Encourage or Exhort?
The Oxford English Dictionary states that to encourage is to inspire with courage. Encouragement would be the process that we encourage with.
Many times I hear preachers get into the pulpit and speak about their desire to encourage people, and then proceed to tell how God has called them to encourage the brethren. A well known evangelist told me that my job as an evangelist is simply to encourage the pastor that I am preaching for. After preaching a message on planting and watering in a local meeting, a local pastor preached after me and said, “we have heard from the evangelist, but now I am going to show you a pastor’s heart, and I want to encourage you”. He then proceeded to toe a line where no one could be offended by anything that he said. A dear brother who is a pastor told me that he wanted to have “a ministry of encouragement” to which I responded “most people don’t need to be encouraged in what they are doing, they need to be discouraged from what they are doing”.
The statements that I have written above are the basic source for building and writing today’s article. Do people need encouragement, or do we as David did, expect people to encourage themselves in the Lord. Joshua needed encouragement, not because he was depressed and couldn’t get victory over sin, but rather because he needed courage to fight for the children of Israel and to take them into the Promised Land. Encouragement is for those that are in warfare, those who have lost their courage, those that have retreated, those that have been defeated and encouragement is always accompanied by a vision to defeat an enemy, and is only found in Old Testament doctrine.
II Timothy 4:1,2 I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. Nowhere in the admonition to this great man of God do we see the phrase “encourage”. He says preach. Preach when it’s in season, and preach again when it’s not in season. Then, Scripture says to “reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine”. That is Biblical instruction for every God called preacher.
This is not a monologue against encouragement. Encouragement has its Biblical role in ministry, but let us consider who needs to be encouraged and who needs to be exhorted. Thirty three times we see a form of the word exhort in the New Testament, but zero times do we see anyone being encouraged. Exhorting is the practice of urging by stimulating words (preaching) to conduct that is regarded as laudable. Exhort people to live right, exhort them to walk upright, exhort them to be holy, exhort them to be clean, exhort them to be Christians in the manner of olden days, so that they would not lose their courage. Live right, clean, pure, holy, perfect and then exhibit the change that Jesus Christ has made in us. If we do that we will not need someone to restore our courage to us. The righteous are bold as a lion. (Proverbs 28:1b). Exhorting is commanded of us in the New Testament, so if men start preaching with exhortation then people can repent and courage will be restored.
If you think I have gone to far in this, please note that most of the modern versions change II Timothy 4:2 to say “reprove, rebuke and encourage”.