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(Romans 12:8a) Starting with Socks

(Romans 12:8a) Starting with Socks

Ref: Romans 12:8

One of the most misunderstood spiritual gifts is the gift of exhortation, partly because we have lost the original meaning of 'exhortation.' So join Stephen in this message as he shows us why the ability to exhort truly is a great spiritual gift.


“Starting with Socks”

Romans 12:8a

Can you imagine reporting to your first basketball practice as a member of the UCLA basketball team . . . you’re a freshman . . . imagine, you’ve just made the team.

Some of you can’t imagine it, because you’d never play for anyone other than Carolina, or State, right?


Well, try to imagine . . . you’ve made the team.  And the coach is the legendary John Wooden.

He has led this team to 4 undefeated seasons; 10 national championships in a row; in fact, if you can imagine it, he has led the UCLA Bruins to 7 Final Four championships in a row!

And as an incoming freshman, you’ve seen his picture on Sports Illustrated as Sportsman of the Year.

You’re probably aware that he was named coach of the year 6 times.

You might heard about his intense teaching method on the building blocks of basketball.  Summarized in what was called, The Pyramid of Success – 15 building blocks that would mark his coaching legacy and be copied by coaches the world over – principles such as enthusiasm, poise, teamwork and loyalty.

But back to you . . . there you sit, on the basketball court, awaiting the first pearls of basketball know-how.

You are mesmerized by the legend . . . the records . . . the program . . . the success . . . you’re now awaiting this legendary’s coach’s first words.

Maybe you didn’t notice, but the older players are already beginning to smile at the new players.  They know what’s coming.

John Wooden walks out on the floor to where you and rest of the team are seated, and begins his first lesson . . . how to put on a pair of socks.  That’s right, socks!

Nothing about the principles of the pyramid.  Nothing about the past or the present . . . nothing about strategy or skill or even the schedule.

John Wooden holds up a pair of socks and then demonstrates to his players how to put them on so there are no wrinkles or bulges.

Can you imagine . . . “here’s how you put on a pair of socks!”

Coach Wooden then tells his players that if the socks are put on wrong, and left uncorrected, those little wrinkles and bulges will cause blisters that will hamper their performance at crucial times. 

Adapted from

So you gotta get this thing down first – here’s how you come, dressed to play the game.

When I read that, I couldn’t help but agree . . . as believers we can so easily forget about the fundamentals of the race. 

We can talk strategy and philosophy; we can schedule and plan and get involved in teamwork and skill and conditioning and business and movement; often forgetting the underlying details that help us run the race.

Ladies and Gentlemen, what socks were to the Bruins – and to basketball, spiritual gifts are to the body.

When you come, properly suited up to interact – to take the offensive or defensive position on the court, you will be prepared to play well.

By the way, if you’ve been to a basketball game lately, you’ve probably noticed, none of the players ever took their socks off and waved them around; they didn’t sit around on the court, comparing their socks to the other players.  They didn’t draw attention to their socks . . . they were just there.

Likewise, we are in the process of learning that we do not compare our gifts with other players on the team; we don’t bring attention to them or wave them to the crowd.  They are just there . . . enabling us to run the race . . to honor Christ . . . to advance the gospel and mission of the church.

Now . . . the Apostle Paul is acting as a divinely inspired coach of the church. 

As he moves into the arena of Christian living, in Romans chapter 12, you would think he would immediately give pearls of wise strategy and practical advice. 

Instead, he begins by showing us how to suit up for the game . . . with spiritual gifts.

If you remember, a spiritual gift can be defined as a God-given ability whereby the believer is able to serve the body of Christ with effective ministry.

And in verse 6, Paul introduced us to the gift of prophecy.

Notice verse 7, If service, in his serving (literally, if a table waiter, then in waiting tables); he goes on, “or he who teaches, in his teaching. 

Now, Paul introduces us to another gift . . . notice verse 8.  Or he who exhorts in his exhortation.

The gift of exhortation.

At first glance, this word might give you the wrong impression.  Exhortation sounds harsh . . . someone who exhorts, sounds like someone who lectures another.

The gift of exhortation sounds like the gift of scolding.

In reality, the Greek word is a compound word from the word para (para) – alongside and kalew (kalew) – the verb to call.  Put them together and you get this word parakalew –  (parakalew) which means to call alongside.

Or, to come alongside someone and speak for them.

It’s no surprise to discover that the Latin translation of his word is advocatus – or advocate.  It was used in ancient times for a lawyer.

One who came alongside another and spoke on their behalf.

The word also includes the idea of counsel.  The giving of advise in order to bring aid to someone.

In a very real way, this gift is a lot like the gift of coaching.

This is the guy who reminds you, “Don’t forget to put on your socks!”

If you went through the scriptures and looked at each verse where this word parakalew, paraklesis, appears, you would soon understand that when Paul talks about the gift of the

exhortation, he is referring to someone who:

            brings encouragement to another person

            helps others see the truth of scripture

            exhorts the believer to persevere through trials

            gives wise counsel

            motivates and urges someone onward

comforts and offers hope that produces action

Adapted from Charles R. Swindoll, He Gave Gifts (Insight for Living, 1992), p. 38

This gift is more than someone who comes along and slaps you on the back and says without any real feeling, “good going.”  Or worse,  “good luck.”

Here where Paul wrote in Romans 12:7 this particular gift, you could amplify the text to render it this way, “Let the person who has the gift of getting alongside another person to help them out, really do it.” 

James Boice, Romans: Volume 4 (Baker Books, 1995), p. 1586

This is the father or mother running alongside their little girl who’s learning how to ride a bike . . . their running beside her as she pedals along, holding onto the back of the seat and then letting it go, but continuing to run along, shouting encouragement, “you can do it . . . keep pedaling . . . watch out for the telephone pole.” 

  • The gift of prophecy would say, “there is coming a day when bicycles will be invented and you must learn to ride them.” 
  • The gift of helps would be the one assembling the bikes after they been invented.  They would also make sure a shipment arrived at the church; 
  • The gifted teacher would call a meeting, stand up and explain to everybody, in three alliterated points, the principles of balance and motion along with the proper hand signals;
  • The gifted giver would make sure everyone had a bicycle even if it meant giving theirs away;
  • The person with the gift of mercy would arrive early and set up a first aid booth.  Armed with band aids and Neosporin, ready for the first spill; somewhat disappointed if there aren’t any!

The gifted exhorter would be the one standing out in the parking lot, next to a bicycle shouting, “C’mon, already – it’s time to ride!”  They would be the ones who put you on the bicycle and say to you, “Now . . . start pedaling . . . I’m right here . . . you can do it . . . don’t stop!”

The gift of exhortation is a ministry of presence.

It should be no surprise to discover that this word translated exhorter is the same word used by Jesus Christ to identify the Holy Spirit.

In the Gospel of John, the disciples are in a panic . . . Jesus Christ has just informed them that He’s going to be leaving them. 

They’re confused . . . hurt . . . insecure . . . afraid.

Their leader has only recently begun talking with clearer vocabulary that he was going to die.

And now, in the upper room, He informs them that he will be denied by Peter, betrayed by another, separated from the disciples, memorialized in death by wine and bread.

And the disciples hit the panic button.

Peter said, “Lord, where are you going?” (John 13:36)  And Jesus answered, “Where I’m going, you can’t follow Me, now, but you will later.”

And Peter responds, “Lord, why can’t I follow You right now?” (v. 37)

Thomas adds a few verses later, “Lord we don’t know where you’re going and we don’t know the way!”  (John 14:5)

With child-like fear, so young in their faith . . . they are responding just like we would have . . . which we often over-look because we know how the story turned out.

Imagine telling your children tonight, “Listen, Mommy and Daddy have to go on a journey . . . we have to leave the house. We can’t tell you how long we’ll be gone, and when we’ll be back, and exactly where we’re going, but we have to leave you tonight.”

What?!  Don’t go!

We can’t be left alone!

That’s exactly the disciples response and Jesus adds “But don’t worry . . . you won’t be alone . . . when I ascend to the Father, he will send you another Helper and He won’t leave you alone – ever!” (John 14:16)

The Father will send you another Helper – Parakletos – an exhorter, encourager, comforter, helper, advocate, defender.

The person in the body of Christ who has the gift of exhortation needs to develop a strong understanding of the  Biblical role of the Holy Spirit, because you happen to because you happen to be imitating His ministry.

Maybe you’re thinking . . . I might have this gift, but can you give me some leads . . . a little more information?!

Fortunately, God’s word never asks us to be something without giving us an example made out of flesh and blood.

In general, you see it all around you when you come to the assembly.  We’re all told to encourage one another – to provoke one another unto love and good works, as we see the day approaching.”

In other words, we ought to all be involved in the ministry of exhorting one another every chance we get to keep pedaling.

And by the way . . . did you remember to put your socks on right?!  You don’t want to get blisters . . . suit up the right way!  Drink plenty of the water of the word . . .

We all are involved in that . . .

Our first home in Cary was a fixer upper.  We just didn’t know it, when we bought it.  The roof leaked, only to discover the roofing underneath the shingles had rotted.  The heating system was broken and the flooring under the master bath had nearly rotted through.  If it hadn’t been for a builder in our young church who came and fixed everything, we would have gone bankrupt.

The house had a red brick fire-place which we tore out and replaced with river stones . . . before we knew the house had other problems.  When our first winter arrived and we found out the heater was completely broken down we kept a fire roaring in that fireplace. 

Even after the heating system was replaced, I had learned to love making a fire in that stone fireplace.  There’s nothing quite like the snapping and crackling of a real fire. 

For those of you who’ve worked with a fire, you know the importance of the fire-place poker.  That steel rod with a black pointed end and maybe a little hook on one side as well that you can use to pull logs around and snag the timber.  From time to time you use that instrument to stir up the smoldering embers – and what happens?  They burst back into flame.

Adapted from John Phillips, Exploring Romans (Moody Press, 1969), p. 195

That’s the ministry of exhortation.

That’s the strategy of our assembly – where we prod one another and smoldering embers burst back into flame.

I have to tell you, for me, there is nothing that brings smoldering embers back into flame, in the assembly, like the ministry of music.

60 to 70 teenagers singing today, all dressed alike and seemingly in their right minds.  Hearing and joining in with you as we sang.

The orchestra and choir had the morning off . . . I sit backstage, over there between the edge of the choir and the kettle drums and the snare drums.  Just behind the brass section – trombones and trumpets..

I love it back there . . . you can definitely feel the Spirit moving over there.

If the embers in your heart don’t catch fire, come up here and sit with me . . . there’s nothing like it!

Kenneth Gangel, a former professor at Dallas Seminary provoked my thinking when he wrote that there is not gift of music in the strict sense of spiritual gifts.  However, the church is commanded to sing (Ephesians 5:19).  Singing and making melody and music and harmony with instrumentation straight out of the Book of Psalms, is when theology is powerfully communicated to the assembly.  The church is literally exhorted through this public ministry to recall the great truths of God’s grace and power and love and to live for Jesus Christ.

Dr. Gangel wrote, making music is a way of exercising the gift of exhortation!

Imagine, we may have neglected this perspective too long!

Then he ended with this challenge, “[Future] choir members, neglect not the gift that is in you!”

Kenneth O. Gangel, You and Your Spiritual Gifts (Moody Press, 1975), p. 30

You want to challenge people to stand for Christ?  You want to encourage a broken heart?  You want to provide joy to the weary?

Come up here and join the other exhorters who lead us in singing and playing as we together glorify God.


So, generally speaking, we see the ministry of exhortation occurring all around us.  And our assembly together is a prime place where it takes place.

More specifically we have the ministry of the Holy Spirit who encourages, convicts, reproves, instructs and motivates us through the ministry of the Word of God.

Even more specifically is the ministry of individuals who personally connect with us in our walk.

They are the incarnation, so to speak, of the Holy Spirit’s ministry.  They have the gift of exhortation.

This was the ministry of Paul and Barnabas, in Acts 14:21-22.  “They returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith . . . in other words, keep pedaling!  Don’t give up!  “And they were saying, “Through many tribulations we will enter the kingdom of God.”

I love that!  The message of an exhorter is perfectly seen that text – “through many tribulations we will enter the kingdom of God.”

From this modeling of exhortation, we can easily observe

two parts to an exhorters message:

  1. Part One of the message is realism

“Hey, disciples of Jesus Christ – you’re gonna have trials and tribulation!  Make sure your socks are pulled up tight and they’re on right, because you are in for the race of your life.”

By the way, people with the gift of exhortation don’t like pious platitudes.  They’re the last person on earth to say, “Well, God will bless you.”  When what’s needed is a dose of realism. 

They talk straight . . . and they cut to the chase.

An exhorter doesn’t like to waste time . . . like John the Baptist who exhorted an entire nation, his message was fairly simple – “You’re all a bunch of hypocrites and

you need to repent.

I attended a Christian school, the same one, in fact, from kindergarten to graduation.  When I was in 11th grade, I was out on the gym floor after school hours, sweeping the floor with those wide dust mops.  I worked to help my parents pay the tuition costs.

I was struggling with my hypocrisy . . . on the outside, to most people, I was a missionary kid who kept his slate pretty clean.  But I ran with some guys who didn’t really care . . . I avoided capture and exposure on several occasions, and somehow managed to stay one step ahead of my teachers and my principle . . . I was involved in a struggle of surrender.

There I was, all alone in the big gymnasium, sweeping the floor . . . the side door opened and Mr. Garrick, the school administrator.  He was a large, strong man, with gray hair.  Without saying anything, he walked out onto the gym floor – I stopped right at center court . . . I can remember it vividly.

He walked up to me and said, “I know you haven’t been caught doing anything wrong . . . but I know . . . I know who you are. You are not fooling me.”

He turned and walked away.

It’s like I had just been visited by John the Baptist – wearing a camel hair blazer and wing-tips.

God used that confrontation, and others, to bring me that summer to a point surrender to Jesus Christ.

That man had the gift of exhortation.

Someone who exercises the gift of exhortation will:

    • Persuade a believer to turn from a sinful behavior or habit
    • Admonish the church to obey the Word.
    • Comfort a brother or sister in the Lord who is suffering
    • Encourage a weak believer who needs to make some commitment 
    • Write a note or call to encouraging someone who is grieving or depressed
    • Inspire a brother or sister to trust God some career decision
    • Challenge the status quo in a conversation with a compromising believer
    • Rebuke a wayward believer who needs to be confronted with their sin


The message of exhortation, modeled by Paul and Barnabas, is not only a message of realism – that’s part one; part two is a message of:


  1. Hope

“And they were saying, “Through many tribulations we will enter the kingdom of God.”

Yes, you’re going to encounter troubles and affliction and pain, that’s Christianity!  But . . . we happen to be heading for the glorious kingdom of God. 

Oh, don’t forget that . . . God is alive and trustworthy and His kingdom is not a mirage!  It’s in the distance, but it’s real . . . and we’re headed for it

So, grab a good pair of socks . . . put ‘em on right . . . they are the underlying, invisible foundation for the way you think and live by the power of the Spirit . . . and then, get in the game!

You are needed by the body of Christ.

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