Each morning, I get up, sit on the couch and ask the Holy Spirit to lead me to a passage of Scripture that will benefit me in some way that day. Sometimes I don’t feel a firm response so I read the Proverb of the day or a few Psalms, a chapter in the New Testament, etc. Today I felt led to Hebrews 2 and 3. I often read most of what I feel I should without any major light bulbs only to find a single verse towards the end that is clearly my reason why. This morning, that verse was Hebrews 3:13.
“But exhort one another daily, while it is called today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” (KJV)
What do most people think when they see the word “exhort?” In the NIV and NASB, this word is instead, “encourage,” but is that really what this word means? Encouraging other people is wonderful and usually fairly easy because it makes everyone feel great. It’s important but it’s not the whole picture.
The Greek word here is parakaléō and in this particular verse, it means “To call upon someone to do something, to exhort, to admonish.” This paints a larger picture than merely encouraging each other.
The Merriam-Webster definition of the word “exhort” is: “To incite by argument or advice, urge strongly; To give warnings or advice, make urgent appeals.” Dictionary.com says exhort means “To urge, advise, or caution earnestly; admonish urgently. To give urgent advice, recommendations or warnings.”
Has anyone ever said something personal to you that stung a little? That you knew was true but was hard to swallow? This may have been an exhortation. Have you ever been instructed in the faith and felt stirred up, even if the instruction feels a bit heavy and serious? This may have been exhortation.
I do not claim to be an expert in this area. In fact, I feel very new to this concept. Christianity is full of wonderful encouragers, and I try to be one as well. I had a brief experience in the store today that showed me clearly the difference between encouraging and exhortation.
There were two young mothers in the store with children, one with a little girl with beautiful short curly hair like Jenny had when she was young. The other had a little girl who was around four or five and a boy probably a year and a half younger. I struck up a short conversation with both women about their children because the first girl reminded me of Jenny and the set of siblings reminded me of Jenny and Elias when they were young. I smiled and did what I could to be uplifting as both looked like parts of their shopping trip with young children were slightly stressful. This was encouragement. When I tell my kids how proud I am of them when they’ve done something good, that is a type of encouragement. But when I show them an area they need to look closely at and make changes in, it is exhortation, or at least my understanding of it. I had that opportunity today as well – something most parents have opportunity for each day.
The second half of this verse is crucial here: “lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”
Exhortation is not to make you feel bad. Exhortation is to prevent you from being hardened by and tangled up in sin.
I have often struggled with correction. I was the kid who tried so hard to do everything perfectly right so I wouldn’t get in trouble. I didn’t rock the boat in school and have done everything in my power to obey the law. I even signal on country roads when there is no one in front of or behind me for kilometres. When I have faced correction (or possibly exhortation), I have not reacted well. It seems possible that I actually did not receive enough exhortation growing up to become accustomed to it and was actually hardened by the deceitfulness of sin – in this case, fear of failure, fear of man and perfectionism.
In the area of advice, I know many people want to give everybody advice about everything and another group doesn’t want advice from anyone. I have tried to graciously accept advice over time, particularly from people who have more experience than I do in some area. I have also tried to avoid giving advice when I know it is not welcome or when it is actually unnecessary and I’m just trying to toot my own horn. Godly counsel is a great need in the Church, though. Take a look at Proverbs and you will see how important counsel is. Proverbs 11:14 says “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.”
We are often quick to see a financial advisor when we’ve gotten ourselves into trouble with money or we want to secure our future. In school, we see a guidance counselor to help us make decisions about our life or college choices. Many people see counselors in the secular world or use a life coach to get them through trying times. None of these are bad, but we also need sound Godly counsel. This is the job of someone who exhorts.
I aim to take exhortation well in the future and also to do my part to exhort others when I feel led to do so. I believe the Church will benefit greatly when we take this verse and others on this topic more seriously. Yes, please keep encouraging, but don’t forget exhortation.