The Responsibility of Those Who Give Counsel
WISE counsel is of great value. People, past and present, have been willing to pay money for good advice, not only in such matters as law, but in many other facets of life. Kings and rulers have highly prized and employed men able to give wise counsel.
The most valuable counsel is that having to do with our finding and holding to the way of life in God’s favor. And, even as ancient Israel had able counselors to aid the people, so today in the congregation of God’s people on earth there are spiritually older men who have the responsibility of giving counsel. This is for the guidance, strengthening and protection of their Christian brothers.—1 Pet. 5:2, 3.
Giving such counsel is a privilege but also a weighty responsibility. Counseling is a form of teaching. And those who teach become accountable for what they teach and its effect on those taught.—Jas. 3:1.
Counsel can be corrective, in the form of a reproof. Proverbs 25:12 says: “An earring of gold, and an ornament of special gold, is a wise reprover upon the hearing ear.” Note, however, that it says a wise reprover. It is not mere willingness to counsel that is important. A young, inexperienced person might be willing to counsel or attempt to counsel. But is he qualified? When urging the giving of help to brothers who might make a false step, the apostle says: “You who have spiritual qualifications try to readjust such a man.” (Gal. 6:1) Not all have such spiritual qualifications. So, when God caused Moses to arrange for men to care for problems among fleshly Israel, Moses directed that they be “wise and discreet and experienced men.” (Deut. 1:13-15) Those serving as shepherds and overseers in the Christian congregation similarly are to be men who show spiritual wisdom and discretion and who have experience.
KNOWLEDGE ESSENTIAL TO WISE COUNSEL
Whether given to an individual or to a group, counsel is basically of two kinds: That given in answer to request for enlightenment or guidance, and unrequested counsel given due to an evident need for such. In either case, there is necessity for due caution.
Particularly as regards unrequested counsel, one should consider first just how much it is really needed. How serious is the situation? Remember, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were inclined to make big issues of minor matters, sometimes of infractions of rules based on human standards and not on the instructions or principles of God’s Word. By one-sidedly emphasizing minor things, they obscured the weightier things of God’s Word. (Mark 7:1-9, 14, 15, 20-23; Matt. 23:23) Consider, too, whether the circumstances and time are right for giving such unrequested counsel. Remember, “As apples of gold in silver carvings is a word spoken at the right time for it.”—Prov. 25:11.
With both types of counsel, requested and unrequested, the wise counselor seeks knowledge—he wants to be sure he has a sufficient grasp of the facts involved to give counsel that is right, solidly based—not just half-right or one-sided. (Prov. 9:9; 18:17) He is not gullible or naïve. (Prov. 14:15) He listens well, is “swift about hearing, slow about speaking,” for “when anyone is replying to a matter before he hears it [that is, before he hears the full statement and gets its import], that is foolishness on his part and a humiliation.” (Jas. 1:19; Prov. 18:13; see also 29:20.) This concern for the ‘complete picture’ is essential if he is to manifest true understanding, insight, discernment in handling any question or problem.—Prov. 15:14; 18:15.
It is only when the wise person obtains such insight—as to the underlying circumstances, conditions and causes of a problem—that “he gets knowledge,” that is, he now knows what conclusions to draw and what counsel to give. (Prov. 21:11) Though this may take time, it brings yet other benefits. When the counselor expresses comprehension of the facts, a balanced view of matters, understanding of the individual’s problem and the circumstances contributing to it, the one being counseled is much more likely to be receptive to the counsel given. Yes, for he will recognize that the counselor has a heartfelt interest in giving discerning help—he is not just parroting words, speaking in generalities or ignoring factors that may make this person’s case different from that of others with a similar problem. All this adds real persuasiveness, yes, appealing ‘sweetness,’ to the counselor’s words.—Prov. 16:20, 21, 23.
Of course, this search for information must not be carried to extremes or one would never get around to counseling. A few questions may bring out the needed facts. And, if feeling that some information has not been forthcoming, the one counseling may say: ‘Well, on the basis of what you have told me, I would say this. . . . However, if there are other factors you have not mentioned, this might alter matters.’ One should not pry to the point of unnecessary embarrassment. Point-blank questions implying suspicion of immoral or vile acts, where unwarranted, may cause severe wounds that can be long in healing. (Prov. 12:18) Remember, an elder’s authority to counsel should be used to “build up and not to tear down.” (2 Cor. 13:10) It is also the course of wisdom not to get overly involved in persons’ private lives.
“The heart of the righteous one meditates so as to answer.” (Prov. 15:28) Counsel that involves individuals’ relationship to God demands such meditation. To benefit, the counsel must be correct, and that means it must be in harmony with God’s Word. If questions about marriage, divorce, Christian neutrality and other serious matters are wrongly answered, great harm can result. A person’s whole life may be adversely affected. It is not human wisdom or philosophizing but the wisdom coming from the highest Counselors, Jehovah God and Christ Jesus, that is solid, enduring, eternally beneficial.—1 Cor. 2:4, 5; Ps. 33:11; Prov. 21:30; Isa. 9:6.
Never doubt this: There is no circumstance in life but what God’s Word, the Bible, has principles for guiding, enabling the Christian to be “fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17) So, there is never just cause for leaning on one’s own wisdom in counseling. (Prov. 3:5-7) Rather than getting off onto tangents due to personal ideas or theories, stick well to the ‘middle of the road’ by staying clearly within the limits of Scriptural counsel. (Prov. 8:20) Humble prayer to God should be the constant recourse of the one seeking to counsel in wisdom.—Jas. 1:5; 1 Ki. 3:7-12.
Christian counselors who show themselves submissive to the counsel of God’s Word, will be a real blessing to their brothers. More than that, they will be prized by the great Kings, Jehovah God and his Son Christ Jesus.—Prov. 27:9; 14:35; 16:13.