How Do You Give Advice?
Have you ever been asked to give advice to others? For example, have you ever been asked such questions as: ‘What should I do? Should I go to this gathering? pursue this career? associate with this person with a view to marriage?’
Sincere people may ask you for help in making decisions—decisions that may influence their relationship with friends, family, or even Jehovah. On what will you base your reply? What is your custom in giving advice to others? Whether the topic appears trivial or weighty, “the heart of the righteous one meditates so as to answer,” says Proverbs 15:28. Consider how the following five Bible principles can help as to giving advice.
1 Discern the Real Situation.
“When anyone is replying to a matter before he hears it, that is foolishness on his part and a humiliation.”—PROV. 18:13.
In order to give good advice, we must understand the circumstances and viewpoint of the one seeking assistance. To illustrate: If someone called you and asked for the best way to get to your home, what would you need to know in order to help? Could you advise him of the best route to take without first knowing his present location? Of course not! Likewise, providing proper guidance requires discerning the present “location”—the circumstances and viewpoint—of the one seeking direction. Could there be extenuating circumstances that might affect our response? Without proper knowledge of a situation, we might give advice that causes a person to become even more confused.—Luke 6:39.
Determine How Much Research He Has Done. It may also be wise to ask the person seeking advice such questions as: “What Bible principles do you think apply?” “What are the apparent advantages and disadvantages of the options before you?” “What research have you already done?” “What help have others, such as the congregation elders, your parents, or your Bible study conductor, already provided for you?”
The answers may help us to discern how much effort the person has already put into finding an answer. Also, our counsel will take into account what others may already have said. We may also discern whether the person is basically seeking a counselor who will ‘tickle his ears’ with the advice he wants to hear.—2 Tim. 4:3.
2 Avoid Hasty Responses.
“Every man must be swift about hearing, slow about speaking.”—JAS. 1:19.
With good intentions, we may respond quickly. But would that usually be wise, especially if we are discussing a topic we have not thoroughly researched? Proverbs 29:20 says: “Have you beheld a man hasty with his words? There is more hope for someone stupid than for him.”
Take the time to make sure that your approach is in full harmony with godly wisdom. Ask yourself, ‘Have the thinking and “spirit of the world” worked their way into my thinking?’ (1 Cor. 2:12, 13) Remember that good intentions alone may not be enough. The apostle Peter, after he learned of Jesus’ difficult assignment, advised Jesus: “Be kind to yourself, Lord; you will not have this destiny at all.” What can we learn from Peter’s reaction? That if not careful, even a sincere person could promote, “not God’s thoughts, but those of men.” (Matt. 16:21-23) How important to think before we speak! After all, is not our own experience severely limited when compared with God’s wisdom?—Job 38:1-4; Prov. 11:2.
3 Humbly Apply God’s Word.
“I do nothing of my own initiative; but just as the Father taught me I speak these things.”—JOHN 8:28.
Will you say, “If I were you, I would . . .”? Even if the answer to the inquiry seems obvious, you would do well to learn from the pattern of humility and modesty that Jesus left. He had far greater wisdom and experience than any other human; yet, he said: “I have not spoken out of my own impulse, but the Father himself . . . has given me a commandment as to what to tell and what to speak.” (John 12:49, 50) Jesus’ teachings and advice were always based on his Father’s will.
For example, we read at Luke 22:49 that Jesus’ disciples asked for direction on whether they should fight when he was about to be arrested. One disciple used a sword. Notice from the parallel account at Matthew 26:52-54 that even under those circumstances, Jesus took time to reason with the disciple on Jehovah’s will. Aware of the principles found at Genesis 9:6 and the prophecies of Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53, Jesus was able to give wise direction that no doubt saved lives and pleased Jehovah.
4 Use Your Theocratic Library.
“Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics, to give them their food at the proper time?”—MATT. 24:45.
Jesus has appointed a trusted slave class that dispenses vital spiritual food. When you are giving advice and direction regarding important matters, do you take time to do thorough research in Bible-based publications?
The Watch Tower Publications Index and the Watchtower Library* place abundant and clear information at our fingertips. What a mistake it would be to overlook this wealth of information! Thousands of topics are cited, with many articles to help someone seeking advice. How skilled are you at helping others investigate Bible principles and reason on God’s Word? Just as a GPS can help a person identify where he is and guide him to his destination, so research tools can help him see the road he is on and discern how to remain on the path to life.
Many elders have trained publishers to look up articles by using the Index or the Watchtower Library, thus assisting their brothers and sisters to reason on the Scriptures. Such assistance helps publishers not only to address their immediate concerns but also to develop a habit of doing research and relying on Jehovah’s spiritual provisions. In this way, they “have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.”—Heb. 5:14.
5 Avoid Trying to Make Decisions for Others.
“Each one will carry his own load.”—GAL. 6:5.
In the end, each person needs to choose for himself which counsel and advice to follow. Jehovah allows all of us the freedom to decide whether we will be governed by his principles or not. (Deut. 30:19, 20) Some situations involve several Bible principles, and ultimately, the person seeking advice has to make his own decision. Based on the issue or the age of the one seeking our advice, we may also need to ask ourselves, ‘Do I really have the authority to address this question?’ Some matters are best referred to congregation elders or if the inquirer is a young person, to his parents.
The Watchtower Library on CD-ROM is currently available in 39 languages. The Watch Tower Publications Index is currently available in over 45 languages.
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Family Worship Project
As a study project, why not do research to find answers to questions that have been posed to you recently? What articles and Bible principles can you locate that could assist someone asking such questions? For instance, suppose a brother or a sister asks you about dating someone with marriage in view. When using the Index or the Watchtower Library, look up the most directly related subject first. For example, in the Index you might look up “Dating” or “Marriage.” Then scan the subtopics for relevant articles. When viewing a main heading, note whether there are any “See also” topics, which may point to a heading more directly related to your search.
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Thanks to Jehovah’s provisions through his organization, we can both give and receive the best advice. Ecclesiastes 12:11 states: “The words of the wise ones are like oxgoads, and just like nails driven in are those indulging in collections of sentences; they have been given from one shepherd.” Just like “oxgoads”—pointed sticks used to guide draft animals—loving and sound advice guides sincere ones in the right direction. “Nails driven in” produce stable structures. Similarly, sharing good advice can produce stable results. Wise ones ‘indulge,’ or find unrestrained delight, in considering “collections of sentences” that reflect the wisdom of their “one shepherd,” Jehovah.
Echo the Shepherd when giving advice. What a privilege to provide a listening ear along with helpful counsel whenever we can! When truly based on Bible principles, our advice will prove to be sound and may contribute to the everlasting good of the listener.