Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Word of Exhortation...If You Can Stand It!

"And I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation ." (Heb.13:22a)

Exhortation is instructing or advising with an urgency that goes beyond mere suggestion. It is usually connected with preaching because of the fervency of its delivery. In fact, they used to refer to such preachers as "exhorters." But in the numerous times it is found in the Bible, it is often a one-on-one situation. Our verse says to "suffer the word of exhortation," in this case, an old English term for "let" or "permit," as in, "Suffer the little children to come unto me."

Sometimes, however, I suspect the more common meaning of the word "suffer" would seem to be more appropriate to some of us! We may feel that any type of urgency that accompanies a fellow believer’s advice is just too "pushy." And, for this reason, I fear we may lose out on what could be some good, Biblical, and well-intentioned help.

You will find a form of the word “exhortation” three other times in the book of Hebrews; and they all represent things that people do not always want to be reminded of. For instance, in Hebrews 3:13, the writer tells us to "exhort one another daily,” lest we become “hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." How many of us enjoy being told that we're sinning, especially with great urgency? But God knows—and so should we—the consequences of calloused sin are too serious to slough off because of irritating reminders.

On the other hand, this is why it is so important that when we exhort one another in such instances we make sure we are talking about sin and not just something that offends us personally. It's hard enough to suffer exhortation for what is truly sin; but it's even harder when the accusation is only questionable.

Then we read in Hebrews 10:25 that we can feel free to exhort one another in the matter of church attendance. Just as New Testament Christians met together on the Lord's Day to break bread, fellowship, and hear the preaching of the Word, you and I, as heirs to their legacy, should do the same. God has always meant for His people to congregate, whether in a large gathering, or in groups of only two or three; and the verse suggests that the importance of fellowship with other saints becomes even greater as His Coming draws nearer.

Finally, in Hebrews 12:5-6, we are told that instead of "I told you so's," our primary response to fellow believers experiencing the chastening of the Lord should be to remind them that it is one sure proof God is their Father. Our role as Biblical exhorters is one of restoration, not recrimination. Our goal should be that these individuals be brought back into fellowship with God…before they "faint."

Thank God for true Spirit-filled and Spirit-led exhorters, whether in the pulpit or in private. People who care enough to share eternal truths with fervency and zeal. They are one of God's best gifts to us. So with the writer of Hebrews, I say to us all, "Brothers and sisters, ‘Suffer the word of exhortation!’”

Better a word of exhortation than a life of ruination.

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