The word of the day is “sanctify.” In our reading of 1 Thessalonians 5:14-23, St. Paul closes his first letter to the Thessalonians with a prayer. The apostle writes, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (vs. 23). There is no greater blessing to ask for than to be sanctified. Paul’s prayer is that God Himself would bestow that grace and “consecrate” the faithful to Himself (Strong’s# 37, 3).
Sharing in the Holiness of God
Peter writes, “Be holy, for I [the Lord] am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). This instruction is a quotation from Leviticus, “For I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44).
This fundamental mandate means that the People of God are to be like God in His holiness. They are to be set apart for the sacred because they share in God’s very nature. And therefore, holiness is the will of God for those whom He has chosen for His own.
Body, Mind, and Spirit in the Unity
In our reading, Paul goes on to pray that the sanctity of the faithful might be “complete.” To be “complete” means that his flock’s holiness is whole and not lacking anything (Strong’s #3651,178.) The divine sanctification should apply to all parts of the person: one’s entire spirit, soul, and body (vs. 23). If one of these parts of the self is left out, the whole person would no longer be in harmony. One aspect of the self would fight against the other. One unholy part would cancel the holiness of the others. But because all parts of the person would share in the sacredness of God, the whole self would serve the Lord in the perfect unity of holiness.
St. John Chrysostom wrote: “Moreover if the Devil does not dare to enter into the house where the Gospel lies, much less will he ever seize upon the soul which contains such thoughts as these, and no evil spirit will approach it, nor will the nature of sin come near. Well, then, sanctify your soul, and sanctify your body by having these thoughts always in your heart and on your tongue. For if foul language is defiling and evokes evil spirits, it is evident that spiritual reading sanctifies the reader and attracts the grace of the Spirit” (Chrysostom, “Homilies on the Gospel of John, 37).
In this quotation, Chrysostom speaks of sanctifying the soul and body. But if we associate thoughts with the mind, then his comment deals with all three of the parts of the self that Paul mentions in today’s reading.
Chrysostom suggests that what we dwell on, whether holy or whether unholy, will determine the state of our hearts. If the self concentrates on the ungodly, the tongue, an organ of the body, will express our sinful nature. But if the person feeds on what is godly (such as the scriptures and spiritual reading), there will be no place in body, mind, or soul for the Devil, temptations, and sin. The prayer of Paul will be answered, and the self will be wholly sanctified.