Counsel That Is “Seasoned With Salt”
“Let your utterance be always with graciousness, seasoned with salt, so as to know how you ought to give an answer to each one.”—COLOSSIANS 4:6.
1, 2. Why is it especially important that Christian counsel be “seasoned with salt”?
THROUGHOUT history, salt has played a special role in the preparation of food. It is both a preservative and an enhancer of flavor, so that many foods without salt are viewed as bland and tasteless. Therefore, when Paul wrote that a Christian’s utterances should be “seasoned with salt,” he was saying that our speech should be upbuilding, as well as acceptable and appealing. (Colossians 4:6) This is especially true when giving counsel. Why?
2 The purpose of counseling is not merely to share information. In many cases, the one being counseled already knows some of the Bible principles that apply to his situation, but he has trouble either in applying them or in seeing their importance. Therefore, the real challenge of Christian counseling is to change someone’s way of thinking. (Galatians 6:1; Ephesians 4:11, 12) Hence, the need for “salt.”
3. What help has Jehovah supplied for Christian counselors?
3 Truly, counseling is a challenge, and to meet it, the counselor needs knowledge and discernment. (Proverbs 2:1, 2, 9; 2 Timothy 4:2) Happily, Jehovah has provided the Bible, which contains not only the necessary knowledge but also many examples of counsel given by discerning men of God. Examining some of these will help us to be more effective counselors.
Consider the “Wonderful Counselor”
4. In offering counsel to the congregation, how can a Christian elder imitate Jesus Christ?
4 For example, consider Jesus, the “Wonderful Counselor.” (Isaiah 9:6) At the end of the first century, Jesus had letters of counsel sent to seven congregations in the district of Asia. These letters are a fine model for elders who may need to offer counsel to their congregations—and the principles apply equally well when counseling individuals. The problems Jesus discussed were serious: apostasy, a “Jezebel” influence, lukewarmness, and materialism, among others. (Revelation 2:4, 14, 15, 20-23; 3:1, 14-18) So Jesus discussed these problems frankly. There was no doubt about what he wanted to say to the respective congregations. Today, when Christian elders offer counsel to their congregations, they should “salt” their counsel with humility and kindness, in imitation of Jesus. (Philippians 2:3-8; Matthew 11:29) On the other hand, also in imitation of Jesus, they need to be frank. The counsel should not be so vague and so general that the congregation misses the point.
5, 6. What further lessons can a Christian elder learn from Jesus’ messages to the seven congregations?
5 Notice, too, that wherever possible Jesus at the outset strongly commended the congregations and concluded his counsel with upbuilding encouragement. (Revelation 2:2, 3, 7; 3:4, 5) Christian counselors, too, should season their counsel with commendation and encouragement. As one experienced elder remarked: “Really, you do not accomplish much if you merely scold the brothers.” When giving strong counsel, elders should not leave the brothers feeling demoralized but, rather, strengthened and determined to do better in the future.—Compare 2 Corinthians 1:1-4.
6 Finally, what about Jesus’ messages to the congregations at Smyrna and Philadelphia? He had no criticism of these brothers. But since they were undergoing serious trials, he encouraged them to keep on enduring. (Revelation 2:8-11; 3:7-13) Christian overseers, too, should not only offer counsel when correction is needed but always be alert to commend the brothers for their good works and encourage them to endure.—Romans 12:12.
7, 8. (a) How was Jesus’ counsel to his followers “seasoned with salt”? (b) Why are illustrations valuable when we are offering counsel?
7 Another time when Jesus offered counsel was when his disciples became concerned about who was going to be first in the Kingdom of the heavens. He could have scolded his followers severely for this concern. Instead, he ‘seasoned his words with salt.’ Calling over a young child, he said: “Whoever will humble himself like this young child is the one that is the greatest in the kingdom of the heavens.” (Matthew 18:1-4; Luke 9:46-48) The counsel was clear but kind and upbuilding. By showing that the Kingdom of the heavens was very different from the kingdoms of this world, Jesus encouraged his followers to be humble, and he tried to remove their reason for arguing.
8 Notice, too, the effective teaching technique Jesus used in this case. A living illustration—a young child! Wise counselors often “salt” their words with illustrations, since these can emphasize the seriousness of a matter or can help the recipient of counsel to reason and to view a problem in a new light. Often illustrations help to reduce tension.
9. What are some other Scriptural examples of the use of illustrations in giving counsel?
9 When warning Cain that he was in grave danger of committing a serious sin, Jehovah vividly described sin as a wild animal. He said: “There is sin crouching at the entrance, and for you is its craving.” (Genesis 4:7) When Jonah was angry because Jehovah had spared the repentant Ninevites, God gave him a bottle-gourd plant for shade. Then, when the plant withered and Jonah complained, Jehovah said: “You, for your part, felt sorry for the bottle-gourd plant . . . Ought I not to feel sorry for Nineveh the great city, in which there exist more than one hundred and twenty thousand men?” (Jonah 4:5-11) Powerful counsel indeed!
10. How did a modern-day Christian counselor use an illustration to help a young person to understand her parents’ motives?
10 Similarly, when one young person was upset because her parents restricted her associations, a traveling overseer tried to help her by using this illustration: “You like to sew, don’t you? Imagine that you spent a lot of time making an attractive dress for a friend. But after you gave it to her, you found that she was using it to wipe the floor. How would you feel?” The girl admitted that she would be upset. So the minister continued: “That is how your parents view it. They have spent a lot of time bringing you up, and they are proud of you. So they want you to associate with people who will treat you properly, not people who will end up harming you.” The illustration helped the girl to appreciate what her parents were trying to do.
11. How did Jehovah effectively use questions when counseling Jonah?
11 When Jehovah was speaking to Jonah about his unreasonable anger, you may have noticed that He also asked questions. When Jonah, angry that Nineveh had not been destroyed, asked to die, Jehovah said: “Have you rightly become hot with anger?” Jonah did not answer. Hence, Jehovah allowed the bottle-gourd plant to grow and then die. Then Jonah was doubly upset. So Jehovah asked him: “Have you rightly become hot with anger over the bottle-gourd plant?” This time Jonah did answer: “I have rightly become hot with anger, to the point of death.” Now that the prophet had answered Jehovah, He went on to compare Jonah’s attitude toward a mere plant with His own attitude toward Nineveh, asking the clinching question: “Ought I not to feel sorry for Nineveh?” (Jonah 4:4, 9, 11) Thus Jonah was counseled to imitate Jehovah’s attitude toward the repentant Ninevites.
12. What is the value of questions in counseling? Illustrate.
12 Yes, questions help the counselor to find out what the person requiring counsel is thinking. They also help that individual to realize more clearly his own problems and motivations. For example, a person might insist that he has every right to take a drink before driving home. He might genuinely feel, ‘Alcohol has no effect on me!’ A friend might wish to reason with him, saying: ‘But suppose you got involved in an accident that was not your fault. What would the police think if they noticed that you had been drinking? And suppose, in fact, that alcohol did affect your reactions even a little. Do you really want to drive your car when your reflexes are not 100 percent? Is it worth the risk, just for a drink?’
13. In what way did one counselor use the Bible, along with questions, to offer counsel? Why was this effective?
13 Christian counsel is always Bible based. And where possible, Christian counselors actually use the Bible in giving counsel. It is a powerful aid. (Hebrews 4:12) To illustrate: An experienced elder was trying to help someone who was no longer active in the preaching work. The elder called attention to Jesus’ parable of the man who had two children, both of whom he asked to go and work in his vineyard. The first said that he would go but did not. The second said he would not go but then decided to go after all. (Matthew 21:28-31) Then the counselor asked: “Which of these two children are you acting like right now?” The publisher quickly got the point, especially when the counselor continued: “How do you think Jehovah, the Owner of the vineyard, views your situation?”
14. What are some other situations in which questions could be a valuable tool in offering counsel?
14 It is similar when trying to help those with doubts, those with marital or other family problems, those who have difficulties with individuals, or those in other trying situations.* Skillful questions help those being counseled to reason, examine themselves, and arrive at correct conclusions.
15. (a) What did Job’s three “comforters” fail to do? (b) How will listening help a Christian counselor?
15 Remember, though, that asking questions implies that you want to hear the answers. (Proverbs 18:13) Counselors should not fall into the trap that snared the three “comforters” of Job. Job spoke to them, but they did not really listen. They had already made up their minds that Job’s suffering was caused by his own sinfulness. (Job 16:2; 22:4-11) In contrast, a Christian counselor should listen carefully. Thus, he may notice significant pauses or inflections of voice indicating that the whole story has not yet been told. Perhaps a supplementary question will bring out a thought that is lurking in the back of the person’s mind.—Compare Proverbs 20:5.
16. What is required of the counselor when it is difficult to listen to the expressions of an emotionally upset fellow Christian?
16 True, this may not always be easy. A disturbed person may blurt out: “I hate my parents!” or, “I can’t live with my husband anymore!” It is upsetting to listen to such things. But remember that Jehovah was willing to listen when Asaph complained that his faithfulness seemed to be in vain. (Psalm 73:13, 14) God listened, too, when Jeremiah said that he had been fooled. (Jeremiah 20:7) Habakkuk seemingly complained that the wicked were oppressing the righteous and that Jehovah was not even seeing it. (Habakkuk 1:13-17) Christian counselors should be equally ready to listen. If people really have these feelings, then the counselor needs to know about this so that he can help. He should avoid subtly urging the person being counseled to express opinions that he thinks the individual should have rather than those he really does have. The counselor should also avoid reacting strongly or judgmentally, perhaps thereby discouraging the person from opening his heart any further.—Proverbs 14:29; 17:27.
17. How is just listening to our brothers sometimes a way of comforting them?
17 Sometimes the major part of our counseling is listening, allowing the person to pour out his hurt, heartbreak, or emotional suffering. When Naomi returned from the fields of Moab, the women of Israel greeted her with the words: “Is this Naomi?” But Naomi sadly replied: “Do not call me Naomi. Call me Mara, for the Almighty has made it very bitter for me. I was full when I went, and it is empty-handed that Jehovah has made me return. Why should you call me Naomi, when it is Jehovah that has humiliated me and the Almighty that has caused me calamity?” (Ruth 1:19-21) There was not much that the Israelite women could say in reply. But, often, just making oneself lovingly available to listen while others express their emotional pain can contribute to their healing.*
18. (a) What were some responses to the counsel from Jehovah and Jesus Christ? (b) What quality should Christian counselors cultivate?
18 Of course, response to counsel varies. Jonah evidently responded well to Jehovah’s counsel. The prophet recovered so well from his bitterness and anger that he reported his experiences so that others could learn from them. Jesus’ followers took some time to learn the lesson about humility. Why, the very night before Jesus died, they got into another argument about who would be the greatest among them! (Luke 22:24) Therefore, those giving counsel need to be patient. (Ecclesiastes 7:8) A person with a deeply rooted wrong attitude usually will not alter his course just because of a few words from an elder. Long-standing problems between marriage mates will not disappear after one interview with a mature Christian. Serious illnesses can take months to cure, and so may serious spiritual problems. And some simply will not listen to sound counsel. Despite being counseled by Jehovah himself, Cain went off and murdered his brother.—Genesis 4:6-8.
19. How can the congregation help those suffering emotional wounds?
19 Those with severe problems should be realistic as to what they may expect from the congregation. A fellow Christian cannot remove chronic mental depression, or emotional hurt possibly caused by a tragedy or a terrible experience. When a person is physically sick, often all the doctor does is make him comfortable while time works a healing on the body. Similarly, when a Christian suffers emotionally, the congregation can try to “make him comfortable,” praying with him and for him, offering an encouraging word whenever possible, and giving whatever practical help they can. Then, usually, time and Jehovah’s spirit perform the healing. (Proverbs 12:25; James 5:14, 15) Thus, one victim of incest wrote: “While incest might be a terrible emotional strain, Jehovah’s organization does a lot to support you, and with help from the Scriptures and support from the brothers and sisters, you can overcome.”*
20. What part does counsel play as all of us endeavor to keep serving Jehovah?
20 Yes, Christians have a responsibility to help one another. Elders in particular, but also all in the congregation, should be concerned about one another’s welfare and offer kind, Scriptural counsel when needed. (Philippians 2:4) Of course, such counsel should not be dictatorial or harsh. Neither should it give the impression of trying to control someone else’s life. Rather, it should be Scripturally based and “seasoned with salt.” (Colossians 4:6) Everyone needs help on occasion, and timely counsel, ‘salted’ with kindness and encouragement, will help all of us to continue on the roadway to everlasting life.
For more information on counseling married couples, see the article “How to Give Counsel That Really Helps” in the July 22, 1983, issue of Awake!
For suggestions as to how to help Christians suffering from depression, see the articles “Speak Consolingly to the Depressed Souls” in The Watchtower of April 15, 1982, and “An Educated Tongue—‘To Encourage the Weary’” in the issue of June 1, 1982.
For more information on helping those suffering emotional wounds, see the articles “Hope for Despairing Ones” and “They Want to Help” in The Watchtower of August 1, 1983, and “Help for the Victims of Incest” in the issue of October 1, 1983.
Do You Remember?
□ What features of Jesus’ counsel to the seven congregations can help elders today?
□ What Scriptural examples are there of the use of illustrations in giving counsel?
□ To a Christian counselor, what is the real value of questions?
□ How can a skillful counselor use the Bible?
□ Why should a person giving counsel also be a careful listener?
[Picture on page 17]
Using a child to illustrate his point, Jesus gave his disciples clear, kind, and upbuilding counsel
[Picture on page 18]
Jonah was bitter and angry, but he apparently responded well to Jehovah’s counsel