We know that as a community of God’s people, we have to help one another as we deal with temptation and sin. Our lives, generally speaking, are not hidden from one another, and the people who know you usually know you pretty well—just as you know them.
Scripture encourages us in this task of helping one another in this way. “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). But we have to be careful with a word like exhort. Too many of us think of it the way Ambrose Bierce once defined it – “exhort, to put the conscience of another upon the spit, and roast it to a nut brown discomfort.”
To exhort someone in this sense is not to bring the law down upon their heads. Leadership does not consist of getting people to do things. Admonition does not consist of letting them have it for not having done them. The word exhort here could also be rendered as encourage. The original is parakaleo, the verb form of one of the Holy Spirit’s names—Comforter, Encourager. We must do this daily, it says, lest we be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
When people are not encouraged in this way, they are vulnerable to every form of slander and all manner of lies. A handful of you might still get our local newspaper, and if you do, you may have noticed yet another front page attack on our church and church community on Friday.
There are two things we are required to do with things like this. The first is to rejoice. Jesus commanded to rejoice when men speak all manner of evil about you (Matt. 5:11-12). I think the accusation of supporting child abuse qualifies, and so the command also applies. Rejoice.
The second thing is taken from this text. Not everyone in the church is up to the challenge of rejoicing when lied about in such egregious ways. These are the people we must remember to encourage and strengthen. If we do not, they become vulnerable to the deceitfulness of sin, and they wind up hard and bitter. Their punishment is what they turn into, and it is a grim punishment indeed.