THE GIFT OF EXHORTATION
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Several years ago I went to hear J. Allen Peterson one of the nation's most dynamic leaders in ministering to families. He told this true but tragic story. One of the finest couples laboring in the field of marriage enrichment, who had written 5 books that were very helpful, and who had held seminars all across the country, had suddenly gotten a divorce. He was so shocked that he flew to the city where they lived and called it their home. The wife was grateful he had come, and she shared with him what had happened.
She explained how she and her husband had been so busy trying to enrich other people's marriages that they neglected their own. They had all the answers, but they forgot the most important part, which is the doing of what they already knew. That is why the body of Christ needs the gift of exhortation. It is never enough to know. We must also be motivated to do, and that is the job of those with the gift of exhortation. The teacher shows us the way, but the exhorter moves us to walk in it.
John the Baptist is the first person in the New Testament who demonstrates this gift. Luke 3:18 says, "So, with many other exhortations, he preached good news to the people." John did not just tell people the good news of the coming Messiah, but he moved them to actions, and to do something about it, which was to repent, be baptized, and to live a life pleasing to God so as to be ready for His coming. Exhortations are an appeal to the will to act on what is being taught to the mind. Teaching and exhortation go hand in hand, but teaching appeals to the mind to understand truth. Exhortation appeals to the will to act on what is understood. The goal of teaching is knowing; the goal of exhortation is doing.
The fact that Paul separates these 2 gifts means that it is possible for an excellent teacher to impart valuable knowledge to others, but not have the gift to motivate them to do anything with it. That is why Christians need exposure to many different types of leadership. One or two may have excellent gifts that benefit you greatly, but may not have that which motivates you to action. Every Christian needs to be exposed to exhortation. The word covers a lot of territory. It includes comfort, consolation, counsel, and such words as entreat, beg, implore, and persuade. It covers about anything you can think of that motivates people to act, or to change their behavior.
It usually follows teaching and preaching as it did on the day of Pentecost when Peter ended his great message. In Acts 2:40 we read, "And he testified with many other words and exhorted them saying save yourselves from this crooked generation." That exhortation moves three thousand to be baptized and join the church. It is not enough that they were taught the truth about Jesus. They had to be motivated to accept Him and obey Him as Lord of their lives. Preaching tells of Jesus being the Messiah. Teaching explains how He fulfills Old Testament prophecy. Exhortation motivates people to do something about it.
It is not enough to teach a child how to hang up his coat in the closet. You can show him just how it is done over and over, and still he will throw it on the floor. What is needed is some exhortation. You say something like, "You hang it up like this or else." Some words that go beyond teaching are often needed to motivate the child to do what he knows. We all know more than we do, and so our greatest need is to be exhorted to do it, and sometimes we need the threat to get us going.
Paul used this kind of exhortation in writing to the Thessalonians. In II Thess. 3:10-15 we read of how Paul dealt with some lazy Christians. "For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If anyone will not work, let him not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busy bodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work in quietness and to earn their own living." Then in order to motivate them to give heed to this exhortation Paul says to the body in verse 14-15, "If anyone refuses to obey what we say in this letter, note that man, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not look on him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother."
Here we see exhortation operating in the family of God just as it does in your family. You tell the rebel child who will not obey to go to his room, or in some other way you isolate them from the rest of the family in order to motivate them to conform to what is best for them and the rest of the family. The exhorter puts on the pressure to persuade the offender to change his behavior so he can get back into the valued position of harmonious fellowship with the rest of the body. Some people are good at this, and others are extremely ungifted, and only drive people out of the body.
I know of parents who are so ungifted in this kind of exhortation that they drive their children out of the house and into the world. Where the gift of exhortation is not possessed there needs to be a great deal of caution. It is not everybody's job in the body to tell others what they ought to do. When the gifted exhorter does it, people tend to respond and the whole body is benefited.
When the non-gifted do it there is conflict, rebellion, and division. You know from experience that some people can counsel you and you are grateful for the advice, but if another person gave you the same advice you would be offended and inclined to do just the opposite.
What makes the difference? It is the gift of exhortation. If we examine one of the main synonyms of this word, we will get the clue that helps us understand the key ingredient of the gifted exhorter. The Greek word is paraklaysis, which has as its primary meaning comfort and consolation. It is the same as the name of the Holy Spirit, which is Paraklete-the Comforter. It means one called along side to be an encouragement. Some versions call the gift of exhortation the gift of encouragement. This is a valid conclusion and helps us to see why the gift works in some and not in others. Only those who tell others what to do, and urge them and persuade them to do it as a method of encouragement will succeed. If there is any other motive but the good of the person exhorted, there will be rebellion.
Only the encourager can be a gifted exhorter. Back in 1973 Tom Weiskopf of the United States was playing the British Open Golf Tournament in Scotland. He got off to a bad start by missing a 3 foot putt on the first hole. As he stood ready to tee off for the second hole and elderly Scot leaned forward, patted him on the shoulder, and said, "Cheer up, laddie don't let your putt brother you." The encouragement loosened him up, and he went on to win the tournament. Many others could have tried the same thing and been told to mind their own business. This man got a positive response from his exhortation because his motive was clearly to encourage.
The Greek word for exhortation starts with para from which we get parallel lines run along side each other, and the true exhorter is one who does not rub you the wrong way because he is not trying to cross you, but to run parallel with you. He comes along side you to be a comfort and companion. Even if he has to tell you where you are wrong, you know it is out of love and concern for you, and that the goal is help and encourage you to be your best. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are both called parakletes. They both come along side to comfort and encourage, but the very fact that members of the body are given this gift means that Christians need comfort and encouragement from the body as well as from Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It seems like Jesus and the Holy Spirit should be enough, but as long as we are in the flesh we also need human companionship and encouragement.
The body plays a role in the Christian life that even the Trinity cannot play, and that is why Jesus gifted the body with these various functions that we all need. It is not being unspiritual to want human companionship and encouragement. It is being what Jesus intended you to be, and that is why He gave the body exhorters. Jesus had fellowship with the Father in Gethsemane, but He felt so lonely because He did not have the human companionship and encouragement of His disciples. We all need the human as well as the divine.
When Chief Justice Charles Evans Huges was appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court, he moved to Washington and transferred his church membership to the Baptist church there. The day came for new members to be welcomed into the fellowship, and the first one to be called was Ah Sing, a Chinese laundry man. He stood at the far side of the platform, and as the others were called they stood on the other side. It was not an attempt to snub Ah Sing. They just happened to be seated on the opposite side of the sanctuary. When Justice Huges was called he deliberately walked to the other side and stood by Ah Sing so he would not feel isolated. This was an example of exhortation in action. He did not say words to encourage him, but by action he encouraged him, and made him feel a part of the body.
Elton Trueblood said, "A person has made a step toward genuine maturity when he realizes the greatest gift he can provide others consists in being a radiant and encouraging person." Every Christian is to strive toward this goal, but this is the unique ministry of the exhorter. If you find you tend to be judgmental, and your advice turns people off, and they do not appreciate your exhorting, then it will be wise to let someone else do this vital job. Parents need to learn which of them is the gifted exhorter in the home. If the non-gifted parent does all the exhorting, you will be asking for rebellion.
Edward Steichen became one of the world's greatest photographers because his mother was an encourager. When Edward took his first pictures only one out of 50 were half-way decent. His father told him to put away the camera and try another hobby. That was his exhortation, but mom took another approach. She said that the one picture of his sister at the piano more than made up for the other 49. She encouraged him to try again and not let failure stop him. Her encouragement was his beginning of the climb to the top. History is filled with examples of how one person's encouraging word or action motivates another to press on to victory.
Robert Fulton was utterly discouraged with his invention of the steamboat. The public laughed and said it would never work. If you study famous people, you discover that most of them had to endure endless exhortations to give up and stop being fools. Negative counsel and advice is one of the hardest obstacles to overcome. Fulton was about to give in to this burden when a man came on to his boat and asked if he could get him to New York with it. Fulton said he would try. The man asked how much it would cost, and Fulton had not even thought about that, but after a moments hesitation he told him it would be six dollars. That man became the first person in history to pay for a trip on a steam boat. This act of confidence so encouraged Fulton that it changed his whole life.
Four years later he met this first passenger and said to him, "The vivid emotions caused by your paying me that first passage money will always be remembered. That, sir, seem the turning point in my destiny-the dividing line between light and darkness-the first actual recognition of my usefulness from my fellowmen." Without that encouragement to go on he may have given up. Millions do because they don't get it.
Every man needs encouragement. Henry Ford said, "The ability to encourage others is one of life's finest assets." He knew, for he was the object of severe criticism and ridicule when he invented the gasoline engine for the automobile. Most mechanical engineers were convinced electric carriages were the cars of the future. Thomas Edison heard his plan, however, and with one sentence of encouragement he changed history. He said to Ford, "Young man, that's the thing! You have it!" That was all Ford needed to motivate him to press on to perfect his engine.
Everyone needs to be motivated to be his best, and encouragement has been proven to be the most powerful motivation. The heart of being an exhorter is in having the ability to stand along side another an motivate them to action by means of advice and counsel that encourages them to overcome obstacles and press on to victory.
A gracious word may smooth the way;
A joyous word may light the day.
A timely word may lessen stress;
A loving word may heal and bless.
The gift of exhortation means that though all Christians may be capable of seeing what is wrong and what needs to be done in another's life, not all are capable of motivating that other Christian to do something about it. What we call personality clashes tend to happen when people do not have the tact necessary to be gifted, but they try to be exhorters anyway. It makes me think of the old story of the king who dreamed all his teeth fell out one by one until there was just one left. He called for one of his wise men to explain the dream. The wise man with sad and mournful voice told the king that the dream meant that all of relatives would die and he would be left alone. This angered the king and he drove the servant from his presence.
Another was called and the king told him the dream. This wise man was a little wiser. He smiled and said, "Rejoice O king. The dream means that you will live many years yet. In fact, you will outlive all your relatives. When all have fallen you will still stand." This pleased the king greatly and he gave the interpreter a rich reward. He had told the king the same thing as the first man, but he told it in such a way that it seemed like good news. The other made it sound negative and even tragic. The gifted exhorter is one who can deal with life's problems with a positive perspective, and make tough decisions seem like enjoyable progress.
Exhortation is to be helpful and aid people to advance in their walk with God. One of the great biblical examples of this is Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses. When Jethro saw Moses trying to settle disputes all day long among the children of Israel where the line was formed from morning to night, he spoke up and said in Ex. 18:17, "What you are doing is not good." He went on to show Moses the folly of wearing himself out by this method. He advised him to set up a system where other men hear the lesser problems and bring to him only the major problems. In other words, he advised him to set up a court system just like we have today where only major disputes go to the Supreme Court. Moses saw the wisdom of this and he did it. This word of exhortation was helpful to millions.
A truly gifted exhorter does not just judge what is wrong, but also has a helpful answer as to how to set it right. No doubt many were critical of Moses, and many advised him to stop being so slow. But only Jethro had a solution. The gifted exhorter is able to give counsel that moves people to actions that solve problems. The exhorter gets the creed into deed, and the prayer into the answer, and the vision into accomplishment. The cross was a Sermon on the Mount in action. It was Jesus doing what He taught, and doing is the goal of the exhorter.
Part of man's depravity is that he hates advice. It is his pride that makes him feel he can make it on his own. God knows better, however, and Jesus built His church with advisers, for He knew no Christian could become all he was meant to be without counsel and advice. Those with the gift of exhortation are the advisers.
Not all advice is based on a mature view of life. A 6 year old decided to offer his advice to the TV repair man who was having trouble fixing a set in the home. The boy said, "If you'd clean out all the old dead cowboys at the bottom it might work again." There are adults who have a compulsion to offer advice on every subject even if they know as little about it as this young boy knew about television. Such people do not become good exhorters, for they lose their credibility and are not taken seriously. If you want people to notice your faults, just start giving advice and they will spot them instantly. Somebody said that the reason God made Adam before He made Eve was because He didn't want her giving Him advice while He was making Adam. But the fact is, most of the bad advice in the Bible comes from men. Women are usually portrayed as exhorting their husbands to do what is wise, like Pilate's wife urged him not to be get involved with the case of Jesus.
Jesus had to endure a lot of bad advice. James and John urged Him to call down fire from heaven upon the Samaritans. The disciples urged Him to send the people away but he fed them instead. They advised him to send the kids away, but Jesus said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me." If Jesus would have followed the advice of these good men, He never would have gone t the cross. The best of men can be poor advisers and exhorters. You are in good company if this is not your gift, for most in the family of God do not possess it.
This being the case, we need to make sure that when we practice it, it is on the highest possible level of the positive, and leave the touchy issues to the truly gifted. In other words, if your closes are full of spots, stains, and wring around the collar, don't tell others how to do their wash. We do not like others to give us advice. Someone said, "A cold wouldn't be half bad if it wasn't for all the advice from our friends." Let us refrain from trying to advise and exhort when we do not have the gift of exhortation.