Danny Pegg is a first-year ordinand (trainee priest) at Westcott House, Cambridge.
29Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up,* as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
Jesus promised that the Comforter – the Holy Spirit – would be with us always until the end, and yet we often feel completely alone. We relate to God as one person in a relationship with another person and its easy to forget that God is not like other people. Other people come and go and we feel close and distant to them at different times.
Remembering that we are sealed with the Holy Spirit from now until the day of redemption when we feel alone might be hard, but this truth is awe inspiring. Just as the Spirit descended on Christ at his baptism and remained with him, so with us, who share in his baptism, the Spirit also remains. We are incorporated into the body of Christ and come to our God and find our salvation through him who is the Way, all because he loves us.
This is a part of Paul’s diatribe on how to live as a Christian, placed between instructions on negative behaviour and actions. He tells us not to speak destructively and not to allow black feelings conquer us and be what we inflict on others, because of the example of Christ. Sometimes though we do say the wrong thing and we do feel terrible – and that’s where we might just begin to doubt God and feel apart from him and his Spirit, or ‘grieve the Holy Spirit’. Paul is reassuring here: you are sealed, so no matter what, that can’t change. Feelings can change, behaviour can change, and we need to know the example Christ has set for us when we fall short – BUT – the truth of the matter does not change: we are part of his body, we bear his seal, freely given.
In the debates concerning sexuality, there can often be a tendency for it to get hurtful or personal. We are called to an example above that – get rid of rage and anger, Paul says. That isn’t always easy or even possible when confronted with someone who calls you a bigot or someone telling you that your innate self is an abomination. However, it should be our aspiration. When we can be kind and compassionate to one another – liberal and conservative alike – and forgive one another when we fall short of that, just as Christ forgave us all, then perhaps we can have more constructive dialogue together about human sexuality.
The seal of the Spirit is on the foreheads of all Christians and we are all together in the body of Christ. The radical love he preaches extends to those who disagree with us, perhaps especially to those who disagree with us. For if there is no Jew or Gentile, no man or woman in the body of Christ, then there is no friend or enemy. There are no sides. We are one – even if we do not look like it or act like it – we are one, in him.