiding doing evil. We can choose to give ourselves to the work of The Good.
Since we have been united into Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we are now people who have been brought from death to life. We have power, strength, and choice and we can give the power of our musical lives to many things.
In the face of being told that our lives have no power, we have a song of life. In the face of a society that assures us that our song is unwelcome, we know that it is a powerful tool. In the face of history which attempts to hijack our power in service of hurting others or simply staying silent within ourselves, we know that we can give our song as a tool to do and become good.
May the melody of your life be as a blessing to others.