“I exhort you therefore, be imitators of me.” 1 Cor. 4:16
While reading the New International Version of the Bible, I noticed a rather disturbing and disillusioning fact. What ought to be the word “exhort” for the Greek word parakaleo, was often exchanged for a less urgent, non-imperative word that weakens the authors intent. In many instances, “encourage” is employed, substituting exhort into many modern English translations of the Bible. In certain passages, the word parakaleo in the original Greek language, was intended as a “calling out” or “admonishment”, to its recipient and therefore, should not be substituted with a word that removes the author’s intent. If you use encourage for instance, you will not be conveying an admonishment to someone and the power of the passage is lost. Therefore, all believers should be familiar with the word exhort or exhortation, because it conveys a truer context to a specific passage of Scripture. This is vitally important, when warning the flock of false teachers who threaten the church with pernicious doctrines.
If you juxtapose the words encourage and exhort, you will discover a significant difference in their meaning. For instance, the definition of the word encourage according to the Random House Dictionary, is defined; “To inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence“; “to stimulate by assistance, approval, etc“; “to promote, advance, or foster.” The word exhort, on the other hand, is defined: “to urge, advise, or caution earnestly; admonish urgently.” As used in such texts: Acts 2:40, 20:2, 1 Cor. 1:10, 4:16, 1 Thess. 4:1, 2 Thess. 3:12, 2 Tim. 4:2, Ti. 1:9, 2:15, 1 Pet. 5:1; Jude 3-KJV). Notice the significant diversity between these words in the definitions.
Please understand, “encourage” and “exhort” are interchangeable in many verses of the Bible. For example, the same Greek word parakaleo is used to “encourage” in the following verses: Acts 11:23, 14:22, 16:40, 20:2, 27:34, 1 Cor. 14:31, Col. 2:2, 4:8, 1 Thess. 3:2, 5:11, or Heb. 3:13. Or, it is also used to “comfort”, as in: Matt. 2:2, 5:4, Luke 16:25, Acts 20:12, 2 Cor. 1:4, 7:6, 7:7, Eph. 6:22, 1 Thess. 3:7, 4:18, 2 Thess. 2:17. But, when parakaleo was meant to convey solemnity, caution, warning, or urgency; the English word exhort is the more accurate and appropriate word choice. It is extremely important to accurately represent God’s intended meaning, when translating the original language into various languages. Many times it is extremely difficult or virtually impossible, to translate certain Hebrew of Greek words or phrases exactly; in this case, into English. Therefore, it was essential to utilize the most fitting word or phrase to translate God’s original word’s and the word exhort was a representation of God’s intent.
That said, for this article I will predominately be referring to the New American Standard Bible translation, because it frequently utilized the word exhort. In the well-known verse, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” (2 Tim. 4:2-emphasis added). The word exhort implies a stern urging and admonishment as well as encouragement, which is not expressed by the New International Version’s, less urgent word of choice encourage. When this verse is accurately translated, you receive the complete solemn instructions, Paul charged Timothy.
The MacArthur New Testament Commentary on 2 Timothy, states; (1) “Paul next gives Timothy the positive imperative to “exhort”, which is from ‘parakaleo’, a common New Testament word that can range in meaning from simply calling out to someone to admonishing, which is clearly the meaning in this context. It also carries the idea of encouragement. After having reproved and rebuked disobedient believers under his care, the faithful preacher is then to come alongside them in love and encourage them to spiritual change.”
I have heard this verse preached on many occasions from sound and learned men of the Scriptures. And each time it was proclaimed, it was with the same power and fervency Paul’s charge was intended to communicate. As readers of Scripture, we ought to receive the full intensity and solemnity of Paul’s command. Incidentally, exhortation to some degree, is the responsibility of every Christian (Rom. 1:12, 1Thess. 5:11,14, Heb. 3:13, 10:24-25). For example; “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing (noutheteo) one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Col. 3:16-emphasis added). In fact, some Christians are specially bestowed by God with the gift of exhortation, for the edification of a local church body. The Bible states; “And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly…he who exhorts, in his exhortation…” (Rom. 12:6, 8, 1 Cor. 14:3-paraklesis). Paul exhorts Titus to ardently defend the faith and silence those (false teachers), who contradict the sound doctrine he had learned. (Ti. 1:9, 2:7-8). In Jude’s short epistle, he exhorts believers to “contend for the faith” (Jude 3 KJV). Jude exhorts believers to boldly contend for the faith against the erroneous doctrines asserted from false teachers who threatened the church, especially from those who surreptitiously rise up from within the body (Jude 4). Such doctrinal defense and protection of a flock, is mandatory for all church leaders (Acts 20:28-29, 1 Tim. 6:20, 2 Tim. 4:15, Ti. 1:9, 2:7-8).
Our heavenly Father provides us with clear instructions written in Scripture, so we ought to exercise all aspects of biblical exhortation. We need to realize how necessary and beneficial it is to maintaining purity, in our relationships outside and in the church. Especially, in this day and age, when lawlessness, wickedness, and evil dominates the culture; where ungodliness is rampant and rapidly intensifying. How helpful it would be to each other’s walk with Christ, if we lovingly utilized exhortation. By doing so, we would experience much more peace and joy in our hearts creating a sense of fulfillment because we glorified God. Furthermore, it also equips us with a Christ-like mind set, one that not only cultivates hope for fellow believers who must dwell in this dark and ominous world. But to exhibit an unrelenting display of effulgent light, that is inextinguishable by those who are perishing. We are called to dwell amicably among those who are hostile to God exhibiting to them a holy, loving, wise, compassionate, patient, and forgiving demeanor; always in an evangelistic manner and always with the fear of God (Matt. 5:14, Heb. 12:14, 1 Pet. 1:15-16, 1 Cor. 13, Jn. 13:34, 15:10-14, 1 Pet. 4:8, Ps. 11:10, Prov. 1:7, 9:10, Eccl. 12:13, Matt. 28:19-20).
On a personal note, I have learned to appreciate receiving exhortation in many areas of my Christian walk and without which, I would struggle considerably more. I tend to be hard on myself when I fail to obey God’s word and fall into sin. And often times, as a result of that failure, experience a lack of joy; a joy I should experience when behaving obediently to the Lord. I thank God my wife is loving and bold enough, to provide me with the necessary exhortation I need. It is by her loving exhortation, encouragement, and comfort, that enables me to redirect my affections from the things of this world, back to the things above. (Col. 3:2). I believe that is an essential part of having a successful biblical marriage in Christ. Unfortunately, too often, this aspect in marriage gets overlooked, because full exhortation requires, what is known, in our modern culture, as “tough love”, and many believers resist application. Even if you faithfully read Scripture and heed it’s exhortation for spiritual holiness (Deut. 8:3), it is important to receive exhortation in every close human relationship.
As it is written in the Bible; “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21). I close by “exhorting” you to read 1 Peter 1:3-9. Peter begins this epistle doxologically, perhaps because of the extreme persecution the early church was enduring during that time. The profundity of his words encapsulates our blessed hope as Christians (1 Pet. 3:15). Amen!
(1) The MacArthur New Testament Commentary on 2 Timothy; Moody Bible Institute, 1995, pg. 178