The Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit in the Prison Epistles

In general, the title, The Prison Epistles, is given to Paul’s letters to the Ephesians, the Philip pians, the Colossians, and the small personal note written to Philemon. Each of these was written during the Apostle’s imprisonment. Because the letters designated as Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus), were written, either during or between the times when Paul was in the Roman prison, they too may be linked with those already mentioned.

The Holy Spirit Mentioned 17 Times

With the exception of the Epistle to the Ephesians, the occasions when the Holy Spirit is spoken of in these letters are rare. Altogether there are 17 such mentions and of these 10 are found in Ephesians. While, perhaps characteristically, the little note sent to Philemon as a personal request contains no mention of the Holy Spirit, each of the occasions when He is spoken of in the context of Paul’s incarceration does have significance. Indeed, each of them adds substance to the overall revelation given in the Scriptures with regards to His Person and work.

An accompanying article deals with the references to the Spirit of God in Philippians. The Colossian letter views Christ as sitting on the right hand of God (3:1) and our life as being hid with Christ in God. The one mention of the Spirit here is found in 1:8 where Paul speaks of the love the Colossians have one for the other as told to him by Epaphras. Such love, a heavenly and spiritual virtue, is in keeping with our standing. The Spirit alone can produce such love in the hearts of His own.

The Epistle to the Ephesians

This letter could easily be called the “Epistle of the Holy Spirit,” since, apart from the Upper Room Ministry of the Lord Jesus (John 13-17), there is more information about the Holy Spirit given here in a very short space than is given anywhere else in the Scriptures. The Ephesian letter is the epistle of Christian affluence. In chapter 1 verse 3 we are told that God has blessed (the believer) with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ. All of these blessings are made good to us, here and now, in the power of the Holy Spirit. That is why there are so many references to His Person and to His work in the epistle.

There are three main subjects in the letter. Chapters 1 – 2 are occupied with the Promised Inheritance of which the Holy Spirit is the seal and assurance (1.13). Chapter 3 shows a Prayerful Intercession that the believers would be strengthened in the inner man by the Holy Spirit (3. 16). The last three chapters give Practical Instruction for the believer’s daily walk. Here the Christian is called upon to be filled with the Spirit (5.18).

The Holy Spirit is presented in seven ways:

1. The believer is sealed with the Spirit (1.13). He is the Spirit of promise.
2. We have access to the Father by the Spirit (2.18). He is the Spirit of adoption.
3. We are to be strengthened by the Spirit (3. 16). He is the Spirit of might.
4. The unity of the Spirit is to be maintained (4. 3). He is the Spirit of unity.
5. The Spirit may be grieved (4.30). He is the Spirit of holiness.
6. We are commanded to be filled with the Spirit (5. 18). He is the Spirit of grace.
7. The sword of the Spirit is at our disposal (6. 17). He is the Spirit of truth.

The sealing of the Spirit takes place upon conversion. “In whom…having believed ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” This agrees with what Paul intimated in his question to certain disciples in Ephesus. “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19.2 Revised AV). Immediately consequent to the sealing the believer is given a standing before the Father since the believer is the subject of God’s adoptive choice. In neither of these activities is the Christian called upon to exercise responsibility. The “sealing” and the “placing as sons” are both Divine operations. But in all the other activities of the Spirit, as mentioned above, the believer’s responsibility is characteristic.

Paul’s desire for the Ephesians and, indirectly, for us, reaches its pinnacle in his intercession for them. He bows his knee, on their behalf, to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ of whom (every) family in heaven and earth is named. “Every family,” that is to say, whether mankind, principalities and powers or the church, all owe their very existence to the Father of our Lord Jesus and by Him are named. It is to Him that Paul directs his request that He would, according to His riches in glory, grant the Ephesians to be strengthened with all might by His Spirit in the inner man. The result of such strengthening by the Holy Spirit is that Christ is given His place permanently at home in the heart of the believers. This enables believers to comprehend the fullness of the mystery and to know the love of Christ which surpasses all knowledge. In this way they are then filled, in full measure, unto the fullness of God. All the purposes of God for the believer are apprehended, appreciated, and worked out in practical ways (3.14-19).

In Ephesians 4 the Holy Spirit is seen to be the source of unity. This exists whether there is an outward evidence of it or not, but the responsibility of all saints is to maintain it. Unity can and has been disturbed, while loving, tender and peaceful fellowship is the true expression of it. The basis of unity is not mere sentiment but a strong, sevenfold doctrinal foundation. We are all placed in the one body by the one Holy Spirit. We all partake of the same hope because of the same calling. One Lord is over all and this is acknowledged by the one faith to which all adhere. It is given expression to by the one baptism in which we all have partaken.

The imperative mood of chapter 5 verse 18 must give each believer reason for thought. The idea contained in Paul’s words is that of being filled by the Holy Spirit continually. The words are often quoted and, just as often, misapplied. As is so often the case with problematic Scriptures we do not need to look far for the answer. In the immediate context of the verse there are five participles describing the Spirit-filled walk. These are speaking, singing, making melody, thanksgiving and submitting. Our attitude towards God will be that of joyful thanksgiving. A loving spirit and submissiveness will mark the believing husband and wife. Children and servants will show an obedient spirit in Christ and a spirit of consideration will manifest itself in fathers and masters. Simply put, every aspect of the Christian’s life is to be marked by that fruit which is the product of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God.

If the believer enjoys all the heavenly blessings of his position in Christ he also must face a hellish conflict calculated to deprive him of his possessions. He is, however, not without resources. The whole armor of God is provided for each one of us. There is the girdle of truth, the breastplate of righteousness and shoes which are the preparation of the Gospel of peace. To these are added the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation. The sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God and praying always in the Spirit are further resources of the embattled saint. Having done everything needful by way of spiritual preparation we are able to stand our ground in the day when evil seeks to triumph at our expense.

Thus does the Apostle Paul lay before us truth, both doctrinal and practical, regarding the Holy Spirit in these epistles written at a time when he proudly bore the confining chains which marked him as a true servant of the Man the world crucified. Even in these last days of the Twentieth Century may the Spirit who marked him mark each one of us.