Updated: Dec 14, 2022
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…” 2 Timothy 3:16
I try not to start off a lot of my blogs about my personal experience writing with scripture because it turns people away before they get started. This is not a complaint; I do the same when someone turns on a television to watch Chicago Fire.
But I chose this one because it jumped into my thoughts as soon as I typed the title of the blog. That’s because it illustrates for me the point I hope to make between advice and instruction. I’m going to use writing as my setting, but the principle applies to life in general. I want to start with advice that can be properly defined as a recommendation or information given. Writers get all kinds of advice, none more heartfelt than: “You should stop this nonsense now.”
Advice properly given is a suggestion. It goes something like: “You should write a story about a mermaid in a castle by the sea who lures men to their deaths on the rocks.” When I hear advice like that, I think about it, weigh the possibilities against my abilities and inclination, and see if a story appears out of the brain fog.
I do the latter because, you see, the advice is not a story—it is a setting, not a plot. I must be able to take the suggestion—the advice—and do something that pleases me with it. There is no time limit on the process. In fact, the advisor telling me to sit down and get started is the worst possible thing to do.
I have some unoriginal but worthy writing advice. Write what you know. Find your own voice. Find an editor who will be tough on you. Don’t break the rules until you are well versed in the rules. Write every day. Read a lot. Not everyone is going to like what you write.
Does anyone feel compelled to do these things simply because they are good advice? Not likely, especially at first. However, they may grow on you as you grow.
Now, Paul’s admonition to Timothy is not like that. It is a command based on the authority of scripture by his mentor/teacher. It is in itself an instruction—a direction calling for compliance.
You might be familiar with this kind of writing from school. “Write me a 500-word essay on what you did last summer.” You have some wiggle room to stretch the truth and make it fun, but you darn well better write it! Or else! And of course, it came with all kinds of rules outlining how and when the instructor wanted it done.
Writing instruction covers the rules I spoke of a moment ago, things like grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, paragraph structure, and the king of them all submission guidelines. I promise if you break the rules, especially that last one, your work is bound for the trash.
Publishers besides looking for good writing want to know if you can follow their instructions. They want it their way or no way. And if you sell your writing to them, the work becomes theirs, they are the final authority.
As a nurse, I dispensed both advice and instruction on a regular basis. If I advised somebody to wear a mask and they chose not to, I was not offended by their decision even if they turned up sicker the next day. The mask was just a suggestion.
If I instructed someone to take one pill every four hours and they took eight over two hours and came back with an overdose That bothered the hell out of me because I trusted them to follow instructions—they did not comply with the rules.
Either way, I took the best care of them I possibly could.
That’s not the perfect example but what I’m getting at is to be aware of whether you are advising or instructing. I don’t think I am unique in the fact that I take advice must better than instruction. Jesus might command, “If you love me, keep my commandments,” and have his hearers obey. People have a much harder time pulling it off with others.