Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. Now, brethren, you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints; I urge you to be subject to such men and to every fellow worker and laborer. I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence; for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such men. The churches of Asia send greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. All the brethren send greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss. I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.

I Corinthians 16: 13-24 (Epistle from the Thirteenth Sunday)

Saint Paul wrote two letters to the Corinthians.  The two Epistles are not one solid writing in two pieces, but two totally separate writings.  Today’s Epistle is the last verses of the first letter, and so the writing reflects farewell greetings and an end of this long first correspondence.  He mentions several people whom he wishes to greet by name and invokes the name of Christ as he signs off.

The first two sentences of today’s Epistle give five powerful pieces of advice.  Taken together, they would form the backbone of a strong witness of a solid faith in a Christian.  Even taken separately, doing even one of these things on a consistent basis would strengthen one’s faith and give focus to one’s life.

Be watchful.  Before one can go out and do anything, he must be mindful of himself.  Let’s leave being Christian for a moment and make a more secular application.  Before one can be a teacher or a doctor, one must study to learn how to do the things required of each occupation.  One, then, must be watchful to take in the knowledge required in order to go out and be a teacher or a doctor.  And once one is working in his chosen field, one must also stay current on new techniques and continue to perfect their craft.  It’s the same thing with being a Christian.  Before one and go out and “baptize all nations”, one needs to have his own solid grounding in the faith.  And even when one has strong grounding in the faith, one must continue to study to maintain and hopefully deepen that faith.

Stand firm in your faith.  Faith will be tested by others.  In fact, many times, faith will be ridiculed by others.  Many times, I’ve been teased about my faith, not only by people outside the church, but by people inside of it as well.  People have said to me “isn’t fasting just some old remnant of past centuries?  Why continue to do that?” Or “confession isn’t really that important, I just take care of my sins between me and God.”  Or “God’s going to save everyone, why put all this time in at church?”  It is important to stand firm in our faith, whether it is the devil or other people who try to discourage us.

Be courageous.  It takes courage to follow Christ.  It takes courage to believe, especially when those around us do not.  It takes courage to tell your kid’s baseball coach that your family is going to go to church and forego the baseball game.  It takes courage to ask someone to pray with them if you or they have never done that before.  It take some courage to tithe, to give sacrificially back to the church.  Nothing worthwhile in life is easy.  To be a dedicated Christian and to live as Christ tells us to live take some courage.

Be strong. Even those who are watchful, firm and courageous get knocked down by life.  Tragedy can strike at even the most devout Christian.  Everyone is vulnerable to sickness or sadness.  I can’t tell you how many people who are strong Christians have had to battle cancer or another disease.  We’ve all had to deal with death in our families.  Sudden job loss is another big blow that even very Christian people have to endure.  American Patriot Thomas Paine once said “These are the times that try men’s souls.”  Indeed every soul will have such trials and this is the time when we have to stand strong in our faith.

Let all that you do be done in love.  When you are not sure what to do, lead with love.  This is the greatest commandment that Christ gave us—to love Him and to love one another.  You can’t go wrong with love.  When in doubt of what to do, show love.  When you have to deliver a difficult message to someone, do it with love.  When someone has done well, express love.  Tell people you love them.  Encourage others with love.  Love God at all times, and your love will be apparent to others.

Today’s Epistle reading is again a testament to the fact that one need not study many verses of scripture.  Studying and APPLYING even a small amount of Scripture to your life will give you what you need to lead a strong and Christian life.

By Your voluntary will, O Savior, You endured the Cross, and by mortal men were You into a new tomb interred, who by a word had created the entire world. Therefore being bound was the enemy Death plundered of his spoils catastrophically. And those in Hades all together cried aloud at Your life-bearing resurrection: The Christ is risen, the Life-bestower, and He abides forever. (Second Resurrectional Kathisma of the first set, Fourth Tone, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)

Be watchful.  Stand firm in your faith.  Be courageous.  Be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love.