THE FINE ART OF EXHORTATION
By John R. Funk
“What are you, some kind of moron???” “Why can’t you get that right?” “I have no idea how you are going to make it in life!” “I have had plants that displayed more intellect than you.” “If I looked up the word “idiot” in the dictionary, I’ll bet your picture would be there.” “At least my dog is trainable.” The list could just go on and on and on. Have you ever heard these expressions or worse, have you ever been subject to this kind of a tirade? It can be pretty discouraging to have another person question your abilities, intellect or commitment. Without even touching on the insults that can be hurled your way concerning things you can’t control, life can be filled with expressions that drag you down and make you feel worthless. Unfortunately, we are exposed all too often to these types of expressions and the end result is that we lose our desire to try, much less improve.
On the other hand, exhortation, encouragement, support or positive reinforcement, whatever you want to call it, can have a profound effect on a person’s life. The idea behind exhortation, as it is called in the King James Version of the Bible, is that people need to be encouraged in order to grow and attend to their responsibilities. The concept is actually quite basic but very seldom exercised. It is a concept that is even addressed in business schools throughout our nation.
When I was going to college (some think that this was just after the invention of the light bulb), there was a discussion in a management class dealing with “Manager X” and “Manager Y.” Manager X defined was defined as the type of manager who was extremely dictatorial and heavy-handed in his approach when dealing with employees while Manager Y was the type of manager who would be an encourager with his employees. There was no heavy-handedness exhibited by Manager Y but rather, a spirit of cooperation was to be fostered amongst employees thereby engendering a team approach to problem-solving. I do not remember if one management style was explicitly favored over the other but the implication was that Y was preferable. Today, many years after the invention of the light bulb, this approach is utilized as a principle throughout our land, not just in business but also in volunteer organizations, charitable entities and even the classroom.
The Bible addresses the concept of encouragement and its value in everyday life. The King James Version of the Bible doesn’t use the word “encourage” but rather uses the word exhort. Other translations use the words “urge” or “comfort” depending on the particular verse. Going to the Greek-Hebrew dictionary, the word “exhort” comes from the word “parakaleo” meaning to call near, i.e. invite, invoke (by imploration, hortation or consolation) and as used in the KJV, it is defined as beseech, call for, (be of good) comfort, desire, (give) exhort (-ation), intreat or pray. (See Strong’s Greek-Hebrew Dictionary, NT:3870). According to Webster’s Dictionary, it really means “to encourage, to embolden, to cheer, to advise. The primary sense seems to be to excite or to give strength, spirit or courage.” Webster’s expounds on this definition by stating the following: (1) To incite by words or advice; to animate or urge by arguments to a good deed or to any laudable conduct or course of action.
When the word “encourage” or “exhort” is used, the first thing that comes to mind is the idea of verbal communication. We usually encourage others verbally in order to motivate (or coerce) them into doing something. However, the art of exhortation is demonstrated not just with words but also with action. Hence, we see the apostle Peter encouraging or exhorting with words but then we see the early church members engaged in activities that also act as encouragement.
38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. 40 And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. 41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. 42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. Acts 2:38-47 (KJV)
In verse 38 Peter calls the unsaved to salvation through Jesus Christ and therefore exhorts or encourages them to act by expressing their faith; he also promises that by doing so they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is an example of exhortation (encouragement) by words.
Beginning in verse 42 we then see the church members themselves engaging in activity that is encouragement to the body as a whole. This encouragement is manifested by fellowship of the believers, i.e. sharing with each as needed and bearing other’s burdens. Note in verse 44 that “all that believed were together, and had all things common.” In other words they made a point of being with one another which resulted in, I believe, commonality shared through foundational beliefs. Another significant activity which acted as encouragement was simply having a meal together. Dining together in that societal context was a form of sharing with those who were near and dear to you.
Encouragement or exhortation was a concern for Paul in his various writings to the churches and to disciples. He wanted to motivate the church body to stay focused on what was important and to remain faithful in their walk as Christians. For example, in his letter to Timothy, he stated:
3 Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. 1 Tim 4:13 (KJV)
14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. 1 Thess 5:14 (KJV)
2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. 2 Tim 4:2 (KJV)
Likewise, in his letter to Titus, Paul once again speaks to the responsibility of each member of the body of believers to remain faithful and exhorts them by his words.
9 Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. Titus 1:9 (KJV)
6 Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded. Titus 2:6 (KJV)
9 Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again; Titus 2:9 (KJV)
It is through Jesus Christ that we are to exhort or encourage each other. It is also for the sake of Christ that we are to do so. Without Jesus, there is no encouragement; absent the saving grace of Jesus Christ, there is no hope. Without Jesus Christ and the sacrifice on the cross at
Calvary, the only things that remain are despair, destitution and spiritual poverty.
4:1 Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more. 1 Thess 4:1 (KJV)
11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; 13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; 14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. 15 These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee. Titus 2:11-15 (KJV)
Encouraging others is not something that necessarily comes easily. Consequently, it is not unusual that we fail to encourage others as often as we should. However, just because it may be somewhat difficult for a person to actively encourage other people, that is no reason why it shouldn’t be done.
Some will then take the position that if we are called to encourage, urge and exhort, then surely we only have to do it as the need arises. I hope that is not your attitude because I don’t believe that that is what the Bible teaches. We are unable to determine when “the need arises” because that then becomes an entirely subjective judgment on the part of the “encourager.” Contrary to what we may observe and believe, a person may need encouragement or exhortation when it is not obvious. Most people do not hang out their dirty laundry in public, so to speak, but instead keep their problems to themselves. We pass people each and every day of our lives who need encouragement. These people are our co-workers, our friends and our family. Many are members of the body of Christ. I daresay that everyone needs some encouragement every day. In point of fact, the body of believers is called to encourage each other on a daily basis.
13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. Heb 3:13 (KJV)
We need to encourage each other daily because if we don’t, we will become hardened due to sin. We will lose our sympathy for others; our hearts will become hard. Encouragement allows us to engage with each other on a deeper level than we usually do. It gives permission to share and to pray.
Praying for each other is encouragement and it is encouragement on a spiritual level. Many times the only thing that we can say is “I will pray for you.” What a gift that is. What we are really saying is that we will take the time to lift up another’s concerns or problems to our Heavenly Father, the creator of all, the One who is gracious and merciful, just and forgiving. In other words, we are saying that we will present another’s petition to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It doesn’t go any higher than that.
Kind words and supportive actions strengthen the body of believers. They also serve as a witness to others that we mean what we say; we live the life, we don’t just give lip service to it. Many are cynical and will not act unless they see words backed up with action. Your words and actions make a difference to those around you and provide testimony to your faith in Christ.
Recently, I had an experience that brought home the importance of encouragement. In a particular class that I teach, I took the time to compliment certain people publicly without any advance notice that I was going to do so. I had not planned on doing it but the opportunity arose so I took advantage of it. My compliments were sincere and centered on the person’s service to the cause of Christ and the body of believers. The response was exciting. These people did not even realize that they were being noticed but when it was brought to their attention, they became almost radiant. People need to feel important; people need to feel like they are noticed; people need to feel like they make a difference; people need to feel loved.
Encouragement doesn’t have to take a great deal of time and effort. Help out where you can; pick up the phone and make a call just to let someone know that you were thinking about them; compliment someone publicly; or, drop a card in the mail. Make it personal, make it real, make it genuine. Starting today and especially during these end times, we should make our world a better place by encouraging those around us. When we do it, we evidence the love of Jesus Christ and provide witness to the world of what sets us apart. It is love. We encourage because we love.
Comments or questions may be directed to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.