“Oil and incense make the heart rejoice; so does sweet friendship springing from sincere counsel.”—PROV. 27:9.
SONG 102 “Assist Those Who Are Weak”
1-2. What did one brother learn about offering counsel?
MANY years ago, two elders visited a sister who had been missing meetings for some time. The elder who took the lead in the conversation shared a number of scriptures about meeting attendance. He thought that the visit had gone well, but as he and his companion were leaving, the sister said, “You brothers do not have a clue about what I am going through.” The brothers had offered their counsel without asking the sister about her problems and circumstances. As a result, she did not feel that their counsel was helpful.
2 Looking back, the elder who took the lead in the discussion says: “At the time, I thought the sister was being disrespectful. But as I thought about it, I came to see that I had shown up with all the appropriate scriptures instead of showing up with all the appropriate questions, such as ‘What has been happening in your life?’ ‘How can I help?’” The elder learned a valuable lesson from that experience. Today he is an empathetic and helpful shepherd.
3. Who in the congregation may give counsel?
3 As shepherds, elders are responsible for giving counsel when it is needed. However, there are times when others in the congregation may need to give counsel. For example, a brother or a sister may give Bible-based advice to a friend. (Ps. 141:5; Prov. 25:12) Or an older sister may “advise the younger women” in such matters as those mentioned at Titus 2:3-5. And, of course, parents often need to give counsel and correction to their children. So while this article is directed to congregation elders in particular, all of us can benefit by reviewing ways in which we can give counsel that is both practical and motivating and that will “make the heart rejoice.”—Prov. 27:9.
4. What will we discuss in this article?
4 In this article, we will discuss four questions about giving counsel: (1) What is the right motive? (2) Is the counsel really necessary? (3) Who should give the counsel? (4) How can you give effective counsel?
WHAT IS THE RIGHT MOTIVE?
5 Elders love their brothers and sisters. At times, they show that love by counseling someone who is heading down a wrong path. (Gal. 6:1) Before speaking to the person, though, an elder might consider some of the facets of love that the apostle Paul mentioned. “Love is patient and kind. . . . It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (Read 1 Corinthians 13:4, 7.) Meditating on those Bible verses will help the elder to examine his motives for giving the counsel and to approach his brother with the proper attitude. If the one receiving the counsel can sense that the elder cares about him, he will be more likely to accept the counsel.—Rom. 12:10.
6. What good example did the apostle Paul set?
6 The apostle Paul set a good example as an elder. For instance, when the brothers in Thessalonica needed counsel, Paul did not hesitate to give it. However, in his letters to them, Paul first took note of their faithful work, their loving labor, and their endurance. He also considered their circumstances, kindly acknowledging that their life was not easy and that they were bearing up under persecution. (1 Thess. 1:3; 2 Thess. 1:4) He even told those brothers that they were an example to other Christians. (1 Thess. 1:8, 9) How happy they must have been to receive Paul’s warm commendation! There could be no doubt that Paul loved his brothers very much. That is why he was able to give effective counsel in both of his letters to the Thessalonians.—1 Thess. 4:1, 3-5, 11; 2 Thess. 3:11, 12.
7. Why might someone react negatively to counsel?
7 What could happen if we did not give counsel in the right manner? An experienced elder observed, “Some react negatively to counsel, not because there is something wrong with the advice, but because it was not given in a loving way.” What can we learn from this? Counsel is much easier to accept when it is given out of love, not out of irritation.
IS THE COUNSEL REALLY NECESSARY?
8. What should an elder ask himself when deciding whether to counsel someone?
8 Elders should not be hasty about giving counsel. Before offering it, an elder should ask himself: ‘Do I really need to say something? Am I certain that what the other person is doing is wrong? Has a Bible command been violated? Or is it simply a difference of opinion?’ Elders wisely avoid being “hasty with [their] words.” (Prov. 29:20) If the elder is not sure that he needs to counsel someone, he might approach another elder to discuss whether there is a Scriptural issue that has to be addressed.—2 Tim. 3:16, 17.
9. What do we learn from Paul about how to give counsel on dress and grooming? (1 Timothy 2:9, 10)
9 Consider an example. Suppose an elder is concerned about a fellow believer’s choices in dress or grooming. The elder could ask himself, ‘Is there a Scriptural reason to say something?’ Conscious of the need to be objective, he might ask another elder or mature publisher for his thoughts. Together they might review Paul’s counsel on dress and grooming. (Read 1 Timothy 2:9, 10.) Paul outlined certain broad principles, observing that a Christian’s dress should be appropriate, modest, and sensible. But Paul did not make a list of dos and don’ts. He recognized that Christians have a right to express their individual taste within Scriptural limits. So in determining whether counsel is needed, the elders should consider if the person’s choices reflect modesty and good sense.
10. What must we keep in mind with regard to personal choices?
10 We do well to realize that two mature Christians may make different choices, both of which are acceptable. We should not impose our own standards of right and wrong on fellow believers.—Rom. 14:10.
WHO SHOULD GIVE THE COUNSEL?
11-12. If counsel is necessary, what questions should an elder ask himself, and why?
11 If it is clear that some counsel is necessary, the next question is, Who should give it? Before counseling a married sister or a minor, an elder would consult with the family head, who might prefer to care for the matter himself.* Or the family head might ask to be present when the elder gives the counsel. And, as mentioned in paragraph 3, there may be times when it is preferable for an older sister to counsel a younger sister.
12 There is another factor to consider. An elder might ask himself, ‘Am I the best person to give the counsel, or would it be better received if it came from someone else?’ For example, a person who struggles with feelings of low self-worth may respond better to counsel from an elder who has dealt with this challenge rather than one who has not. The elder who experienced similar feelings is likely to have greater empathy, and what he says may be more readily accepted. However, all elders have the responsibility to encourage and motivate their brothers and sisters to make any adjustments that the Scriptures require. So when admonition is needed, what matters most is that the counsel is given.
HOW CAN YOU GIVE EFFECTIVE COUNSEL?
13-14. Why is it important for an elder to listen?
13 Be ready to listen. When an elder is preparing to offer counsel, he should ask himself: ‘What do I know about my brother’s circumstances? What is happening in his life? Could he be facing challenges that I am unaware of? What does he need most right now?’
14 The principle recorded at James 1:19 certainly applies to those who give counsel. James wrote: “Everyone must be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” An elder may assume that he has all the facts, but does he really? Proverbs 18:13 reminds us: “When anyone replies to a matter before he hears the facts, it is foolish and humiliating.” It is best to get the facts directly from the person himself. That involves listening before speaking. Remember the lesson learned by the elder quoted in the introduction of this article. He realized that instead of beginning the visit with material he had prepared, he should have asked the sister such questions as: “What has been happening in your life?” “How can I help?” If elders take the time to get the facts, they are more likely to help and encourage their brothers and sisters.
15. How can elders apply the principle found at Proverbs 27:23?
15 Get to know the flock. As mentioned at the outset, giving effective counsel involves more than simply reading a few scriptures or offering a suggestion or two. Our brothers and sisters need to sense that we care for them, that we understand them, and that we want to help them. (Read Proverbs 27:23.) Elders should do their best to develop close friendships with their brothers and sisters.
16. What will help elders to give effective counsel?
16 Elders would certainly want to avoid giving the impression that they are all business, as it were, and that they approach their brothers only when something needs to be handled. Instead, they regularly talk with their brothers and sisters, showing personal concern for them as they face challenges. “If you do that,” observes one experienced elder, “you will build a good relationship. Then when you need to give counsel, you will find it much easier to do so.” And the one receiving the counsel will find it much easier to accept.
17. When especially does an elder need to be patient and kind?
17 Be patient and kind. Patience and kindness are especially needed when someone initially resists Bible-based counsel. An elder must guard against the tendency to get irritated if his counsel is not immediately accepted or acted on. Regarding Jesus, it was prophesied: “No bruised reed will he crush, and no smoldering wick will he extinguish.” (Matt. 12:20) So in his private prayers, the elder may ask Jehovah to bless the one needing counsel and to help him understand the reason for the counsel and apply it. The brother being counseled may need time to think about what was said. If the elder is patient and kind, the one he is trying to help will not be distracted by the way the counsel is given, but he will be able to focus on the message. Of course, the counsel should always be based on God’s Word.
18. (a) Where giving counsel is concerned, what should we keep in mind? (b) As shown in the picture with the box, what are the parents discussing?
18 Learn from your mistakes. As long as we are imperfect, we will not be able to apply the suggestions in this article perfectly. (Jas. 3:2) We will make mistakes, but when we do, we should try to learn from them. If our brothers and sisters can perceive that we love them, they will likely find it easier to forgive us when we offend them by something we say or do.—See also the box “A Note to Parents.”
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
19. How can we make the heart of our brothers and sisters rejoice?
19 As we have seen, it is not easy to give effective counsel. We are imperfect, and so are those whom we counsel. Keep in mind the principles we have considered in this article. Make sure that the counsel is given with the right motive. Also, be sure that the counsel is really needed and that you are the right person to give it. Before offering counsel, ask questions and listen carefully so that you can understand what the person is facing. Try to see things from his perspective. Be gentle, cultivating a warm friendship with your brothers and sisters. Remember the goal: We want our counsel not only to be effective but also to “make the heart rejoice.”—Prov. 27:9.
SONG 103 Shepherds—Gifts in Men
It is not always easy to give counsel. When we need to do so, how can we offer it in a way that is beneficial and refreshing? This article will help elders in particular to give counsel that appeals to the heart of those receiving it.
See the article “Understanding Headship in the Congregation” in the February 2021 issue of The Watchtower.