We’ve been studying how the power of God transforms all believers through the Holy Spirit so that we in turn can help transform each other and the whole world. The Holy Spirit everyone who follows Christ as Lord a special gift. Romans 12:6-8 tells us tells us the Holy Spirit gives some the gift of Prophecy, others the gift of Serving, or Teaching, Encouraging, Giving, Leadership, or Kindness. Today, we will consider the spiritual gift of encouragement. The Word of God tells us how to encourage one another.
1 Thessalonians 5:14
14 Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.
Preaching is so enlightening for me. I learn so much. Today’s message is a perfect example. I’m 45-years-old and in all this time, I never really thought very deeply about encouragement. But preparing and preaching a sermon challenges me every week to look deeply into things I otherwise would have taken for granted. The concept of encouragement is a perfect example.
What is encouragement? The Greek word the New Testament uses is parakaleo. Some versions translate it exhort. Exhort is an outdated word people don’t use much anymore. (I always have to look the word exhort up to remember what it means). So a lot of new translation use the word encouragement. But encouragement seems too easy that just makes me think of cheering someone on. Cheering people on is only part of what the New Testament means when it talks about encouragement. The spiritual gift of parakaleo (or exhorting or encouragement) is much more broad than just cheering people on and making them feel better.
Parakaleo/exhorting/encouraging means to invite, invoke, beseech, call for, comfort, or intreat. It's a kind of encouragement, but it's more like what a good football coach does. Think of a football team with all the players having different personalities and problems. Each player needs a different kind of “encouragement” from their coach. One player is being lazy and needs the coach to bark at them, “Johnson! Get off your butt and get to work!” Another player is discouraged because they made a stupid mistake. The coach says to them, “Shake it off Taylor. Forget about it. You’ve got this.” Another player has a serious injury and is out of the game and the coach kneels with them and comforts them, “Don’t worry about it. We’re gonna get you fixed. You’ll be as good as new by next week.”
A good coach “encourages” each player according to exactly what they need. But always, a good coach is also thinking about the bigger picture and leading the whole team in their mission. His words and actions are meant to drive the team forward toward victory.
Well, football is great, but the Church is on a mission from God. We are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the whole world. And for this purpose, the Holy Spirit has given some Christians the special ability to encourage “the team” (the Church). The gift of encouragement is the ability to inspire, admonish, embolden, and support others so that they are strengthened in resolve, faith and spirit. The gift of encouragement is not so much about making people feel better as cheering them on in the right direction to do what God is calling us to do. It is a motivational type of encouragement.
You want to know something really cool? In the New Testament, the Greek word for the Holy Spirit is the Paraclete. It’s the Greek word for Helper or Encourager. So if you have the spiritual gift of encouragement, you are doing the very work of the Holy Spirit of God! That’s just cool! It’s like you’re a little holy spirit walking around getting people fired up to do God’s work!
Slide – Tips for Encouragers
Now let me give a few tips for all the little holy spirits in the room—the encouragers and exhorters.
First of all, get to work! We need you! We need you to offer your encouragement. All Christians ought to try to encourage one another. But those who have the spiritual gift of encouragement can have a powerful influence on the Church. Your words and actions get us fired up. They motivate us to do the Lord’s work. So speak up. Offer your encouragement. It really makes a difference!
Second, ground yourself in the Word, the Bible. God gives some people the ability to teach—to offer facts and figures and knowledge about God’s story in the Bible. (We talked about the spiritual gift of teaching last week.) But exhorters/encouragers are practical teachers who emphasis getting things done rather than just knowledge for knowledge's sake. Teachers says, “This is how you should live.” encouragers says, “I will help you to do it.” So encouragers need to know the Bible so they can help people live the Bible’s teaching. (One of the best partnerships is between Teachers and encouragers. The Teacher shows the deep meanings of the Bible to the encourager and then the encourager helps people put it all into practice to accomplish God’s mission.)
Third, plug in to ministry. Find ways to put your encouraging gift into practice. People with the spiritual gift of encouragement make great counselors, Sunday school teachers, pastors, deacons, people who visit shut-ins or people in the hospital. If your spiritual gift is encouragement, get some training in one of these ministries and then get to work!
Lastly, go deep. Be careful that your encouragement is more than just superficial cheeriness. You know what I mean? Yes, sometimes people just need a cheerful word and smile. But other times, they need a kick in the butt! And if they need a kick in the butt and you just give them a cheerful word, you’ve not helped. You might have made the situation worse. So make sure your encouragement caries the full strength of this remarkable gift. Let God lead you to be honest and truly helpful as you provoke people to be all that God wants them to be.