17 November 2015

Ephesians 1:11-14

“In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.” (v. 13)

Psalm: Psalm 127


These verses conclude the introductory praise in the letter, the unbroken Greek sentence which we have as verses 3-14 in our English translation. Verse 11 continues the earlier theme of Christians being adopted as God's children (see Ephesians 1:5). It is part of God's plan that such children will receive an inheritance.

In verse 13 the writer switches from speaking in terms of "we" to addressing "you". This might be seen as making a distinction between Jews and Gentiles, but is more likely to be speaking of the extension of God's grace to a new group of Christian believers. They had heard the word, the truth about God revealed in Jesus Christ, and believed. Through God's grace they had received the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is described both as a seal and a pledge. Some interpreters have seen the use of the word "seal" as a reference to Baptism, but that is not really very clear. It is more likely that the Holy Spirit is the mark on people's lives that they have responded to the gospel.

The idea of a pledge draws from the world of business. The ancient practice of taking a deposit when making a purchase as a guarantee that in the fullness of time the rest of the price would be paid is still found in the commercial world today, although now the payment may be made in instalments with the addition of substantial interest. The writer refers to the gift of the Holy Spirt as a guarantee that God will one day fulfil God's promise to redeem God's own people. In personal terms this can be seen as a positive hope. If in this life the Holy Spirit can be active in our lives, then how much more joy there will be when we enter into the fullness of God's love in the life to come? If the Holy Spirit is God's guarantee that this will be so, then the expression "to the praise of his glory" which occurs at the end of verse 14, and which features as a refrain throughout verses 3-14 is appropriate.

To Ponder

  • How would you describe the work of the Holy Spirit in your life? Think of some examples.
  • What are your feelings about life after death?

Bible notes author

The Revd Richard Bielby

Richard is a supernumerary Methodist presbyter in Stockton on Tees. He is a part-time prison chaplain and also serves as a voluntary chaplain at Durham Cathedral.