Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Unrequested Advice is Criticism, but Truthful Confrontation is Loving

I don't remember where I first heard it (a quick web search suggests it may date back as far as George Washington), but somewhere I picked up the idea that:

Unasked for advice is heard as criticism.

Even though I didn't ask for it, this was good advice. Who doesn't understand the pain of listening to someone give you unrequested (and sometimes unnecessary) advice. I remember a fellow once coming to "visit" with me only to leave an hour later having spent the entire time unpacking my many shortcomings. While some of his critiques may have been on target, our relationship and the setting certainly didn't merit such behavior.

So I've really tried to take this idea to heart. I've worked hard to be someone who listens as people unpack their problems, but not to offer up my solutions unless asked for.

Of course, the reverse of this is not true. I need to be careful to not ignore advice just because I didn't ask for it. In fact, Proverbs says:

The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.

So, there needs to be a balance. James seems to have it right when he says:

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry...

I don't know about you, but sometimes it's that unasked for advice that can get me on the fast track toward anger. Sometimes, it seems like people offer up suggestions that seem to imply I am a total idiot. It's hard in those moments to be "slow to speak and slow to become angry." But that's probably why James says:

for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.




Doh! If I can't be slow to speak and slow to anger, I can't live the righteous life that God desires. So my natural tendencies need to be brought under discipline. I am usually slow to listen because I want to talk. I need to reverse that.

BUT... here's where the dilemma comes in. James finishes his book by saying:

My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

So, there is a time to give that unasked for advice. There is a time to "confront". And as hard as that is, I have to recognize it as a part of being not just a pastor, but of being a Christian brother. Of course, being quick to listen and slow to speak means I don't rush into confrontation.

Rather it means I do so having measured the situation carefully, having listened to all parties to gain clarity and understanding.

Over time, I've formulated some guidelines for when to "confront" and when to "sit back". Here's my thoughts:
1) Confront when you are certain a clear Biblical teaching is being contradicted. 
2) In such a case, use the Bible to confront, not your own words. 
3) Always present your "case" in humility, acknowledging your perceptions and seeking to "see the best" if possible. 
4) Remember Paul's instructions to protect the unity of the body in all things. 
5) Remember that love is the standard by which all else is to be judged. If you cannot lovingly confront, you shouldn't confront. 
6) Offer thoughts for resolution. If you don't sense your confrontation will lead to restoration/resolution, wait. 
7) Pray before, during, and after.
I'm sure there are a lot more ideas out there. I'd love to hear them.

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