NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson XIX)
Frédéric Godet parses teaching and preaching into two spheres. As far as teachers go, like preachers, they exercise their gift by way of speaking. However, while preachers receive their message by way of revelations granted to them by the Holy Spirit, which enriches the faith of the church, teachers confine themselves to an orderly and clear exposition of the truths already brought to light and bringing out the connection between what was preached and what was taught in a practical sense. Godet references Paul message to the Corinthians where he wrote: “One person is given the gift of teaching words of wisdom. Another person is given the gift of teaching what he has learned and knows. These gifts are by the same Holy Spirit.”1 Also, Paul wrote the Ephesians and distinguished missionaries, from preachers, and from traveling evangelists. He also mentioned those who are to lead the church and those who are to teach the Church.2 However, the most desirable gift is to be a preacher/teacher3.4
Verse 8a: Whoever has the gift of counseling others, should do so with counsel.
The Greek verb parakaleō that Paul uses here, which is translated as exhorteth by the KJV, exhort by the NASB, and encourage by the NIV, is akin to the Greek noun paraklētos that Jesus used for the Holy Spirit.5 It refers to someone who stands by another’s side to give them comfort and encouragement by exhorting, admonishing, consoling and instructing them. Thayer, in his Lexicon, tells us that as used here, Paul intended it to be understood as a ministry that both admonished and encouraged. In other words, it is to be a proactive effort to help someone stay out of trouble and redirect their steps in the right direction. Scottish theologian Robert Haldane called it a special talent that encourages people to do their duty and extinguishes sin.6
This word is used over 100 times in the Last Covenant. It is variously translated in English as “beseech,” “comfort,” “exhort,” “desire,” “pray,” “entreat,” and others. Paul was not hesitant in motivating others in using this gift from God through the Holy Spirit. As a result of his Jewish learning, Paul knew that such counseling and comforting should be done with a cheerful spirit. We see this in the instructions of Rabbi Moses Maimonides who wrote that when the person who gives charity to a poor person and does so with a sour attitude and not even looking at the person to whom they give the assistance, they lose all dignity and destroy their reputation7 even if they give them 1000 gold pieces. Instead, they should give their gift with a pleasant attitude and with happiness, taking time to actively listen to their story. Listen to Job: “Have I not cried for the one whose life is hard? Was not my soul filled with sorrow for the poor?”8 They should speak to them with words of empathy and comfort, as we also read in Job: “I made widows sing in their hearts for joy.9”10
In writing to the Corinthians, Paul said: “We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is our Father Who shows us loving-kindness and our God Who gives us comfort. He gives us comfort in all our troubles. Then we can comfort other people who have the same troubles. We give the same kind of comfort God gives us… But if we are in trouble, it is for your good. And it is so you will be saved from the punishment of sin. If God comforts us, it is for your good also. You too will be given strength not to give up when you have the same kind of trouble we have.”11 So rather than criticizing and putting down, Paul says, use this gift to comfort and lift up those who need to be encouraged, especially in times of hardship. That’s God’s way, so it should be our way.
Later on, Paul tells the Corinthians: “God gives comfort to those whose hearts are heavy. He gave us comfort when Titus came. Not only did his coming comfort us, but what you told him to say made me happy also. He told us how much you wanted to see us. He said that you were sad because of my trouble and that you wanted to help me. This made me happy.”12 And when Paul sent Tychicus to Ephesus, he told them: “I have sent him to you because I want him to tell you about us. He will comfort you.”13 And Paul also sent a report to the Colossians about his work for the believers in Laodicea and elsewhere and said: “May their hearts be comforted. May they be brought close together in Christian love. May they be rich in understanding and know God’s secret. It is Christ Himself.”14
When Paul wrote the Thessalonians, he had these words to say: “As a father helps his children, you know how we wanted to help you and give you comfort. We told you with strong words that you should live to please God. He is the One Who chose you to come into His holy nation and to share His shining-greatness.”15 Later, Paul gave these instructions: “We ask you, Christian brothers, speak to those who do not want to work. Comfort those who feel they cannot keep going on. Help the weak. Understand and be willing to wait for all men.”16 When Paul wrote Timothy, he gave him this advice: “First of all, I counsel you to pray much for all men and to give thanks for them. Pray for kings and all others who are in power over us so we might live quiet God-like lives in peace.”17 Obviously, Paul knew what he was talking about concerning the ministry of counseling and caring.
When it comes to the gift of counseling, Origen sees it as a kind of teaching or word by which afflicted souls are enlightened by the words of the Holy Scriptures. He witnessed in his day, much the same as we see today, that despair often came when a believer was burdened down with too many trials and tribulations at one time. Under those conditions, it is not an easy task to put come up with the right words to say, no matter how polished and plausible they may be. But if the words that are using have the power of God in them, they will penetrate the heart and bring comfort and hope to the desperate soul of the one burdened down.18
Then, the early church Bishop of Tarsus broadens the definition by saying that it is a type of sermon to urge those who are still uninformed as to their faith in Christ to know more. He advises that a counselor should not try to explain how all of their troubles fit into living their life for Christ. Rather, let them know there is hope as long as they remain steadfast in their love for Christ. While it is not advisable to promise immediate relief or showers of blessings, it is right to let them know that all who do hold fast in faith to Christ do are in line for blessings and will be given a way of escape.19
Ambrosiaster also sees the motivational factor in this gift. In his estimation, Exhorters should be prepared by the Spirit to have the grace to provoke believers into action. They are sent to stir up the brethren to do good and unbelievers to accept the faith. Today we would liken this office to that of an evangelist. When this happens, those who are contributors to the ministry are likely to be given a greater spirit of generosity so that they will not stop giving. Likewise, the strong who mentor their weaker brothers and sisters will be even more watchful and take more responsibility for the ministry given them in proportion to their faith. Similarly, those who perform acts of mercy according to their mission will do so with a cheerful heart and not as if somebody was twisting their arms to do it.20 Chrysostom explains that exhortation can also be a form of inspirational instruction.21
When it comes to the gift of counseling (commonly called “exhorting”), Martin Luther believes that those who possess this gift and are called into this ministry should not occupy themselves with other tasks. But Luther found out that what Horace the Roman poet said before Christ was born, was true in his day: “The lazy ox wants to wear the saddle, while the [race] horse wants to plow.”22 It seems that there are some who are never satisfied with their calling, they are always singing the praises of those who have other ministries or jobs to do. Luther also pointed to what Terence the Roman playwright had to say: “We are so constituted that we are not satisfied with what is ours. Those who are qualified detest it; those who are unfit, long for it.23”24 While Luther does not expound on the gift of counseling, he focuses on the fact that those who do should concentrate on it and not become entangled with other duties.
Adam Clarke sees this gift of exhorting/counseling as being given to the person who admonished and rebuked those who were unruly or disorderly in the congregation, as well as, giving encouragement to the weak, comfort to the repentant, and counseling to those who were trying to cope with numerous temptations.25 Albert Barnes focuses on the Greek word parakaleō and believes that it denotes someone who urges congregants to get involved in church ministries, as opposed to those who were in charge of teaching the doctrines of the Church. Also, the exhorter/counselor was gifted with making believers aware of the warnings and promises of God in order to motivate them into doing with enthusiasm what they were being asked to do for the church and its members.
Unfortunately, this gift and ministry today has been relegated by many pastors to the role that is often referred to as “motivational speaking.” Most often, it is done by someone from outside who is brought in to encourage and motivate the congregation to be better Christians at home and in the workplace. Their books are sold by the millions, but once read they lay collecting dust in a shelf somewhere in the home or office. As we have seen so far, this ministry should be an everyday part of the Church since it is a gift to the local Church. Thank God there are some pastors who have stepped forward and also embraced this gift for their people. It should not always be left up to visiting motivational speakers and evangelists.
1 1 Corinthians 12:8
2 Ephesians 4:11
3 1 Timothy 5:17
4 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7
6 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 562
7 Babylonian Talmud: Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Hagigah, folio 5a, states that it is preferable for one not to give charity at all than for him to give in an undesirable manner.
8 Job 30:25 – New Life Version
9 Ibid. 29:13 – Complete Jewish Bible
10 Moses Maimonides: Mishneh Torah, Sefer Zeraim, Matnot Aniyim, 10:4
11 1 Corinthians 1:4, 6
12 2 Corinthians 7:6-7
13 Ephesians 6:22
14 Colossians 2:2
15 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12
16 Ibid. 5:14
17 1 Timothy 2:1-2
18 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
19 Diodore: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
20 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
21 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 21
22 The Works of Horace, Trans. C. Smart, New Edition, by Theodore Alois Buckely, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1894, Epistle 14, To His Steward, p. 256, various English translations exist but the one in this book goes as follows: “The lazy ox wishes for the horse’s trappings: the horse wishes to go to plow.”
23 Publius Terentius Afer, better known in English as Terence, Roman playwright (c. 185-159 BC).
24 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit. p. 172
25 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 241