New Testament Pattern

Word study: EXHORT

/// The monologue culture

EXHORT: PARAKALEO (Strong’s 3870)
Meaning: Call Near, Invite, Invoke. Also translated as: Beseech, Call For, Comfort, Desire, Entreat.

Most New Testament references to exhortation are essentially ‘in-house’ – and most often in the context of the Church. There are a couple of exceptions to this being an ‘in-church’ practice but in actual fact these occasions were still very much ‘in-house’ – Jews drawing alongside and appealing to their fellow Jews. For example, John the Baptist exhorted (and “preached to”) his fellow countrymen; at that stage, they had neither received nor rejected their Messiah (Luke 3:18). Likewise, Peter exhorted (and “testified to”) the Jews (and proselytes) that were gathered at Pentecost (Acts 2:40). Once again, at that moment in time he was speaking to his own people at a point where the gathered crowd had neither received nor rejected his testimony of Jesus being the Messiah and concerning the events that had took place that particular morning. In both of the above instances ‘exhortation’ was appropriate because both John and Peter were identifying themselves with the people they were addressing.

Most other New Testament references to ‘exhortation’ are in the context of members of the Church ‘exhorting’ other members of the Church. Both the meaning of the word PARAKALEO and the context of its usage all speaks of, someone, who is ‘one of us’ speaking ‘among us’ – in both drawing alongside and seeking to comfort, encourage, direct and even implore the other members. PARAKALEO does not in and of itself imply ‘teaching’ or ‘preaching’ but it seems to me that it has a kinship with both of these in so far as it shares a similarity with ‘teaching’ in respect of being ‘in-house’ and shares a similarity with ‘preaching’ as far as implying impassioned, “calling” to action.

Most relevantly to the central thread of this article is the fact that it will only take ten minutes at most to read the words of any given ‘exhortation’ contained in the New Testament. Now it may be that we only have some of the highlights recorded for us and perhaps some of the exhortations did take longer than ten minutes – fair enough – but once again we should note that neither the word itself or any of the instances we do have recorded suggest in any way that churches had a weekly ‘exhortation’ planned and delivered by one man that took up a significant portion of the church meeting time. In other words, in the New Testament, neither: Preaching, Teaching or Exhortation ever implies a regular extended monologue sermon.

A little more on exhortation

Whether used correctly or not the terms ‘Preaching’ and ‘Teaching’ are very frequently mentioned in the ‘Church world’. I, personally, do not hear Christians talk of ‘exhortation’ so much. Seeing that exhortation is mentioned over thirty times (quick count) in the New Testament I’d like to offer a few further thoughts on this subject. The following in particular comes to mind…

A babe in Christ is hardly equipped to ‘teach’ the saints. Even if such a thing is going to be his gift at all then he will first need to study and learn and grow in that gift and, of course, have some experience of living it out. But exhortation, potentially, can be given by any brother who knows and loves God. Even someone very young in the Lord may have words of encouragement and even words of wisdom and knowledge despite their lack of study at that stage – because out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Even newbies can have abundance in God and we must never forget that. Also someone who is long-in-the-tooth in spiritual years and who may not be a very able ‘teacher’, because that is simply not their gift, may still have things of great value and experience to contribute to the body. Exhortation is not so much an explanation of something but, as we see from the Strong’s Dictionary definitions above, it is as much an expression of the heart as of the mind. Exhortation is often a call to action, or it could just as easily be a warning to not tread a certain path!

I’ll cite just one example of the usage of the word “exhort” in the New Testament in an attempt to kill two birds with one stone here:

And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb 10:24,25 NKJV)

This verse is classically quoted at any Christian who may not (for whatever reason) ‘go to church’ in the traditionally understood, modern day sense of attending ‘church services’. I’d be among the first to state how important it is that Christians should come together regularly for fellowship but I also read and take note of the immediate context of this statement. The central purpose of any biblical ‘assembling together’ is to “exhort one another”. If we remember to “assemble” but forget that the purpose of assembling is in order to “exhort one another” then we’ve seriously missed the point! Mutual exhortation is not an isolated statement made by the writer to the Hebrews but it is a point that The Holy Spirit has liberally peppered throughout the pages of our New Testament.

An authentic New Testament church meeting is not intended to be the platform for talented monologists, however well-educated, enthusiastic and charismatic. It is the time and place where God, through His Spirit, wants us all to hear Him and wants us all to be a channel for His Voice. Strange as it may seem to some traditional, church-going people, God is able to bring His message just as effectively through a donkey as through any man with a gift of oration! In other words, through exhortation (and other gifts) the newest to the oldest of saints are potentially quite capable of edifying (building up) the Body of Christ.

I’ve used the word “potentially” above because, in balance, it must be said that, just as persistent monologues are ultimately ineffectual (when compared to the New Testament principles of church meetings) so can misguided attempts at mutual exhortation be nothing more than noisy clamour if practiced wrongly. However, all will come right in any assembly where Jesus is truly Lord and all other New Testament principles are put into practice.

Summing up the word ‘EXHORT’ (along with PREACH & TEACH)

Exhortation equals: in-house, mutual encouraging

So, an Evangelist/Herald ‘preaches’ – mostly to the unconverted, which are unlikely to be a passive audience. A true evangelist is gifted by God and is himself a gift to The Church for her encouragement and numeric growth. Only some of God’s people have this gift – we are not all evangelists, even though all of God’s people should be prepared to “give an answer” for the reason for their hope and faith in Christ and The Gospel – 1Peter 3:15.

A Teacher ‘teaches’ – other believers. The biblical method and proper usage of this gift stems from and stimulates interaction with other Christians. A biblical teacher uses dialogue not monologue as his primary method. A biblical teacher who walks in The Spirit (and not in the flesh) is always painfully aware of James 3:1 !

There is no specific ‘gift’ of an ‘Exhorter’. All brothers are called to the general ‘ministry of exhortation’ – which is, speaking in order to comfort, edify, spur on and stir up the rest of the assembly. This does not mean that the approach to exhortation is therefore more casual – Romans 12:8.

The Monologue Culture

The monologue culture