Fr Bob writes: Our second reading this weekend from St Paul to the Thessalonians could be summed up by saying: “You’re doing a marvelous job of following Christ. How about kicking it up another notch into high gear?” This combination of affirmation and challenge is found in Paul’s other letters as well. He praises the Corinthians for their openness to the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 1:4-9) prior to reprimanding them and challenging them to heal the divisions and discord within their community (1 Cor 1:10ff). He affirms Philemon’s generosity (Philemon 4-6) before challenging him to go a step further by treating his ex-slave as a brother (Philemon 7-16). Look through any of Paul’s letters and you’ll find that affirmation and challenge to hand in hand in every one of them, a good model for us in dealing with one another.
In terms of the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament, Paul’s major one would be that of exhortation (cf Romans 12: 8). This may be defined as “the ability to encourage others to grow emotionally and spiritually , even in the face of hardship and suffering.” Exhorters serve as “God’s cheerleaders” in a church setting. They seek to share the practical application of truth in a person-to-person setting, and desire to create harmony and unity in the community. They see possibilities in place of problems, opportunities instead of obstacles. Whilst exhortation itself is a specific gift of the Holy Spirit, every one of us should at times seek to exhort others to become the best possible version of themselves.
Hebrews 3:13 tells us to “exhort one another every day, as long as “today” lasts, so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” While exhortation is often seen as primarily verbal, often the best way to encourage others to be the best they can be is by personal example. St Paul himself liked to invite his readers to follow his model in living the Christian life, e.g. in our second reading this weekend, he says: “as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God,..you should do so more and more.”
As we begin a new Church year with our Advent season opening this weekend, with new graces available to enable us to grow in our relationship with God, let us ask ourselves these questions: “Who is the person who encourages me the most by the way they are living?” and “How can I live out my Christian life better so I can be an encouragement to those around me?”
Happy Advent everyone!!