Throughout the month of August, we’re taking a close look at 23 verses of the New Testament. They comprise Ephesians chapter one, which paints one of the Bible’s most comprehensive pictures of what it means for ordinary people to be “in Christ.”
A number of years ago, Steve Hein, a close friend in ministry, went on a mission trip to Brazil.
He had been working on his Portuguese and wanted to be able to help lead worship in the Brazilians’ native tongue. At the end of the service, Steve courageously stood to bless the congregation. He recited the apostle Paul’s famous benediction from 2 Corinthians 13:14: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
The worshipers promptly burst into laughter – which was not exactly the response he was anticipating.
Instead of saying the Portuguese word for “communion,” which sounds like communal, Steve had said what sounded like comminal, which is Portuguese for “big truck.”
May the big truck of the Holy Spirit be with you.
What’s amazing is how many times I have been stranded in a car that won’t start, or been stuck in the snow, or found myself broken down on the side of the road – and all I can do is dial the number on my AAA card, say a prayer, and wait for a big truck to come and get me going again.
Nineteen centuries before the internal combustion engine, Paul steers us in a similar direction.
Having recited a dozen or so blessings associated with trusting the Lord, he caps them all off in verses 13 and 14 with our greatest spiritual resource: “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”
Not everyone is impressed by such promises.
I recently shared a meal with a friend who has given up on the idea of God’s existence. His life’s work has brought him face to face with the depressing realities of an impoverished urban neighborhood. He’s grown weary of God’s apparent absence. And silence. And seeming indifference to human suffering.
Where is God in the midst of drive-by shootings, abandoned children, sex trafficking, gangs and guns? What’s the difference between a “god” who doesn’t intervene and no God at all?
In virtually all of his letters, Paul anticipates this tension. Somehow he needs to explain how God is actually rescuing this world, since this world is definitely still a mess.
Paul’s answer is expressed in the tension of what he calls the Already and the Not Yet. God is executing a two-part plan to heal our sin-battered planet. Part One has already happened. Jesus the Messiah has come to earth in humility and weakness and shared humanity’s suffering. And he has given to all of his followers the gift of the Holy Spirit. Part Two has not yet happened. Jesus the Messiah will return in power and glory. And the Holy Spirit will complete the transformation of all his followers.
We live in the in-between place. We have the Already, but not the Not Yet. The world is a place where God has not yet banished sex trafficking, drive-by shootings, unscrupulous corporations, and incurable cancers. There will often be tears in the eyes of God’s people.
But the Already is spectacular nonetheless. And that’s what Paul describes in the first chapter of Ephesians.
God’s Spirit brings strength, wisdom, assurance, and understanding to those who trust Christ. According to I Corinthians 6:19, the Spirit has turned each of us, in the words of Bible scholar N.T. Wright, into “personalized temples of God’s presence.” Nine “fruits of the Spirit” – including love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness – grow supernaturally within our hearts.
Paul says that we have been “marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.”
Seals were significant in the ancient world. Important letters were sealed to authenticate their authorship. Cargo was sealed to ensure that no one had tampered with the contents. God has put the seal of his Spirit on us as if to say, “You are mine, and no one else can mess with you.”
The Spirit is also described here as a “deposit.”
That’s a translation of the Greek word arrabon, which indicated a down payment or first installment. The Spirit is like an appetizer – the first taste of God’s grace. The rest of the meal, so to speak – the fullness of what God has in store for us – is coming in the future.
Notice that Paul says we are among “those who are God’s possession.” He possesses us. Now we have a new way to appreciate that old Stevie Wonder song: “Here I am – signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours.” Because of the Spirit who has already been poured into our hearts, we can wait in hope for the future that is not yet here.
Best of all, the “big truck” of God’s Holy Spirit is always on call.
Even if you don’t happen to have a AAA card.