I've been rather convicted lately of how much I've been lacking in terms of encouraging, or exhorting others, especially my friends.
"Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today', that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end." (Hebrews 3:12-14)
We are not meant to walk this Christian life alone, that is the whole point of church, of fellowship, and making true where it says "When two or more are gathered in my name, there I am among them." (Matthew 18:20) But when it comes to specifically exhorting one another, this I have failed in with much gravity. If I'm being truthful, I have been doing the exact opposite, at least with one of my friends.
It was just the other day, this particular friend in I got in a rather heated argument over old matters where it ended with a lot of bitterness coming out (at least on my end). After reconciling, we both shared how just in this last week alone, we've both received third party accounts of how others see our friendship, and well, what people had to say didn't exactly shine well on us, or on how brothers in Christ should be. This is where "exhortation" comes in, to prevent things such as this.
The beginning of that verse where it states "take care", or "take heed", it is from a greek word which means to gaze with open eyes, or to inspect, as opposed to voluntary passive observation. This is one of the first of many warnings throughout Hebrews the writer gives us. Our hearts are wicked, and are naturally turned from God. This warning is not only to guard against unbelief, but exhortation is for the purpose of guarding against sin, and we are to do it daily! Oh, how I have failed! Exhortation has many underlying meanings, but it simply means to call or draw near, but for the purpose of encouraging, imploring, and challenging.
Just this last week I heard a great message about how Jesus not only calls us, or invites us into his presence, but also challenges us as well. For if there is a high invitation, but no challenge, we don't grow. We are to "work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling." (Phillipians 2:12) But this is not meant to be done alone. Exhorting, challenging and encouraging one another is such a great practice, and I wish I did it more. I remember years ago I was helping my brother one summer for his youth camp, and the final night we had an "exhortation circle", where we went around and people took turns exhorting and encouraging each person in the circle. It ended with everyone in tears, it was great.
Lack of exhortation has led me to sin, more specifically towards my own brother in Christ, whom I should have been exhorting and encouraging rather than discouraging. Next time you see another brother or sister in Christ, exhort them, encourage them, as it will probably catch them off guard. Actually pray for them when you say "I'll pray for you" as opposed to just paying lip service. It's easy to get discouraged, and it's hard to tell how others are doing with their relationship with the Lord because let's be real, we hide our sin and our struggles very well. Don't be content with answers such as "I'm fine", or "I'm doing good". Dig deeper, because more than likely most people are not actually "fine". There is always sin that can be weeded out, there is always room for sanctification, for growth. We are the body of Christ, and no part of the body exists independently, or is it meant to. No part of the body it to be left unused or forgotten. Let's build each other up. Let's actually make the body of Christ grow. Exhort one another, as long as it is called "today".