- If your gift is to encourage others (παρακαλέω/parakaleō), be encouraging.… (Rom 12:8)
Nature of the Gift
Paul uses the verb παρακαλέω/parakaleō frequently, sometimes meaning to exhort or encourage,1To urge strongly, appeal to, exhort, encourage (Rom 12:8; 15:30; 16:17; 1 Cor 1:10; 14:31; 16:15–16; 2 Cor 2:8; 5:20; 8:6; 10:1; Phil 4:2; 1 Thess 2:12; 3:12; 5:11, 14; 4:1; 1 Tim 2:1; 2 Tim 4:2; Titus 1:9; 2:6, 15). to implore or entreat,21 Cor 16:12; 2 Cor 9:5; Phlm 9. or to comfort, encourage, or cheer up.3Rom 12:8; 2 Cor 1:4, 6; 2:7; 7:6, 7, 13; 13:11; Eph 6:22; Col 2:2; 4:8; 1 Thess 3:2, 7; 4:18; 2 Thess 2:17; Titus 1:9. So for this list, some translations opt for “encourage”4NIV, NLT, NJB and some for “exhort.”5KJV, NASB, NET, ESV I prefer “encourage,” but “exhort” works well too, so long as you understand that it isn’t necessarily sharp or polemical exhortation.
Throughout Scripture, we see this gift exercised on behalf of those who are in prison for the faith or who are sick (Matt 25:36, 39, 43),6Visiting those in prison in New Testament times meant visiting those who were imprisoned for their faith, not for breaking and entering or car jacking; visiting the likes of Paul and Silas not Bonny and Clyde. for those who grieve,71 Chr 7:22; Job 29:25; Isa 57:18; Jer 31:13–15; Lam 1:2; Matt 2:28; 5:4; John 11:31 and even for the backslider who is seeking restoration (2 Cor 2:6–7). Ultimately, our Comforter is God himself; so to the degree this is a speaking gift, we should exhort or comfort as though God himself were speaking through us (1 Pet 4:11), for our God is the God of all comfort (2 Cor 1:3–4). Indeed, he is ultimately the one who comforts those who mourn—and even blesses them (Matt 5:4).
Because God ministers through us, we can offer deep and eternal comfort. If we exhort, we do so as “Christ’s ambassadors” (2 Cor 5:20). We will do it “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” as we are motivated by love for one another (Rom 15:30). Indeed, it’s only in Christ that we find our own encouragement, comfort, and sympathy and then communicate it effectively to others (Phil 2:1).
Suffering & Comfort
Note the connection between suffering and comforting, which Paul illustrates with his own experience:
The more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us. (2 Cor 1:5–7)
With those who mourn, we can look back to remember the good times. We often do this at funerals, mixing weeping for loss with laughter at fond memories. But our greatest comfort as Christians is to look forward. This forward look encouraged Jesus Christ himself to despise the shame of the cross, because he knew he was destined to be “seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2).
Likewise, God has destined us for heavenly thrones (Rev 22:5). Indeed, our chief focus, whether exhorting from a pulpit or consoling family in a hospital waiting room, is the gospel. Even before Jesus Christ came, Isaiah spoke of gospel-comfort: “‘Comfort, comfort my people,’ says your God. ‘Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her sad days are gone and her sins are pardoned’” (Isa 40:1). So Simeon, who had waited for that comfort, recognized it when it came in the person of the baby Jesus (Luke 2:25, 28). In the fullness of time, Jesus came preaching that comfort (Matt 5:4), and eventually John saw a vision of its final realization:
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.26 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” (Rev 21:3–5)