Do Others Accept Your Counsel?
GOOD counsel given properly always gets fine results. Right? Wrong! Even excellent counsel given by capable counselors is often ignored or rejected.—Proverbs 29:19.
This happened when Jehovah counseled Cain, who had developed a hatred for his brother, Abel. (Genesis 4:3-5) Knowing the danger this posed for Cain, God said to him: “Why are you hot with anger and why has your countenance fallen? If you turn to doing good, will there not be an exaltation? But if you do not turn to doing good, there is sin crouching at the entrance, and for you is its craving; and will you, for your part, get the mastery over it?”—Genesis 4:6, 7.
Jehovah thus likened sin to a predator waiting to pounce on Cain if he persisted in nursing a grudge against his brother. (Compare James 1:14, 15.) There was still time for Cain to change his attitude, to “turn to doing good” instead of pursuing a calamitous course. Sadly, Cain did not take heed. He rejected Jehovah’s counsel, with dire consequences.
Some resent and reject any kind of counsel. (Proverbs 1:22-30) Could it be that it is the counselor’s fault that the counsel is rejected? (Job 38:2) Do you who give counsel make it difficult for others to accept it? Human imperfection makes that a real danger. But you can minimize the possibility of having that happen by carefully following Bible principles. Let us consider several of them.
‘Readjust in a Spirit of Mildness’
“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.” (Galatians 6:1) The apostle Paul thus pointed out that those having “spiritual qualifications” should try to readjust a Christian who “takes some false step before he is aware of it.” Sometimes it seems that those least qualified to do so are most inclined to give advice. Hence, do not be too quick to counsel others. (Proverbs 10:19; James 1:19; 3:1) It is primarily the congregation elders who are spiritually qualified to do this. Of course, any mature Christian should sound a warning if he sees a brother walking into danger.
If you do offer advice or counsel, be sure to base what you say on godly wisdom, not on human theories and philosophies. (Colossians 2:8) Be like the careful cook who makes sure that any ingredients used are wholesome and free of anything that might be poisonous. Make sure that your counsel is firmly based on God’s Word and not simply on personal opinion. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) By doing this, you can be sure your counsel will not harm anyone.
The objective of the counsel is to “readjust” the erring one, not to force unwilling change. The Greek word rendered “readjust” is related to a term that pertains to the resetting of a dislocated bone in order to prevent further damage. According to lexicographer W. E. Vine, it also suggests “the necessity for patience and perseverance in the process.” Imagine the gentleness and skill required to avoid inflicting unnecessary physical pain. Similarly, a counselor needs to exercise great care so as to avoid hurting the one being counseled. This is difficult enough when someone requests counsel. When your counsel is not requested, even greater skill and tact are required.
You certainly will not “readjust” anyone if you alienate him. To avoid doing this, bear in mind the need to display “the tender affections of compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind, mildness, and long-suffering.” (Colossians 3:12) If a doctor is impatient and unnecessarily rough, the patient may ignore his advice and never return for needed treatment.
This does not mean that counsel should lack firmness. Jesus Christ was firm when he counseled the seven congregations in the district of Asia. (Revelation 1:4; 3:1-22) He gave them some very direct counsel that they needed to hear and apply. But Jesus’ firmness was always balanced with such qualities as compassion and kindness, reflecting the loving spirit of his heavenly Father.—Psalm 23:1-6; John 10:7-15.
Counsel With Graciousness
“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) Salt can enhance the flavor of food, making it appealing. If your counsel is to be palatable, it must be presented “with graciousness, seasoned with salt.” Even with the best of ingredients, however, food can be prepared badly or be thrown on a plate in an unattractive heap. That does not improve anyone’s appetite. In fact, it may be hard to swallow even one unpalatable mouthful.
When giving counsel, it is important to choose the right words. The wise man Solomon said: “As apples of gold in silver carvings is a word spoken at the right time for it.” (Proverbs 25:11) He may well have had in mind a beautifully engraved silver container with exquisitely carved gold apples on it. How pleasing that would be to the eye, and how much you would appreciate receiving it as a gift! In the same way, well-chosen, gracious words can have strong appeal to a person you are trying to assist.—Ecclesiastes 12:9, 10.
In contrast, “a word causing pain makes anger to come up.” (Proverbs 15:1) Badly chosen words can easily result in pain and anger instead of gratitude. In fact, not just ill-chosen words but the wrong tone of voice may cause a person to reject essentially good counsel. Giving counsel in a tactless, insensitive way can be as damaging as attacking someone with a weapon. “There exists the one speaking thoughtlessly as with the stabs of a sword,” says Proverbs 12:18. Why speak thoughtlessly and make it difficult for someone to listen to counsel?—Proverbs 12:15.
As Solomon said, a word of counsel should be “spoken at the right time for it.” Timing is so important if counsel is going to be successful! It is obvious that food may not be appreciated by someone who has lost his appetite. Perhaps he has recently had a large meal, or he may be sick. Force-feeding someone who does not want to eat is neither wise nor acceptable.
Counsel With Lowliness of Mind
“Make my joy full in that you are . . . doing nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind considering that the others are superior to you, keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just your own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.” (Philippians 2:2-4) If you are a good counselor, you will be motivated by “personal interest” in the well-being of others. You will also display “lowliness of mind” when dealing with spiritual brothers and sisters, considering others superior to you. What does that mean?
Lowliness of mind will prevent you from adopting a superior attitude or tone. None of us have a basis for feeling superior to fellow believers. Every one of us falls short from time to time. Since you cannot read the heart, it is especially important not to judge the motives of the one you counsel. He may be innocent of any bad motive and unaware of any wrong attitude or actions. Even if he is somewhat aware that he is out of step with God’s requirements, no doubt he will find it much easier to accept counsel if it is given humbly with a genuine interest in his spiritual welfare.
Imagine how you would feel if you were invited to a meal but your host treated you in a cold, disdainful manner! You certainly would not enjoy the meal. Indeed, “better is a dish of vegetables where there is love than a manger-fed bull and hatred along with it.” (Proverbs 15:17) Likewise, even the best counsel can be difficult to accept if the counselor manifests a dislike for the one he is counseling or belittles and embarrasses him. However, love, mutual respect, and trust will make counsel easier to give and to take.—Colossians 3:14.
Counsel That Was Accepted
The prophet Nathan showed lowliness of mind when he counseled King David. Love and respect for David was evident in what Nathan said and did. Nathan began with an illustration that took into account the possible difficulty that David might have had in listening to counsel. (2 Samuel 12:1-4) The prophet appealed to David’s love of justice and righteousness, even though it had not been in evidence in his actions involving Bath-sheba. (2 Samuel 11:2-27) When the point of the illustration was pressed, David’s heartfelt reaction was: “I have sinned against Jehovah.” (2 Samuel 12:7-13) Unlike Cain, who did not listen to Jehovah, David humbly accepted correction.
No doubt Jehovah guided Nathan, taking into account David’s imperfection and the likelihood that he could react unfavorably. Nathan proceeded with great tact and obviously considered David superior because of David’s position as Jehovah’s appointed king. If you are in a position of some authority, you might give proper counsel, but it could be hard to accept it if you failed to display lowliness of mind.
Nathan readjusted David in a spirit of mildness. The prophet’s words were gracious and carefully prepared so that David could respond in a way that would be in his own best interests. Nathan was not motivated by personal interest, nor did he try to assume moral or spiritual superiority over David. What a fine example of saying the right words in a fitting way! If you display a similar spirit, it is far more likely that others will accept your counsel.
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Like nutritious food, your counsel should be wholesome
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Do you make your counsel as appealing as apples of gold in silver carvings?
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The prophet Nathan humbly appealed to David’s love of justice and righteousness