Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Tim 4:2)So much for "be all warm and cuddly and never, never be harsh." It ain't in there. But what I want to look at is that word, "exhort".
In English, the word is defined as "to urge, advise, or caution earnestly; admonish urgently." It's not mild; it's urgent. (Can you urge urgently? Oh, never mind.) It's not "Aw, gee, Fred, let me give you a hug and warm your spirit." It's strong.
Interesting thing. That's not the word in the Greek commonly translated "exhort". The word is παρακαλέω. Oh, yeah, I know, "It's all Greek to me." The word is parakaleō. "Still not helping, Stan." Sure, okay. How about this? This word is at the root of the word in 1 John 2:1 where John says, "If anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." It is the same word at the core of Jesus's word for the Holy Spirit: "Helper" (John 14:16,26; John 15:26; John 16:7). Some of you may be familiar with the term "paraklete" used for the Holy Spirit. That word. That word is translated in some texts as "Comforter". That word. In fact, the word means most literally "to call alongside". Now, wait a minute! It would seem, then, that, while our English word bears some sense of urgency and harshness, the Greek word is a lot more like, "Aw, gee, Fred, let me give you a hug and warm your spirit."
We are, indeed, undeniably commanded to exhort one another. Titus was told, "Exhort and rebuke with all authority." (Titus 2:15) The author of Hebrews says, "Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." (Heb 3:13) There is even a spiritual gift called exhortation (Rom 12:8). We are supposed to do that. But keep in mind that the idea is not "Beat them over the head." The idea is to come alongside, to draw them close, to encourage and beseech and comfort and care for them. It isn't a harsh term. It is a loving term. And we are commanded to do it.
The perception among many is that any time you seek to call people to change directions -- to go another way -- it cannot be done out of love. This, of course, is patently false. We shouldn't believe that nonsense. Nor should we practice it. All of it -- reproof, rebuke, and exhortation -- ought at its core to be done out of love (1 Tim 1:5). Let's set aside the complaints of detractors and practice love that includes reproof, rebuke, and calling people alongside to encourage, comfort, and support them, "that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people." (1 Peter 2:15)