Now when he had gone over that region and encouraged them with many words, . . – Acts 20:2
We all go through tough times, times when the burdens of this world are too much for us alone to bear. When that happens, we need help. Our help first and foremost comes from the Lord. “He is our help and our shield” (Psalm 33:20). One of the ways our Lord sends us help is through the encouragement of others. It helps when you have a headache, and the Lord sends someone beside you to pray and hand you Tylenol or to put a cool cloth on your forehead to soothe away the pain. It helps when someone is there to pray and hold your hand when the pain medication isn’t working. It helps to have a shoulder to cry, an arm around the shoulder, a spoken or silent prayer, when a loved one is approaching their final breath. Whether we have a headache or a heartache, whether it’s us suffering, or someone we love, it helps to have someone come along side us, to pray for us, hold us, encourage us. That helps.
The Bible says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). In that scriptural context we are encouraged to help others with “burdens,” or weights of life that are too great for any one person to bear. But we are also exhorted in that passage that “each one shall bear his own load” (Galatians 6:5). A “load” is something we can and should do to “fulfill the law of Christ.” The Lord calls us to be encouragers.
The words “encouragement” and “exhortation” in scripture come from the same Greek term parakaleo. Parakaleo means, “to call near.” The idea is to invite, implore, console, even beseech, entreat, and pray. When we encourage we come alongside someone to help them have courage. To “encourage” is to literally put courage in someone. We do this when we find someone who is discouraged, or who is empty of courage. We come alongside that person who is fearful of what the doctor’s report will tell them. We come alongside that person who fears the jury’s outcome. We come alongside one who fears what their spouse will say or do, or what has happened to their child. We come alongside the myriad of people in a myriad of different scenarios, to encourage. Encouragement is for those who are hurting and need help, a listening ear, a helping hand, a friend to pray with them.
Exhortation is for those who are not necessarily weak, but who perhaps are not carrying their load. We exhort those who are not fulfilling their responsibilities. We exhort the husband to love his wife like Christ loved the church. We exhort the wife to respect her husband. We exhort the child to honor their parents. To exhort is to call someone to action. We exhort people to put God’s word into action in their lives. We exhort sinners to repent. We exhort believers to obey God’s word. We exhort the lazy sluggard to get up and work. We exhort addicts to recovery in Christ. We exhort adulterers to fidelity. We exhort those living immoral lifestyles to holiness. We exhort abusers to self-control. We exhort people to repent of their sins and come to Jesus for salvation. We exhort the Laodicean church to be revived and get on fire for Jesus.
Encouragement is softer. Exhortation is stronger. They might be used together at times. When a Christian falls we initially encourage them to confess their sins to God and receive His forgiveness (1 John 1:9). We restore those “overtaken in any trespass, . . . in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1). But then we exhort that Christian to move forward in their walk with the Lord. We exhort them to not repeat the offense because true repentance leaves the sinful actions behind (e.g. 2 Corinthians 7:9-11). Yes, encouragement and exhortation work in tandem to restore the fallen.
How do we know when to apply each aspect of parakaleo? We know how to implement parakaleo by the direction of the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit, we’ll be encouraging when we should be exhorting and exhorting when we should be encouraging. When we get these two aspects of parakaleo mixed up the results will be counterproductive, indeed, even destructive. This happens when we try to encourage or exhort in our own strength and our own understanding. This is the problem with secular therapy, really, any godless effort. We need the holy Spirit, the Comforter, to show us the way.
The Help of the Paraklete. Jesus said the Holy Spirit is “another Helper, that He may abide with you forever” (John 14:16). “Another” (Greek allos) means another of the same kind. “Helper” (Greek parakletos) refers to one who consoles, an intercessor, an advocate, a comforter. The Holy Spirit consoles us like Jesus would, intercedes on our behalf like Jesus does, advocates for us like Jesus does, and comforts us just like Jesus. The Paraklete teaches us all things and brings to remembrance what Jesus taught (John 14:26). The Paraklete testifies of Jesus (John 15:26). The Paraklete is “the Spirit of truth.” “He will guide you into all truth. . . and tell you things to come” (John 16:13). The Paraklete, the Holy Spirit “helps us in our weaknesses (Romans 8:26a). The Holy Spirit is our prayer Guide and Intercessor. The Spirit helps us pray when we can’t find the right words to utter (Romans 8:26b). The Parakletos will abide with us forever (John 14:16). The Holy Spirit, the Paraklete, pours the love of God out into our heart and gives us a hope that never disappoints (Romans 5:5). We need the help of the Holy Spirit, the Paraklete, to encourage and exhort.
The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Triune Godhead. The Holy Spirit is God. This is what the Bible teaches (e.g. Acts 5:3-4). The Holy Spirit indwells and gives eternal spiritual life to the one who repents or turns from their sins to God, asking in faith for God’s forgiveness, not based on any personal good works, but on the basis of Jesus’ atoning death on the cross and powerful resurrection confirming that saving work. We deserved eternal death in hell but God offers us forgiveness and salvation freely by His grace in Christ (Romans 6:23). It is the Holy Spirit who washes us from our sins and regenerates us spiritually when we trust Jesus as our Savior (Titus 3:4-7). The Holy Spirit is a Person, not an “it” or force of some kind. Jesus repeatedly referred to the Holy Spirit with personal pronouns (John 14-16). Jesus said the Holy Spirit was “with” a person leading them to salvation, and comes “in” in a person when they are converted (John 14:16-17). The Holy Spirit comes “upon” us to empower us to serve the Lord (Acts 1-2). The Holy Spirit is our personal Helper and Comforter. He encourages and comforts us. He is the One who empowers us to encourage and exhort others.
If you want to be an encourager or an exhorter and have never been indwelled by the Holy Spirit, now is the time for that to happen. The Bible says “now” is the only time guaranteed to us to be forgiven our sins and regenerated by the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus (Corinthians 6:2). The Holy Spirit convicts, reveals, exposes our sin to us and calls us to repent and trust Jesus as our Savior (John 16:8-11). God has made forgiveness of sins, salvation from a destiny of hell, and the hope of eternal life, all available to us freely as a gift of His grace through faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit communicates this plan of salvation to us. “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (e.g. John 3:15-16; Acts 2:21; 10:35). If you’ve never done that, now is the time to call on the name of the Lord. These are great encouraging words. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by. The one who confesses their sins to God and asks His forgiveness based on faith in Jesus, will be forgiven, will be indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and will have eternal life. Salvation form sin and the presence of the Comforter within, is only a prayer away. Get alone with God and speak with Him, you’ll never regret it. Then start encouraging.
The Apostles and the early church were known for its ministry of parakaleo, or ministry of encouragement and exhortation. One of the main reasons for the Missionary Journeys in the Book of Acts was to encourage and exhort the established churches and the Christians in those churches. In Acts chapter 20 we find the perfect example of what such a ministry of encouragement and exhortation looks like.
Acts 20:1-5 – “After the uproar had ceased, Paul called the disciples to himself, embraced them, and departed to go to Macedonia.2 Now when he had gone over that region and encouraged them with many words, he came to Greece3 and stayed three months. And when the Jews plotted against him as he was about to sail to Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia.4 And Sopater of Berea accompanied him to Asia—also Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians, and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia. These men, going ahead, waited for us at Troas.”
The Spirit brought people alongside Paul to encourage, exhort, and assist in the mission work. Even an Apostle needed encouragement. Even an Apostle needed exhortation (Acts 18:9-10). We need encouragement and exhortation to press on and do what God calls us to do. It says as Paul traveled he encouraged them with many words.” Parakaleo is rallying believers together in fellowship by teaching them God’s word and encouraging and exhorting them to live in the Spirit.
Today’s Church needs the ministry of encouragement and exhortation. This is not unique to our day. It may be a bit more needed in our day, but from the beginning those like Jude encouraged and exhorted the early believers to stay true to the doctrines of the faith:
- Jude 3-4 – “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.4 For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”
From the very beginning there have been those who creep into the fellowship or flock of God to turn people away from God to themselves and who try to water down God’s gracious gospel in a way that does not only permit, but it promotes lewdness and denies God and His word.
The short letter of Jude was written around 68 A.D. and even at that early point Jude was inspired to write, “to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” Now think about this for a moment. If at that early date “the faith” that is, the gospel and God’s revelation of what is necessary to be saved from sin and live a holy life in the Spirit, if that was “once for all delivered to the saints” why is it that so many are trying to add to and alter “the faith” with human traditions, worldly philosophy and alternative mystical and enigmatic so called “truth”? Paul wrote in this regard:
- Colossians 2:8-10 – “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily;10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.”
Encouragement is needed for those victimized by “ungodly men.” But exhortation is needed to call the Church to stand strong in the “once for all” truth of God revealed in His word. Paul referred to these “ungodly men” as “savage wolves.” They are ruthless and merciless, just like their father the devil. Satan is a deceiver (John 8:44; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15), and a destroyer (Revelation 9:11). We need to exhort and encourage one another to remain true to the light and revelation of God in His word.
Acts 20:6-12 – “But we sailed away from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days joined them at Troas, where we stayed seven days. 7 Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.8 There were many lamps in the upper room where they were gathered together.9 And in a window sat a certain young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep. He was overcome by sleep; and as Paul continued speaking, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.10 But Paul went down, fell on him, and embracing him said, “Do not trouble yourselves, for his life is in him.”11 Now when he had come up, had broken bread and eaten, and talked a long while, even till daybreak, he departed.12 And they brought the young man in alive, and they were not a little comforted.”
Comfort in the face of death. The ministry of parakaleo is powerful. Even when a young man falls from a three-story window to his death, the Spirit, through the minster of encouragement, was able to restore. When Eutychus fell “Paul went down, fell on him, and embracing him said, ‘Do not trouble yourselves, for his life is in him” (20:10). “Trouble” means throw into disorder, be troubled, distressed, disturb. There were a lot of people in that upper room listening to Paul into the wee hours of the night. But none of this moved or shook Paul. Not even a potential tragedy like a crushed young man could disrupt the teaching of God’s word. Without missing a beat, Paul went to the fallen Eutychus, stretched himself out on the fallen brother, and Eutychus was restored. “Eutychus” after all, means fortunate. The Lord was certainly with him that night.
When the Spirit is working, not even a tragedy can deter the work of God. Notice something else. It says when “they brought the young man in alive,” that “they were not a little comforted” (20:12). The word “comforted” is translated from parakaleo, the same word we’ve been studying. The ministry of parakaleo involves comforting people. Not even potential tragedy or death can deter when the ministry of parakaleo when the Spirit are at work.
We will pass over the next few verses just as they teach that sometimes the Spirit directs us to “sail past” certain things (Acts 20:13-16). It isn’t that these verses aren’t important, it’s that like Paul, we have a destination to reach in a timely fashion.
The last section of this chapter is the longest and it depicts for us in detail the ministry of parakaleo that Paul implemented on his journeys.
Acts 20:17-38 – “From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church.18 And when they had come to him, he said to them: “You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you,19 “serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews;20 “how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house,21 “testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.22 “And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there,23 “except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me.24 “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.25 “And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more.26 “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men.27 “For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.28 “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.29 “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.30 “Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.31 “Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.32 “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.33 “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel.34 “Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me.35 “I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.37 Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him,38 sorrowing most of all for the words which he spoke, that they would see his face no more. And they accompanied him to the ship.”
While Paul doesn’t go to Ephesus, he does have the Ephesian church leaders come to him at Miletus so he could encourage and exhort them. We know Paul was on a mission to get to Jerusalem for the day of Pentecost, but his requesting the Ephesians elders to come to meet him might also have been designed to see where they were with the Lord. Would they make the trip? Or would they disregard Paul’s request? They came and it showed their submission to Paul’s authority as well as their love for the Lord of Paul as we will see. It was also evidence that Paul’s ministry of encouragement and exhortation was effective.
What does a ministry of encouragement and exhortation look like? This passage defines a ministry of encouragement and exhortation. When we look at these verses what do we see?
Paul lived among them (20:18b). Encouragement takes please when we spend time together. It’s one thing to talk to people, it’s another to spend time with them. Parents, if you want to encourage your children, don’t just buy them stuff, spend time, quality time with them. Husbands and wives don’t sacrifice time together to build your own personal kingdom. Make spending time together a priority in your lives. Spend time with God personal to be encouraged. Spend time with each other to be mutually encouraged.
Paul served the Lord with all humility (20:19a). Humility facilitates encouragement. Paul wasn’t boastful or proud. You can’t encourage people when all you do is toot your own horn. Be humble enough to listen to those you are serving. In all your relationships, be humble enough to listen.
Paul served with many tears (20:19b). Paul wasn’t afraid to show his emotions. Openness facilitates encouragement. Paul wasn’t pretentious. Paul genuinely and honestly bore his heart to those around him. That’s encouraging. When we share honestly, from the heart, that is powerful and helpful, that is parakaleo.
Paul served in trials (20:19c). The plotting of evil people did not turn him away. We are encouraged when we get together even if it means we are shunned or persecuted. And we are encouraged when the encourager ministering to us shows us by their life that God’s grace is sufficient, and that God’s power is perfected in our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). If you want to encourage people to have strong faith, you need to be a person of strong faith.
Paul kept back nothing that could help them (20:20a). He was always willing and eager to see them grow spiritually and to teach them helpful things for their walk with the Lord. Encouragement is not to make us feel good about ourselves, it is to glorify God by helping His children in every way to carry on in the faith. Paul used every righteous and holy means made available to him by the Spirit to encourage the church.
Paul proclaimed outwardly that which was helpful to them (20:20b). Helpfulness facilitates encouragement. He taught them. He explained God’s word to them (20:20c). It’s encouraging when brethren get together and discuss God’s word. He taught them from house to house (20:20d). He spent time with them in their neighborhoods and homes. He was personable and accessible. Hospitality facilitates encouragement. He testified to Jews and Greeks, to anyone who would listen (20:21a). He did not discriminate but shared with all those in the churches.
Testimonies facilitate encouragement. There’s something about personal testimony that encourages people. A testimony tells of an actual experience of Jesus in our life. When we see and hear how Jesus actually impacted a person’s life, it gives us hope that He will do the same in our lives. That’s encouraging! Share your testimony, but make sure it is to His glory, not your own.
Paul’s message was “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (20:21b). Notice the connection between “God” and “Jesus Christ.” Being honest about sin facilitates encouragement. Here we see Paul included the exhortative aspect of parakaleo in his ministry.
Paul shared honestly with those he ministered to. He didn’t always know what lay ahead of him, but he testified that he always trusted in the Spirit (20:22). Trust the Spirit to lead you to those who need encouragement. The Spirit, while not giving him the exact details, did prepare him for the trials that lay ahead of him (20:23). The Spirit prepares us to encourage others.
The Spirit empowered minister is not deterred by the prospect of trials. That is because their life is not the most important thing to them. What is most important and what we ought to encourage and exhort others to prioritize, is that they finish the race God has plotted for them. And not only that they finish it, but that they finish it “with joy” (20:24). Heavenly priorities facilitate encouragement.
Paul knew the Ephesians wouldn’t see him again and was up front about that (20:25). He spoke the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Honesty facilitates encouragement. We see Paul’s honesty throughout these verses.
Paul declared to them that he was innocent of responsibility for their lives because he had declared the “whole counsel of God” to them (20:26-27). The primary aim of the minister is to teach and exhort God’s word fully to God’s people. God word should be central to encouragement. Truly, encouragement and exhortation are empty vessels without the ministry of God’s word.
Paul warned them to shepherd the flock because they were purchased with the blood of Jesus (20:28). The blood of Jesus facilitates fellowship and encouragement (1 John 1:7). The blood of Jesus is the only reason and basis for us to have fellowship with God through faith in Jesus.
Paul warned them about “savage wolves” that would attack the flock from outside and infiltrate the flock from within (20:29-30; Jude 3-4). Truthfulness about enemies facilitates encouragement. That’s because to be forewarned is to be forearmed. It’s much easier to prepare and be encouraged by God’s provision when we honestly know what to expect.
Paul commended these beloved brothers and sister sin Christ to the safest Person He could, to God (20:31-32; Psalm 23). When we fellowship and rely on God we are encouraged.
He gave a final testimony and example that he didn’t covet anyone’s money while there (20:33-35). By saying this he was reminding them to not minister for monies’ sake, but purely for the Lord (see 2 Corinthians 4:1-2). Paul had a giving heart. Self-seeking and using others will squash encouragement.
Paul the man of prayer couldn’t leave them without bending the knee with them before His God (20:36-38). The outpouring of tears and emotion is evidence of the closeness this great Apostle had with those he ministered too. When the Holy Spirit works in and through a person there will be love (e.g. Romans 5:5, 8; Galatians 5:22-24). What we see in the culmination of this ministry of parakaleo, is an outpouring of love. Even though he shared some tough realities, when they concluded in prayer, they were encouraged by the Lord.
Who should have a ministry of parakaleo? All believers are called by God to encourage and exhort one another. In Hebrews it states:
- Hebrews 10:24-25 – “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”
When we gather together we should be exhorting and encouraging one another in order “to stir up love and good works.” If we want to be encouraged and encourage others, if we want to be exhorted and exhort others, then we should never forsake the fellowship and this encouraging, exhorting, essential part of ministry.
Let’s pray that we have a ministry of parakaleo. Let’s pray that for each other. Let’s pray that for today’s church. Let’s pray for the Spirit to empower us to encourage and exhort to the glory of God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
 Greek thorubeisthe – Present/Middle/2nd Person Plural of thorubeo)