Having discussed the most basic, all-pervading “one another” command, to love one another, let’s move on to some of the more specific ways we show that love for each other. Some of the “one another” passages that easily group themselves for discussion are those which teach us to edify, exhort and admonish each other: Rom. 14:9, 1 Thess. 5:11, Heb. 3:13, Heb. 10:24, Rom. 15:14, and Col. 3:16. First, let’s discuss what these commands mean.
To edify just means to build up. An edifice is a building, to edify is to build. The Greek word is oikodomeo which means *gasp* to build up. No surprises here. The only other way the word is ever used is if it is literally referring to the construction trade. When we are commanded to edify, we are being commanded to build our fellow Christian’s faith & character.
To exhort, according to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, is to urge strongly, to make urgent appeals, to give warnings or advice. The Greek is parakaleo. This word is translated “exhort” 19 times in the KJV, “beseech” 43 times and “entreat” three times. So the idea of urging and making urgent appeals seems to hold. However, the word is also translated “comfort” 23 times, which might seem odd until you realize that the ESV translates the word “encourage” pretty uniformly. Which makes sense, because when someone is feeling down, we encourage (comfort) them, but when someone isn’t achieving as they should, we encourage (exhort) them to do better. So you can see how the same word can fit in both situations. The meaning of the command to us seems to be to urge our brethren to be what they ought to be.
To admonish is to indicate duties and obligations. To express warning or disapproval especially in a gentle, earnest or solicitous manner. The Greek is noutheteo which means to put in mind of or to remind of something which fits well with the idea of reminding Christians of their duties and also reminding/warning them of the eternal consequences of sin. Notice two things about the English definition: the manner is to be gentle and earnest, and disapproval can be expressed. Is disapproval really a part of Christian life? Well, if we are trying to live pure and holy lives before the Lord, then there are things that we can’t approve of. But disapproval doesn’t mean hatred of the individual. 2 Thess. 3:14-15, “And if any man obeys not our word by this epistle, note that man, that ye have no company with him, to the end that he may be ashamed. And yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” We can’t approve of his actions. If he continues in them, we are to have nothing to do with him. But this isn’t the result of hate, but of brotherly love: we admonish him with the hope of his repentance. He is not an enemy, but a brother being admonished. So, to admonish our brethren is to remind them of their Christian duties and/or gently warn them of temptations and sins.
Ok, so how do I do this? How do I edify, exhort, and admonish (EE&A)? The first thing to note is that I can’t if I’m too busy condemning my brother. In Romans 14 Paul is writing to a church that is fighting over the permissibility of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Some believed wholeheartedly that it was a sin. The rest of the church laughed at them for being silly. Both sides were quick to judge, in the sense of passing sentence on the other side. Paul told them in vs 13 “Let us not therefore judge one another anymore: but judge ye this rather, that no man put a stumbling-block in his brother's way, or an occasion of falling.” Rather than judging, they needed to make sure they weren’t hurting their brothers. Why? vs 17 “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” The Church was a lot more important than just eating and drinking. Righteousness, peace and joy were far more important. Therefore, vs 19 “So then let us follow after things which make for peace, and things whereby we may edify one another.” Instead of condemning each other, the Roman Christians should have been finding ways to make peace and to edify one another. I can’t very well build my brother up if I’m busy tearing him down, now can I?
To properly EE&A, I must also be fully aware of the dangers of sin. The Hebrew writer says in 3:13 “but exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called To-day; lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin”. Sin is tricky. It doesn’t seem all that bad. “I can put just my toe across the line, and I’ll still be ok.” Soon, my whole foot is across the line, and before I know it, I’m standing several yards beyond the line. It keeps sneaking up on you, and never seems that bad. And it hardens you, leading to, as verse 12 calls it, an “evil heart of unbelief.” The more you live in sin, the more you don’t want to listen to or believe the Word of God. Which is why we need to urgently warn our brothers and sisters about sin. Growing up in the piney woods of North Central Florida, I quickly learned to look down at the ground whenever I ventured into the woods. Snakes, especially rattlesnakes, have an uncanny knack for blending into the background. The patterns on their backs make them look just like a pile of dead leaves unless you know what to look for. Whenever we would hike as a group, anyone who saw a snake would immediately warn everyone else in the party. As Christians, we need to know that sin is far more dangerous than any poisonous viper and yell out warnings as we see our brethren nearing danger.
To EE&A, I also must be full of goodness and filled with knowledge. Romans 15:14 “And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.” Paul was sure they could handle their own admonishment precisely because they were full of goodness and filled with knowledge. Which makes sense. How can I build my brother up according to God’s word if I don’t know God’s word? How can I urge him to his duties if I don’t know what God says his duties are? But knowledge alone can be dangerous. Note 1 Cor. 8:1-3: “Now concerning things sacrificed to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. If any man thinks that he knows anything, he knows not yet as he ought to know; but if any man loves God, the same is known by him.” Knowledge alone can lead to false pride and damage done. Which is why Paul also says that the Romans were “full of goodness”. This is analogous to the love he mentions to the Corinthians. Knowledge, directed by love and goodness, leads to proper EE&A.
Furthering the discussion of the need for knowledge, look at Col 3:16 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God.” The word is to dwell in you. It is not an occasional visitor; it lives in you. We read and think about it regularly. This leads to teaching and admonishing “in all wisdom”. As mentioned in Romans and 1 Corinthians, knowledge alone isn’t enough. It is to be guided by love, goodness and wisdom. And see how this teaching is done? Through the songs we sing. We often think of the song service as purely praise to God, and it does contain a lot of that, but it is also a great avenue for teaching. If we actually pay attention to what we say, we can be greatly built up and exhorted by the songs we sing. Think about “Prepare to Meet thy God”: “Careless soul, why will you linger wandering from the fold of God. . .” Or “Almost Persuaded”: “Sad, sad that bitter wail ‘almost, but lost’”. How about “Take Time to be Holy”? “speak oft with thy Lord; abide in Him always and feed on His word.” Or “I Want to Be a Worker for the Lord” or. . . Songs can be powerful. At thirteen, singing the phrase “Lord come quickly” made me wonder if I really wanted Him to come back quickly right then and led directly to me discussing baptism with my parents. Songs are a tool for teaching and admonishment and, given that, song leaders need to take care how they choose the songs we sing.
In order to EE&A, we must also consider one another. Heb. 10:24 “and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works”. The ESV says “to stir up one another”. While the word isn’t used here, isn’t stirring up or provoking to good works the definition of exhortation. (Which word is used in the next verse.) But to do it, I have to consider my brethren. I have to think about them. I have to figure out what each of them needs and how I can best help them. If I never think about my brother, how am I supposed to know how to help him out? We are supposed to be a family that helps each other, not a group that meets a couple of times a week. To be the former, we must take the time and make the effort to consider each other. Also, note the verses preceding vs 24. We are told that Christ has opened a way for us into the Holy Place. The Hebrew writer says that we should therefore 1) draw near with true hearts and full faith, 2) hold fast to our confession, and 3) consider one another. The way to heaven is open, and my job is to walk through the door and bring along as many of my brethren as I possibly can. Draw near, hold fast (that’s me getting there) and consider one another (dragging them along with me). That leads into my final point, that we . . .
EE&A with the knowledge that salvation is already won. 1 Thess. 5:9-11 “For God appointed us not into wrath, but unto the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. Wherefore exhort one another, and build each other up, even as also ye do.” He died for us so we could live with Him. We are not appointed to wrath, but to salvation. “Wherefore” or with that in mind, exhort and edify one another. The door has already been opened. We only have to walk through. The way can be hard, sometimes, and we need to encourage each other with the knowledge that the hardships of this life are temporary. We are appointed to salvation. We just have to keep going.
“Wherefore exhort one another, and build each other up”