The fact any person would listen to me boggles my mind. I am a nobody who struggles like everybody, and when anybody pays attention to what I say, it is sobering and I am cautious. There is a profound responsibility for all of us to disciple well.
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People are called to disciple people, which means people must tell people what to do. Of course, when fallen folks are telling other sinful people what to do, it can go sideways in a hurry. Still yet, we must be disciple-makers. This worldview is the implication of the story between Phillip and the Ethiopian.
Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah, the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I unless someone guides me?” – Acts 8:30-31
In this situation, it was the Lord telling Phillip to go and help the struggling man. It was the Ethiopian who had enough discernment to know he needed Phillip’s help to understand the Bible.
We should never stop preaching, teaching, and discipling each other. People instructing people is God’s way of bringing redemptive care to His children. As Paul asked, “How are they to hear” without people involved?
But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? – Romans 10:14
General revelation can come to a person by observing the works of God in creation (Romans 1:20), but the Lord designed specific revelation to come to us through each other. Therefore, people become a significant aspect of moving the Lord’s redemptive plans along.
Of course, as with all things, there is a dark side. Sin is always lurking and luring. This grim truth is where Christians need to be discerning when giving people advice. Here is the tension: we should tell people what to do, but we must be careful when we tell people what to do.
Best Case Scenario
When it comes to heeding the instruction of others, the best-case scenario is to integrate the Word of God and the Spirit of God with the community of God. This three-legged approach to discipling guards against the pitfalls. Let me give you illustrations of these three traps.
Man Alone – If a person’s counsel is not filtered through the lens of Scripture, as illuminated by the Spirit of God, the counsel can go off the tracks and run the disciple aground.
Spirit Alone – The “let go and let God” approach is not teaching that the Lord suggests. This cliche is the error of some of our charismatic friends. If we do not weigh our actions by the Word of God and man’s counsel, we can fall into subjective illumination.
Bible Alone – Though the Bible is God’s perfect Word to us (2 Timothy 3:16-17), we are not always accurate interpreters of His Word. There is a possibility within us to mangle what He says (2 Peter 1:19-21). The humble interpreter of the Word knows this, so he asks for help.
The Spirit of God and the counsel of God’s children working together through His Word brings balance to sin’s machinations. The Lord knew this, so He told Phillip to come alongside the Ethiopian to walk with him through the Word.
Whenever we separate the advice of humanity, the Bible, or the Spirit from each other, there is a high probability we can misinterpret the direction the Lord desires for our lives to take.
To avoid this problem, our kind God gave us checks and balances. He knows far better than we do about the deceptions of sin. Human advice cannot be trusted alone, and people cannot be trusted to discern the Spirit of God or the Word of God alone.
Sin is not that compliant or accommodating to leave us to ourselves. Sin will not allow us to think about God and His Word without throwing a monkey wrench into the process. This perspective is not a slight on the Word of God or the Holy Spirit. It is biblical respect for the depravity of humanity.
We can mess up even the simplest things. Leave us to ourselves, and we will build a tower to heaven (Genesis 11:1-9). Give us redemption through a fiery serpent, and we will worship the serpent (Numbers 21:8-9; 2 Kings 18:4). The Lord tells us to go right, and we run to the left (Jonah 1:1-3).
Aren’t we a pathetic lot? We cannot be trusted. How does our Lord respond to our fascination with ourselves and sin? He gives us His Word (John 17:17). God sends us His Spirit (John 16:13). Then He asks us to be part of the process in the redemption and sanctification of His people.
Learn How to Make a Decision
The People Part
Let us take a look at one-third of this equation—the people part. Here is the problem: when some people speak, some people will listen. Though this can be good news, you must discern some of the traps and learn to navigate them. Here are three of those traps.
Whose Voice – Our faith must be in God alone, as understood through His Word alone. People can serve as a guide, but the things people say must not supplant what the Lord says. Ultimately, our marching orders must come from the Lord, and each person must learn how to discern what He says.
There are times when a person gets stuck, and a discipler can come alongside the person to help un-stick him. This process is good and biblical, but the advice-seeker must never fall into the trap of lock-stepping with everything the discipler says.
The answer to this problem is not to cease from giving counsel, but you must be wise in how you discern the adversary. God wired us for groupthink, and it is easy for vulnerable people to be swept up with the answers given, while not truly hearing from the Lord. Their faith, in such cases, can be built on a faulty foundation.
And if it is a faulty foundation, it will be made apparent in time because they will not have “sustaining faith.” When under persecution, their faith will wane, and in some cases, they shipwreck the “faith” that was presumed. As you begin to unpack them, you soon realize they had more of a coat-tail faith than genuine conviction in the Lord
Though you will never know for sure if a person is hearing from and responding to the Lord alone, you do want to be discerning as much as you can to assure as much as you can that they are standing on the promises of God.
While you do not want to fall into the ditches of cynicism or suspicion by uncharitably judging people’s motives, you want to be wise and discerning. There should be one authentic voice in the noise of our lives. That voice is from the Lord.
Whose Way – Because people who seek counsel are typically vulnerable, they will hang on to and respond to what you say. I find it sobering when I think about the power of my words. I have never been able to fully come to terms with this power or the platform the Lord has given to me.
This truth is where every discipler and disciple must know the difference between the articles “a” and “the.” There is “a” way of doing things, and there is “the” way of doing things. If it is “the way” of doing things, the Bible makes it clear, and there is no wiggle room. The Spirit of God will confirm this in a person’s mind, and the Christian community will, for the most part, agree.
Things like salvation through faith alone or stealing, lying, and adultery are black and white. God’s will in such matters is not confusing to the humble soul. However, most things in sanctification are not “the” way, but “a” way. Most of the time, the counselor will give you “a” way of doing things rather than “the” way. This reality places a requirement on the hearer to discern God’s will for them. There are hundreds of examples of this. Let me give you one.
I love to journal. The most effective way for me, as far as my responsibility to work out my salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13), is through writing. I have been writing, almost without exception, one page a day since 1994. The process of writing challenges my mind to think about God, others, and life like no other discipline. This “sanctification method” is my way. It is “a” way. It is not the way every Christian should follow to mature in Christ.
Every Christian, whether they are giving or receiving advice, must know the difference between these two articles. If not, then “a” way can become “the” way, and soon after that, he will begin to drift from the clarity of God’s Word.
Work Aversion – Can we admit that we can be lazy? Most of us do not want to exercise physically or spiritually. We do not discipline our bodies or our souls. Our penchant is for the easy way to attain our desires. (1) Weight loss infomercials make a lot of money by preying on our aspirations for a quick fix. (2) McDonald’s figured this out decades ago with the drive-thru: make it easy and people will flock to it. (3) Credit card companies have also unlocked the riddle by giving us “easy money.”
These patterns of indulgence and laziness attack every area of our lives. Sin’s target is not just our bodies or our finances. Our souls are particularly susceptible to the “easy way out” game plan. “Just tell me what to do” is the cry of the hurting, weak, desperate, vulnerable, and hopeless soul. The discipler must be ready and willing to walk the hurting soul through the necessary rigors of sanctification, which means it will not be about a list or seven habits to change your life.
There are no quick fixes. Sometimes there are no fixes at all. Everybody is not going to get their best life now. Get rich schemes are schemes. The promises of the health and wealth gospel are fallacious.
If there is a way for me to get around praying or mining God’s Word, I will more than likely take that approach. Maybe you are like this too. This temptation can create an “easy-way-out-dependency” while weakening the impact of the Lord in our lives.
Dear Discipler, be careful about giving answers. That person you’re talking to may follow your advice because they don’t want to do the work. You make sure that they verify what you’re telling them with the Spirit of the Lord and His Word. While you do not want to frustrate them by not saying anything, you do want to use discernment when you do say something.
Call to Action
- What areas do you most often shy away from when it comes to seeking counsel: (1) from the Spirit of God, (2) from the Word of God, or (3) from the community of God? Do you see why it is biblically sound to have a balanced approach when seeking wisdom? How do you need to change?
- Out of all the voices in your life, can you hear the “voice” of the Lord? How do you know this? One of the keys to understanding the “voice of the Lord” is you will share with others what you believe He has told you. A person who hears from the Lord is not typically afraid to lay those things out for the loving scrutiny of close friends.
- Can you discern the difference between “a” way and “the” way? What are some of those differences? Give examples. Are there things you do because other people do them? If so, why do you do them? What is your motive? Why is it essential to draw your convictions from the Lord and not from others?
- Are you spiritually lazy? Do you fall prey to the quick fix scenario? If so, why do you do this? What is your fear? Though it is not wrong to seek counsel, are you willing to take the advice of a trusted friend to the Lord and His Word to affirm it?