Exhort by Sound Doctrine

“If there is one who is irreproachable, a husband of one wife, whose children have faith, not open to the accusation of reckless living or undisciplined behavior, for it is required that the overseer is irreproachable as God’s steward, not intractable, not short-tempered, not violent, not greedy, but hospitable, a lover of good, prudent, upright, pious, disciplined, being devoted to the faithful Word as taught, that he might be able to exhort people in doctrine that is sound and reprove those who deny it.”

(Titus 1:6-9)

So, once again, why must an Elder, or overseer of the church be devoted to the faithful Word as taught? Paul lists two reasons. First, he must be able to exhort people in sound doctrine and second, he must be able to reprove those who deny it. On one hand, to exhort, on the other hand, to reprove.

The Greek word for exhortation is παρακαλέω (parakaleo), which means to urge strongly or to make an appeal that one think in a given way about a given idea or purpose. Notice that the purpose of exhortation is to get the audience to change their mind about something or at least to get them to the point where they think about the subject the way the speaker does. While indeed, exhortation can and does affect one’s passions and emotions, it has no lasting value unless it engages with the mind and the reason as well. One of the great tragedies of the twentieth-century model of evangelism (largely inherited from Charles Finney) is that it appeals primarily to the heart-strings, but leaves the mind quite unchanged. In turn, a great majority of the “conversions” that take place at the “altar call” are superficial and fall away. The rallies and crusades take on the appearance of being sensational, but leave the church and the communities largely unchanged.

Notice, too, that the exhortation must be with sound doctrine. In other words, it matters how one exhorts…while the end is important (people thinking as they ought), the means by which that exhortation takes place is also important. That means, no preaching tricks, no manipulation or bullying from the pulpit must take place. For the pagan, it is perfectly acceptable to manipulate the audience so long as the point is won. Such is never the case for the Christian leader. If you cannot support a teaching or a doctrine from the scriptures themselves, do not teach it. The doctrine might be correct and it may be consistent with the confessions of faith or the catechisms, but unless you can defend the position from the Scriptures, do not teach or preach it lest you become sloppy in your teaching of doctrine.

I have known many pastors over the years who become louder and more impassioned the more scripturally weak their position happens to be. How many voices boom forward from pulpits Sunday after Sunday that are impassioned but without Biblical substance — “all fire, but no heat” as some would say. One ought to be able to reason through a position that one wishes to exhort their audience to hold…without doing that, one’s exhortation is little more than a show…entertainment for entertainment’s sake…not exhortation in sound doctrine.


  1. Tom Kallenberg

    Just ran into your blog/website yesterday, while researching the Psalms for my own Bible class. Thank you ….. so good to run into a Reformed, doctrinally solid pastor. Keep up the good work, and God bless your ministry!


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