We continue this morning in our sermon series on the book of Proverbs with a focus on wisdom. We said that the essence of wisdom is the ability to make good decisions. And since we all face a lot of decisions every single day, we have a lot of situations where we are in need of wisdom. We need wisdom in knowing how to raise our children, how to handle our money, how to deal with people, how to respond when we get angry, how to conduct ourselves at work and, most importantly, how to live in a way that will truly honor and glorify Jesus Christ.
Last week, we talked about a five-step process we can use to help us to make good decisions, and one of the things that I included in that list was the importance of listening to godly advice. And I think that subject is important enough that we need to spend an entire lesson on it. And, as you’ll see, Solomon has a lot of say about it as well in the book of Proverbs.
Let me say in advance that the passages I’ll be sharing with you from Proverbs this morning (and for matter, throughout the rest of this sermon series) will be coming from a variety of different translations. Normally, I use the English Standard Version, and I stay away from translations like the Living Bible, the Message and Good News. But I think the book of Proverbs is where those translations do a really good job of capturing the intent of each proverb, so I’m going to be using several different translations this morning.
But first — there’s a quote that I’ve seen attributed to several different writers, but it seems to have originated with someone anonymous. It says, “Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions.”
And I think there’s a lot of truth in that, but I think it’s only half correct. It is true that if I make a mistake, if I do something that has negative consequences, then I have the opportunity to learn from my mistake. I can learn not to make that mistake again, which means that I have now gained some wisdom which I can use to make better decisions in the future.
Let me show you what I mean. Many of the husbands here in this room have gained some wisdom in knowing what to say to our wives. And the way we got that wisdom was by saying the wrong thing. For example, we have learned over the years that you don’t say, “This food isn’t as good as my mother used to make.” Or, “Yes, now that you mention it, that dress does make you look fat.” Or, “What did you do all day while I was at work?” Or, “I thought you’d love a new vacuum cleaner for your birthday.”
And many of us who have been married for many years have learned to make good decisions because of our wisdom. Wisdom which comes from experience. Experience which comes from the bad decisions we have made over the years.
So there’s certainly some truth to that. But, that’s not the only way to get wisdom. There’s another way. I can also get wisdom from listening to others. I can learn not from my own mistakes, but from the mistakes that others have made, or from the wisdom that others are willing to share with me from their experience.
I love this quote that I saw from an unknown author. It says, “Listen to your elders’ advice. Not because they are always right, but because they have more experience of being wrong.”
For example, I don’t have to pile up a bunch of credit card debt for me to know that that’s not a good idea. I can learn from the mistakes that others have made, and if I do that, then I don’t have to suffer the consequences of actually making the mistake myself. And, in the end, there is a great deal more wisdom to be found in listening to others as opposed to insisting on doing it for ourselves.
Solomon put it this way in Proverbs 21:11 (MSG), “Simpletons only learn the hard way, but the wise learn by listening.”
People who have great wisdom have learned how to seek the right kind of advice and they have the ability to take advice. Now, getting advice is easy. All you have to do is go to Wal-Mart with a baby. People will stop you and tell you how to raise it. They’ll say things like, “I can’t believe you got that baby out without a coat!” or “If you let that baby suck her thumb like that, she’ll get buck-teeth.”
Another way to get advice is go into business for yourself. There are plenty of people out there who are glad to tell you where you should spend your advertising dollars, what your prices should be, what your hours should be, and so on.
Another really good way to get advice is to coach a baseball team or a soccer team. You will find more than a few people who think you need their input on how to put together a winning team, mostly from parents whose advice involves more playing time for their kid.
My point is this — there’s a lot of advice out there, and there are plenty of people who are more than willing to give you their opinion on just about everything. Solomon said in Proverbs 18:2, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” The problem is — most unasked-for advice is worth exactly what you paid for it, and taking the wrong advice can actually make things worse for you.
And so, some of us react to that by saying, “I don’t need advice from anyone about anything”, but the truth is we do need advice if we’re going to learn to be wise. In Proverbs 19:20 (TLB), Solomon said, “Get all the advice you can and be wise the rest of your life.” And in Proverbs 12:15, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.”
So, let me share with you this morning three things that Solomon tells us about taking advice.
I. Be Selective
You shouldn’t take advice from just anyone, even though it may seem at times that everyone is trying to give it to you. You need to choose who you’re going to listen to. Which is one of the reasons why I’m so wary of unasked-for advice. People who are wise rarely attempt to give you advice until you ask for it, because they know you have to be ready to hear advice before it will do you any good.
So, before you seek advice from anyone regarding a problem you’re having or a decision you’re facing, be careful to choose the right person to give you counsel. Proverbs 14:7 in the Living Bible says very plainly: “If you are looking for advice, stay away from fools.”
In other words, stay away from people who want to tell you how to make decisions in an area of your life that they don’t do a good job of managing themselves. For example, you don’t want to ask Elizabeth Taylor for advice for how to make a marriage last. You don’t want to ask the Cleveland Browns how to get to the Super Bowl. You don’t want to ask me what’s the best way to run a marathon. You get the idea. When you need advice, you need to seek out people you admire and respect, who have the credibility to give you good advice.
Solomon put it this way. He said, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise” (Proverbs 13:20). So, before you go to someone for advice, there are several things that you need to look for.
1. First of all, look for someone who has experience. Look for someone who’s “been there, done that”.
If you’re poor and you want to become rich, then you need to seek out the advice of someone who once was poor and who became rich. For example, you wouldn’t ask anyone in the Rockefeller family how to become rich, because the best advice they can give you is “be born rich.” You might ask someone like Dave Thomas (founder of Wendy’s), or Sam Walton (founder of Wal-Mart).
Find someone who has faced the same kinds of challenges that you’re facing right now — and they’ve faced them successfully — and then ask them how they did it.
Solomon said in Proverbs 27:17 (GNT), “People learn from one another, just as iron sharpens iron.”
That’s why 12-step programs are so successful. There’s nothing magical about the twelve steps. The power in this movement comes from one person helping another to overcome their struggle with addiction.
Because someone who has never struggled with compulsive behavior doesn’t understand it and won’t be able to offer much help. And if they don’t understand what you’re going through, then most likely their advice is going to be of little value.
But if you talk to someone who has successfully overcome the problem you’re facing right now — whether it’s a marital problem, or a particular sin, or a problem raising your child, or some kind of addiction, or whatever it may be — he or she will be in a position to give you good advice on how to deal with your situation.
So, look for someone who has experience. Look for someone who’s been there.
2. Second, find someone who has your best interests at heart.
When Donald Trump was running for president of the United States in 2016, and he needed a little help with his campaign, do you suppose he went to Barack Obama for campaign advice? After all, Obama was someone with experience, someone who had “been there, done that.” But obviously, Trump never would have gone to him for advice because Barack Obama would not have had Trump’s best interests at heart.
Now, that’s an exaggerated example, but think about it: When you ask for advice, you are putting yourself in somewhat of a vulnerable position. You need to be certain that this person has your best interests at heart, that he or she isn’t advising you with a self-serving, hidden agenda.
When Sueanne and I got married, one of the things we used to do a lot for entertainment was to invite a friend over to the house and play Risk. And so, I could appreciate the story that I recently heard someone share about their Risk-playing experience.
He said, “In the very first game I played with these guys, my friend, Robert, suggested I take a certain country occupied by our mutual opponent, Mark. I attacked, but failed to take the country. In the process I weakened my position and Mark’s position. On his next turn, Robert wiped us both out. I said, “I can’t believe you told me to do that!” Robert smiled and said, “In the game of Risk, all advice I give is entirely diplomatic.”
Now, you would expect that from someone who is trying to win at a board game, but there are some people who have that as their motto for life. All the advice they give is entirely diplomatic. They’re only going to give advice that will be in their own self-interest, not necessarily what is best for you.
Solomon put it this way – “Better to correct someone openly than to let him think you don’t care for him at all. Friends mean well, even when they hurt you. But when an enemy puts his arm around your shoulder—watch out!” (Proverbs 27:5-6, GNT)
Find someone who has your best interests at heart.
3. Thirdly, find someone who has the courage to be honest with you
As I said last week, if you really want wisdom, you need to listen most carefully to those people who disagree with you, and who are honest enough to tell you. Godly counsel is of no value if you only listen to those people who believe exactly the same way that you do. That’s not to say that everybody who disagrees with you is right. But if someone says something you don’t agree with, you need to pay careful attention.
Let me share with you a story from the Old Testament. One of the characteristics of great leaders is that they do not surround themselves with “yes men.” “Yes men” are people who only say what the leader wants to hear. And some leaders love to have “yes men” around them, but great leaders know that you can’t build a strong kingdom that way.
In 2 Chronicles chapter 18, we read about Ahab, who was the king of Israel. In this passage, Ahab wanted to go into battle against the nation of Syria. He had 400 prophets that he frequently went to for advice. But these prophets always told the king what he wanted to hear. And so, they told King Ahab that everything he wanted to do was fine and that, if he went into battle, God would give him the victory.
Despite the fact that there were 400 men saying they should move forward into battle, King Jehoshaphat, who was the king of Judah, was hesitant to trust the advice of Ahab’s prophets. And so, he wanted to know if there was a prophet of the Lord.
King Ahab told Jehoshaphat that he did have another prophet. He said, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord, Micaiah the son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but always evil.” (2 Chronicles 18:7). Ahab only wanted to be told things that made him feel good. He loved for people to approve what he said and did, and anytime anyone would say “no” to him, he couldn’t handle it.
And all of Ahab’s men knew this, so when they sent for Micaiah, the messenger told him, “Behold, the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king. Let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.” (2 Chronicles 18:12). In other words, “Micaiah, everybody else is telling the king what he wants to hear, so you need to make sure that you do the same thing.”
But, Micaiah was not a “yes man”; he was a man of God. And Micaiah said that he could only speak what the Lord had spoken to him. And so, he told King Ahab that if he went into battle, he would die on the battlefield. And Ahab got angry, turned to Jehoshaphat and said, “Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil?” (2 Chronicles 18:17)
One of the “yes men” got so angry that he slapped Micaiah. King Ahab was so upset that he had Micaiah thrown into prison. And he decided to do what his “yes men” told him he should do – he went into battle against Syria. And, in the end, King Ahab was killed in the very battle that Micaiah had warned him of and that his “yes men” had encouraged him to engage in.
You need to understand that getting advice from others is important, but if you’re going to surround yourself with people who will always agree with what you think is right, who aren’t honest enough to be able to tell you when you’re headed in the wrong direction, then the advice is useless.
Solomon said in Proverbs 15:31-32 (TLB), “If you profit from constructive criticism, you will be elected to the wise men’s hall of fame. But to reject criticism is to harm yourself and your own best interests.”
So, when you go to someone for advice, make sure they have your best interests as heart. Don’t take advice from the wrong person. Find someone who truly cares about you and who will be honest with you. Be selective. Second, you need to …
II. Be Receptive
Tremper Longman once said, “Only the wise are willing to admit mistakes, change behavior and improve their lives.”
One of the main reasons that I think we’re hesitant to ask for advice is because we’re afraid of hearing something that we don’t want to hear. And specifically, what we don’t want to hear is that we need to change something in our behavior.
That’s one of the reasons I think people are hesitant to go to the dentist. “I know what he’s going to tell me and I’d rather not hear it.” It’s one of the reasons people are hesitant to go to a doctor. It’s also one of the reasons that couples who are struggling with their marriage are hesitant to go to a counselor.
Most people would be glad to go to a counselor if they knew that the counselor was going to say, “You’re right and she’s wrong, and she needs to change.” But we all know that’s not how it’s going to work. The counselor is more likely to tell me that I’m wrong and that I need to change, and I just don’t want to hear it. Never mind that it would probably save my marriage. I don’t want to listen to somebody telling me what I need to do.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon said, “It is better to be a poor but wise youth than to be an old and foolish king who refuses all advice” (Ecclesiastes 4:13, TLB).
And in Proverbs 13:13 (GNT), “If you refuse good advice, you are asking for trouble; follow it and you are safe.”
The problem for us comes down to a matter of pride. We all think that we know what’s best, in just about every situation. We believe that our assessment of the situation is the correct one. That’s why teenagers think that they are just as wise as their much more experienced parents. It’s why young people who are dating and think that this is the perfect guy or girl will persist in their perspective even if everyone who cares about them tells them it’s a bad idea. They’re not going to listen to anyone else, and they will act like everyone sees the situation wrongly except for them!
Now, it’s easy to see this problem in young people, but the same problem exists even as we get older. It takes humility for me to admit that I might not be seeing things correctly, and I need the perspective of someone on the outside who loves me and who cares about me to tell me what they think. And it takes humility for me to be receptive to that advice.
In Proverbs 15:33 (TLB), Solomon said, “Humility and reverence for the Lord will make you both wise and honored.”
Just because you’ve made a foolish decision once doesn’t mean you have to keep making foolish decisions. But you will continue to flounder until you open your heart to the advice of godly people. We need to have enough humility to be receptive to advice, and be willing to hear what we don’t want to hear.
Solomon said in Proverbs 12:1 (MSG), “If you love learning, you love the discipline that goes with it — how shortsighted to refuse correction!”
So, when you seek advice, you have to be completely open to the advice you’re about to receive. When it comes to getting advice, you need to be selective, you need to be receptive, and thirdly, you need to …
III. Be Objective
You need to understand that no one person in this world has all the answers. There’s not one person you can go to for advice on everything, all the time. Besides, getting advice isn’t about letting other people make your decisions for you. Getting advice is the process of getting an objective view of your problem so that you can then make the right decision. The decision you make ultimately belongs to you.
And even if you follow someone else’s advice, that doesn’t relieve you of the responsibility for your actions. It’s your decision. You’re the one who’s got to live with the consequences, so you need to make sure that you have an objective view of your situation.
And one of the best ways to do that is found in Proverbs 15:22. Solomon said, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22). One of the best ways to be objective is to go to more than just one person for advice. You go to three, or five, or seven qualified, godly people and get input from all of them.
And, if everyone says the same thing, then your decision is pretty easy. But, chances are, you’re going to hear a variety of opinions. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because it gives you the opportunity to examine the situation from all sides.
The more information you can get, the more input you can get, the more research you can do, the better your decision will be in the long run. But remember, ultimately, it’s your decision. You have to live it with it. You have to face the consequences or reap the rewards, so make sure you get an objective view of the problem. You do this by seeking advice from several different people, not just one.
So, whenever you trying to tackle any major problem or decision, I encourage you to seek out godly advice. And, when you do, you need to ask yourself the following questions:
• Has this person “been there; done that”? Do they have experience? Have they demonstrated wisdom in this area that I’m struggling with?
• Does this person truly have my best interests at heart? Do I trust that whatever they have to say to me is going to come out of a heart of love?
• Will this person be honest with me? Will he tell me what I need to hear, not just what I want to hear?
• Are there other friends who can help me to develop an objective view of my life?
If you’ll do this whenever you’re facing a tough decision, you’ll see the result of God’s promise in Proverbs 19:20 (NLT),“Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life.”