CHRISTIAN elders must be able to “exhort by the teaching that is healthful.” (Titus 1:9) At times this must be done in the face of very difficult situations. It is important to give counsel in harmony with Scriptural guidelines. Hence, elders must heed the counsel: “Continue applying yourself . . . to exhortation.” (1 Tim. 4:13) Although our discussion here is directed primarily to elders or those who are reaching out for this privilege, there are times when parents must exhort their children or those conducting Bible studies need to exhort their Bible students. In such cases, similar guidelines will apply.
Situations That Call for It. To determine when exhortation is needed, it is helpful to examine situations recorded in the Bible where exhortation was given. The apostle Peter exhorted elders to pay attention to their responsibility as shepherds of the flock of God. (1 Pet. 5:1, 2) Paul counseled Titus to exhort younger men to “be sound in mind.” (Titus 2:6) Paul urged fellow Christians to “speak in agreement” and to avoid those who sought to cause divisions among the brothers. (1 Cor. 1:10; Rom. 16:17; Phil. 4:2) Though Paul commended members of the congregation in Thessalonica for the good things that they were doing, he exhorted them to apply even more fully the instruction that they had received. (1 Thess. 4:1, 10) Peter entreated fellow Christians to “keep abstaining from fleshly desires.” (1 Pet. 2:11) Jude exhorted his brothers to “put up a hard fight for the faith” in view of the influence of ungodly ones who indulged in loose conduct. (Jude 3, 4) Christians in general were urged to exhort one another so that none would become hardened by the deceptive power of sin. (Heb. 3:13) Peter exhorted Jews who had not yet put faith in Christ: “Get saved from this crooked generation.”—Acts 2:40.
What qualities are needed in order to make strong appeals in such situations? How can the one doing the exhorting make his appeal urgent without being oppressive or harsh?
“On the Basis of Love.” If our exhortation is not given “on the basis of love,” it may sound severe. (Philem. 9) True, when immediate action is required, the speaker’s delivery should convey the urgency of the situation. A soft-spoken manner could sound apologetic. At the same time, the appeal should be made with earnestness and depth of feeling. A loving appeal will be more likely to motivate the audience. When speaking on behalf of himself and his companions, Paul told the Thessalonians: “You well know how, as a father does his children, we kept exhorting each one of you.” (1 Thess. 2:11) Those Christian overseers entreated the brothers with love. Let your expressions spring from genuine concern for your listeners.
Be tactful. Do not alienate those you are endeavoring to incite to action. At the same time, do not hold back from telling your audience “all the counsel of God.” (Acts 20:27) Appreciative ones will not take offense or love you less because you have kindly urged them to do what is right.—Ps. 141:5.
Often, it is beneficial to preface exhortation with specific, sincere commendation. Think of the good things that your brothers are doing—things with which Jehovah must be well pleased: the faith manifest in their work, the love that moves them to exert themselves, and their endurance in the face of trialsome situations. (1 Thess. 1:2-8; 2 Thess. 1:3-5) This will help your brothers to feel appreciated and understood, and it will put them in a receptive frame of mind for the appeal that follows.
“With All Long-Suffering.” Exhortation should be given “with all long-suffering.” (2 Tim. 4:2) What does this entail? Long-suffering includes the patient endurance of wrong or provocation. One who is long-suffering maintains the hope that his listeners will apply what he says. Giving exhortation in this spirit will prevent your listeners from thinking that you assume the worst about them. Your confidence that your brothers and sisters want to serve Jehovah to the best of their ability will appeal to their desire to do what is right.—Heb. 6:9.
“By the Teaching That Is Healthful.” How can an elder “exhort by the teaching that is healthful”? By “holding firmly to the faithful word as respects his art of teaching.” (Titus 1:9) Rather than expressing your personal opinion, make God’s Word the power of your appeal. Let the Bible shape your view of what needs to be said. List the benefits of applying what the Bible says on the matter at hand. Have well in mind the consequences—both present and future—of not conforming to God’s Word, and use these to convince your audience of the need to take appropriate action.
Be sure that you clearly explain to your audience what they should do and how they should do it. Make it clear that your reasoning is firmly rooted in the Scriptures. If the Scriptures allow for some latitude in any decision to be made, outline the extent of that latitude. Then, in your conclusion, make a final appeal that will strengthen your listeners’ determination to act.
With “Freeness of Speech.” To exhort others effectively, one must have “freeness of speech in the faith.” (1 Tim. 3:13) What enables a person to speak freely? The fact that his “example of fine works” harmonizes with what he is urging his brothers to do. (Titus 2:6, 7; 1 Pet. 5:3) Where this is the case, those being urged to action will realize that the one exhorting them does not expect them to do what he himself does not do. They will see that they can imitate his faith even as he endeavors to imitate Christ.—1 Cor. 11:1; Phil. 3:17.
Exhortation based on God’s Word and given in a spirit of love can accomplish much good. Those who are charged with giving such exhortation should apply themselves to do it well.—Rom. 12:8.