“If we become a group of people who immerse ourselves in God’s word, we will become people who can give wise counsel at the drop of a hat. Even inadvertently, more and more of what we share with our friends will be good, true, godly advice because our minds and hearts will be constantly informed by the transforming power of scripture.”

In between our daily tasks at work and home, we are constantly called upon by those around us to give input into their lives. Whether it’s suggesting which lunch option might be the best, debating the latest novel or Netflix show, or delving into the more complicated issues like whether or not to online date, how to handle disciplining the kids, or trying to figure out ways to help a depressed friend, we advise those in our lives all the time. So when you’re hanging out with your friends, chatting and catching up, are you giving good advice? Or are you just making it up as you go, often accidentally sharing opinions ungrounded in truth? One of the main purposes of the collection of Proverbs in the Bible is to teach us to seek and gain wisdom, an important result of which is to then be able to speak this into the lives of those around us. Here’s a selection of Solomon’s thoughts on giving good advice, from Proverbs 12:

vs 5-6 “The thoughts of the righteous are just; the counsels of the wicked are deceitful. The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood, but the mouth of the upright delivers them.”

vs 15-19 “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult. Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit. There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.”

vs. 25-26 “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad. One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.”

Here are 5 steps to help you consider how to go from a unwitting, accidental advice-giver to one who offers wise counsel:

  1. Be full of truth and wisdom so that you have a store of knowledge to share with your friends when the time arises. No, I don’t mean watch Jeopardy or read through all the Trivial Pursuit cards (I know this ages me), I mean spend time in our one solid source of truth: the Bible. I Corinthians 1:25 says “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” If we become a group of people who immerse ourselves in God’s word, we will become people who can give wise counsel at the drop of a hat. Even inadvertently, more and more of what we share with our friends will be good, true, godly advice because our minds and hearts will be constantly informed by the transforming power of scripture. I know this might not be easy. For some of us, it does not come naturally to read God’s word all the time. For me, it has been a constant struggle throughout my life, yet I have friends and family for whom it is like their morning coffee. Still, we need to continually try to spend solid, valuable, regular time in the Bible so our minds are more filled with God’s truth than the wisdom from the world we’re getting everywhere else around us. Secondary to the Bible itself and our personal time reading it, praying through it, meditating on it, and memorizing it, we can further submerge ourselves in truth through being an active part of a church community. Sunday sermons, worship music, Equipping Classes, Community Groups, and Christian friendships should also add to our store of solid, biblical knowledge. Spending time in prayer is also integral to becoming a wise counselor. James 1:5 instructs “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
  2. Realize that when you are giving someone your opinion on something important, when you give your advice, what you are often doing is counseling someone. Now I’m not saying telling someone that the chai is better than the coffee at Starbucks and vice versa at Coffee Bean is counseling someone, although that might be debatable. But when your friend offhandedly says something like “I’m just having a bad day today and I don’t know what to do about it” or “I’m really stressed out about this project I’m working on” your response will be giving them some type of counsel whether you realize it or not. What we say in those moments can actually affect the listener. As Gildor, one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s elves in The Fellowship of the Ring says, “Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill.” I’m not saying we have to be serious most of the time like Tolkien’s elves, but paying a little more attention to how we speak to our friends in moments like those is the starting point to giving good and godly advice. In Matthew 12:34-36, Jesus tells the Pharisees “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
  3. Pause for a moment when a friend tells you something to actually listen to them and think: is this really something that matters, or is it okay to be jokey about it? Is this something important to them? Do I need to ask some questions about this to find out more? How can I truly encourage and uplift them? How can I respond to them in a way that will point them to God? How can I give them good advice and wise counsel in a way that will be helpful and palatable to this specific person? Proverbs 18:13 & 15 reveals “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. . . . An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” Sometimes, a quick, witty retort truly is just the thing, but not always. If only Romeo had listened to Friar Lawrence in Shakespeare’s doomed romance when he said, “Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast.” Take a moment, listen, and assess their need.
  4. Give them godly, biblical advice in a way you think will be most useful to that specific person. Why do our words need to be informed by the Bible? God’s word is not only his wisdom given to man, it also has the ability to cut to the heart of the hearer. Hebrews 4:12 teaches “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” There is supernatural power in his words that can dig into our true motivations in a way regular advice does not. I know it sounds far-fetched, but I’ve seen it happen with counselees time and time again, and I’ve experienced its power myself. This doesn’t mean just throwing Bible verses at your friend in a pretentious way, but rather trying to find a way to give your advice that fits their personality, learning style, the circumstances, and the context in which you’re speaking. Proverbs 16:21-24 shares these insights, “The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it, but the instruction of fools is folly. The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips. Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” The Proverbs are full of great tips like these on ways to really reach out to people and speak wisely, and studying how Jesus himself interacts with those around him can help with this. 
  5. Realize when you don’t have the answer and be humble enough to let them know that you’re not really sure what they should do. Encourage them to hope in the fact that answers can be found by God’s grace. Then look for the answer in God’s word and possibly from another wise counselor together. Remember, God created us to live in community, so there is no shame in asking others for help! Proverbs 11:14 states “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” Part of wisdom is knowing when we don’t know the answers, but having a network of wise people of God to turn to. Often, when our friends come to us with difficult struggles, we can feel in over our heads. That might be the best emotion, actually, for it will keep us humble and remind us to be careful in our responses. But know that God’s word is full of truth and life, and the body of believers is meant to go through these things together.

I write this knowing I have a long way to go myself in following these 5 steps, so I hope you will all join me in renewing our efforts to be wise counselors to our friends and family! May we become a family of believers who follow Paul’s advice in Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

Fawn Kemble

Fawn currently works as the Client Services Director at a local pregnancy center and serves Cornerstone in the Biblical Counseling ministry.

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