I still recall as a small boy learning in Sunday school about Rehoboam’s great folly. Perhaps you remember the history. Solomon had died and his son Rehoboam became king. The people of Israel came to him and asked that he lighten the burden that Solomon had placed on them.
At that point, Rehoboam had an important decision to make. So he went to the old men and consulted them. They advised that he speak a good word to them and so win their loyal service. He then turned to the young men – who had grown up with him – and sought their counsel. They advised that in order to demonstrate his strength and authority he should increase the burden and so show the people who was boss. Which course would you follow?
Biblically, it’s a wise thing to receive counsel. King Solomon – a man who would have a lot of experience needing counsel – wrote: ‘Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counsellors there is safety’ (Proverbs 11:14) and ‘Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisors they succeed’ (Proverbs 15:22).
That’s a fascinating thought. Solomon, we recall, was blessed by God with wisdom. When he asked, God gave: ‘I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you’ (1 Kings 3:12). Undoubtedly, he was the wisest person in any room he walked into. Yet part of his wisdom, as he reveals in Proverbs, was knowing that he needed the counsel of others.
But getting advice isn’t all that matters. The quality of the advice matters too. Again, the Wise King reflects: ‘The thoughts of the righteous are just; the counsels of the wicked are deceitful’ (Proverbs 12:5).
Although Rehoboam did well in seeking advice we read that he ‘abandoned the counsel’ of the older men and favoured the advice of the younger. In God’s providence, Rehoboam’s bad decision instigated the division of Israel. It’s too bad that Rehoboam didn’t heed his father’s wisdom, but chose the advice of young and foolish men.
We aren’t told specifically why Rehoboam heeded the younger voices over the older, and it’s unnecessary to speculate about the details. But there is much practicality in it. We ourselves live in a society that has built a flourishing environment for Yes Men – those who agree with and support other’s decisions without question. Some dictionary definitions add a flare of colour, defining a Yes Man as a ‘weak person who always agrees’. It is not a commendable trait.
To be someone who is always affirming and validating others demonstrates a tremendous lack of wisdom, courage, and honesty. It’s also not a God-honouring way to love your neighbour. That’s because the heart of being a Yes Man is the sin of flattery.
The Bible is clear, you can’t trust a flatterer: ‘A man who flatters his neighbour spreads a net for his feet’ (Proverbs 29:5). What a picture! A person who is only agreeable and never objects or challenges isn’t a true friend but one who is preparing your ruin. It’s why in graphic judgment we’re taught to sing that God would ‘cut off all flattering lips’ (Psalm 12:3).
Yet we build a kingdom of Yes Men. We want weak people in our lives who will simply affirm us and pat us on the back without objection or challenge. The danger is hard to exaggerate. Even basic leadership curriculums speak of the need for voices who are willing to dissent. This should especially be true in the church and among fellow Christians. So many congregations and ministries have been destroyed, for instance, because a pastor cannot handle hearing ‘No’.
But we all do it. We accumulate for ourselves and ask the advice of people we often know will only affirm us. Make an honest assessment. When is the last time you actively sought the counsel of someone who would give you a radically different perspective than your own? When is the last time you welcomed pushback? How did you respond the last time someone said something critical about one of your social media posts? What thoughts went through your head the last time someone told you ‘No’?
We all love to be affirmed and applauded. In fact, Paul cautions that this is one of the signs of the times: ‘For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths’ (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
This isn’t the way we’re meant to live as Christians. We all need the eye of criticism. Not the ungodly and unspiritual kind of criticism, but the criticism that is seeking to do us good and to glorify God. We need friends who have the wisdom, discernment, courage, and strength to challenge our thoughts, words, and actions. We need to stop living in the crippling fear that the worst thing someone could do is tell us ‘No’.
J. Gresham Machen once wrote: ‘There is one word which every true Christian must learn to use. It is the word not or the word no.’ If I can tweak that a little, I would say: ‘Every true friend must learn to use the word no.’ It’s not always easy to hear. Even some of the most straightforward and unflattering people I know dislike being challenged. But those that have done me the best good in my life are those friends who can lovingly challenge and object. Again, as Solomon said: ‘Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favour than he who flatters with his tongue’ (Proverbs 28:23). We need more ‘No Men’ in our lives.
Kyle Borg is pastor of Winchester Reformed Presbyterian Church, Kansas, US