Even when exhortation is not fun, it serves an essential function in the plan of our gracious God to keep us in the faith.
“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.” (Hebrews 3:12-13)
In Hebrews 4 God has been talking about the Israelites in the Exodus and how they hardened their hearts during the wilderness wanderings thus provoking the wrath of God. The author of Hebrews urges Christians to avoid this provocation. He wants them to take care to avoid an evil, unbelieving heart that would lead them to fall away from the living God.
It is in this context that he raises the issue of exhortation. Exhortation is of crucial importance for the message of the text because it is the means by which people will avoid an evil unbelieving heart and so remain in the grace of the living God. Exhortation is a vital means of grace. It is a crucial tool in the hand of God to keep his people in the faith.
This is of particular interest because of what exhortation is. The word comes from the Greek parakaleo and has a broad field of meaning. In general terms it means “to urge” and often includes the idea of giving comfort. Often, however, the urging of exhortation is equated with a rebuke:Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching (2 Timothy 4:2); Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you (Titus 2:15).
An Essential Means of Grace
This means that sometimes exhorting is unpleasant. It doesn’t always need to be so, but in a world marred by sin where you are not yet what you will be, it is often important to urge you to do, be, say, and believe things that are unpleasant to you in your flesh. The necessity of a rebuke will only come as a shock to arrogant people who think they don’t need any correction—and they are the ones who need to be exhorted the most.
Even when exhortation is not fun, it serves an essential function in the plan of our gracious God to keep us in the faith. That is the first observation about exhortation: Exhortation is an essential and God-ordained means of grace. Let me make two more.
A Two-Way Street
Hebrews 3:13, “Exhort one another every day” is written to me so I’ll know how to treat you. If I am not exhorting you I’m not treating you the way God wants me to be treating you, and I am not doing my part in God’s plan to keep you in the faith. There is another side to that coin, however. Hebrews 3:13 is also written to you so that you will know how to treat me. If you are not exhorting me, you’re not treating me as God desires and not serving your loving function of keeping me in the faith. Hebrews, as it is written to all believers, teaches me to anticipate rebuke. It teaches me to avoid thinking something terrible is happening to me when you play your part in the great work of keeping me in the faith. Hebrews exhorts me to love rebuke. It invites me to see your pointing out of my failures and imperfections as a loving way to keep me walking close to Jesus. I love praise as much as the next guy. I learn from Hebrews, however, that is often more useful for me to be exhorted.
An Expression of Christ-like Love
Finally, Hebrews gives us a motivation for our exhortation when we are called to give them. The whole point of this is that we would not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. When I exhort you it’s because I love you and know from the bottom of my heart that your sin is a threat to your walk with Jesus. I should never exhort you because I’m angry with you, because I want to prove I’m right and your wrong, because I want to demonstrate that I’m more spiritual than you, or for any other self-centered and fleshy reason. Exhortation springs from a heart that loves people and wants to see them thrive in their walk with God.
So go exhort someone! Exhort in love because you want people to be close to Jesus. And exhort others as one who needs to be exhorted yourself.