When I approach a friend for advice, I usually want them to give me a clear answer for what I should do. It always seems easier to not have to wrestle with making the “right” decision. Then, if it happens to not be the right decision, I do not have to be fully responsible for the outcome. But, as easy as that would be, those I count as my best friends never just hand me an answer. And I appreciate them all the more for that.
A Counsel of Friends vs. An Over-Saved Response
The way they do this is instead of just delivering me up an answer, they typically walk with me through the issue. That involves asking a lot of thought provoking questions and sharing perspective. One of the best parts of our interaction is the amount of thought and prayer that goes into their end of the discussion. And, they never flippantly use scripture as a mask for not knowing what to say. But, because they care about following Jesus well and being Him to others, when God does reveal wisdom through His word, they obediently share it. Which, again, I appreciate.
And when it comes to scripture, we all have a friend that is really, really religious. You know, the over-saved friend. The one whose advice is drenched in scriptural references, most of which doesn’t even make sense for the issue I am dealing with. Something like, me: “Should I take this job or that job?” Friend: “Jesus said, ‘I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’” What? In hindsight those are my favorite bits of “scriptural wisdom”, because they are hilarious. If we are honest, we are all guilty of this.
When an issue comes up, one of the easiest thing to do is throw a few bible verses at it, regardless of whether they are contextually applicable. We all do it, as both the seeker and giver of counsel. As the seeker of counsel, we look to scripture that justifies our behavior or response, rather than letting Holy Spirit speak to our actual need. To be clear, I am all for using scripture as the foundation for the counsel we give. I wish, as a community of believers, we were more dependent on the word of God for how we are to live out our daily lives. How much fuller would our life in Christ, both individually and communally, be if we sought counsel from the word of God on an everyday basis? After all, wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord and understanding comes with knowledge of Him (Prov 9:10). So to be clear, using scripture is not the issue.
Scripture that Justifies
The issue is when we mis-contextualize scripture for our benefit. If you feel like someone has wronged you, how much easier is it to find a scripture that justifies our anger, rather than let God lead you in how to handle it? If you did, the possibility exists that God may require you to let it go, like, to just drop it. Or worse, He might ask you to forgive the offense and reconcile. Those can be jagged pills to swallow. Instead, we recall our favorite scripture verse to justify, rather than challenge. But comfort, in that sense, is never God’s desire for us; Christ-likeness is. And it has always been that idea that has always been the foundation of some of the best counsel I have ever received.
Counsel that Challenges
I do not remember the issue I was dealing with at the time, but I do remember the counsel. Whatever the issue was, my friend’s counsel came in the form of a question. He asked, “Regardless of the situation and how you feel, what actions would honor Christ?” Bam! Hard question to answer if I am looking to justify myself. It brought me to 1 Cor 10:31, which says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” If you want a bible verse that can apply to a whole host of issues, this is one. And, while it does not provide an outright answer, it does force you to ask a better question.
Rather than throwing scripture at each other in an attempt to justify, our love for one another ought to compel us to challenge each other toward Christ. I am not suggesting that there is never a time to use scripture to comfort. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit is our ever-present Comforter (John 14:16) and Counselor (John 14:26). There are occasions when it is more than appropriate to use scripture as a healing salve. But, scripture was never intended for use to justify our actions. If we desire to “walk as Christ walked” (1 John 2:6), asking “what would honor Christ” is a question that we should ask each other often.