Question: "What is the gift of encouragement?"
Answer: The gift of encouragement or exhortation is found in Paul’s list of gifts in Romans 12:7–8. The word translated “encouragement” or “exhortation” is the Greek word paraklésis, related to the word paraclete. Paraklésis basically means “a call to one’s side.”
Paraklésis carries the idea of bringing someone closely alongside in order to “exhort,” “urge,” “encourage,” “give joy,” and “comfort” him or her. All of these actions make up the gift of encouragement. For example, Paul often urged and exhorted his readers to act on something he wrote. A good example is Romans 12:1–2, where Paul urges the Romans to present their bodies to God as living sacrifices. By doing this, they would know and understand God’s will.
Interestingly, when Jesus conversed with His disciples on the night of His arrest, He spoke of the Holy Spirit as the “Helper” or “Comforter” (John 14:16, 26; 15:26), which is why the Holy Spirit is sometimes referred to as the “Paraclete,” the One who comes alongside to exhort and encourage us.
A person with the spiritual gift of encouragement can use his gift in both public and private settings. Encouragement is useful in counseling, discipleship, mentoring, and preaching. The body of Christ is built up in faith as a result of the ministry of those with the gift of encouragement.
The gift of encouragement or exhortation differs from the gift of teaching in that exhortation focuses on the practical application of the Bible. Whereas one with the gift of teaching focuses on the meaning and content of the Word, one with the gift of encouragement focuses on the practical application of the Word. He or she can relate to others, in groups and individually, with understanding, sympathy, and positive guidance. Teaching says, “This is the way you should go”; encouragement says, “I will help you go that way.” A person with the gift of encouragement can help another person move from pessimism to optimism.
Probably the best biblical example of someone with the gift of encouragement is Barnabas. His real name was Joseph, but the apostles called him “Barnabas,” which means “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36). We see Barnabas in Acts 9:27 coming alongside the newly converted Paul and introducing him to a wary church. In Acts 13:43 Barnabas encourages the believers to continue in the grace of God. In Acts 15:36–41 Barnabas chooses John Mark as a ministry partner, despite Mark’s having deserted a previous missionary endeavor. In other words, Barnabas gave Mark a second chance. All through Barnabas’s ministry, he evidenced the gift of encouragement, calling others to his side in order to help, comfort, and encourage them to become more effective for Christ.