Some people are what we would call private people: people who do not share their thoughts and emotions with others. Others are like an open book. They want to tell anyone within hearing distance exactly what they are thinking. Whether you fall into one camp or the other (or you are a mixture of both), the Bible is clear that we have to interact with others.
One way that we can achieve this is by exhorting one another. In fact, God clearly says through His word that to exhort one another is something that we must do. We do not use the word exhort very much in modern language, so it would certainly benefit us to consider this word’s impact on Christians.
When we say we should exhort someone, it can sound like something that is uncomfortable or negative. However, the word simply means to encourage or to urge by a strong argument. This is not nitpicking or judging one’s every action. But we can be a Christian who strengthens our brothers and sisters as we journey together towards a heavenly home.
As is usually the case, God does not leave us on our own to figure out how exhortation works. As we search the Scriptures, we find several patterns of exhortation, places where exhortation takes place, and its great purpose.
Patterns – Paul made it part of his life’s work to encourage brethren with whom he came in contact. He told the Christians in Thessalonica, “You are witnesses, and God also . . . how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:10-12). Paul did not just tell Christians to exhort one another; he took every opportunity to set the example.
As Paul references exhorting the brethren, he also mentions comforting and charging them. Our interactions with each other should neither be all positive nor all negative. And all of this, Paul says, is done for the purpose of helping Christians “walk worthy of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:12).
Barnabas is another pattern who shows us the value of exhorting one another. His name literally means Son of Encouragement/Exhortation (Acts 4:36). In Acts 9:27, he exhorts Paul by standing with him when others are afraid of Paul because of his past of persecuting Christians. In Acts 11:22-24, he exhorts Christians who are being persecuted.
Then in Acts 14:21,22, Paul and Barnabas combine to make a powerful team of exhortation. After preaching in Derbe, they travel back through three towns which they had previously visited: Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch.
This might not seem like a big deal until you consider the persecution they had faced in these places, especially Antioch and Lystra. Why would these men face such a challenge? Simply put: to exhort. Exhorting fellow Christians is not a one-time job. It must continue. Paul and Barnabas exhorted them “to continue in the faith” (Acts 14:22).
Places – As is the case with many instructions in the Bible, God intends for exhorting others to be practiced in the home. Parents can model the will of God by exhorting their children and each other.
Another place where Christians can put this into practice is in the worship assembly. The Holy Spirit, through the pen of the Hebrews writer, specifically says that Christians should, “consider one another . . . not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together . . . but exhorting one another” (Hebrews 10:24,25). Our attendance and participation in worship is one way that we can exhort one another.
It also is important that Christians practice exhorting one another in their personal relationships. This can be difficult at times, especially if the encouragement given is for one to turn from sin. This exhortation is not always well-received. But, this practice is one way that we fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:1,2).
Purpose – There is also a great purpose that the Hebrews writer gives us for exhorting one another: “But exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). Every Christian continues to battle the weakness of the flesh and strives not to be a slave to sin. No Christian remains perfect once he has been buried in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). Thus, it is of great importance that brethren exhort and encourage one another in order to avoid becoming hardened to this world of sin. Without daily encouragement, Christians can begin to believe the lies of the devil!
May we learn from the patterns given to us by Paul and Barnabas. May we practice exhorting one another in our homes, in our worship assemblies, and in our relationships. And, may we continue to exhort one another as we strive together to remain faithful.
— Joel Danley