Bible Study: What Does “Encouragement” Really Mean?
Written by Jenn Arman | March 28, 2013
Did you know that the Greek word for “encourage,” parakaleo, appears 105 times in the New Testament? That’s a lot! Encouragement is one of my spiritual gifts, and I’m very passionate about it. Over the years, however, I think there’s been a slight misunderstanding about what it really is.
Somehow, encouragement has become confused with complimenting or praising others. While praise can be part of encouragement, it doesn’t cover the full meaning of the word. We often think of encouragement as saying nice things to others to make them feel good about themselves, but this is closer to the definition of a compliment. Encouraging someone can mean you’re giving them support or confidence, but is also means that you’re helping to develop something in them.
When the Bible talks about encouragement, it usually means that one is calling someone to their side in order to teach, comfort, strengthen or push them to act in a certain way. There are a few other words in the Bible that have similar meaning, such as exhort, warn or admonish, but they are mostly used in Paul’s letters. People who encourage others say with love what a person needs to hear, when they need to hear it–even if it isn’t what the person wants to hear.
Consider the book of Ephesians. When Paul founded the Ephesian church, the city of Ephesus was a major occult city. The worship of the Greek goddess Artemis was the city’s main attraction, but many other types of occult practices thrived there as well. It was a very dark place for followers of the Lord. It was extremely important that the Ephesian believers maintained unity among themselves so they wouldn’t struggle alone in their new faith. Paul encouraged them to remain unified in his letters to them.
Therefore, I the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1-3, NASB).
The New American Standard Bible translates the word “parakaleo” as “implore.” When Paul says he “implores them to walk in a manner worthy,” he’s actually saying that he encourages them to walk that way. The Ephesian believers were allowing disunity to creep into their fellowship of believers, and Paul is telling them what they need to hear in order to change their behavior.
I’ve seen lots of comments and questions from PI girls about friends who used to follow God but are now following Him less or making ungodly choices. When you confront a friend about this to urge them to get back in line with God’s will, you are encouraging them. Encouraging means telling people what they need to hear in order to bring about a change in action, feeling or belief, but when we encourage others, we should always do it with love, grace and wisdom. Sometimes encouragement is best to do in private, especially if the issue is a sensitive one. Remember: Your encouragement makes a difference!
Have you ever had to encourage someone to change a harmful behavior?
Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
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