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BEYOND THE NEED FOR EXHORTATION?
by Philip Owen

             If we are honest with ourselves, most of us will confess that sometimes we are tempted to believe that we “have arrived” spiritually, that our maturity is such that further exhortation is superfluous.  Oh, we may not put it in such bald terms.  The idea may manifest itself in just a little weariness with correction or a little impatience with instruction.  We may find ourselves wishing for a more “positive” message.  However, these are telltale signs of spiritual pride or spiritual complacency.  Weariness with exhortation            is not an evidence that we have had too much of it but the symptom of a condition requiring more of it.  Note the following example.

Present state.  Under the capable leadership of Joshua, Israel had largely conquered the land of Canaan.  With most of their enemies subdued, “Joshua called the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh, And said unto them, Ye have kept all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, and have obeyed my voice in all that I commanded you:  Ye have not left your brethren these many days unto this day, but have kept the charge of the commandment of the Lord your God.  And now the Lord hath given rest unto your brethren, as he promised them:  therefore now return ye, and get you unto your tents, and unto the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you on the other side of Jordan” (Josh. 22:1-4).

Pretty high praise.  What would our response have been had we been on the receiving end of such a commendation?  Maybe something like what was described in the first paragraph above?  Such a response would surely seem warranted.  After all, they (1) had kept “all” the law of Moses, (2) had faithfully obeyed their God-ordained leader, Joshua, (3) had been faithful to help their brethren at the cost of being away from their own homes at the very least, if not at the cost of personal deprivation and even loss of life, and in so doing, (4) had “kept the charge of the commandment of the Lord.”  They had proven their maturity, their faithfulness, their regard for their brethren, their faithfulness to the Lord.  Joshua had personally commended them.  Their spiritual state had been amply demonstrated.  Surely they had no need of further exhortation. 

            Prospective status.  Perhaps they are about to turn and leave with Joshua’s high praise ringing in their ears.  But not so fast.  Joshua has one more word for them.  “But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the Lord charged you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul” (22:5).  Then and only then, after this additional exhortation, “Joshua blessed them, and sent them away” (v. 6).  Had they not already demonstrated “diligent heed” to the law, love for the Lord their God, a willingness to walk in all God’s ways, no matter the cost?  Still Joshua exhorted them.

            God knows the deceitfulness of the human heart.  He knows that all of us could have confessed with the hymnist, “prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.”  And so He exhorts us to continue faithfully to both give and receive exhortation, to love one another enough both to give godly warning and to receive scriptural warning:  “But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13); “Be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (II Tim. 4:2).  Whatever our present victorious state, God knows that our status might change in a moment.  On-going exhortation and constant spiritual vigilance are the prescription of the day.     

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