Is Your Advice Hard to Take?
“James Smith, you know what your trouble is? You talk too much. You never listen. You’re stubborn. My advice to you is to make some changes in your attitude. I’ve told you before and I’m telling you again, change your attitude! Start showing some respect! You think you know everything, you talk constantly, and you’re heading for trouble! And when you get there, don’t come crying to me for help!”
1. Why is the example quoted in the illustration the wrong way to give advice?
THAT is one way of advising someone to talk less and listen more. However, it is the wrong way. It comes as an attack and will arouse defensive reactions. The advice itself may be good, but no good will come of it.
2, 3. (a) How do business corporations show their concern about proper counseling? (b) What advice as to counseling did Paul give to Timothy, and with what purpose in view?
2 Corporations pay out thousands of dollars to send their executives to seminars for training on how to counsel others and cope with confrontations. Yet, the really worthwhile basic techniques were long ago outlined in the Bible, and cost nothing.
3 “By giving these advices to the brothers,” the apostle Paul told Timothy, “you will be a fine minister of Christ Jesus.” He instructed him in, not only what advice to give, but also how to give it: “Do not severely criticize an older man. To the contrary, entreat him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters with all chasteness.” He said entreat, not browbeat. The purpose is to restore, not drive away.—1 Tim. 4:6; 5:1, 2; Jas. 5:19, 20.
4. Why must the one offering counsel possess sensitivity?
4 Giving advice that has been asked for is a delicate business; giving it without invitation requires even more sensitivity. Advice unrequested tends to come across as criticism, and no one likes to be criticized. To counsel without giving offense requires patience and the ability to teach, not just to lecture someone. Thus Paul wrote to Timothy: “Reprove, reprimand, exhort, with all long-suffering and art of teaching.”—2 Tim. 4:2.
THE COUNSELOR’S ATTITUDE
5. Copying Jesus in giving counsel, what will be our bearing and attitude?
5 Christ Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor, exemplified counseling gently when the apostles argued about which one was the greatest. By illustration and contrast he showed that kings of nations lorded it over others, but “you, though, are not to be that way.” Jesus was a perfect man, with inspired counsel to give; yet he was “mild-tempered and lowly in heart.” We do well to copy him. “Keep this mental attitude in you that was also in Christ Jesus.”—Luke 22:24-27; Matt. 11:29; Phil. 2:5.
6. What examples show the value of using illustrations in counseling?
6 It is difficult to reason with those whose tempers are hot, and the apostles were arguing heatedly. Jesus used an illustration of how arrogant kings lorded it over others, and when the apostles saw themselves in this light they cooled down. The prophet Nathan was also tactful when he counseled King David for taking Uriah’s wife, Bath-sheba. The rich man with many sheep and cattle took the one lone ewe lamb of a poor man, in order to feed a visitor. David was furious and judged: “The man doing this deserves to die!” Then he learned that he was the man. (2 Sam. 12:1-9) Today, illustrations may be used to outflank emotions and help one to see matters objectively.
7. Why are the feelings of the one giving counsel important?
7 Feelings are important. The one counseling should be aware of his own feelings as well as those of the one to whom he is talking. If he is motivated by a desire to feel superior and self-righteous, he may be unnecessarily quick to lecture others for minor slips. (Eccl. 3:7) These feelings will be sensed and resented by the one being talked to, and if he shows a bad attitude, it may be the fault of the counselor more than the counsel itself. Proverbs 15:1 says: “An answer, when mild, turns away rage, but a word causing pain makes anger to come up.”
THE APOSTLE PAUL SETS AN EXAMPLE
8. What were Paul’s feelings when correcting the Corinthians for making a serious mistake, and what was the result of this correction?
8 Brotherly love and compassion are also felt when these are exercised. Paul had to correct a serious mistake made by the congregation at Corinth, and it grieved him deeply that he had to be quite severe in what he wrote, for later he said: “Out of much tribulation and anguish of heart I wrote you with many tears, not that you might be saddened, but that you might know the love that I have more especially for you.” Paul’s deep feelings of concern are shown also a few chapters later, when he says: “Even if I saddened you by my letter, I do not regret it. . . . For sadness in a godly way makes for repentance to salvation that is not to be regretted.”—2 Cor. 2:4; 7:8-10.
9. (a) What Scriptural examples show the propriety of commending before counseling? (b) Why is commendation of those who profit from counsel of value?
9 Therefore, lessen the pain of correction by showing empathy and understanding. Let others retain their dignity and self-respect. See the good in others and show appreciation for it. Commend before counseling wherever possible. (Rev. 2:1-4, 12-14, 18-20) Paul commended the Corinthians for their eagerness now to see justice done and for clearing themselves by righting the wrong. (2 Cor. 7:11) He then referred to the boasts that he had made to Titus about them: “Anything I may have said to him to show my pride in you has been justified. Every word we ever addressed to you bore the mark of truth; and the same holds of the proud boast we made in the presence of Titus: that also has proved true.” (2 Cor. 7:14, New English Bible) We all make mistakes and need correction, so when we do something right a commending “Well done” helps. It revives our spirit!—Matt. 25:21, 23.
10-12. Why should we counsel in kindness and in a spirit of mildness?
10 “Keep testing whether you are in the faith” is an admonition we might also apply to counseling. (2 Cor. 13:5) Do we pass the test presented by the following texts?
11 Ephesians 4:32: “Become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate.” Are we, when we counsel?
12 Galatians 6:1: “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.” Do we counsel in mildness, aware of our own frailties?
13, 14. Of what should we be well informed before giving counsel?
13 Colossians 4:6 (NE): “Study how best to talk with each person you meet.” Do we take time to know the individual and then tailor our talk to meet his needs?
14 Proverbs 18:13: “When anyone is replying to a matter before he hears it, that is foolishness on his part and a humiliation.” Do we acquaint ourselves with all sides of the matter before giving advice?
15, 16. What should we bear in mind about ourselves as we counsel others?
15 Philippians 2:3: “Doing nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind considering that the others are superior to you.” When counseling others, are we aware that in other ways they may be superior to us?
16 Romans 2:21: “Do you, however, the one teaching someone else, not teach yourself? You, the one preaching ‘Do not steal,’ do you steal?” Do we appear hypocritical, preaching what we do not practice?
17, 18. What restraint and consideration should we show the one whom we are counseling?
17 John 16:12: “I [Jesus] have many things yet to say to you, but you are not able to bear them at present.” Do we go beyond the need of the moment, and start listing all the person’s shortcomings that we can think of, thereby either stirring up his anger or crushing his spirit?
18 Matthew 18:15: “If your brother commits a sin, go lay bare his fault between you and him alone.” Do we first counsel in private, aware of our brother’s feelings?
19. What is a simple guide for counseling, and what are its advantages?
19 A simple guide for counseling, but one that we tend to forget at times, is this: “Always treat others as you would like them to treat you.” (Matt. 7:12, NE) We like to be understood, so we must be understanding. We like to have our say, so we must let others have theirs. If we dislike being lectured, do we refrain from lecturing others? Counseling involves listening, and in this way we, not only show reasonableness, but also gain insight into the person’s problem and become aware of his feelings. Counsel so given comes across as a part of the conversation and not as a lecture being delivered.
HOW GOOD IS YOUR ADVICE?
20, 21. When does our advice become of questionable value, and how can we make it completely reliable?
20 The prophet Jeremiah said: “It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.” If he cannot direct his own steps, how competent is he to direct someone else’s? Jeremiah then prayed: “Correct me, O Jehovah.” We are so aware of the shortcomings of all of us that it is difficult to take correction from any of us—unless the correction we get is God’s correction! How good our advice is depends on how close it sticks to God’s Word.—Jer. 10:23, 24.
21 “Do not go beyond the things that are written” is good advice. (1 Cor. 4:6) We came out of systems where men’s rules prevail, with tragic results. No longer do we want to be subjected to human rules not required by God’s Word, for we obey, “not with acts of eyeservice, as men pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, with fear of Jehovah,” and we follow Paul’s counsel: “Whatever you are doing, work at it whole-souled as to Jehovah, and not to men.” (Col. 3:22, 23) The Pharisees’ rules burdened down the people and made void God’s Word.—Matt. 23:4; 15:3.
22, 23. What arrogant attitude did the Pharisees adopt, but how did Paul manifest an opposite attitude?
22 The Pharisees used the tyranny of authority when officers sent out to arrest Jesus returned without him because they were impressed with Jesus’ teaching. “You have not been misled also, have you?” the Pharisees asked. “Not one of the rulers or of the Pharisees has put faith in him, has he? But this crowd that does not know the Law are accursed people.” The Pharisees did not use reason, but declared that wise people rejected Jesus, only the stupid listened to him.—John 7:45-49.
23 When we advise others we should use reason and scriptures, not demanding compliance because of a position we might have. (Phil. 4:5) We should be like Paul, who did not use his position as an apostle to pressure people. Instead, he commended them for checking to see whether his teaching was based on the Bible. “They received the word with the greatest eagerness of mind, carefully examining the Scriptures daily as to whether these things were so. Therefore many of them became believers.”—Acts 17:11, 12.
24, 25. (a) What contrast was there between Satan’s use of Scripture and Jesus’ use of it? (b) What example shows how application of Scripture must be limited by the context?
24 The Devil used Scripture when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness, and Jesus used scriptures to refute him. Both used scriptures, but with this difference: Satan misapplied them, but Jesus used them properly. (Matt. 4:1-10) We should never twist texts to serve our own purpose, as Satan did. Let us make sure that God is saying what we say that he is saying!
25 For example, in Romans chapter 14 we are cautioned not to stumble weak ones relative to food or drink or anything. Does this mean that if in a large family one member claims he is stumbled because coffee is served, no coffee should be served? Or that one must wear black shoes because someone is “stumbled” by brown ones? Is there not some limiting factor governing application of this counsel? The context relates to matters of faith, to days that some considered holy, to meats that some thought defiled. The counsel concerns matters of conscience, and in this area we should make concessions helpful to others. But it is not a blanket instruction to cater to every personal whim that has no bearing on faith.
WHEN YOU NEED IT, CAN YOU TAKE IT?
26. When we find discipline hard to take, what reminder does Hebrews 12:11 give us?
26 If counsel is offered lovingly and Scripturally, can we accept it meekly? It is not easy, but it is beneficial. “No discipline seems for the present to be joyous, but grievous; yet afterward to those who have been trained by it it yields peaceable fruit, namely, righteousness.” (Heb. 12:11) Previously we were asked to test ourselves as to our attitude when giving counsel. Now let us test ourselves as to our willingness to receive it.
27-31. What scriptures and what questions emphasize the need to listen quietly when we are being counseled?
27 Proverbs 17:27: “Anyone holding back his sayings is possessed of knowledge, and a man of discernment is cool of spirit.” Do we listen, and remain cool?
28 Proverbs 12:15: “The way of the foolish one is right in his own eyes, but the one listening to counsel is wise.” Do we think we know it all, or do we listen?
29 Proverbs 29:20: “Have you beheld a man hasty with his words? There is more hope for someone stupid than for him.” Do we immediately try to refute the counsel given?
30 Ecclesiastes 7:9: “Do not hurry yourself in your spirit to become offended, for the taking of offense is what rests in the bosom of the stupid ones.” Are we overly sensitive, easily offended?
31 James 1:19, 20: “Every man must be swift about hearing, slow about speaking, slow about wrath; for man’s wrath does not work out God’s righteousness.” Can we listen to correction without being angered?
32. How do some who seek advice show that they really want self-justification?
32 Sometimes people have decided to pursue a certain course of action and will go from one would-be counselor to another until they find someone who agrees with them. In ancient Israel King Rehoboam went to older men for advice, but it did not suit him. He went to younger men, who told him what he wanted to hear. The results were disastrous: Ten tribes revolted from him and formed their own kingdom! (1 Ki. 12:1-20) The apostle Paul spoke of a time when people would search until they found counselors who would say just what they wanted to hear: “They will accumulate teachers for themselves to have their ears tickled.”—2 Tim. 4:3.
33. What examples show the proper reception of advice?
33 We, however, should take counsel that is supported by God’s Word. When David was rebuked by the prophet Nathan, he responded: “I have sinned against Jehovah.” (2 Sam. 12:13) The congregation at Corinth took Paul’s counsel and cleared themselves of all blame. Jesus illustrated a proper course when he described a father who had two sons, whom he told to go work in his vineyard. One agreed to, but did not. The other refused, but later did, and gained approval even though he was slow at first to respond. (Matt. 21:28-31) Those who counsel should exercise patience, allowing time for the one reproved to evaluate it.
34. What searching question does Psalm 16:7 raise for those who give advice?
34 “I shall bless Jehovah, who has given me advice.” (Ps. 16:7) Will those we advise be able to bless us for it?
35. How does the counsel here presented contrast with that given in the first illustration of this article?
35 “Jim, thanks for meeting with me. You’re making good progress in the congregation now. I do want to mention again your problem of talking unwisely at times. Of course, we’re all guilty of that; as James said, if we don’t misuse the tongue we’re perfect. Paul counseled the elders at Ephesus day and night, for three years! So I hope you don’t think I’m picking on you by mentioning this again. You’re making progress, so keep working on it. As a suggestion, you might reread James chapter 3. If I can help, don’t hesitate to call on me.”