What is exhortation?
Here at the Cedar Park church of Christ, we have written articles through The Exhorter for many years! Over the years, numerous writers have written articles pertaining to everything from salvation to personal growth, as well as ways to study your Bible more effectively, sometimes using light humorous stories, poetry, biographies, or a sense of urgency. While these are all very beneficial things, they still leave the obvious question: what does it mean to exhort, or to be an exhorter? A quick Google search says the word “exhort” these days means: “to strongly encourage or urge (someone) to do something.” This is often how the word exhort was used in the Bible, but sometimes it goes a little deeper than that. The word comes from the Greek “parakaleo,” which could mean several things – all of which are encouraging some type of action or desire.
For instance, in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost, the inspired apostle Peter had just given the first sermon of the Christian era, and the apostles had begun baptizing people for the remission of their sins. Acts 2:40 states after this: “And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation’.” This passage shows the primary definition of exhort in what Peter was doing here by teaching the Word and encouraging those around him to become Christians.
Another instance of the Bible’s use of the word exhort is 1 Thessalonians. In 3:1-3 Paul says: “Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.” (ESV) In these verses, Paul describes how he sent Timothy to the Thessalonians to exhort them in their faith, and in the KJV, the word used instead of exhort is comfort. This was also to ensure that they had remained in the faith, as it says in verse 5: “For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.”
In a similar statement, Paul says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” This connects very well with the previous verse I mentioned, because it also talks about how exhorting is built around the teaching of the Word to others, and particularly in encouraging Christians to remain faithful to God. The apostle Paul makes a similar statement to Titus in Titus 2:15, where he says: “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you”. It is as if this form of exhortation is the bumpers along the sides of a bowling alley to keep a child’s ball from falling into the gutter. Exhorting is a nudge in the right direction, and since Timothy is told do to this “with complete patience and teaching,” it’s obvious that exhortation is not meant to be the type of instruction that beats someone over the head.
Another example of exhortation in the Bible is shown in 1 Peter 5:1-3, which reads: “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” This is a different connection that one can make from exhortation. This is the connection from experience. As an apostle as well as an elder, Peter is able to use his experience to exhort his fellow elders to continue to be good examples to the members of their respective churches, and thus follow the commands of God. Exhortation is not only for the young Christian, but older, long-faithful Christians also have need of exhortation from each other to stay the course.
While all of the previous examples were for or by leaders like elders, evangelists, and those training to be leaders, the Bible still speaks on exhortation from other members of the church toward each other. In Hebrews 3:12-13 we read, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” These verses prove that exhortation is for and by everyone in order to help each other along the road of faith. So in closing, I “exhort” each of you to keep on exhorting each other, keep accepting the exhortation of others, and take comfort in the pattern the Lord has set up to give us a church family to lean upon.