Part I—God and the Church Are Encouragers
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 Thessalonians 5:23
In September 2019, I began writing a series of reflections on “The Heart of Encouragement.” This was disrupted from March 2020-January 2021 because of the pandemic. In January and February 2021, we continued this discussion, then paused again for Lent to reflect on “Unto the Healing of Soul and Body,” and the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus. Now, we pick up where we left off. The previous “Heart of Encouragement” reflections appear on our website, www.prayerteam.365.com and the entire collection will be published once we have concluded the entire study. We will continue to reflect on the Scripture of the Day on upcoming Feastdays and weekends and on all other days, we will continue to reflect on “The Heart of Encouragement.”
Saint Paul wrote two letters to the Thessalonians. We have studying the fifth and last chapter of the first letter to the Thessalonians. Verse 23 makes a transition from words of instruction/admonishing/encouraging to words of farewell. Though we still have a lot to say on encouragement in this study, this verse also provides us an opportunity to transition from our individual need for encouragement and our individual ability to encourage others and now shifts the spotlight to Christ and the Church as sources of encouragement.
Years ago at summer camp, we were doing a study on the Ten Commandments. Over the course of the first few days of camp, we presented various moral lessons related to the Ten Commandments—do not commit murder, do not steal, do not lie, etc. One of my brother priests pulled me aside after a couple of days and said “You know you are presenting good lessons on morality, but not on Christianity.” And he was right. Christianity is more than a bunch of do’s and don’ts. It is more than being good. It is more than being moral. And the same thing goes for encouragement.
Morality and encouragement are part of living a Christian life. They are not exclusive Christian ideas though. In order to be Christian in our encouragement, we have to remember to encourage with Christ at the center of all that we do.
The verse which introduces this section of our study introduces us to the word “sanctify”. In I Thessalonians 5:23, the Greek word which is translated as “sanctify” is “agiase.” The Greek word which is translated as “holy” is “agios.” So, sanctification and holiness are closely related. Both mean “to set apart for God.” People who are holy are people who set themselves apart for God, not in an egotistical way, but in a way that is disciplined and focused. People who see their bodies as holy do not abuse them but over indulging in food or alcohol. People who see their mouths as holy use them as tools to build up and encourage others, rather than to tear down and destroy them.
Thus, we don’t encourage and build up others merely because it is a nice thing to do, or because it makes them feel good, or because it makes life easier. We are supposed to encourage and build up others because it is a holy thing to do. Encouragement not only honors others. It honors God. It not only set us apart in our interpersonal relationships. It sets us on the path to holiness, to oneness with God, to salvation.
I Thessalonians 5:23 acknowledges that we need God’s help to be sanctified and made holy. In our fallen nature, this is something that none of us can do on our own. No matter how disciplined we are, how much we are encouraged to grow in Christ, and how much we encourage others to grow in faith, our sinful nature, sadly, will always cause us to fall short of holiness. Thus, we need encouragement not only from one another. We need it from God Himself. I Thessalonians 5:23 points us to our common destiny, which is that we will stand before Christ at His second coming. And Saint Paul prays for those reading his letter (the Thessalonians of the first century, and us today in the 21st century) to be sanctified, with a spirit and soul that are sound and blameless and ready to stand at the awesome judgement seat of Christ.
Where do we receive encouragement from God? There are two important sources that we must go to regularly. First, the Scriptures. I heard the Bible described once as “God’s love letter to us.” Now, a given page of the Old Testament which talks about the misery of God’s people in the wilderness, or which offer instructions on how to build the lampstand in the temple, or which recounts yet another battle between Israel and its seemingly endless list of enemies, may not sound like much of a love letter. However, the Bible, taken in its totality, is a history of God’s love. And MANY (perhaps most) passages of the Bible bring into focus the mercy and love of God towards us. That’s why it’s important to read Scripture regularly. Because it not only gives us knowledge of God, but encouragement for how to follow, how to live, how to prepare, and how to joyfully anticipate eternal life.
The second source of spiritual encouragement is the church. We all know the saying “there is strength in numbers.” A great number of people worshipping together is encouraging. Think of a bunch of people walking the same direction in a pool. They will create a current. If a person jumps into the pool, they will be caught in the current and go the same direction, even if they don’t make much of a contribution. It is easier to get caught in the current of faith and spirituality if we do it in the context of the church than if we try to go it alone. I dare say it is nearly impossible.
The end goal of life is neither to feel encouraged or be a good encourager. The end goal of life is to be sanctified, and to enter with joy into the Kingdom of God. A church community is a place where we will find encouragement for this end goal. And it is a good place where we can spiritually encourage others. Because God doesn’t just ask for us to encourage others and build them up professionally, socially, or even morally. He asks for us to encourage one another spiritually and to build up faith in one another.
Lord, thank You for the gift of Jesus Christ, Who came to earth to die for our sins and open for us the door back to Paradise. Help me to remember my destination, which is to stand before You. May I come to that moment in a way that You will find me worthy to enter Your heavenly Kingdom. Help me to take positive steps each day as I journey towards this moment. Help me to seek out and to see opportunities for spiritual encouragement, from Your sacred Scriptures and from Your Holy Church. Help me to take my place in a church community where I can also serve as a spiritual encourager, encouraging others not only in life but in faith as well. Amen.
Seek spiritual encouragement from the Scriptures and from the Church. Be a spiritual encourager!

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    Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0


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Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0

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