Competent to Counsel - Part One
Paul Dean Dr. Paul J. Dean's Weblog
- 2005 Oct 27
"On the whole," Chuck Baldwin notes, "America's Christians today do not want to hear the truth. They want a place where they can be made to feel good, where they can be entertained, where they can socialize and make business contacts, and where their children can have a place to play." How very different is the church today from the New Testament model. I myself have written in another place ("Biblical Counseling: Part of the Work of the Church") that the church is in union with Christ Jesus and as such is His body, family, and bride." At the same time, the church has many tasks, not the least of which is the often neglected task of ministering to one another. As noted in that piece, biblical counseling may be used as a catch-all for the one anothering ministry of the church involving the twin dynamics of formative and corrective discipleship. This assertion is grounded in numerous Scriptural texts and concepts, yet one verse in particular provides some insight into the necessity and sufficiency of such ministry and/or counseling within and by the members of the body of Christ. Paul stated rather matter of factly: "I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are rich in goodness, amply filled with knowledge, and competent also to admonish one another (Rom. 15:14)." At least five practical implications concerning the body of Christ counseling itself in love may be gleaned from this text.
First, growing Christians have the quality of character necessary to actively engage in counseling. Paul affirms that growing Christians are rich in "goodness." This goodness is a practical goodness that flows from and by virtue of one's union with Christ. It refers to a practical holiness, gentleness, and compassion. If a person is saved, he/she has an imputed righteousness from Christ. The sinner is declared to be right with God by virtue of the righteousness of Christ credited to his/her account through faith in Christ. The Lord then begins to sanctify the new believer and impart practical righteousness to him. Those dynamics make Christians different from the world. Those who are in the world have no righteousness in the biblical sense and cannot please God.
An implication that may be gleaned from the righteousness believers have in Christ is that their counseling can be properly motivated. This motivation is two-fold primarily: love for God and concern for His glory and then love for man and concern for His good. Those who don't know Christ certainly have no love for God or concern for His glory. Neither is their love for man and concern for his good flowing from a relationship with God and therefore not good in God's sight nor is it without a selfish motivation. The Christian counselor by the power of the Holy Spirit can be properly motivated as she gives to others out of the abundance that God has given her by grace. Unlike the world, the Christian counselor does not counsel until the money runs out or until the insurance company won't pay. One psychiatrist told me he simply dispensed medication and rarely even looked at the faces of those whom he saw. He could herd patients through by spending no more than a couple of minutes with each one of them. Only when God saved him did he begin to care about those patients and only then did he make the jump to biblical counseling.
The point is that a person who is saved has a compassionate heart from Christ. Well I remember sitting in the office of my seminary pastorate when the phone rang. A woman from the local motel was calling to inform me hat a man was in one of the rooms attempting to literally drink himself to death. I knew nothing about the formal discipline of biblical counseling. What could I do? I simply rushed over to help and spent the next eight hours speaking to him the things of God. By God's grace and power he did not kill himself and came with me to the hospital for detox. The doctor told me that had we not come in when we did, the consequences would have been tragic indeed. I visited this man repeatedly after that to speak to him about Christ. He was a willing listener and was ultimately released and restored to his family who had no idea where he was as he had driven away to die. What motivates a person to spend the day with an old drunk hold up in a motel room? Compassion for others flowing from Christ does that. What words can convince that old drunk to stop drinking and think about his life? The words of God in the power of the Spirit do that. What would motivate you in such a situation? What would you say with no formal training in such a situation? The love of Christ in you would motivate you and the hope that we have in Him would be your message. If you're saved, you have the quality of character necessary to actively engage in counseling. This is the word of the Lord.
Second, growing Christians have all the knowledge they need to provide counsel for others. Paul told the Romans that they were "filled with all knowledge." Obviously, they did not have exhaustive knowledge. Paul meant that they had sufficient knowledge. They had all the knowledge they needed to minister to one another. Primarily, they had a knowledge of Christ. Paul affirmed that in Christ "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3)." He then warned Christians to "beware of being kidnapped by philosophy and vain deceit which is after the elementary principles of the world and the traditions of men and not after Christ (Col. 2:8)."
I have four earned degrees. I say this not by way of pride but by way of saying I don't mind education. Not too long ago I considered getting a degree in psychology to lend weight to my words in support of biblical counseling as opposed to worldly, psychological counseling. I actually enrolled in a doctoral program and began to read my first assignment. It only took me fifteen minutes to realize that I could not spend the next few years of my life filling my mind with things contrary to the Scriptures. I was already "filled with all knowledge." Why did I need to dilute that knowledge? So after having earned four degrees I became what my parents at one time feared I would become: a college dropout! Of course the disciples were accused of being ignorant and unlearned men, but, the religious leaders who hated them took note of them, that they had been with Jesus. Do you spend time with Jesus? A knowledge of Him is that people need.
Christians have a knowledge of Christ and they have a knowledge of His word. That word is God's revelation of Himself to man. He is the Creator. He alone knows best how to fix His creatures. That reality means that Christians know some critical things when it comes to counseling. They know what the heart of the problem really is: sin. They know what it is that actually cures or delivers: Christ. He doesn't merely bring relief from anxiety, anger, depression, or a lifestyle of drunkenness. He is the cure for such. He sets the captives free! Christians know the counseling method that God gives. When someone has a problem they need God's perspective on the problem, hope from the Scriptures, and a plan for biblical change. That change is wrought by the Spirit as believers put off sin and put on righteousness through the renewing of their minds. Paul uses this formula over and over again.
A woman came to us because her husband was in unrepentant adultery. She had been to another church for counseling and could not seem to get relief. She told us that her previous counselors had inquired as to what would be the worst thing she could imagine in this situation. Her response was that it would be catching her husband in the act. They told her to visualize that situation over and over in her mind until she became numb to it. They then told her to take a picture of her husband and beat it with a baseball bat. These things were to give her the relief she needed. Of course such visualization is not only sin according to Scripture, but can only have a most grievous affect and does nothing toward giving real relief or promoting reconciliation in the marriage. Moreover, our Sunday School children know that beating one's picture with a baseball bat is no different than murder according to the Lord Jesus. So the counsel this woman received was to murder her husband.
No wonder the church has no power in this culture. The influence of the world has caused many lampstands to be removed. What's worse is that this woman was never given the gospel until she came to us. By God's grace the Lord opened her heart to receive our message and she was gloriously saved. She was then empowered to deal with her husband in a biblical fashion. Yet, while America's Christians do not want to hear the truth because they want a church where they can be made to feel good, be entertained, socialize, make business contacts, and provide their children a place to play, they and the culture around them perish for a lack of knowledge. This woman was a member of such a church and almost paid for that membership with her life: her eternal life. Yet, growing Christians have all the knowledge they need to provide counsel. They have Christ and His word. Let them not trade it for poisoned wells that cannot satisfy.
[Part Two Tomorrow]