Exhort One Another

By Mike Stewart

In the ancient Greek culture, parakletos was a legal term that usually referred to a family defense attorney who was called to stand with them in a crisis or trouble in order to help.  In Hebrews 3:13, the word parakaleo (from the same family of words) is translated “exhort” which means to call to one’s side in order to encourage or strengthen.  Like the ancient defense attorney, the writer calls on the family of Christians who were in the midst of a crisis of faith to encourage each other or to “…exhort one another daily, while it is called today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” (emphasis added is mine).

The Danger to be Avoided

The book of Hebrews' aim is to provide encouragement to keep running the race set before you, by looking to Jesus instead of turning back or away from Him to something else.  The parallel usage of the word “lest” in Hebrews 3:12, 13 points to a possible danger to be prevented and its cause.  The deceitfulness of sin will slowly bring us to the place of a hardened heart of unbelief that ultimately departs from the Living God.  Perhaps you have always thought that “hard-hearted people” were those unbelieving, rebellious God haters in the world.  After all, a believer in scripture is described as one whose stony heart has been replaced with a heart of flesh.  The writer, however, refers to his audience as “holy brothers” and “brothers” in verses one and twelve.  Much like a hardening of the arteries which occurs when plaque slowly builds up in the walls ultimately blocking the flow of blood to the heart, the deception of sin can slowly “build up” around the heart to harden it, ultimately turning you from the Living God.

The first stage of a heart becoming hardened is when we no longer “hear His voice” (Hebrews 3:13;15).  We may continue to hear sermons or read scripture but we stop taking heed to it and acting upon what we have heard. Hebrews 2:1 warns, “…we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.“  This word slip means to flow by, to pass by or drift.  As a flat bottom boat on the river slowly drifts in the current, unless you drop the anchor or keep rowing toward the destination, your heart slowly drifts or slips away unless you are giving attention to what you have heard.  Why does this happen?  We often do not turn our minds earnestly or with intention to what we hear.  This is all too familiar, isn’t it?  You heard a convicting sermon, one where you were given the specifics where God is calling you to repent and make changes in your life.  Rather than turn your mind to what needs to be changed, you go your way and forget what manner of man you were (James 1:24).  On other occasions you find some reason, some extenuating circumstance to justify your words and actions.  You may use terms like white lie.  You excuse it because it  didn’t hurt anyone.  You were not actually angry, just being stern.  The list could go on.  As a result, you find yourself in that flat bottom boat slowly drifting toward hardening of heart.   

When we are unable to see ourselves clearly by looking into the mirror of God’s word, we eventually become unable to see Christ clearly as He is in scripture.   This is the next stage of hardening in Hebrews 5:11, “Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.”  The things the writer wanted to say and teach about Jesus Christ our high priest were not difficult because of his inability to express them but because of their inability to hear them.  The word for “dull” describes someone who is slow or sluggish, someone who is disinclined toward an activity. The prophet Jeremiah addressed a similar condition in Israel in Jeremiah 6:10, “To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: behold, the word of the LORD is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it.”  What is striking is that their inability to hear was not an intellectual problem but a moral problem or a heart problem.  They had no delight in the word of the Lord because they were all given to covetousness.  They were unresponsive to the word of God because of what their hearts delighted in rather than what their minds could comprehend.  Likewise, when our hearts are hardening to the reception of God’s word, sin is beginning to deceive us through the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches and the lust of other things.  How do riches deceive us?  Why do we desire other things?  Riches convince us that they can make us happy, and other things convince us that they will satisfy our desires.  But Jesus says they choke or suffocate the real source of joy and fulfillment that yields fruitfulness… the word of God!

Once there is hardening, “…forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is,” (Hebrews 10:25) will most likely follow.  Some who had made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ now turned to the custom of neglecting the assembling.  They gradually began to forsake the gatherings where the word of God was proclaimed, discussed, and valued.  What began with slipping ultimately lead to forsaking not only the assembly but God Himself!  Like a callous in your hand that no longer feels the sensations of a soft caress or sharp pain, their hearts were calloused to the rich promises and the strong warnings of God’s word.  Finally, we “refuse to hear him that speaks from heaven” (Hebrews 12:10).

The Way This Danger is Avoided

How can we possibly avoid such hardening and turning from the Lord?  The first answer is of course grace.  We need grace to rescue, deliver, help, strengthen, keep and encourage us all along the way.  Without the grace of Christ, we can do nothing and accomplish nothing.  What may be surprising however is that the inspired writer expected the Jewish Christians to be instruments of that grace to one another, “…but exhort one another.”  The countermeasure to a progressively hardening evil heart is the truth that is spoken through your exhortations! This challenging command can only be fulfilled with intentional efforts to connect with others to give and receive encouragement as instruments of God that minister His grace. (Ephesians 4:29).  This requires prayer and wisdom.  For example, do you know someone who is doubting? They need to hear of justifying grace.  Do you know someone that is disappointed? They need to hear the grace of hope.  Is there anyone you know in pain or suffering? Perhaps the grace of God’s goodness or His future promises will fit the need.   Do you know someone that is drifting or sinning?   The grace of correction or admonition may be in order.  Whatever the need we may have, there is grace to minister God’s word to one another through you.   

The Reason This Danger Should be Avoided

Why should you and I exhort one another?  The most obvious reason is of course God has commanded it.  The stated reason in verse fifteen is as follows: “For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end.” The words “made partakers” express a completed action.  If you have repented and trusted in Jesus Christ for your salvation, you have already been regenerated and called by the Spirit.  You share in His eternal life by being united to Him (John 17:4) permanently and never to be repeated or destroyed. The grace of God that started the work of faith in you will also complete the same unto the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:5, I Peter 1:8 – 9).  Therefore, the word “if” in verse fourteen is not designed to call your salvation into question, but to strengthen your steadfast confidence in God.  Your ongoing faith in His faithfulness is not the prerequisite to reach the finish line but the fruit and assurance of His grace that you will.  Your hold on Christ is proof of the grip of His grace holding onto you!  How does this relate to exhortation?

Exhortation is one of the ways God keeps us trusting Him through the word.  Your exhortation matters and has value.  God is using His word spoken to one another to build up, sanctify and to keep us running by faith on the pathway to glory.   By sharing God’s word, we help each other keep the eyes of our understanding fastened on the Author and Finisher of our faith and the hope that is set before us.  Dear reader, your words of exhortation can be used by God to keep others from casting away their hope because you help them see that they themselves have in heaven better and lasting possessions (Hebrews 10:34 – 35).  This confidence is the power for enduring trials, hardships, health challenges, relational disappointments, temptations, and all the sorrows that work to draw us away from Christ.  So, call others to your side by pointing them to the promises of grace to rescue, deliver, strengthen, sustain, satisfy, keep and bring us safely to heaven’s better and lasting joys forever!  Your labor, your exhortations, are not in vain in the Lord.

Mike Stewart is Senior Pastor at Heritage Primitive Baptist Church in Madison, AL