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THE PROPER CONTEXT FOR EFFECTIVE EXHORTATION
by Philip Owen

            It has often been noted that exhortations in Scripture are frequently associated with promises and vice versa.  The Lord does not require something of His children without blessing them in some requisite fashion for their obedience.  For example—Exhortation:  “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6).  Promise:  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard you hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7).  Or—Exhortation:  “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2).  Promise:  “When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4).  Oftentimes the blessing may be implied rather than explicitly stated, but it is real nonetheless.  It is also wise to note that doctrine and exhortation go hand-in-hand as well.  Many of Paul’s epistles follow a clearly discernable outline:  the first part of his letter is devoted to doctrine, and the second part emphasizes exhortation and application (see, for example, Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and Colossians).  We believers should acknowledge this to be not merely an observable structural device, but an inspired pattern for ministry in our pulpits and in our homes.

            Pastors and parents may sometimes find their exhortations falling on deaf ears.  No matter how much emphasis, repetition, exhortation, rebuke, illustration, or example they give, the desired response does not seem to be forthcoming.  Parents often find themselves giving the rationale for some requirement to be, “Because I say so.”  That is both right and sufficient (particularly for young children), but, at best, its efficacy is limited.  Other attempts at providing justification for some demand or course of action may include appeals to their nature (“You know better than that!”; “You’ll regret it later.”) or arguments concerning the practical value of obeying (“You’ll never get into a good college.”; “No employer will hire you.”).  Some may be a little better than that, focusing on the right or wrong of some decision or action, but they still miss the mark.

            Where believers are concerned, in order to be effective ultimately, any exhortation, rebuke, or correction must be seen to be anchored in sound doctrine as revealed in the Word.  Certainly, not every interaction requires a specific statement of doctrine (the faithful historical pattern of a pastor’s or parent’s life will often imply the doctrine or provide the scriptural context necessary).  But it is often a good reminder to state it explicitly anyway. 

            We need only examine the opening chapters of Ephesians or Colossians in order to see how Paul builds a foundation for exhortation on the doctrines concerning the glories of the Person of Christ and the immeasurable riches of His grace toward us.  Would we have godly church members or children who obey willingly from the heart, then we must keep those doctrines (and others) in front of our congregations and our families.  Without such an anchor, we will produce at best moral people, good citizens, children generally pleasant to be around.  But we will not be engendering God-loving, God-honoring, Christlike children of God.

            We might exhort, plead, command, and discipline to our wit’s end without success unless we provide our congregations and our children with constant meals filled with doctrine that emphasizes the holiness of God, the depravity of man, the efficacy of Christ, and the necessity of faith and obedience from a biblical perspective.  Paul is a firm believer in and a faithful practitioner of reproving, correcting, and training in righteousness, but he places teaching (or doctrine) first on that list.  He declares the Scripture to be “profitable” for these things “so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (II Tim. 3:16, 17).  We may find the tasks of exhorting, reproving, rebuking, and correcting less difficult and less time consuming if they are founded upon and immersed in faithful proclamation of sound doctrine.  Neither a congregant nor a child can properly assimilate an exhortation that is based on our beliefs, opinions, or desires.  May we determine to be faithful to all the Word of God.         

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