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17th May: Guidance (6) -- The Role of Christian Friends

'...That we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine. Romans 1:12

Christian friendship is one of God's greatest gifts with it mutual encouragement, support, fellowship and advice. We need to consider the role of other Christians in the matter of guidance.

1. Example While benefiting from their example and experience, don't try to copy them. Don't assume that God's plan for your life is identical with theirs. Don't force yourself or be forced into their mould. Joseph, a nomadic shepherd boy, became president of Egypt to save God's people; whereas Moses, steeped in the language and culture of Egypt and influential in Pharaoh's court, was banished to Midian to serve the same purpose. Both men knew what God would do, but neither knew how he would do it. (Gn 37:7,9; Acts 7:25).

2. Advice The advice of Christian friends may be invaluable. 'The onlooker sees most of the game'. Paul's zeal would have precipitated him into the uproar of the Ephesian amphitheatre, courting unnecessary trouble, had not the disciples and influential friends dissuaded him (Acts 19:30-31). The town clerk dispersed the hostile mob, and Paul disappeared to continue his work elsewhere. Discretion prevailed. Jesus acted similarly when 'his hour had not yet come'. Older Christians in the profession can be of great help to us. They can assess our capabilities better than we, give us advice about likely specialty openings, and tell us how to set about fulfilling what we believe to be God's will.

But the wise counsellor always encourages us to look to the Lord for his leading. Ananias, knowing God's plan for Paul, only told him to turn to the Lord in repentance, faith, and commitment. It was the Lord's prerogative to show him what this would mean, 'for I will show him...' (Acts 9:15-16). The genius of Barnabas was to advise young Christians to 'cleave to the Lord' (Acts 11:23 AV), and for all his friendship, encouragement, teaching and training, Paul never dominated his life, and was content to let him obey his conscience when their opinions differed (Acts 15:36-41).

3. Ultimate Accountability The divide between profiting from the experience and advice of another, and allowing someone else to determine our future for us is a fine one. In Acts 21, we read of people who had been told by the Holy Spirit of the danger awaiting Paul in Jerusalem, confirming what he already knew. In addition, some sought to prevent him from going. Paul, however, was not moved. He knew where his ministry lay, and was confident of God's guidance in the matter. It is noteworthy that when the advisers failed to persuade him they stopped pressing him, saying, 'The will of the Lord be done'. Can God-given insight spill over into human persuasion? May it be better to risk an honest mistake, believing it to be God's will, than to give blind obedience to the dictates of others?

Lord, I thank you for your promise that your followers shall
not walk in darkness. Grant that I may be humble enough to
take advice, but discerning enough to distinguish between
your will and mere human opinion.

Further reading: Acts 15:36-41, 20:22-25, 21:3-15.


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