The Work of Encouragement (5)
Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me… 1 Corinthians 7.1
Your testimonies also are my delight
And my counselors. Psalm 119.24
As believers in Jesus Christ, we are members of one another in His Body. Paul argues this point strenuously in various places, as do Peter, James, and John. We do not follow Jesus merely on our own. While we are certainly responsible for the life we live unto the Lord, we must not seek to live that life only by our own wits or strength. We need one another in the Church, which is abundantly clear by all the “one another” instructions and exhortations that appear throughout the New Testament.
“One-anothering” is a give-and-take discipline. Each of us has something to learn from others, and each has something to give or something to share. Practicing this consistently creates avenues of spiritual “charging” along which, as needed, genuine encouragement can flow. As we teach and correct one another, pray for and share with one another, bear one another’s burdens, admonish one another, and – most importantly – love one another, we create bonds and relational byways that can make our work of acknowledging, attending to, and affirming one another all that much more likely to generate true encouragement as needed.
This is just another way of saying that encouragement – that work of God’s Spirit that gives us the courage to go beyond where we’ve ever been with Him before – rarely comes to us out of the blue, as it were. Friends, colleagues, teammates, loved ones, teachers, and co-workers are more likely to encourage us when we need it. Though we may occasionally be encouraged by a stranger or even some well-known writer or preacher, more often, it’s going to come from those who know us and will be with us as we step out in courage to follow the Lord’s leading.
Encouragement occurs in community, where the strength of the Body, growing and working together, infuses new strength in its members to excel still more in whatever God calls them to do. As we build relationships of mutual love and trust, opportunities will arise for us to give advice to others, and to receive advice from them, so that we continue making progress in our striving for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
We all need advice from time to time. So we should all be ready to give advice as the need and opportunity arise. But what does that mean?
The conditions for advice
Anybody can give advice, and some people are by nature more ready to dispense advice than others. But for advice to contribute to encouragement, certain conditions must be in place.
First, for us to receive advice from someone, we need to understand that advice is needed – that we need some advice. People who try to advise us or proffer some opinion when we have not sought it are more likely to irritate than encourage, to cause us to put up defenses rather than to embrace suggestions. We’ll be open to advice when we feel like we need it, and certainly as we go seeking it from trusted advisors.
The Corinthians who wrote to Paul knew they needed some help. They sent emissaries to Ephesus specifically to ask his advice about issues and situations that were troubling them. As we’ve seen, Paul’s advice wasn’t all that easy to receive. But, as we’ve also seen, the Corinthians received it, were encouraged by it, and grew through their difficulties to a higher stage of church life together. They were in need of some good advice, to give them the courage to do what they must; so they welcomed Paul’s hard words and acted on them, knowing that he loved them.
So also with Joseph and Daniel. Each of them faced a ruler who was troubled and unable to find any reliable counsel. Each had established some credibility with that ruler; thus, when they proffered their advice, it was duly received, though what they advised required some significant work on the parts of each ruler. Pharaoh, to his credit, received Joseph’s advice and acted on it promptly. Nebuchadnezzar had to descend a bit further into his confusion and distress before he realized the value of what Daniel had told him. But when each was ready to be advised, the advice they received was just what they needed.
Further, we must not seek, nor seek to give, any advice which is not grounded in the counsel of God’s Word. What God tells us in His Word is not always the easiest path toward a solution of our concerns. But it is always God’s path. As we are seeking to advise those who have come to us for counsel, and are thus open to our advice, we want to make sure – like Joseph, Daniel, and Paul – that our advice is grounded in divine revelation. We might be able to think of many clever things to say or courses of action to recommend, but if they are not in line with God’s purposes – to advance His Kingdom and bring glory to Himself – our counsel will most likely end up discouraging rather than encouraging someone.
The word “advise” suggests some thoughts about how to proceed in this important component of the work of encouragement. According to the OED, “advise” derives from a Latin root which means “to see.” Originally the word meant to “look at” or “consider” some suggestion or course of action. Thus, “advice” is merely a suggestion or an opinion. We should not give it as though it were the last word on the matter. And we should receive advice from someone only if it seems to suggest a resolution in line with God’s calling.
When we are advising someone, we’re asking them to consider this idea, suggestion, or course of action. We’re trying to introduce a Biblically-based insight or scenario which has not yet occurred to the one we’re trying to encourage. The more we listen, ask questions, and try to understand what our advisee is struggling with, the better able we will be to suggest directions, courses of action, or next steps that can result in genuine encouragement.
Sometimes advice can take the form of a mind-stretching vision or way of thinking: “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” More likely, our advice will help to recall, clarify, or stretch a vision for following Jesus that already exists, but has become clouded for one reason or another. By talking someone through their understanding of discipleship, and of their own calling as a disciple, we might be able to indicate some next steps that will light a spark of encouragement in their soul.
We must not fear to seek advice nor to give it, for we are strengthened and encouraged by the work of God’s Spirit in and through His Body. When we’re ready for advice – sound Biblical advice – God will lead us to those who can help us in the next steps of our journey. And He can use us to advise and encourage others in theirs.
1. How do you know when you are ready to hear advice from someone?
2. Why does advising work best between friends?
3. How should you test any advice others may offer?
Next steps – Conversation: What opportunities for talking with other believers will you have today? How might you be able to tell when someone is seeking your advice?
T. M. Moore
Resources for the Journey
If you missed our ReVision series, “We Would See Jesus,” you can download all four installments by clicking here. Our newest book, What in Heaven Is Jesus Doing on Earth?, can help you to “see Jesus” as He continues His work at the right hand of God. Order your copy by clicking here. For a sweeping study of the unseen realm and the world to come, order our workbook, The Landscape of Unseen Things, by clicking here. And you can learn how our Celtic Christian forebears saw Jesus through the 28 days of meditations in Be Thou My Vision (click here).
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.