Everyone has an exhorter friend: the guy that everyone loves; the chatty Kathy that is the “life of the party.” Exhorters are people people: they communicate well, have a large network, and are skilled at creating and sustaining relationships. They open their hearts and lives to others and use practical application to help others grow. Everyone loves the exhorter, and the exhorter loves everyone (mostly because they don’t like being rejected). And the exhorter’s primary motivation is encourage, comfort, and counsel others, becoming all things to all people in the good sense like the apostle Paul.
Because their motivation gives them incredible leverage in relationships, exhorters must learn to use their gift to produce long-term life changes, not just short-term changes that produce no real change. We can help our exhorter friends to stay on the lookout for several snares of their gifting:
- Being masters of manipulation. Having such a great rapport with others can tempt exhorters to use their gift to control others. This is especially clear in the immature exhorter, who will win the trust of others and then use it to their own advantage. I had an exhorter friend who loved being the center of attention; however, after she gained your trust, she would use her perceived “power” in her relationships to alienate those by whom she felt threatened. Exhorters must be vigilant that they do not use their gifts for manipulation but instead remain godly and trustworthy for use by God.
- Living in denial. Exhorters sometime have difficulty accepting personal responsibility for their own failures. Here, the master of manipulation can try to dominate even God Himself. The same exhorter friend who was a master of manipulation struggled with seeing her own faults, even when pointed out in love. Exhorters must learn that “living off their personality” is not what God has called them to do; God has instead called them to flow in the power of the Holy Spirit, which means admitting their wrongs and confessing them to receive forgiveness. (If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9)
- Relying on their own understanding. Exhorters who experience success in comforting and encouraging others may begin to lean on their own understanding of others’ problems and issues, instead of the Holy Spirit. They may begin to apply non-Scriptural principles to a situation or try to simplify a problem with an easy solution. Exhorters must remember God does not always give cut and dry answers, and most importantly, that they must rely on the Holy Spirit in times when understanding is limited. (Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5)
When walking in fulfillment, exhorters are destined to have influence over great numbers of people, like the apostle Paul did. As a part of the body of Christ, we can help our exhorter friends to avoid traps that can lead them away from God’s calling on their lives.
What positive traits do you see in your exhorter friends? How can you encourage them to avoid the pitfalls discussed above?