much do I care what you think?
Have you noticed how there are hosts of people that want to give you advice or commentary on how you should be living or in regards to things you have done? Some is welcome, deserving, and perhaps even asked for, not to mention carefully and lovingly worded. Far more seems to come from ostensibly random sources. Their typically unsolicited recommendations, rebukes, scorn, and sugar-wrapped barbs often hurt. Sometimes it's easy to dismiss their criticisms and input, other times it's more difficult to let their words or actions go. In wisdom we want to listen to advice.
Not all advice and instruction is equal or worth listening to. Ultimately we all develop a personal system of priority where we hold some of this counsel in high esteem and relegate much of it to lesser import or outright irrelevancy. Doing so is a Biblical course of action and yet many of us have not stopped to consider our Scriptural reasons for who we choose to listen to or whose counsels we minimize or fully disregard.
In recent months, God brought this subject to the forefront in my own life. In some very different settings I was personally condemned or rebuked for choices I had made and acted on, some being decisions which incorporated previous advice I had been given and valued. While one occurrence was slanderous and upsetting, it was very easy to dismiss because of who was doing it. Another incident was equally insulting and hurtful but it took weeks for me to finally let it go - following a careful introspection to see if there was any validity in what was said and if, for any reason, I should accept their assessment over that of many others. In a third circumstance I was quite willing to listen to concerns being carefully and lovingly expressed, yet still a reprimand. Why did I react so different in each setting?
It became clear that there are some in my life who have full right to voice their concerns and advice, but even among them I needed an order of priority as to whom I hold in higher worth and if their advice is justified or applicable in all or some areas of my life. I used this awareness to evaluate my final conclusions in the aforementioned circumstances and to create a written list itemizing with certainty the priority I should be giving to all advisors and often impromptu counselors that will continue to fill my life.
So how much do I care what you think? In descending order, with the most important at the top, these are the ten levels by which I'll be weighing any guidance, direction or rebuke.
#1. God (Bible). God is our ultimate teacher. His rebuke, his correction, his direction has to always be at the forefront.
God revealed what we need to know about what is right and what is sin throughout the pages of His book, the Bible. It is through this wonderful revelation that God is making His people holy (John 17:17). This living word deals with not only my actions and thoughts, but even my very motives.
To ignore God's infallible counsel comes with potentially grave and serious peril (Hebrews 12:25).
#2. Me (Conscience/Faith/Holy Spirit led). As believers in Jesus Christ, we have been cleansed from a guilty conscience (Hebrews 10:22) and now have a conscience that is being made good by God (1 Peter 3:21). While my conscience is not perfect or infallible (1 Corinthians 4:4) I must strive to keep it clear (Acts 24:16). During the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther expressed this well:
It is also evident that we must be acting out of the faith God has given us. And God gives faith in varying measures. What one person can do, proceeding out of their faith, another cannot. As they grow in grace and God gives greater faith, their maturing faith may allow them to later do, in good conscience, what before they could not. Faith and conscience are definitely tied together in Biblical description (e.g. 1 Timothy 1:19; 1 Timothy 3:9).
Unquestionably, the Holy Spirit that dwells within every believer has been given to guide us individually into all truth (John 16:13). His leading will always be in accordance with God's revealed Word and it's our responsibility to search this out. It is the Holy Spirit who continuously helps us to evaluate even our consciences and as well as to exercise our growing faith.
To ignore my conscience, what I can do in faith, and where the Holy Spirit is leading, is (in the words of Martin Luther) neither right nor safe.
#3. Family (Spouse / Godly Children). God's creation of the family is the greatest human authority structure under Him. Biblically, this must be kept in perspective though; something Jesus was good at doing. He made it clear that our love for God needs to supersede even these vital human relations to point that our love for God could be contrasted as hatred towards the others.
If this list was being created for a child, this section would be different in that parental authority would be in view (Ephesians 6:1, Colossians 3:20). For the adult, it is my spouse that now is at the forefront in this section. This is not optional, we have become one:
I can no more ignore my spouse than to ignore myself. This is even more so wherein my spouse is also a believer and likewise indwelled and led by the Holy Spirit.
Having adult children, also believers, comes with a level of accountability as well. (If non-believing children, perhaps not so much as their motives and goals may be suspect: consider Matthew 10:21 and Mark 13:12.) This is not really an issue of authority as it is wisdom. Wherein my children have grown up into godly adults I would be foolish to not listen to their advice and insight as well. I place their input above so many others solely because my children know me better than most everyone else beyond God and my spouse. Accurate and valuable counsel carries with it a need for the advice giver to truly know and understand me well. In fact, as I consider who I would want to make decisions for me if, or when, the day comes when I am incapable of doing so for myself; my children immediately come to mind.
To disregard one's spouse and children is to ignore these blessings from God who know you very well.
#4. Health (Doctor / Medical and Health Professionals). By the grace of God my body is more than an all-too-soon dead sack of organic material, it's a portable temple. Yes, God himself dwells in this sin-tainted, often malfunctioning, and certainly deteriorating creation. With this knowledge comes responsibility. Any temple is first and foremost something that is in service to Deity and secondly it is something that is being utilized by the one doing service.
When I was young I never really understood this at all. Like so many I put my body through things, by commission or omission, that caused permanent and long term damage, something that age tends to magnify. While I cannot change the past, I must do all I can to maintain this temple for the future - with a hope that its service to God will be maximized for years to come.
My particular temple came with a hereditary genetic defect, one that automatically requires extra medical intervention and advice. Some of my willfully ignorance to medical advice in the past now serves as a personal reminder that to ignore medical advice caries will it potential consequences.
God uses medical professionals to aid in maintaining or restoring our health. To ignore them is to our own peril. And yet, for perspective, all the medical aid in the world is shown to be useless if we don't remember that it is God himself that does the healing (consider the perspective of 2 Chronicles 16:12.)
#5. Government. In a world where many people feel that government has way too much say over our lives, it's good to be reminded that God instituted government. While it is mankind that messes government up, even in all of its disarray we're still accountable to God for obeying this authority. As with any man-administered authority, our requirement to obey is always subject to a higher authority and this must never be misconstrued as being blind obedience wherein following this authority would violate our primary obligation to God.
To ignore just laws of the land and decrees of governing authorities is sin and if I do so, I place at risk my life, liberty, and personal possessions (Romans 13:4).
#6. Work (Board of Directors / Coworkers). For many people this section would feature primarily a boss and/or supervisors and perhaps some coworkers. Whether these vocational relations are defined in modern terms or in a manner we would deem to be the worst arrangement (with masters and fellow slaves), the principle remains the same. (The thought of being a slave was, of course, the worst possible vocational arrangement even in Biblical times. Perhaps this is why Paul used it in three of his examples: Ephesians 6:5-8; Titus 2:9-10 and Colossians 3:22-24.)
My need to
listen to the advice or direction of those who are over me in the
workplace is integral to doing a good job as unto the Lord (no matter
how bad the job is. In fact, shouldn't this be easier in better
occupations?) Of course it becomes necessary for me to place
greater weight on direction that comes from those with higher
authority, yet wisdom also dictates that I give ear to even my equals
as they know both me and the tasks at hand.
The influence of these individuals, pertaining to my employment, is usually focused on matters directly regarding work. One of the joys I have personally is working with a Christian Board of Directors (collectively as my boss) and as well as with other believing co-workers on a daily basis. In this, I place even more value on their input and direction. As some have known me for years, I have come to respect their input on personal matters, especially wherein those things may potentially impact my efforts in ministry.
In regards to my employment, to ignore or disregard my vocational masters is to sin against God.
#7. Local Church (Elders / Brother and Sisters). My spiritual family comes with a hierarchy as well. God has placed some as elders in each gathering of His church, not to lord it over the church but rather to protect and care for the local gathering as an under-shepherd. Those elders who are working hard to teach and safeguard God's church are to be held in high esteem and given due respect for the task God has entrusted them with.
In regards to spiritual things I would be amiss to not take into account the advice, correction and instruction of the spiritual leaders God has put in place for my good. This does not change even as I am an elder too. The very reason God has ordained a plurality of elders in his church is to keep one from being preeminent. Even as all believers are to submit to the legitimate authority of the elders, so too each elder is to submit to the others.
Beyond leadership in the church, there is also a requirement to not disregard all our other Christian brothers and sisters as well. Reflect on God's requirement that we meet together with purpose:
We can only be spurred on towards love and good deeds if we are willing to listen to other believers in our local gathering.
#8. Christians Friends (Good Friends / Friends). Many good Christian friends are part of the section that preceded this, being part of our local church. Beyond those, I have a few good Christian friends that, while not be part of our local fellowship, certainly are part of Christ's body and are close confidantes. This makes this section and the last comparable in standing. Once again, true friends are people that know us - often all too well. Good friends see more than our external façade or public persona, they know our flaws and are often privy to our more private thoughts.
While a non-Christian friend may give some solidly applicable and valid advice, it is Christian friends that have a truly likeminded desire to see me growing in all aspects of my life. Short of coming to faith in Jesus Christ, non-Christian friends will always remain more distant than the friendship that is available between believers.
#9. Christian Acquaintances. These might also be called "casual Christian friends" as they are not truly a friend at the same level as those we interact with most, or on a regular basis, let alone on a more personal level. Yet, even as a casual friend or acquaintance, because they are still brothers and sisters in Christ, part of His greater body, though not necessarily part of my local fellowship, I am still called to consider their input.
Keeping this in perspective, the Bible makes clear that I'm to pay attention most of all to believers who are living out lives of love - giving of their time, efforts and resources (e.g. 1 Corinthians 16:15-18). This makes sense; it's a lot easier to listen to someone who's doing instead of those who merely think they know how everyone else should be doing it.
#10. World. If you were counting, all that remains for this section are non-believers. I can listen to these individuals, some of whom may be acquaintances or friends, but only with great care. While the world can offer up nuggets of wisdom and statements of truth, this is not where I'm supposed to be going first or, in many cases, at all.
Wherein it doesn't cause me to sin or compromise, I can listen to the world's advice and recommendations and consider their point of view. Having met these conditions I may even carefully embrace some of it in an effort to "live in peace with all men." But holiness must remain my primary goal.
Subtly, or not, the world and its way of thinking is at war with who I am in Christ and what God wants me to be.
Advice from an enemy, or those who hate you, is to always be suspect and it's necessary that we constantly view input from non-believers through such a lens. If truth is in their words we must rely on the Holy Spirit to help us distinguish it as such or discard it as worthless and contrary to God's word and plan (John 16:13).
There's good reason this category is last. When any, or many, of those higher in this list express something to the contrary or in agreement, it often makes it easier to recognize or confirm these worldly words as being truth or error.
Your list may vary somewhat, especially within the subcategories that give more personal specifics to each of the major headings examined. Judge wisely who you are listening to and where you are seeking advice. Also think carefully before giving counsel to others and consider where they may place you in their personal list of influence.
Article by Brent MacDonald, Lion Tracks Ministries (c)2013
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