This Scripture comes from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. Many of the churches in the region had been started by Paul and he wrote letters to them instructing them in the Way of Christ, settling disputes, or answering their questions. The church in Ephesus was founded by the disciple Apollos. Apollos was a disciple of John the Baptist and had limited knowledge of the Gospel.
Apollos had gathered a following of disciples and told the new believers the part of the truth about Christ which he knew. Apollos was an educated Jew with thorough knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures, but was not well versed in the Gospel. He preached what he knew with enthusiasm and eloquence. Apollos taught about the baptism of John the Baptist, but he didn’t know about Jesus’ baptism of the Holy Spirit. He knew enough to preach the rudimentary truth of the Gospel, but he had not received the Holy Spirit and the gift of prophecy.
Paul and his disciples Priscilla and Aquila whom he commissioned in Corinth arrived in Ephesus after Apollos had been preaching for an unknown length of time. Priscilla and Aquila teach Apollos the full truth of the Gospel then he moved onto another territory to preach the Gospel. Paul, Priscilla and Aquila stayed there to further catechize the church. Paul taught the brothers and sisters about the baptism of the Holy Spirit and baptized them. Paul preached in the synagogue while Priscilla and Aquila led the Ephesian church. Paul is said to have lived in Ephesus for 3 years which was his longest stay in one location along his missionary journey.
Paul’s primary mission to the Ephesian church was to spiritually form them in a life that reflects a transformed vision of the Holy separating themselves from their former ways of worshipping Artemis, a Roman goddess. The Ephesians’ new faith needed to be distinguished by its Christian belief and practices from the other religious options in Ephesus. In Jerusalem, the church was known for their counter-cultural practices and fellowship; now, the church in Ephesus needed to reach that level of distinguished practice that they may be known for their spiritual devotion and fellowship.
Chapter 4 of the letter to the Ephesians begins Paul’s instructions to the church for living out God’s salvation. This letter was probably written late in Paul’s mission and presents a mature theology as it had evolved over his lifetime. Paul’s message is that the church should be unified by one faith, one baptism, and one Lord (Ephesians 4:5). The gifts of the Holy Spirit are the means of their union and are meant for the building up of the body of Christ.
This last half of the chapter, verses 17 – 32, is about the new ways of living as a follower of Christ. Paul contrasts their old life with the new life found in Christ Jesus. He writes that they should focus on behaving in ways that reflect their commitment to the fellowship of believers and avoid ways that are destructive to their relationships.
Paul tells the Ephesians to not lie or use foul language. He says that should keep their anger in check. It is one thing to get angry, but He says “deal with it right away so that no one sins against another.” He says criminals should stop stealing. Compared to those behaviors, he tells them that they should be kind, compassionate, and forgiving while saying things that are beneficial to the community. This type of behavior will guard against spiritual attacks and will make the Holy Spirit happy.
When their minds are renewed and they give up their habits of sinning, new ways of living emerge. These new behaviors show a renewed imagination for life and a new understanding of the world. Their practices will reflect their knowledge that they have been created in the likeness of God. The Ephesian church should understand that God’s plan of salvation is not just that humans would be reconciled to Himself, but that “humans are reconciled to one another in unity and harmony.”
We may not be reforming pagans like the believers in Ephesus who know an old way of living and seek a new life. However, we can understand the human struggle of living in relationship to others. We know the temptation to sin and battle against the darkness within. Lots of cartoons illustrate this as a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other both trying to influence our behavior.
Let’s think about it in terms of a Christmas cartoon, like How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Rev. Adam Hamilton, a United Methodist pastor, and author of the series the Sunday school class downstairs is following, suggests we all have an inner Grinch and an inner who. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a book written by Dr. Suess in 1957 and adapted into a cartoon special in 1966. It was rated by teachers among the top 100 children’s books. As old as the story may be, it is a holiday classic still today.
The story begins by telling us that everyone down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot, but the Grinch did not probably because his heart was 2 sizes too small. With a Grinchy frown, he plotted to take Christmas from the town. He planned to ruin their feast of roast beast. He’d stop the bells ringing and the whole Who singing.
So, he dressed up like Santy Clause and took with him is doggy’s paws. He went to each and every home. He stuffed his bag full of the Who’s gift boxes and cleared out their ice boxes. He stuffed all the food and presents up the chimney with glee; he even took the Christmas tree. When he’d completed his plan to Christmas stop, he went to Mt. Crumpit’s top where he waited for the waking Who to cry boo-hoo.
On the mountaintop with his hand to his ear, he waited to hear their mourning, but he was disappointed by their singing. Despite all he had stolen, their Christmas spirit had not been stolen. Christmas came without ribbons or tags; it came without packages or bags. He learned that day that Christmas is more than you can buy at a store. At this, his heart grew 3 sizes. So, he took all the lights and the toys, and the wreaths and the feast down to Who-ville. And, he himself carved the roast beast.
The Grinch thought he could steal their happiness by stealing their things. That inner Grinch within each of us wants to rob others of their joy. Our inner Grinch is bitter, resentful, unforgiving, and angry. The Grinch is such a part of our culture that dictionary.com defines a Grinch as someone who spoils the pleasure of others and urbandictionary.com describes grinching as stealing everyone’s good mood.
Now, I know many of us are thinking about the grinchy people in our lives and wishing they were here listening to this sermon. But, I want to focus on our tendency to Grinch or think grinchy thoughts. We are not born grinches, but hurts and loss have given us wounds that can make us grinchy.
There is also an inner Who within. The inner Who is the type of person who invites the Grinch to Christmas dinner even after he stole what they had. He may have taken their things, but the Who does not allow the Grinch to ruin the day. Our inner Who is the one who seeks the goodwill of the community. The inner Who is forgiving and loving and kind. The Christ is the one who inspires us to live like a Who, not a Grinch. The Christ is the One who gives our inner Who light and doesn’t allow the darkness of the Grinch to overcome it.
Everyday we are faced by the challenges of our inner Grinch. We have the decision to make if we are going to be grinchy or like the Who. We starve the inner Grinch when we offer forgiveness and charity and love. Paul says there are things we do, good talk and evil talk, good behavior and evil behavior. We can choose to do and say good things feeding the inner the inner Who or we can do and say bad things feeding our inner Grinch. Partnership with the Holy Spirit leads us to do what we can to hold the Christmas spirit in our hearts.
The Whos lived surrounded by the lights of their trees and houses while the Grinch lived in a cold, dark cave. The light and darkness are a reminder that there is a light and a darkness that lives in our hearts. The Gospel of John 1: 1 – 5 says: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
The light is available to our inner Who. We know that the Grinch does not understand the light and shall not overcome the light. Let not the inner Grinch invade your speech and deeds. Let the light shine on your inner Who inspiring you to acts of charity and words of kindness.