Most newspapers carry syndicated columns offering advice. Governmental leaders have people around them to give them advice about policy. All of us have had the opportunity to receive advice and to give advice. Proverbs says that the “fool is right in his own eyes but he that is wise listens to counsel” (Prov. 12:15). Fortunate is the man or woman who has a wise counselor to give them advice. But not all advice is good. Someone said, “Good advice costs nothing and it’s worth the price.” While it is true that some advice is worthless it is also true that some advice is priceless.
The books of Psalms and Proverbs (the wisdom literature of God), many times contrast good counsel with bad counsel. We need to recognize that God’s counsel is not optional but commanded. And so we need to think seriously about the counsel of God. Some will admit that their course of action is sometimes not wise. My question would be, when would it be a benefit to do that which is unwise? If we choose to do what God says in unwise what is the justification? Are seeking to please God or self?
But there is another aspect of this matter that we need to consider, and that is our personal responsibility to offer good advice to our family, friends and brethren. In 1 Thes. 5:14, 15, Paul encourages “pursuing what is good.” We need to offer that same advice to those over whom we have influence. Paul says that we are to be able to “admonish one another” (Rom. 15:14). In order to do this we like Paul need to “prove what is good and acceptable and the perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2), and “understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17).
The advice that we give and the advice we accept, must be in accordance with God’s will. When we ask for advice we may say, “What do you think?” Rather, we should be asking, “Help me understand what God would have one do in a situation like this,” or “What would Jesus have done?”
There are many examples in the Bible of “bad advice.” Consider the advice that Satan gave to Eve in the garden. Satan’s advice was that Eve should eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eve listened to the advice and ate the fruit, disobeying God. Why did Eve take that advice? She took it because it was what she wanted to do. She saw that the fruit was good for food and desirable to the eyes and Satan promised that it would make her like God (Gen. 3:1-6).
Reheboam, the son of King Solomon, ascended to the throne following his father’s death. He had some important decisions to make. He had before him the choice of listening to the old advisors or the young advisors. In this case we see that bad advice came as a result of immaturity and the good advice as a result of maturity. Reheboam was foolish enough to listen to the young men, leading to a division in the kingdom (1 Kings 12:6-11). One’s own opinion is often reinforced by the advice of those around them, but that advice is not always right. In fact in most cases if you search long enough you can find someone who will support almost any decision you desire. Paul warned Timothy, “they will not endure sound doctrine but will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts” (2 Tim 4:3). We should seek out the advice of those whom we trust will not just be “yes men” but those who are truly concerned about the will of God.
There are many examples of good advice in the Bible. One of my favorite stories is that of the leper Naaman, who came to a prophet because he believed the prophet could cure him of his disease. He left the prophet in a rage because he didn’t like what the prophet told him to do. But we see a happy ending because Naaman listened to the advice of his servant and dipped in the Jordan seven times as Elisha instructed and was healed (2 Kings 5). Often we find ourselves in an emotional state that makes it difficult for us to think straight. We should be thankful to God in such instances for those who will give us good advice.
We need to be careful that the advice we give does not weaken or diminish the commandment of God. One who is already in a weakened condition, who is looking for an out, may listen to bad advice. We cannot apologize for God’s word. We cannot suggest that it is impossible to do His will. I have heard people advise others, who had a hard choice before them, that God wouldn’t expect them to do this or that. In fact, God does expect us to do some things that are difficult to do. For example, broken marriages often require the disciple of God to live a celibate life. God does expect one to do that if fornication was not the cause. But some, wanting to enter into a new marriage are willing to listen to bad advice and end up marrying again without God’s approval. God’s word is powerful and forceful and we have no right to water it down or misrepresent God. Others claim that their present marriage situation is unbearable. Their friends will tell them, “God wouldn’t expect you to stay married.” Yes, He does expect you to stay married unless your spouse is guilty of fornication (Mt. 19:9). “Whatsoever God has joined together let not man put asunder” (Mt. 19:6).
The examples of bad advice one hears today are endless. Women are told, “You don’t have to be in subjection to your husband.” God says you must (Eph. 5:22). Parents are told, “You shouldn’t spank your children.” God says you should (Prov. 23:13-14). Others are told, “If someone did that to me, I’d never forgive them.” God teaches that we must be willing to forgive (Mt. 6:15). Christians are told, “Don’t worry about missing the assembling of the saints, it’s just a tradition.” God teaches that it is an important and vital tradition to provoke our brethren to love and good works in the assembly (Heb. 10:24, 25). Mothers are encouraged, “You need to get out of the home and go to work to better yourself.” Paul through the Spirit instructed Titus that women need to be workers at home (Titus 2:4, 5).
The one who gives advice is responsible for that advice. He must ask himself does this advice encourage, support and most importantly is it according to God’s word? It is better not to give advice than to give the wrong advice. Recognizing that the only infallible advice is that from above, the one receiving advice must be able to distinguish between that which is right and that which is wrong. In order to do that each of us is responsible to study God’s word in order to become knowledgeable of God’s will (2 Tim. 2:15) and pray for wisdom to make the application (Js. 1:5). That is the advice of God.
By Karl Hennecke
From Expository Files 17.5; May 2010