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Bible Study: What Does “Encouragement” Really Mean?

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).

More Stories Like This on Project Inspired:

Bible Study: Who’s Responsible for Spreading God’s Word?

Bible Study: Is God Enough?

Bible Study: Let God Be Your Shield

Image: Comstock, ThinkStock


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  1. Project Inspired

    Posted by maddybugdrake on March 30, 2013 at 20:23

    Where did you learn that.It’s cool. I never ever knew that.

    • Posted by JennArman on April 9, 2013 at 08:47

      Maddy – About 20 years ago when I was in middle school, one of my youth leaders told me that they thought I had the spiritual gift of encouragement. A spiritual gifts test confirmed it (as test since then have also confirmed it), but then no one told me what it was or how to use it. For 20 years I’ve been studying, working to develop this gift and struggling to understand it as well as I could to use it as effectively as possible. One thing that’s hard for me to see is when people help others identify their spiritual gifts but don’t help them understand how to use them. It’s no good to know what your gifts are if you don’t understand what to do with them.

      Everything I’ve learned about encouraging others has come from study, reading the Bible and other Christian books on the subject, talking to people and being mentored by some truly amazing people in my church. 🙂

  2. Dee

    Posted by Dee on March 30, 2013 at 08:34

    Thank you for this. I’ve been struggling with being the bad guy in a situation, but I know that I’m pointing out the truth, and I try to do it with love, so this kinda came at a good time. Thanks for the encouragement. 🙂

    • Posted by JennArman on April 9, 2013 at 08:42

      Dee – I understand. I have days where I cry out to God because it’s so hard to feel like “the bad guy” so often. Then God reminds me that I’m not the bad guy. If I’m just pointing out truth that God has placed on my heart, then if anyone is “the bad guy”, it’s Him (not that He could ever be bad). My only responsibility is to do what God has asked me to do and to exercise the gifts that He has given me.

  3. Deeblves3

    Posted by Deeblves3 on March 28, 2013 at 20:33

    Alyssa – I totally agree with you!

    I’ve been confused lately about what encouragement really is all about, and what it means when you carry a gift like that..I enjoy giving others understanding and giving them hope. This cleared things up, and I thank you for it. 🙂

  4. Project Inspired

    Posted by Alyssa R. on March 28, 2013 at 09:50

    Parakaleo…that word brought tears of joy to my eyes, because “Paraclete” – Someone who does/IS “parakaleo” – is a word for the Holy Spirit. “The Comforter.” The still, small voice of God, reassuring us that we are loved, waking up our conscience to change a wrong thing, calling us where He has planned for us to go. It shows just how much goes into truly encouraging others, and just how huge and beautiful a ministry this is. So, to encourage means to let God’s Spirit, His presence and love, flow through us and wash over those around us, and to be His hands and feet in the world, it means to actually be blessed with a real part in what He’s doing…Thank you and thank God for this article! I’ve been told I’m an encourager, and wished I could also be something I saw as “bigger,” but knowing what the ministry of encouragement really is, is humbling, amazing, and, well, *extremely* encouraging! Love and God bless <3 😀

    • Posted by JennArman on March 28, 2013 at 13:13

      Alyssa – I totally know what you mean! I was told that I was an encourager when I was just starting Jr. High, but I didn’t know what it really meant to encourage others until I was in my late 20’s! The Lord has been putting on my heart lately to really help others understand what this gift is all about and how to exercise it in a powerful way. I’m so glad this article helped you understand what a “big” ministry encouragement really is 🙂