Have any of you ever apologized for giving the same exhortation a second time? My wife tells me this may be the case with “The Generic Exhortation”. If that is so, then my defense is this: One of the main points of this exhortation is that it’s okay — and in fact quite useful sometimes — to repeat themes and ideas, and the Bible passages that support them. So I say: If you can’t repeat an exhortation about repeating exhortations, what exhortation can you repeat?
When my brother and I were growing up, back in the last century, we attended Sunday school and meetings in Lampasas, Texas, a small ecclesia not too far from where I now reside. Our attitudes about the Bible and its teachings were shaped considerably by that time and place, and the brothers and sisters who lived there.
It’s sad to say that, while we could visit some quite exotic and extraordinary places today — if we had the time and money — there are some places we can no longer visit. The circumstances no longer exist, many of the people have passed on, and we ourselves are different. Thomas Wolfe, the novelist, said, “You can’t go home again.” For nearly all of us grown-ups, that’s very true in the most meaningful way. That “home”, and how it felt when we were young, doesn’t exist anymore, except insofar as we carry it with us in our memories.
Speaking for myself, when I hear the word “patriarch”, or the phrase “our fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”, my mind shifts back about 50 years and I see the face of “old brother Sammy Wolfe”, and then the faces of others from the same time and place.
In the early days, the ecclesial meeting was a very informal affair; it was mainly family. People sat in a circle and brothers knelt for prayers. Often the patriarch, “old brother Sammy”, presided — calling on the others, often his sons, to do readings and prayers. Sometimes exhortations consisted of each brother in turn making a comment on the daily Bible readings, or else saying, “I have nothing this week.”
My grandmother, Sister Jessie Hatcher, attended the Lampasas meeting. “Grandma” had a great influence upon me, in my formative years. For one thing, she was always determined to attend all Christadelphian meetings. Although she was a Berean Christadelphian, she made a point of attending all Central and Unamended gatherings within driving distance. (After all, she had known many of the brothers and sisters, in the different fellowships, before the divisions had ever happened, and she still considered them all her brothers and sisters.) Later on, when I had a driver’s license, she enlisted me to drive her to all the gatherings; there I met some interesting folks, some of whom I see around me today.
Grandma was a voracious reader, a fierce defender of the faith, and outspoken in all her opinions. I remember as a child, being somewhat embarrassed during exhortations, because Grandma would recite aloud, impromptu, along with the speaker, many of the Bible verses as he read or quoted them. And for good measure, she would sometimes toss in a loud “Amen!” to express wholehearted agreement. I still have some of her Christadelphian books, with her name in the front, and her notes in the margins, and various passages boldly underlined. (She never underlined anything lightly in her whole life! She always underlined boldly! A psychologist could probably make something of that.)
In Lampasas, there were only a couple of sisters who played the piano (including our mother). Their repertoires were limited — so there was a lot of repetition of the same favorite hymns (including “Brethren, let us walk together”). And there was a lot of mixing and matching of hymn tunes to fit more of the available hymns. One of the favorite hymn tunes was “What a friend we have in Jesus”, and this music matched up with various lyrics, including (notably) “Come, thou long-expected Jesus”. Here we still sing those words to the music for “What a friend we have in Jesus”.
Over the years, from the earlier hymnbook to the latest one, the tune for one particular hymn was modified ever so slightly, while the words remained the same. This means that, even today, when that hymn is sung, you can listen closely and hear a few of the old-timers (if they happen to be around) hitting the higher note at a critical point in each stanza. That hymn was the one we sang just before the exhortation (#265), and you may have noticed that too. When I hear someone singing the old, higher, note instead of the new one, I feel a tingling and I’m immediately taken back a half century or so, to that place which is impossible to visit any more.
In Lampasas, there were only six or eight exhorting brothers, aside from an occasional visiting brother. This meant that Wesley and I heard each brother many times over the years, and invariably there was a lot of repetition, of ideas and even of favorite Bible verses. Some of those old standby verses were so well-known that they no longer required any explanation or exposition. Sometimes the exhorting brother just read them or quoted them, and kept on going.
Wesley and I heard some verses so many times that, even though we weren’t always listening, we could still quote them verbatim (from the King James Version, of course). At the time, they seemed almost boring, but the simple fact is: We still remember those verses just as we heard them, perhaps hundreds of times.
There is Bible precedent for this repetition of ideas. In the commandments concerning the Passover, in Exodus where God tells Moses:
“And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians’… On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean? say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery’ “ (Exod 12:26,27; 13:8,14).
What a wonderful picture: “I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.” Even if it was 10 generations earlier, or 100 generations, the Jewish father was to tell his son how the Lord brought him, and “us”, out of Egypt! It was a miracle of redemption to be repeated and experienced anew with each successive generation. Each Jew — no matter when or where he lived — was to think of himself as having been delivered out of slavery into freedom.
That’s the picture we get from these verses. Repeating Bible lessons makes fathers and mothers, and grandparents, and uncles and aunts, into “patriarchs” — like “old brother Sammy” — reminding us of what Abraham, or Moses, or David, or Paul can tell us, from the pages of the Bible, about the gospel and our hope. It may be repetitious, but when we truly believe, it can never really be boring or tiresome. It is our life!
So Wesley and I developed our own list of “favorite” Bible verses, “favorites” because we heard them so often that, even today, we can scarcely forget them, and “favorites” because they simply reminded us of key points of that faith we learned as we grew up, and hold to this very day. And because they were “favorites”, there was almost never a Sunday morning that we didn’t hear one or two of them — and some mornings we seemed to hear them all, maybe more than once!
All-star Bible verses
So, here is our “generic exhortation”, made up of five samples, “generic Bible verses”. Call it the Lampasas lineup of all-star Bible verses.
Romans 15:4: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”
The NIV translates “patience and comfort” as “endurance and encouragement”. The development of patience (or endurance) in the day-to-day living of our lives is what an exhortation is all about, and the only true exhortations come from the examples and teachings of Scriptures. We don’t read the Bible just to learn facts; we especially read the Bible to be comforted with our hope, and to be encouraged to shun bad examples and to follow good ones. And for this purpose, the Old Testament is equally useful as the New Testament.
For me, this verse points out how abundantly meaningful and helpful is all the Bible. It is not just old history; it is not just about events that happened thousands of years ago. It is as alive as today’s news, and tomorrow’s expectations. The Word of God is living and powerful, but only if we see it as such, and spend time reading and thinking about it.
Galatians 3:16, 27-29: “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ… For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
Like the first generic exhortation verse, this also looks back to the beginning, and the gospel preached to Abraham. It reminds us of some fundamental Bible principles:
that Jesus Christ was and is the “seed” or descendant of Abraham,
that the promises to our spiritual father Abraham were also promised to his special seed Christ himself, and
that those same promises are also given to us, if we are baptized “into Christ”.
1 Corinthians 13:13: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
“Charity” (KJV) is, we all know, “love”, or “agape”, the love that is modeled after the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ, our Passover lamb who laid down his life for us. But why is “love” the greatest of these?
I think it is because of this:
“Faith” looks back, to the past (it is about what God has already done, in and through Christ).
“Hope” looks forward, to the future (it is about what God will do through Christ).
But “love” is for right now, and that’s why it’s so important.
Past love no longer matters. Promises of future love are essentially useless until we act upon them. Love is an action, not an emotion. We need to show love (not just feel love) each day. Love is practical. It shows itself (or should show itself) in all the simple virtues: patience, kindness, care for those who are sick, protection of those who are weak. It avoids all mean-spirited things like boasting, pride and anger. It encourages good in others, while overlooking (and forgiving) their faults.
Showing love doesn’t require great intellectual attainments, or great wealth, or great physical strength. It does not need to be extravagant; it simply means doing the best with what we have, where we are — but it means doing it every day, for those who are near us. Giving a cup of cold water to someone who is thirsty. A helping hand, just for a moment, to someone who is struggling. A word of comfort to someone who is troubled.
We can’t be Jesus Christ, but then we don’t need to be him. We just need to try to be like him. To be the best George, or the best Jim, or the best Joe. To be the best Marti, or the best Inga, or the best Sarah… In short, to be the best “whoever” we can manage to be, right now.
But we do need to be the best we can be… right now — not next week, or next year, not “when I get a job”, or “when I graduate”, or “when I retire” — but the best we can be, right now. We need to show love today.
Luke 12:32: “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Do we remember that it is a command to “fear not”? What are we afraid of? Are we afraid because we are nothing but a “little flock”? Are we afraid of sickness, or financial loss, or hunger, or death? Are we afraid that we will miss out on something in this life that we ought to have?
This verse tells us that our heavenly Father finds pleasure in giving us the greatest gift imaginable — the Kingdom of God! He wants to give us eternal life in His family, in a wonderful regenerated world. More than anything else, He wants to save us. Even when we have troubles in this life (which the Bible tells us are inevitable), we must remember that they are nothing but light and momentary afflictions. Sooner than we think, all our troubles will disappear in a full and eternal joy when His Son returns.
Matthew 25:34: “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
When the king returns, he will say to those on his right hand (the hand of acceptance and honor): “Come!” It will be the most wonderful invitation. The world has never received an invitation like it, in all its history.
We have a glorious heritage, and a glorious inheritance. The Almighty Father has prepared a place for His children, and He is holding the door open to welcome us. If we truly believe this, then anything and everything else in this whole crazy world is beside the point. Everything else is like the morning mist before the sun rises. Everything else is no more than the paper in which our special gift is wrapped, waiting for the right moment to be opened.
“Come, ye blessed of my Father… inherit the Kingdom!”
The bread and wine
As we prepare to take the bread and the wine, some of us can let our minds wander back, 50 years or more, remember faces and names, and think of the power of tradition, of repeated actions and thoughts.
‘We do this, because of what the Lord God did for our fathers, and for us, in Egypt, and in the wilderness — and what the Lord Jesus Christ did for our fathers, and for us, in the Upper Room, in the Garden of Gethsemane, and at Golgotha.’
Others may think of today’s generic exhortation, with its all-time-favorite Bible verses:
Everything that was written before is for our learning, so it’s important to read the Bible.
The promises to Abraham are just as real today as when he first heard them. Those promises have been given to us all, regardless of race, age or gender.
Having such a wonderful hope, and sustained by our faith in what God has said, we must show our love for Him, His Son, and one another. We do this in simple acts of kindness and care, toward those who are around us.
We do not need to fear anything that may happen to us in this life, because God will delight in giving us all things.
When His Son returns, our Father will welcome us into His wonderful Kingdom, promised and prepared especially for us from the beginning of time.
George Booker (Austin Leander, TX)