We’ve all had people in our lives who thought they knew what was best for us. Some of these people had very good intentions, but they weren’t always right. Perhaps you were blessed with wise parents, or loved ones who truly did what was best for you. In Paul’s closing statements to the believers in Thessalonika, he tells them that they are to “regard highly in love” those people who have labored among them for their good.
Most of us are sceptics (at best) when it comes to others telling us what is good and right. We doubt the motives of others, especially politicians and church leaders. We think that behind every piece of wisdom or advice there might be some ill-will or wrong motive at work. I’m sure in some cases there is, but not everyone who stands in a position of leadership has bad motives.
Paul says that each of us should pursue what is good for the other. How do we know what is good for someone else? Let me give you a few things from the holy scriptures that might help us answer that question.
1. Our counsel must be founded in God’s word. Jesus said, “Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” What is good and wise teaching? Answer: the Word of God (always).
2. Our counsel must not be hypocritical. We must not be the blind leading the blind; nor should we be spiritual leaders who lay upon our flock heavy burdens that we ourselves are unwilling to carry. The kind of phrase that says, “Do as I say, and not as I do” is hypocritical, and does not follow the teaching of the Bible as Paul teaches: “Follow me as I follow Christ.”
3. Love must be the motivation of our counsel and our wisdom. How do we know what is excellent and what is good for another person if it does not spring from the deep well of agape love that God has poured into us for others and for himself. Philippians 1:8-10 teaches this truth. How do we know what is good for someone else? The love of God has given us a knowledge and a discernment for that person. The best godly wisdom comes from people who love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love you as well.
There will always be people who want to give you advice, but don’t really want to get their hands dirty in the mess of your life. Don’t run from the people who would help you carry your cross. That would be a very foolish thing to do, and yet many people run from love because it is not the advice they want to hear. Love sometimes says the hard things that the people who don’t love you won’t say.
So what does this loving word look like or what does this sound wisdom sound like that is motivated from agape love? Well, Paul says it warns the irresponsible, it comforts the discouraged, it helps the weak, and is patient. This kind of love that pursues and holds on to what is good doesn’t repay evil for evil, but prays constantly. This kind of love rejoices over you, and gives thanks to God for you. This kind of love that pursues God’s best for your life prays God’s will over you.
4. Our counsel must be ever mindful of what the Holy Spirit is wanting to do in someone’s life. There must be a sensitivity to the spirit of God as we are giving counsel to others. Paul says, “Do not quench the Spirit’s fire.” We’ve heard of church services where people were weeping at the altar, repenting of their sins, crying out to God, and some person looked down at their watch, and vocalized that the time of church was over, and dismissed the service without any consideration to the work of the Holy Spirit in the people’s lives in that moment. We need to be sensitive to the spirit of God each day of our lives as we counsel, as we speak to strangers, to friends, to family, and to believers.
Paul adds that every bit of counsel or wisdom we receive must be tested. We are not to take the advice of others without first looking to see if it is good, if it is scriptural, if the person is trustworthy and not a hypocrite, if it springs the motive of God’s love, and if it is prompted by the Spirit of God. We are promised that God will help us to discover what is good in our pursuit of him whose motives were unconditional and sacrificial. His name is Jesus, and no one can love me like he can. Yet, Christ still uses his word and people to speak into our lives, if we are listening.
Brian Taylor began his ministry as a young man on the foreign mission field of Togo, West Africa serving with the International Mission Board of the SBC. He spent almost a decade serving as a music and youth minister in the Panhandle of Texas. For the last five and half years he has served as pastor of Forest Avenue Baptist Church in Sherman, and loves preaching and pastoring on the southside of Sherman. He has been married to his wife Sarah for 17 years, and they have five children.