On Giving Advice

The author gives wise advise on giving advice

Theodore Carcich, now retired, was formerly a vice-president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.


IF YOU want to start a man talking, ask for his advice. The result is often much like Niagara Falls, he gushes on and on. Since most people have an inner compulsion to dispense advice promiscuously on any and every subject, this reaction is not a strange one.

Observe a crowd gathered about a woman who has fainted in a department store. Screams of advice pour alike from sales clerks, dignified matrons, and elevator operators. Watch the folks surrounding two cars whose bumpers have interlocked; everyone is telling every one else what to do.

This reminds us of some humorous counsel an Illinois lawyer gave to Adlai Stevenson, a budding attorney at the time. "My boy," the old barrister ad vised, "if you haven't got the facts, argue the law. If you haven't got the law, argue the facts. And if you have neither the facts nor the law, then just talk a lot."

Why are we so ready to give advice? Is it because we are kind, or does it inflate our ego? When advice is solicited we find it more blessed to give than to receive. Nothing brightens an otherwise dull day so much as to be consulted with deference by someone who takes us seriously.

Yet there are times when we should give advice and don't. The very traits—pride and vanity—that prompt us to lecture a subordinate, make us wary about advising a superior.

Obviously, the right advice at the right time affects people profoundly, and sometimes alters history. Joseph's advice to Pharaoh saved the lives of millions. A Hebrew maid's advice to a Syrian general saved him from leprosy.

As mature Christian workers, we need to remind ourselves that "where no counsel is, the people fall: ,but in a multitude of counsellors there is safety" (Prov. 11:14). In giving counsel we first need to follow the counsel of God as contained in the printed Word. Second, we are well-advised to heed the counsel of godly and experienced brethren. Third, all youth of the church contemplating marriage should seek the counsel of God-fearing parents or other older and more experienced persons. Fourth, be fore advocating new points of doctrine or belief the advice and counsel of responsible brethren and the church should be sought and respected.

Since advice and counsel are necessary and important, when should it be given and in what manner?

Centuries ago a father-in-law found it necessary to advise his son-in-law. The experience is recorded in Exodus 18: 1-27. Advising a member of the family is often a far more delicate undertaking than advising a stranger. Notice that Jethro observed and analyzed the problem before giving advice.

Equally important is the spirit and attitude in which Jethro gave his advice. His concern was for Moses' well-being: "Thou wilt surely wear away,... for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone" (Ex. 18:18). Here you have no sharp or dictatorial order, but an expression of com passion for the individual's welfare. Did Jethro's approach and advice get through to his son-in-law? We read: "So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father in law, and did all that he had said" (Ex. 18:24).

Entirely too often we dish out advice without feeling and expressing concern. Experience teaches that unconcern, intentional or unintentional, irritates and repels those we desire to help.

Even if the advice had been irrelevant, Moses would not have resented it, so wholehearted and genuine was Jethro's enthusiasm for Moses' accomplishments. The lesson is obvious. We need the seasoning of time and an experience with God if we would know how to identify ourselves with the joy, victories, and problems of the people we intend to advise.

Most important of all, Jethro knew when to quit. He did not, like the proverbial mother-in-law, stay to run things. Can you step into the back ground once your advice is taken, or must you stay and have your picture taken in order to receive proper credit?

Nothing is so indicative of a man's spirit as the way he gives advice to others. As we study Jethro's method we need to answer honestly the question How do we measure up?

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Theodore Carcich, now retired, was formerly a vice-president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

January 1976

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