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Commentary: On exhortation

Commentary: On exhortation

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Commentary: On exhortation

An e-Review commentary by Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker | Nov. 25, 2008 {0947}

NOTE: A headshot of Whitaker is available at

In his Epistle to the Romans, the apostle Paul included in his list of gifted members of the body of Christ “the exhorter,” who has received grace for the service of “exhortation” (Romans 12:8).

These words are derived from the Greek parakalo. It means to call to one’s side, summon, comfort, cheer up or exhort. The Oxford English Dictionary states the English word “exhort” is derived from Latin and French, and it means “to admonish earnestly; to urge by stimulating words to conduct regarded as Laudable.” It has been in use in English since around A.D. 1400.

We do not hear the word “exhortation” very often, and we hardly ever hear anyone described as an “exhorter.” It sounds old-fashioned and probably a little preachy. Yet it has a most pleasant meaning. Exhortation involves inspiring and encouraging others, and that is something all of us appreciate. Eugene Peterson in “The Message” attempts to get at both the positive meaning and possible negative connotation when he paraphrases Romans 12:8, “if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy.”

There was an office in the early Methodist Societies called “exhorter.” In the 1824 Discipline of The Methodist Episcopal Church — the oldest Discipline, or church law book, I own — the office of exhorter is mentioned, but it is not defined. Apparently, exhorters were laypeople who were authorized to speak in the Societies. They may have been lay preachers, but their job was to encourage Methodists to be zealous in faith and in works. I do not know, but I assume the Methodists got the name from Romans 12:8.

“Exhortation involves inspiring and encouraging others, and that is something all of us appreciate.”

— Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker

Today, we can say it is a beautiful thing when there are people with the spiritual gift of exhortation. Ordained ministers who have this gift know how to be cheerleaders for the faith. Most exhorters are laypeople who are full of enthusiasm for Christ and who know how to inspire and encourage the rest of us.

In a larger sense, all of Christian ethics consists of exhortation. Paul demonstrates how in his Epistle to the Romans. After explaining the Gospel of Christ in Romans 1-11, he begins his explanation of living the Christian life in Romans 12:1. The New Revised Standard Version translates, “I appeal to you, therefore … .” Yet the Greek word translated “appeal to” is parakalo and can be translated “exhort.” In other words, all the Christian life is an exhortation to live according to the Good News of what God has done for us in sending his son Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit.

In the early third century, Origen, in his commentary on Romans 12:1, points out that Paul exhorts, but he does not command. The Christian life is not a commandment based upon law, but an appeal, an invitation and an exhortation to live in light of the Good News spoken to us. We don’t have to live as Christians; we want to live as Christians because of what God has done for us and is doing in us.

In this pluralistic, relativistic and consumerist world we need persons who help us to see what a joy it is to live as Christians. In this era, more than ever we need people who claim this gift of exhortation to give us encouraging guidance without being bossy.

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Whitaker is bishop of the Florida Conference.