At one time or another, every one of us has been the recipient of bad counsel from a fellow Christian. It can be a tough thing to swallow advice tainted with inaccuracies, hurtful words, or false assumptions. We all know what our default response is to such counsel. We might get angry at their intrusiveness, be discouraged by their hurtful tone, or even be judgmental toward their judgmentalism. But is there a way to receive bad counsel in a such a way that is beneficial, not only for you, but also for your fellow Christian?
By ‘bad counsel,’ I am not referring to false teaching or heretical counsel which rejects Jesus Christ and his Word. This counsel must be utterly rejected. I’m referring to counsel delivered by a Christian brother or sister that might come across as judgmental, hypocritical, ‘legalistic,’ or insensitive. I understand that there is a time and place to lovingly confront such counsel, but how can we actually benefit from it? Here are four ways that you can make the most of a less-than-ideal counseling situation.
Ask them to explain further
Have you ever tried to give counsel that was completely clear in your head, but was completely distorted once it came out of your mouth? If someone gives you counsel that leaves a bad taste in your mouth, ask them to elaborate. It could be that their intent was different than what was actually spoken. Give them a chance to explain themselves. You know what you heard, now try to know their heart. “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Prov. 20:5). If your friend or pastor’s advice is coming across as legalistic or judgmental, he might want to know about it. So ask them to explain further. You just might end up profiting from it.
Don’t get distracted when truth is spoken unlovingly
Raise your hand if you ever gave advice with good intentions, but it came across in an insensitive or uncaring way (Both my hands are up). Some people sound harsh or judgmental without meaning to. So try not to get distracted by a bad delivery, especially if they’re speaking the truth. Yes, the truth must be spoken in love (Eph 4:15), but completely rejecting someone’s advice just because they were 'mean' about it might be your own sinful nature trying to weasel your way out of being accountable to the truth. Yes, unloving counsel is tough to swallow, but by God’s grace, you can profit from truth that has been delivered poorly.
Thank God that people are examining your life
No one likes to live under a microscope. We get defensive when we feel people are watching our every move. But if we truly and sincerely wish to become more like Christ, should we not welcome the accountability? We must try to avoid the "only God can judge me" mentality. One of the purposes of the Church is keep each other accountable and push each other toward Christlikeness. No, not everybody’s intentions are pure, but God is always sovereign. God uses imperfect believers to help us grow in our sanctification, so even judgmental and legalistic counsel is ordained by God for your good. If the disciples could profit from the advice of the hypocritical, legalistic Pharisees (Matthew 23:3), then you can profit from the flawed advice of a fellow Christian.
Ask God to help you fill in the gaps.
Bad advice is often incomplete advice. So pray and ask God to help you extract the nuggets of truth offered by your friend or pastor, compare it to Scripture, and see what elements they are missing. Perhaps they failed to mention the why along with the what, or vise versa. Fill in those gaps with Scripture. There might be an opportunity later on for you to share what you found with your friend. In the end, you will both profit from the experience.
In conclusion, profiting from bad advice requires patience, love, a lot of humility, and a recognition that every human is flawed and therefore will provide flawed counsel. Show graciousness in such situations. Listen intently, respond lovingly, and compare everything you hear with Scripture. You’ll be surprised how much you can benefit from bad counsel.
Aaron Berry earned both his undergrad and MA in Bible at Bob Jones University. He, along with his wife, Hanna, and daughter, Brooklyn, currently live in Detroit, MI, where Aaron is pursuing his MDiv degree while serving as the Director of Recruitment at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary and working on staff at Inter-City Baptist Church. You can follow him on twitter @AaronMBerry
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