You’ve probably heard the old fable of the man and his son bringing their donkey to market. En route, they encounter so many people who give their opinions as to who should ride the donkey and who should walk that by the time they reach the market, the man and his son are carrying the donkey.
The point of the fable is simple—no one person can or should respond to the opinions of every person who offers them.
It’s interesting to note that scriptural admonitions to receive counsel often include a qualified person from whom we are to receive it. For instance, children are to receive—not necessarily all instruction—but the instruction of their parents (Proverbs 1:8). The Apostle Paul pled with those he had led to Christ to receive his counsel (1 Corinthians 4:15–16) and counsel from godly teachers (1 Thessalonians 5:12).
While the Bible does generally instruct us to listen to counsel (Proverbs 19:20), it never instructs us to heed all opinions or counsel. Otherwise, we’d end our ministries not saying, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7), but “I have fought others’ fights, started many courses that umpteen people laid out for me, and I’m not real sure what the faith even is.”
In other words, we’ll arrive at market carrying the donkey.
So how do you know from whom to receive counsel? I believe the six questions below give an objective criteria that is consistent with the admonitions in Scripture regarding from whom to receive counsel.
- Is this person truly concerned? Are they offering counsel because they really care about you, or do they have personal stake in the situation?
So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us. As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children,—1 Thessalonians 2:8, 11
- Is this person being Spirit-filled? Do their actions and their attitudes support the claim that their counsel is biblically-based and Spirit-led?
…be filled with the Spirit;—Ephesians 5:18
- Have I ever met this person? It is possible to receive godly counsel from those you’ve never met. (Paul wrote an entire epistle, Colossians, to those he had never met.) But it is generally the exception that someone can accurately speak to the needs in your life without knowing you personally. If you haven’t met them, be aware that they might not accurately understand the situation.
Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?—1 Thessalonians 3:10
- Does this person advertise this opinion and issues to others? Godly people know how to keep their lips sealed. They aren’t trying to build a platform by giving personal counsel publicly.
An hypocrite with his mouth destroyeth his neighbour: but through knowledge shall the just be delivered. A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.—Proverbs 11:9, 13
- Is this person content to be one of a few or many counselors? A person who insists that theirs is the only accurate opinion or counsel and doesn’t encourage you to talk to other godly counselors, may have a personal agenda in the counsel they are giving you.
Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellers there is safety.—Proverbs 11:14
- Does this person have a position of biblically-based authority in my life? If the answer to that question is “yes,” you obviously need to take their counsel to heart.
Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.—Hebrews 13:17
Remember, wise people learn from their critics as well as from their friends. So even if a person doesn’t meet the criteria given in these questions, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn something from them. It may mean, however, that you shouldn’t consider them your counselors—people to whom you’ve given wide-open entrance to speak into your life.
As I look again at this list above, I’m very thankful for the people God has placed in my life who love me as a friend and have given wise words of godly counsel at needed times. Many people share opinions with me (sometimes helpful opinions and sometimes not), but these are the people from whom I seek out counsel.