How Do You Accept Counsel?
WHAT is the purpose of counsel offered by one person to another? It is to give aid, direction or understanding as to how to do something. Only Jehovah God the Creator needs no one to counsel him, as the prophet said: “Who as his man of counsel can make him know anything? With whom did he consult together that one might make him understand, or who teaches him in the path of justice, or teaches him knowledge, or makes him know the very way of real understanding?”—Isa. 40:13, 14.
Even the perfect man Jesus Christ, with all his previous experience in the heavens, received and followed counsel from God. He said: “I do nothing of my own initiative; but just as the Father taught me I speak these things.”—John 8:28; 5:19, 30.
THE NECESSITY OF HEEDING COUNSEL
Certainly, then, imperfect men sorely need counsel, to understand the right way and to apply God’s Word in their lives. The apostle John emphasized the situation that is making counsel so needful when he said: “If we make the statement: ‘We have no sin,’ we are misleading ourselves and the truth is not in us.”—1 John 1:8.
Because of inherent sin, it is the natural tendency of all of us to resent counsel, especially if that counsel points out a mistake or a weakness. Jehovah warns: “Do not make yourselves like a horse or mule without understanding, whose spiritedness is to be curbed even by bridle or halter before they will come near to you.” (Ps. 32:9) A person who gives himself over to the spirit of resentment, repeatedly “making his neck hard,” becoming unreasoning and unapproachable, will face sterner measures, restrictions and, finally, calamity.—Prov. 29:1.
On the other hand, persons who are humble, desirous of advancing in understanding, seek counsel. They are concerned, not with always being “right,” but with doing things that please God and that will help others. They realize, therefore, that “there is salvation in the multitude of counselors.” (Prov. 11:14) If they make a mistake they are glad to have it brought to their attention, even though at times it may be embarrassing. They want to avoid repeating a wrong or undesirable thing, to their shame. They follow God’s counsel: “Buy truth itself and do not sell it—wisdom and discipline and understanding.”—Prov. 23:23.
PROPER SPIRIT AND MOTIVE IN GIVING COUNSEL AND REPROOF
Counsel at times may include reproof. The Hebrew root word for “reprove” has the meaning: ‘to decide matters, set matters straight.’ Reproof, in the Bible sense, is in itself a kindly, straightforward proving of what is right and what is wrong in an issue. Depending on the circumstances and the attitude of the one reproved, it may or may not be accompanied by rebuke.
The apostle revealed the proper spirit for the one counseling when he spoke of the responsibility of elders in the Christian congregation: “Brothers, even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness, as you each keep an eye on yourself, for fear you also may be tempted.”—Gal. 6:1.
Therefore, if an elder sees a Christian brother, as a result of inexperience or poor judgment, taking a course that may well end up undesirably, he will not simply turn the other way and let his brother suffer the consequences. Nor will he give him a tongue-lashing. Rather, he is bound by love to point out to his brother the danger, unwisdom or wrong of his course or of his thinking, and to do so in a spirit of mildness.
Accordingly, the motive in giving reproof is to help the one reproved. Also the reprover is concerned with keeping peace and a healthy spirit in the congregation. The receiver of reproof, if he takes it properly, is saved from getting into trouble and losing favor in the eyes of God. He will change, be readjusted.
WHAT IF THE COUNSEL HURTS?
But what if you feel that certain counsel given to you is ill-advised, perhaps merely the opinion of the counselor? Before ignoring the counsel, consider your own attitude. Are you seeking to please yourself, or God? It may be that your course is not wrong in itself. But are you unconcerned as to what effect it may have on others? The apostle reminds us: “We . . . who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those not strong, and not to be pleasing ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor in what is good for his upbuilding.”—Rom. 15:1, 2.
To guide our course in a manner pleasing to God, Paul also said: “All things are lawful; but not all things are advantageous. All things are lawful; but not all things build up.” (1 Cor. 10:23) Within the framework of Christian law there is a wide latitude of action and the Christian has to decide many matters according to his Christian conscience. But he must consider also the consciences of others. Not all things build up either himself or others. Such things can well be sacrificed, especially where love and peace are at stake.
Sometimes counsel may be given, not with regard to wrongdoing, but for improvement, advancement. Say you are counseled as to the quality of your public reading. This may come as a shock, since you thought you read very well. What will you do? Why not find out just where your reading is weak and what will improve it? Certainly none of us are perfect readers—there is admittedly room for improvement. Practice reading. Before doing public reading, prepare by looking up pronunciation and meaning of words, consider sentence meanings and sense stress, and so forth. Your reading is bound to improve, and you will get more enjoyment out of it.
Or, you may be counseled to be more friendly with others. Perhaps in your own heart you think you have a friendly personality. But evidently it is not manifest to others. Well, accept the counsel as having some foundation; strive to take greater interest in others; be more outgoing, more expressive, more appreciative. Not only will you establish better friendships, but your own spirit will improve, and you will be happier.
Even if deeply hurt by counsel, remember David’s example. He underwent much discipline, but God was training him for greater things. David said, from experience: “Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head.” (Ps. 141:5, Authorized Version) Even if the counsel of a brother is hard to take, it will not kill you, either physically or spiritually, but it can prove to be like soothing, refreshing oil. If you take it to heart, you will experience the fulfillment of the proverb: “The one keeping a reproof is the one that is glorified.”—Prov. 13:18; Heb. 12:11.