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"You need to be more loving," were the words that came out of my pastor's mouth as I sat across from him. Ouch. "How could he say that about me? Didn't he see all the effort I had been making to be loving? What was he talking about?" All these questions spiraled in my mind right after he made his comment. He had scheduled a time to meet with me, because he wanted to exhort me to walk in a manner worthy of calling myself a Christ follower. But instead of responding Christlike, with humility, I became resentful for the correction.
Have you ever been on the receiving end of that conversation? When someone points out an area of growth, or even a sin that needs to be repented of? If you have, you know the sting when your pride is wounded, because someone has seen a flaw and/or sin in you. It's definitely not a fun experience. And when our pride is hurt, we tend to want to respond in sinful ways. But, the Lord calls us to be humble, and to submit to the leaders that He has placed in our lives, including our pastors (Romans 13:1).
So how do we do that? Well, let's first look at making sure that we understand what an exhortation is, who they come from, and how the Lord is sovereign in the exhortations we receive. When we understand these things, it becomes easier to respond with humility.
What is an exhortation?
An exhortation is an urging; it is a call from one person to another to encourage in a certain area, or a correction. Exhortation in the New Testament includes encouraging believers to not have divisions amongst each other (1 Cor. 1:10), to walk worthy of the call that we have received in Jesus (Eph 4:1), to please God (1 Th. 4:1), to warn those who aren't following God's way (1 Th. 5:14), to cleave unto the Lord (Acts 11:23), and to continue in their faith (Acts 14:22). Exhortations can be in the positive, such as to keep growing in an area that needs to be more fully developed. And it can also be in the negative, in that we should stop engaging in some sort of sin.
Who gives us exhortations?
Exhortations are meant to be given by other believers including our leaders, elders, and Christian friends. In the New Testament, we see how Paul exhorted the churches he wrote to and exhorted Timothy a younger pastor. But, it doesn't just come from leaders, it should come from one fellow believer to another. Hebrews 3:13 says we should exhort one another to keep each other from being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. It's part of our duty of being in the body, helping one another grow and look more like Christ.
How is the Lord sovereign in exhortations?
One of the characteristics of the Lord is that He is sovereign, and that He is in control of all our lives and what occurs in them. This includes the people that have been set over us as leaders and friends. So, if the Lord is sovereign over that, and has also commanded the body to serve one another via exhortations, it can be clear then that a biblical exhortation is from the Lord. Now something to consider, when someone brings an exhortation to you, make sure that it is indeed biblical. If you are not sure, ask the person, "Can you show me where that is in the Bible?" And when you ask that question, check your heart and prayerfully ask the Lord to help you ask it in a way that is desiring to learn, rather than to contest or make a rebuttal.
How do we respond with humility?
Now the difficult part. Again, most of us don't like being told we need to grow, or we need to repent. Our natural sinful inclination is to get upset, deny, and argue. Going back to my story, I didn't respond humbly that time. But since then, by God's grace, I've grown. So, the following six suggestions come from my own journey in trying to seek to respond to exhortations in a more humble manner.
- The Lord calls us to be humble, and by the Lord's grace we will be able to respond in this manner. As you listen to the exhortation, do just that–listen. Don't interrupt but take in what is being said.
- If you have questions, ask for clarification such as, "Can you give me an example of when I was not _____?" And again, ask the Lord to help you speak and ask in a way that seeks to want to learn and not retort.
- Then once you have asked all you needed to ask, seek to thank the person exhorting you and tell them that you appreciate their desire to help you grow.
- If you feel convicted immediately and want to share with that person, do so, because it encourages them to continue to help you grow. But if not, if you're not quite sure about what they just said, let them know that you need to take this to the Lord and have Him examine your heart. Then do just that.
- Bring the exhortation before the Lord and ask Him what truth there is in the person's encouragement. When we seek earnestly, the Lord will show us.
- Look into the topic by studying it in the Word, then line yourself up with it. Approach the Lord with a desire to want to grow and change. When we do, it's often the case that there is room for improvement.
These are not a step by step guide on what to do every situation. They are merely suggestions on how to tackle the difficult situation of being confronted with sin, and ways to respond in humility. Your situation and way of responding may look different than mine, but ultimately seeking to love others in how we respond to them, is the best way to go about receiving an exhortation from another.