Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Opening Your Spiritual Gifts (Day 17)

Exhortation is the spiritual gift of those who have the ability to coach, counsel, and encourage their fellow Christians to move toward becoming all God meant for them to be.

He was the most demanding teacher I ever had. He was also someone with whom I could talk about anything and to whom I could go for good advice. His name was Pastor Bruce Schein, holder of a doctorate in New Testament studies from Yale. But more importantly, he had the gift of exhortation. We were never friends and certainly not close. He wasn’t my pastor. He was an encourager who came into my life briefly. That's how it often is with people who have this gift.

And Bruce Schein arrived at a pivotal time in my life. My experience at Trinity Lutheran Seminary had, until the point when he came to teach there, been somewhat discouraging. If that was anybody’s “fault,” it was mine. Nonetheless, I was in a funk when, lo and behold, here came this passionate, down-to-earth man of faith who pushed and prodded me to move toward achieving my potential. “We want you to become a spiritual Charles Atlas, Mr. Daniels,” he told me once. That’s the aim of every possessor of the gift of exhortation.

“A person who has [this gift],” writes C. Peter Wagner, “becomes concerned with the spiritual welfare of a [fellow Christian]...for the period of time it takes to help that person, then he or she moves on to another...”

People with this gift are effective counselors. They’re dispensers of God’s love. They help us see, in a common phrase, that God loves us just as we are but loves us too much to leave us there.

The most famous Biblical figure with the gift of exhortation was a man named Joseph--not Joseph, the dreamer, from Genesis, or Joseph, the husband of Mary, from the New Testament Gospels. This Joseph was an early follower of Jesus known more commonly by his nickname, Barnabas, “which means ‘son of encouragement’” (Acts 4:36).

At the place we're first introduced to Barnabas in the New Testament, we find him encouraging the whole young church. He sells off his property and gives the proceeds to the apostles so that they, in turn, can help the needy within the fellowship of Jesus' followers.

Later, it was Barnabas who had the courage to go to the one-time persecutor of the Church, Saul of Tarsus, who we know as the apostle Paul, in order to encourage Paul’s new faith in Christ.

Later, Barnabas argued fiercely with Paul over a young believer named John Mark. Paul wanted to dump the young man because he felt that John Mark had failed him in an earlier assignment. Barnabbas insisted that the young disciple deserved a second chance and decided to undertake a missionary journey with him, apart from Paul.

Tradition says that John Mark is the author of the Gospel of Mark. Would Paul and Mark have become the great preachers and writers they became without Barnabbas’ encouragement? Maybe not.

(Barnabas, by the way, is one of my favorites and frankly, a person I try to emulate. There is nothing I love to do more than encourage people to use their gifts and talents to be all that God made them to be!)

The Greek word for exhortation, the word for this gift used by Paul in Romans 12, is paraclesis. A related word is paraclete, a word sometimes translated as comforter, one of the titles Jesus gives to the Holy Spirit. Both of these words are related to the verb, paracleo, a compound term literally meaning to call alongside. The person with this gift walks alongside fellow Christians at pivotal moments in their lives and helps move them to greater Christian maturity.

People with the gift of exhortation are usually backstage players, having less in common with motivational speakers than they do with a coach at the gym. And their aim is the same as that identified by Pastor Schein when he encouraged me: To help others become spiritual Charles Atlases.

Exhortation is the spiritual gift of those who have the ability to coach, counsel, and encourage their fellow Christians to move toward becoming all God meant for them to be.

Bible Passage to Ponder: “I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself...” (Paul, writing in Colossians 2:2).


Mama Bear said...

I know this is a very old post. But I am so thankful to have read it today!

Mark Daniels said...

Thank you so much for your comment. I'm glad that you found this helpful. God bless you!