And we exhort you, brethren, admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying, but test everything; hold fast to what is good, abstain from every form of evil. May the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I’ve always enjoyed fireworks shows. They usually end with a flurry of fireworks lighting up the sky brightly, with the accompanying noise that almost sounds like thunder. The sacrament of Holy Unction is meant to provide spiritual healing and a lot of encouragement. As we enter the last cycle of the seven Epistles, Gospels and prayers, the buildup beings to a similar glorious finale.
The Seventh Epistle is filled with some great advice. Like the Fruit of the Spirit, which was the Sixth Epistle, if this is a lot of information to take in, we can choose even one phrase of this Epistle and work on it and gain a lot from even one nugget of what is presented here.
Many people in the world feel defeated and broken because of their life circumstances. And just about all of us feel estranged from God at times because of our sins. In his First Epistle to the Thessalonians, St. Paul tells us to “encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all.” (I Thessalonians 5:14) He is not asking us to do something that God Himself doesn’t do. He is asking us to do exactly what God does for us. He encourages the fainthearted. He helps strengthen us when we are weak. He is patient with our sins. We can take comfort in His patience and mercy. We can count on Him giving us strength, especially when we are at our weakest moments.
Many times in life, when we are wronged, we think we will feel better when we repay wrong on someone who has wronged us. Much of what wounds us spiritually comes from the evil we visit upon others. It may make us feel better to “get even” with someone but it wounds us spiritually. Saint Paul exhorts us to do good to one another, even to those who do evil to us. (I Thessalonians 5:16)
I Thessalonians 5:16 tells us to “rejoice always.” How can that be possible? Are we supposed to rejoice when we are diagnosed with serious illness, or when we’ve lost a job? How can we rejoice in legal trouble or a divorce? Saint Paul doesn’t tell us we have to rejoice because of our circumstance. However, he encourages us to find a reason to rejoice despite our circumstances.
I am often thankful to God for the gift of sleep. I have my share of bad days that can’t seem to end soon enough. Then something great happens after sleeping. We rise to a new day. I have made it a practice each day to start off with a prayer saying “Thank You God for a new day. Thank You that I am alive for one more day.” My first thought each day is a joyful one, and a thankful one. Even if I know the coming day is going to be a difficult one, there is a reason to rejoice in that I even have another day. I try to see God’s hand in everything, and sometimes it’s very hard. In fact, there are even some times when I fail to see God’s hand in something. Something will happen that I just totally don’t understand. In those times, I think to myself, I’ll just have to ask Him when I meet Him, why He allowed something terrible to happen to someone.
To “pray constantly” (I Thessalonians 5:17) does not mean that we have to be on our knees at every waking moment. When I think of this verse, I think about how we celebrate the Divine Liturgy, how each movement is under control, how “Lord, have mercy,” or “Grant this, O Lord,” is sung in a rhythmic way following each petition. To “pray constantly” is to be under control, under the umbrella of what is pleasing to God. And it happens when we establish a rhythm to how we act—thinking and praying before we act. We establish a rhythm to how we talk—we think out what we say before we say it. We establish a rhythm for how we behave—with intentionality and purpose. The words of prayer find their way into our rhythm, both extended times of prayer and Scripture reading as well as short bursts of prayer throughout the day. Prayer can consist of a lengthy Psalm or prayer, or it can consist of a few words said repeatedly, like the Jesus Prayer –Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner—or even more simply, “Lord, have mercy.”
“Give thanks in all circumstances” (5:18) mirrors the idea of rejoicing always. We don’t have to give thanks because of our circumstances, but we can give thanks in the midst of all circumstances. The root cause of sin is ingratitude. We are not content with our circumstance so we seek to change it, often through sinful behavior. Learning to be more grateful will help keep us away from sin. A thankful heart, therefore, helps one heal spiritually.
If we “test everything”, (5:21) thinking things out before we do them, praying about something before we make a decision, it will be much easier to “hold fast to what is good.” (5:21) Finally, it is God’s prayer for us, that our “spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (5:23) God wants us to stand blameless before Him. He wants us to have a spirit, soul, and body that are sound. He wants to provide the spiritual healing we need. He wants to work in concert with us to get to our salvation.
I’ve had two kinds of teachers in life. Some of them said everyone starts out with an “A” and it’s theirs to lose. And others said everyone starts out with a “zero” and needs to work up from there. God is like the first kind of teacher. Everyone starts off with a chance at salvation and He wants us to make it. This final flurry of advice and prayer begins with the very positive statement that God wants us to make it to His heavenly kingdom, sound in spirit, soul, and mind.
In your Divine birth-giving, you manifested yourself as a fruitful olive-tree, O Mother of the Creator, through whom the world was seen filled with mercy. Therefore, save, through your intercessions, touch those who suffer. (from the 6th Ode)
Wherever you are at in your spiritual life, know that God wants you to attain salvation!