The Lost Gift of Exhortation

In our “Politically Correct” culture – exhortation is a 4-letter word.  People don’t like to be called on things.  Oh, we secretly admire high-profile people like Dr. Phil or Dr. Laura who “tell it like it is,” but we don’t want them (or anyone else) to tell US like it is.  No, we push people away who try to speak into our lives with that kind of straight-forwardness.  (I don’t always think those two individuals always have the right balance of love in their exhortation, but that’s for another discussion.)  When people do try to speak into our lives we say, “Who does he think he is to stick his nose into my business like that?!!”  We react negatively, become offended, get mad, and make them pay for caring enough to speak truth to us.  And they eventually stop.  It’s the great American defense mechanism, and we use it all the time.

Some of the reason exhortation has become so unpopular is that some have used exhortation as a club instead of a loving correction.  That surely doesn’t help.  It makes people defensive, not open and transparent – and it shuts down the dynamic of growth.  Love always has to be one of the primary ingredients in the formula (see my post on that issue here).

Another reason exhortation has gone the way of the dinosaur (on second thought, dinosaurs are probably more popular than exhortation) is that our culture has promoted the idea that “Everybody’s O.K.  You just have to accept them and not make judgments.”  Even the Christian church has fallen into this distorted way of thinking (see my post about this issue here), and it’s kept us from being as effective and as influential in the world as we could be.

And there’s still another reason that exhortation has disappeared in our churches.  People in general seem to have such a fragile sense of self-worth, it’s terrifying to think that someone might point out something about them that is wrong or in need of improvement.  So up go the walls of defensiveness – and a sign us hung outside of our walls which reads, “Keep your opinions to yourself!”

None of that is supposed to characterize the church of God.  Paul said we are to “speak the truth in love” to each other as Christians. (Ephesians 4:15)  He goes on to say that when we do that, the church grows up.  I could be wrong, but it seems to me that that is exactly what the church needs – to grow up!

The loss of this practice of loving exhortation has been devestating to the church.  Yes, you read correctly – devestating!  Instead of having a church that is full of maturing people to whom righteousness matters, we have a church that is full of “stay-out-of-my-business” people who are continuing to live out the same mistakes/sins again and again – because nobody is courageous enough to step in and confront out of love.  When that happens, people begin to get comfortable with their failings, used to their sins, and lose their motivation to do the hard work it takes to change those things.  Afterall, they are doing alright compared to everyone else – right?  But that’s where we go wrong – in the end, we’re not going to be compared to our fellow strugglers, we’re going to be accountable to God for what we’ve done to uphold His holy standards in our lives.   But we don’t bother with that – it’s too hard, and we might have to hear something about ourselves that is difficult to handle…

Is that what God wants for His church?  Is that His heart for us, His bride for whom Jesus died?  Not at all!  He wants to see us radiant, alive, vibrant, and holy – a representation of Him in this world of which He can be proud.  He wants us to demonstrate authentic faith by living with each other in unity, in common concern, and in loving exhortation as needed.  He doesn’t want us living in fear of each other’s reactions!  He wants us loving each other enough to confront and being humble enough to receive a word of encouragement or exhortation.  When the lost world sees a church where loving correction is given AND RECEIVED, and where genuine and lasting life-change is happening as a result, they will begin to take notice.

Some suggestions for rediscovering this lost gift:

  1. Ask God to reveal the severity of the problem in your fellowship.  Look around you.  Let yourself be amazed at the lack of real and lasting change you see in your fellow church-goers.  Ask yourself, “Would this be the case if we were lovingly exhorting and helping each other as we should?”
  2. Drop your defensiveness (we’re all messed up – we have to accept that fact).
  3. Open your heart to correction (God loves us just as we are, but He loves us too much to leave us that way).  God may want to use a word of correction to bring about a world of good in your life – are you able to handle that?
  4. Humble yourself before your fellow believers (Give people permission to point out the inconsistencies and weaknesses they see in you).  You can’t repent of something you don’t see, or are not willing to admit.  Let others help you here.  The accountability will do you good.
  5. Respond well when they do.  There’s nothing worse than asking for help and then criticizing or attacking those who try to give it.  Be gracious to those who point out your areas of need.  Remember, it was hard enough for them to come to you in the first place.
  6. Commit to obeying the Spirit of God, should He guide you to exhort someone else.
  7. Prepare for God to do a work.  People’s lives can be changed only when they become aware of the areas in need of change.  You may be used of God to do just that.
  8. Get ready for the fall-out.  Though you’ll have some good responses, you’ll have some very bad ones also.  Don’t let that stop you from doing what God commands us all to do.  The church will be better for it.

8 thoughts on “The Lost Gift of Exhortation

  1. Thanks for this post. It hit me right in the middle of studying the book of Hebrews…which turns out to be an exhortation, itself (see Heb. 13.22)!
    You’re right about having a “stay-out-of-my-business” church, and that’s sort of what was happening when the book of Hebrews was being written. They were giving up on the faith, and each other.
    I loved how you brought Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura into it. Here in my churchy culture congregants also like their pastors to “tell it like it is” but they neuter his authority to make sure it is “done like it is told.” Exhortation is certainly a gift of love; but it is more than a gift, it is commanded too:

    Heb. 3:13 “but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened…”

    Good job on this post!

  2. Hi Carey.

    Good post but then I agree with you so it would be. Exhortation was lost when it left the pulpits of our churches, and I believe this happened when we pastors began writing witty and “relevant” topical sermons rather than seeking a word form God, or worse regurgitating the wisdom of Dr Phil with a few bible references thrown in in case any one had seen the programme.

    When the people who attend chuch hear an anointed word they will know they have heard form heaven, and it is only that process which will bring lasting change.

    Of relevance here though is a caveat. In Pentecostal circles there is a prolification of those who wish to exalt themselves and speak into everyones life,regardless of whether they have authority or indeed sometimes without any regard to what they do. I would prefer my exhortation to come via the pulpit, and from those in whom there is a clear evidence of the Spirit of God and His amazing grace.


  3. Thanks for the comment Paul – yep, Pastors who are too concerned about what people think instead of what God thinks are walking a very slippery slope. I think your thoughts are pretty much right on. You also make a good point about exhortation coming from one in whom there is evidence of God’s Spirit, etc. It makes a huge difference in terms of credibility when that is the case…

  4. Praise God! for a preacher (preachers) who have enough “Holy Ghost Boldness” to tell it like it is (of course using word of God, love and wisdom). That is exactly what it is going to take in this day and hour to see our churches grow up and be ready for the return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. God help all of us to take this with love and to appreciate exhortation. we do so need it in our churches today. I enjoyed your web site, and I will visit again soon!

  5. This is amazing. You are in the truth here. I have really recently discovered that the gifts God have given me are discernment and exhortation – i just didnt understand enough before to place words them. We have got to work together as Christians to grow and to be moved by the Holy Spirit. So many people are turned off of all “christians” because there are too many “christians” NOT living for Christ. Without accountability, where are we? I am so tired of “do good things because jesus is coming back” or churches making things “appealing” to the outside world, when in actuality – if they are really speaking the word of God, the people will come to it.

    I am so happy to read this. Keep on living in the Truth. So many “christians” dont…

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