Skillful Counselors—A Blessing to Their Brothers
“I will bring back again judges for you as at the first, and counselors for you as at the start.”—ISAIAH 1:26.
TERRI is the daughter of Christian parents. At school she had a young friend who was also “in the truth.” Terri noticed, however, that toward the end of elementary school her friend was not as enthusiastic about her faith as formerly. As they progressed through high school together, her friend became irregular at Christian meetings and began to find fault with the Watch Tower Society and the congregation. Terri prayed hard about her friend, however, and constantly counseled her to try to stay strong as a Christian. Eventually, Terri’s efforts were rewarded. By the tenth grade, her friend was regularly attending meetings again and was finally baptized. What a blessing for her! And what a reward for her faithful young friend Terri!
2 In view of this experience, can anyone doubt the need for Christians to counsel one another lovingly from time to time? The Bible encourages us: “Listen to counsel and accept discipline, in order that you may become wise in your future.” (Proverbs 19:20; 12:15) Terri’s friend followed that advice. But what if Terri had not had the love, persistence, and courage to keep offering her help through the years? Yes, for any of us to “listen to counsel,” there has to be a counselor. Who should this be?
3. Who are the ones provided by Jehovah to give timely counsel in the Christian congregation?
3 Jehovah God promised to provide his people with counselors in our time. He said: “I will bring back again . . . counselors for you as at the start.” (Isaiah 1:26) This promise is fulfilled principally in the appointed elders in the Christian congregation. Counseling is a form of teaching, and elders primarily are “qualified to teach.” (1 Timothy 3:2) Perhaps the apostle Paul chiefly had the elders in mind when he said: “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.” (Galatians 6:1) But are elders the only ones who can give counsel?
4, 5. (a) What are some Scriptural examples showing that elders are not the only ones who can give counsel? (b) What are some typical modern-day situations in which Christians other than elders offer counsel?
4 No. Terri was not an elder, yet her counsel finally brought good results. Remember, too, the Syrian military leader Naaman. He acted on some fine information originating with a young Israelite girl and then on advice from his servants. David was saved from incurring bloodguilt by the timely counsel of Abigail, the wife of Nabal. And the young man Elihu had some wise counsel for Job and his three “comforters.”—1 Samuel 25:23-35; 2 Kings 5:1-4, 13, 14; Job 32:1-6.
5 Similarly today, counseling is not the prerogative solely of elders. Parents counsel their children regularly. Young people like Terri are often successful in counseling their peers. And the Bible specifically encourages mature sisters to be “teachers of what is good,” especially to younger women in the congregation. (Titus 2:3-5) In fact, in a general sense we all have the obligation to help one another in this way. The apostle Paul said: “Keep comforting one another and building one another up, just as you are in fact doing.”—1 Thessalonians 5:11.
The Goals of Christian Counsel
6. What are some goals of Christian counsel?
6 What are some goals of Christian counsel? These are to help someone to make progress and continue in the right way, to solve problems, to overcome difficulties, and perhaps to correct a wrong course. Paul referred to some forms of counseling when he urged Timothy to “reprove, reprimand, exhort, with all long-suffering and art of teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:1, 2) It truly is an art to counsel someone in such a way that he can understand without feeling hurt.
7, 8. (a) What are some situations in which counsel is expected in the Christian congregation? (b) On what occasions may a Christian not expect counsel but need it?
7 When should counsel be offered? Parents regularly have occasion to counsel their children, and children more or less expect this. (Proverbs 6:20; Ephesians 6:4) In the congregation, a student expects counsel when he has given a talk in the Theocratic Ministry School. And a new Kingdom publisher expects help and advice as he makes progress toward maturity as a Christian minister. (1 Timothy 4:15) Sometimes individuals seeking help and counsel will approach elders or others in the congregation.
8 On occasion, though, counsel has to be offered to those who do not expect it or do not want it. Perhaps someone is losing his zeal in Jehovah’s service, ‘drifting away’ as Terri’s friend was. (Hebrews 2:1) A person may be having a serious personal difference with another individual in the congregation. (Philippians 4:2) Or someone may need help in the matter of proper grooming or dress, or in the choice of friends or music.—1 Corinthians 15:33; 1 Timothy 2:9.
9, 10. (a) Why may the giving of Christian counsel take courage? (b) Why should a Christian nevertheless give counsel if it is needed?
9 When the prophet Hanani offered counsel to King Asa of Judah, Asa resented it so much that he “put him in the house of the stocks”! (2 Chronicles 16:7-10) A person had to be courageous to counsel a king in those days. Today, counselors may also need to be courageous, since giving counsel may initially cause resentment. One experienced Christian held back from offering needed counsel to a younger associate. The reason? He explained: “We are good friends right now, and I want to keep it that way!” Really, though, holding back from giving help when needed is not the mark of a good friend.—Proverbs 27:6; compare James 4:17.
10 In fact, experience has shown that if a counselor is skillful, bad feelings can usually be minimized, and the goal of the counsel can often be achieved. What does it take to be a skillful counselor? To answer this, let us consider two examples, one good and one bad.
Paul—A Skillful Counselor
11. Why did most of the Corinthians accept Paul’s counsel even though he often spoke quite frankly?
11 The apostle Paul had many occasions to offer counsel, and sometimes he had strong things to say. (1 Corinthians 1:10-13; 3:1-4; Galatians 1:6; 3:1) Nevertheless, his counsel was effective because those to whom he directed it knew that Paul loved them. As he told the Corinthians: “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.” (2 Corinthians 2:4) Most of the Corinthians accepted Paul’s counsel because they knew that it was given without selfish motives, since “love . . . does not look for its own interests.” Also, they were confident that he was not speaking out of personal irritation because “love . . . does not become provoked. It does not keep account of the injury.”—1 Corinthians 13:4, 5.
12. What quality will make it easier for a Christian counselor to get good results? Illustrate.
12 Today, too, it is much easier to accept even strong counsel if we know that the one counseling us loves us, is not speaking because of personal irritation, and has no selfish motives. For example, if the only time an elder talks to the teenagers in the congregation is when he criticizes them, the youngsters could easily feel picked on. But what if the elder has a good relationship with the teenagers? What if he takes them in field service, is approachable at the Kingdom Hall, and encourages them to talk to him about their problems, hopes, and doubts, perhaps even inviting them (with their parents’ consent) to his home from time to time? Then, when he has to give them counsel, the teenagers will more likely accept it, knowing that it comes from a friend.
Mildness and Humility
13. (a) Christian counsel should ultimately be based on what? (b) Hence, what must those offering counsel in the Christian congregation avoid doing?
13 There was another reason why Paul’s counsel was successful. He relied on godly wisdom, not on his own opinions. As he reminded the counselor Timothy: “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16; compare 1 Corinthians 2:1, 2.) Christian counselors today likewise base what they say on the Scriptures. It is true that, in the family, parents do not quote the Bible every time they counsel their children. Nevertheless, whether Christian parents are encouraging obedience, cleanliness, concern for others, punctuality, or anything else, there must always be a Scriptural basis for what they say. (Ephesians 6:1; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Matthew 7:12; Ecclesiastes 3:1-8) Within the congregation, we should be careful not to try to force our own personal viewpoints or tastes upon others. And elders should avoid bending the Scriptures to make them appear to support some idea about which they have strong feelings. (Compare Matthew 4:5, 6.) There must always be a genuine Bible reason for any counsel they offer.—Psalm 119:105.
14, 15. (a) Name another quality that makes it easier to accept counsel. (b) Why is it so important for a counselor to develop this quality?
14 Counsel is more effective, too, if it is offered in a spirit of mildness. Paul knew this. That is why, when speaking of the one who takes a false step before he is aware of it, Paul encouraged qualified ones to “try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness.” (Galatians 6:1) He also advised Titus to remind others “to speak injuriously of no one, not to be belligerent, to be reasonable, exhibiting all mildness toward all men.”—Titus 3:1, 2; 1 Timothy 6:11.
15 Why the need for mildness? Because uncontrolled emotions are contagious. Angry words provoke more angry words, and it is difficult to reason when tempers are at the boiling point. Even if the one being counseled reacts angrily, this is no reason for the counselor to do the same. Rather, the counselor’s own mild attitude may help to calm things down. “An answer, when mild, turns away rage.” (Proverbs 15:1) This is true whether the counselor is a parent, an elder, or anyone else.
16. Why should one always be respectful when offering counsel?
16 Finally, consider what Paul said to the younger elder Timothy: “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.” (1 Timothy 5:1, 2) What excellent advice! Imagine how an older woman would feel if a younger elder, perhaps young enough to be her own son, counseled her in a severely critical or disrespectful way. It would be much better if the counselor took a moment to think: ‘Considering the personality and age of this person, what would be the most loving and effective way to offer this point of counsel? If I were in his or her position, how would I want to be approached?’—Luke 6:31; Colossians 4:6.
The Counsel of the Pharisees
17, 18. What was one reason why the counsel offered by the Pharisees was not helpful?
17 Turn now from Paul’s good example and consider a bad example—that of the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They offered much counsel, but usually the nation did not benefit from it. Why?
18 There were many reasons. For one, consider the time when the Pharisees rebuked Jesus because his disciples did not wash their hands before a meal. Of course, most mothers counsel their children to wash their hands before a meal, and as a hygienic practice, there is much to recommend this. But the Pharisees were not primarily concerned with hygiene. For them, the washing of hands was a tradition, and they were upset that Jesus’ disciples were not following this tradition. However, as Jesus went on to show them, there were much bigger problems in Israel that should have been claiming their attention. For example, some were using Pharisaic tradition as a way to avoid obeying the fifth of the Ten Commandments: “Honor your father and your mother.” (Exodus 20:12; Matthew 15:1-11) Sadly, the scribes and the Pharisees were so caught up with details that they “disregarded the weightier matters of the Law, namely, justice and mercy and faithfulness.”—Matthew 23:23.
19. How can modern-day Christians avoid falling into the trap of having their own ax to grind?
19 Counselors today should be careful not to make the same mistake. They should avoid having their own ax to grind, as it were, getting so involved in details that they forget “the weightier matters.” In small matters, we are encouraged to “continue putting up with one another” in love. (Colossians 3:12, 13) The ability to discern when to avoid making an issue of something and when counsel is really needed is one thing that contributes to one’s having “spiritual qualifications.”—Galatians 6:1.
20. Why is personal example so important in the matter of giving counsel?
20 Something else made those first-century religious counselors ineffective. They pursued a “do as I say, not as I do” policy. Jesus said of them: “Woe also to you who are versed in the Law, because you load men with loads hard to be borne, but you yourselves do not touch the loads with one of your fingers!” (Luke 11:46) How unloving! Today, parents, elders, or others who give counsel should be very sure that they are themselves doing what they tell others to do. How can we encourage others to be busy in the field ministry if we do not set an appropriate example? Or how can we warn against materialism if material things dominate in our own lives?—Romans 2:21, 22; Hebrews 13:7.
21. (a) How did the Pharisees browbeat the people? (b) How should the Pharisees’ tactics serve as a caution to Christian counselors?
21 The Jewish leaders also failed as counselors because they used bullying tactics. On one occasion, they sent men to arrest Jesus. When these men, greatly impressed by Jesus’ manner of teaching, returned without him, the Pharisees rebuked them, saying: “You have not been misled also, have you? 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.” (John 7:45-49) Was this a proper basis for rebuke—tyranny of authority and name-calling? May Christian counselors never be guilty of such counseling! They should strictly avoid browbeating others or conveying the impression: ‘You should listen to me because I’m an elder!’ Or when speaking to a sister, let them not imply: ‘You should listen to me because I am a brother.’
22. (a) How and why should Christians offer counsel? (b) What further question needs to be discussed?
22 Yes, counseling is an act of love that all of us—especially the appointed elders—owe to fellow Christians from time to time. Counsel should not be given on any pretext. But when needed, it should be given courageously. It should have a Scriptural basis and be offered in a spirit of mildness. Moreover, it is much easier to accept counsel from someone who loves us. Sometimes, though, it can be difficult to know just what to say when giving counsel. So how can we offer counsel in a way that will be effective? This will be considered in the next article.
Can You Explain?
□ Who have the privilege and responsibility of offering Christian counsel?
□ Why may courage be needed to offer counsel?
□ Why did the fact that Paul loved the Corinthian Christians make it easier for them to accept his counsel?
□ Why should a Christian counselor be both mild and humble?
□ How can a Christian avoid making his counsel seem oppressive?
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Paul urged Titus to remind others “to be reasonable, exhibiting all mildness toward all men”