When your next major decision comes — what house to buy, where to go school, whom to marry — do the wise and unexpected thing: Ask someone older than you.
Most people in America, for instance, get married today without getting serious counsel. They meet each other, go on a few dates, get more serious, decide they want to get married, and then tell people they’re getting married. They may keep a couple close friends up to date through the process, but they barely have a category for “counsel” — much less counsel from someone older. So, they wed without guidance. And according to Proverbs 11:14, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls.” Many marriages fall the same way.
“If you only receive counsel when it agrees with you, you’re not really receiving counsel.”
“Without counsel plans fail” (Proverbs 15:22), and not only wedding plans. Do you want to take the wrong job, or buy the wrong house, or join the wrong church? Then ignore the godly people in your life who made those decisions years ago (and have seen many others do so).
But if you want to marry well, choose well, and commit well, then ask someone older than you.
Counsel for Seeking Counsel
Consider King Rehoboam as a case study in refusing good counsel. Unlike many today, Rehoboam did seek guidance from his elders, but how he handled their wisdom is a warning to any of us. If we never ask someone older than us, we’re warmly inviting adversity, affliction, and even disaster. But even when we do ask, subtle (or obvious) opportunities arise to despise wisdom. Rehoboam teaches us how not to seek counsel.
1. Ask someone older than you.
Rehoboam started well: “[He] took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he was yet alive, saying, ‘How do you advise me to answer this people?’” (1 Kings 12:6). When we are confronted with a difficult or complicated decision, one aspect of wisdom is to ask “the old men” (or women).
Many of us don’t even think to ask for counsel. We just do the best we can with what we have and know on our own. Even those of us who do ask for counsel often neglect to ask someone older than us. We ask our peers, typically those experiencing the same dilemmas and making the same decisions, and with the same shortage of life experience. Our friends know us best, and they’re most immediately familiar with our stage of life, so we assume they must be the best people to ask.
But age and experience have a place in the pursuit of wisdom. Job says, “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days” (Job 12:12). So, ask someone with (many) more days than you.
2. Don’t make up your mind beforehand.
When you do ask someone older for counsel, resist the impulse to make up your mind beforehand. The older men advised Rehoboam, “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever” (1 Kings 12:7). Not only is the counsel wise, but it also benefits Rehoboam. If, as king, you strive to serve the needs of the people and lessen the burdens on them, they will never stop serving you.
“But [Rehoboam] abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him” (1 Kings 12:8). When they gave him counsel he didn’t like, he rejected it and retreated to his friends. He wasn’t really looking for counsel; he was looking for approval. And if we’re only looking for approval, wise counsel will fall on deaf ears.
If you receive counsel only when it agrees with you, you’re not really receiving counsel. When you go to others older than you, fight to keep your mind genuinely open to what they have to say.
3. If they disagree with your direction, seek to be persuaded.
So, if someone older than you disagrees with you, should you just do what they say? Maybe. But not always. Rehoboam wasn’t necessarily wrong to disagree with his counselors, but he was unwise to disregard their counsel so flippantly and arrogantly. Instead of listening well, pressing into their seasoned perspective, asking good questions, and seeking to understand, Rehoboam just dismissed them and took an easier path to approval: his peers.
If someone older, who manifestly loves you, disagrees with you, take a default posture of humility and openness, genuinely seeking to be persuaded. “You who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5). Don’t just tuck humility in your pocket in case you need it in the conversation. Clothe yourself in humility, because God gives grace to the humble — to those gladly willing to admit that they might be wrong.
4. Beware of counsel from people just like you.
“King Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father” (1 Kings 12:6) — men who had lived and led, succeeded and failed, suffered and persevered. “But he abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him” (1 Kings 12:8) — young men with whom he was more comfortable, boys who were more like him.
“When you do ask someone older for counsel, resist the impulse to make up your mind beforehand.”
Why do we, like Rehoboam, default to our peers? Positively, because they typically know us best. And they’re often the most available (they’re already a part of our life). But negatively, they’re most likely to agree with us. Not always. Good friends are hard to find, but they do exist. But whether they are good friends or not, peers consistently lack the same wisdom we do — the wisdom that often comes with age, maturity, and experience. We do need counsel from our friends because they know us. The danger is that they’re more like us.
One way to avoid pitting older, wiser counsel against counsel from your friends is to make someone older than you a friend. Pursue a real, life-on-life friendship with someone in a different stage of life. When you already have an ongoing friendship with that person, you don’t have to bring them up to speed on the last five years in five minutes to get informed counsel. They already know you and are ready to speak into your life.
5. Beware of counsel that serves you at the expense of others.
Perhaps the brightest warning in Rehoboam’s story is that his friends’ advice encouraged him to serve himself at the expense of others. They cheered on his pride, and told him to threaten the people, “Thus shall you speak to this people . . . ‘Whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions’” (1 Kings 12:10–11).
True wisdom will be suspicious of any advice, from young or old, that elevates me and my desires while hurting someone else. Some decisions may end up hurting others to some degree — whom we marry or don’t, where we live and work, what church we join — but counsel that elevates me to the unnecessary pain or inconvenience of others should give us considerable pause. We should weigh that kind of guidance with even more prayer, counsel, and patience.
6. Pride is the enemy of wise counsel.
Why does Rehoboam reject good counsel and accept the bad? Because the older men called him to humble himself, while the younger men stoked the fires of his pride. They provoked him, “Thus shall you say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s thighs’” (1 Kings 12:10). His friends knew that Rehoboam would come down hard on the people if they questioned his manhood — his strength, his independence, his ability to make his own decisions. Satan seeds our thinking with the lie that real maturity is being able to make decisions on our own.
God doesn’t leave us to make any major decisions on our own. He wants us, first, to lean on him and ask for his wisdom (James 1:5). And typically what it means to lean on him involves listening well to godly people in our lives, especially godly men and women who have lived and learned more than we have. If we isolate our decision-making from other believers, we not only forfeit sage perspective and good judgment, we also may “be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
Nothing keeps more of us from good counsel than our own pride, especially when it comes to asking someone older than us.
What About Bad Counsel?
Now, not every believer older than you will be wiser than you, at least not in any given situation. The psalmist declares,
I have more understanding than all my teachers,
for your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged,
for I keep your precepts. (Psalms 119:99–100)
If you only ask someone older, and never meditate on the word of God, and therefore are not shaped by his wisdom, how will you recognize bad counsel (or know how to handle wise counsel)? If you jealously seek advice from the aged, but do not seek to obey God himself, you will horde the wisdom of the age, but not the wisdom of God.
“Ask someone older than you.”
Job’s friend Elihu, wise beyond his years, rightly says, “It is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand. It is not the old who are wise, nor the aged who understand what is right” (Job 32:8–9). But even while the older men spoke foolishly, “Elihu waited to speak to Job because they were older than he” (Job 32:4).
Wisdom doesn’t end with asking someone older than you. We begin there, but then vigilantly seek God’s will in whatever advice we hear. When you ask for counsel, make sure God’s voice in Scripture is always the loudest in your ears. Ask someone older than you, and then ask if their voice harmonizes with his word.