Choosing Godly Counselors – and choosing to be one
Have you ever receive advice you didn’t quite know what to do with? I remember when my mom suggested I major in computer engineering as I sent out college applications. In today’s world, majoring in a technology-related field is a common consideration for many people. Men and women of all walks of life have access to technology and it’s become part of who we are as a society. Twenty-three years ago, it wasn’t as common. But I had a cousin who was in on the ground floor of a small, Silicon Valley company known as Adobe. It was cutting-edge. It meant a large and rapidly-growing paycheck. It was a field dominated by men. Therefore, I would be more likely to find a smart, rich, eligible bachelor by holding such a degree.
Now there was one problem to my mother’s college plans for me. (Actually, there were a lot of problems with her advice.) I had worked, with pathetic results, on one computer once in my entire life at that time. I could speak a little Russian but that wouldn’t help me with writing Basic or FORTRAN computer programs. I had no interest in developing software – unless it dealt with pillows, blankets, paperback books and other forms of cozy comfort. My sixth grade sister was the only one in our house who could program our cable box or our VHS player. Besides, I wasn’t getting married anyway.
I kindly ignored most of my mom’s advice. I opted for a journalism degree. I was able to get a good, satisfying job at a newspaper. I learned how to use PageMaker and then Word. And I found a wonderful civil engineer husband to expertly handle all my difficult, technological needs and who was rich in spiritual matters. (My mom really liked my final choices, by the way.)
But there were positive aspects of my mom’s advice which I chose to follow. It contained some truth – and it was given by someone who cared about me. It was true that I needed a plan. And her advice gave me a renewed sense of needing God’s wisdom for this next phase of my life. It was also true that I needed to be open to God’s ultimate design for my life, eventually softening my heart to becoming a wife and mother.
It isn’t always easy to take advice. Nor is it easy to give objective, solid advice. But daily we face these choices. This week’s lesson in Esther 1 gives us a chance to see mediocre council given, the advice taken, and an opportunity to discover how to instead choose to offer guidance God’s way.
DAYS ONE AND TWO
A. Let’s begin by setting the scene. Read Esther 1:1-8. The book of Esther opens to reveal the height of Persian riches and finery. Ahasuerus was the world ruler of the day. The 127 provinces within his domain spread from Ethiopia in northeast Africa to India. Richness abounded. And with his wealth, Ahasuerus pulls together a banquet of amazing magnitude in Susa, one of the main capitals of the realm. Ancient Persian sculptures, intricately carved walls and ruins found today in Iran imply beauty and financing available in the millions for such an event, according to today’s standards. List some of the descriptions given for the palace in this passage.
B. The Biblical account of this feast gives no specific reason for such lavishness and banqueting of nobles. Some commentators believe it was to gain support for war with Greece. Others quote historical but non-canonical books (the Apocrypha) that say Ahasuerus was using this banquet to squelch rebellion. Josephus translates Ahasuerus’ actions as simply “to make a public demonstration of his riches.”1
- Read Amos 6:4-8 and Daniel 5 (especially verses 1-4 and 22-23). It’s a little sobering to see what God thinks about such displays for our own glory.
- Think of a time when you made a choice with the central purpose of being noticed and admired. I find I condemn the practices of ancient Persia or even of the world around me, only to see similar bad choices in my own life.
C. The extravagant, 6-month banquet ended in a week of festivities for all the people living in Susa. Verses 7 and 8 have an interesting twist. Not much is mentioned of food, but much is mentioned regarding drink. It says that “drinking was done according to the [Persian] law.” No one had to drink. It was done according to “the desires of each person.” (NASB) This Hebrew word “desire” is the same for “favor” and “will” and what is “acceptable.” In Scripture, it is used mostly in reference to seeking God’s will and in relation to what is acceptable to Him. However, in Daniel, this same word is used regarding the anti-Christ who will do abominable things according to his own will and acceptability.
- Look up the following references: James 1:14; 4:1-3; 5:5-6; 2 Thessalonians 3:10-11; Philippians 3:17-19; Ephesians 5:1-17. According to these verses, how are we to view God’s desires and what are some of the consequences when we don’t?
- In what way are you struggling with a desire for some legitimate pleasure that may not be God’s will for you?
A. Sometimes it’s helpful to look at the steps taken resulting in counsel. Vashti’s ultimate decision makes for the very reason Ahasuerus seeks advice from his counselors. Read Esther 1: 9-12.
- For whom did Queen Vashti give a banquet?
- How does this passage describe the king on the last day of the festivities?
- What did the king request of Queen Vashti and whom did he send to
deliver the message?
- What was her answer?
B. On the surface, the request seems a simple one. J. Vernon McGee says that although Vashti might have been justified in refusing the command, she “should have considered the fact that her refusal might cause a scandal that would hurt her husband in his position.… She should have obeyed the king.” According to Persian custom, however, a queen or a wife was not allowed to be seen by strangers.2 Perhaps she had to be veiled. It isn’t clear according to the Scripture beyond the fact she refused a request.
- Meditate on Ephesians 6:7-8 and 10-18.
- Submission is a difficult thing, whether it’s to a husband or a pastor or a mission board. But rarely are we asked to do something sinful. If we’re honest, most of the time we’re just inconvenienced or annoyed. Pray for a constant readiness of spirit to choose God’s desire for situations of submission which might arise.
A. Read Esther 1:13-20. Now we have a problem – and a choice. A drunken, angry king finds himself affronted by the queen, obviously embarrassed in front of his guests and not knowing what to do. Could it be that even in his drunken state he’s rethinking the rightness of his command? The text doesn’t say. Needing to do something to save the situation, Ahasuerus turns to his wise men for counsel. The Bible tells us these men understood the times, knew law and justice, were close to the king, had special access to the king’s presence and sat in the first place in the kingdom. Even though these men weren’t believers – and gave odd advice that we’ll look at later – what does this description tell you about finding counselors for yourself?
B. It’s important to choose to surround ourselves with people who will tell us the truth and who care about our welfare.
- Read I Kings 12:1-15. It’s far too easy to gravitate toward advisors who say what we want to hear, all the while looking out for their own best interests, much like those whom Rehoboam chose.
- Make a list of the qualities one should look for in someone they might go to for advice.
- Who has the Lord placed in your life that might fit this description? Are they wise, trustworthy, and willing to hold you accountable?
- Pray that God would give you an openness and humbleness to seek them out when advice is needed.
C. The more open we become to God’s use of others in our lives, the more we will be able to discern what He really wants us to learn from that counsel. Read Psalm 1.
1. Read I Kings 12:1-15. It’s far too easy to gravitate toward advisors who sayIn verse 1, ungodly counsel is received from people – the wicked, sinners, scoffers. But when contrasted, godly counsel is implied in verse 2, it is simply “the law of the Lord.” Because of our base nature, even godly people sometimes give advice born out of sin. But the truest and most trustworthy advice is not from people. (See Proverbs 29:21 and Proverbs 21:30.)
2. God uses people as His representatives in our lives, and worthy council will come from Scripture through those human vessels. Think of when you received excellent counsel from someone even if it wasn’t what you wanted to hear at the time. How was it different from other things you heard or read?
A. Reread the resulting counsel given by the princes in Esther 1:16 – 20. The princes suggested an edict be made to set precedent for this situation. Instead of applying it to Vashti alone, it would cover all women, in all the realm, fixing the problem of husbandly authority within all homes – once and for all.
- Read Esther 1:21-22 to finish the chapter. What was included in the final draft of the edict?
- In your opinion, why do you think the King accepted Memucan’s seemingly unenforceable plan?
B. Whether in the giving of advice or in receiving it, two questions need to be asked: 1) Is the advice based in truth, and 2) Is the giver truly concerned with the welfare of the one she is counseling?
1. Read Exodus 18.
a. Compare Jethro’s advice to Moses, to that of Memucan’s to Ahasuerus.
b. Does Jethro’s guidance answer the questions in a godly way?
c. What character qualities do you see in Jethro’s methods that you could use in your counseling situations to friends? Your children? Your husband?
2. Sometimes our advice is not asked for but is needed, nonetheless. Jethro’s unsolicited instruction was extremely helpful to Moses as seen in Deuteronomy 1:6-18 – which portrays a beautiful, humble response to Jethro’s plan. Have there been times when the Holy Spirit alone prompts you to give an opinion? Did you obey or did you put it off and let the moment pass? If you haven’t already, write about that situation.
Choosing to accept the task of “unsolicited godly counselor” is a very difficult thing. Even after we’ve surrounded ourselves with wise advisors and have begun to humbly accept their opinions, approaching someone on God’s prompting is intimidating. One situation came my way recently when I had to point out that a friend’s outfit was not modest. Even though it had to be done, even though we are both Christians and have had a good relationship for many years, I was still nervous. I didn’t want to come off as prideful or simply interfering. But I prayed, talked to my husband and knew it was right. What a relief it was to have my comments taken with grace and humble agreement. When believers on both sides are truly seeking God’s will for their lives, then giving and accepting truthful, loving advice becomes a joy.
My husband and I discussed Matthew 7:3-5 which exhorts people not to try to take the speck out of a brother’s eye before taking the log out of their own. We will never be without sin. But there is a difference between seeing a brother or sister in spiritual need, and pointing out a fault in another that we hate in ourselves yet have done nothing about. Advice and counsel, even unsolicited, is important within the Christian community. Read Proverbs 27:17 prayerfully, knowing that when you choose to counsel wisely not only they but you are being sharpened for more precise use by the Lord.
1. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Complete and Unabridged in 6 Volumes (Hendrickson Publisher,1991).
2. William Whiston, The Works of Josephus (Hendrickson Publisher, Inc., 1987) pg. 298.
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