Defining Biblical Counseling with Familiar Concepts
Paul Dean Dr. Paul J. Dean's Weblog
- 2005 Jul 04
Some may find it surprising to learn that biblical counseling is a phrase that embodies the primary task of the church as given to us by our Lord in the Great Commission: the task of making disciples. So often when we hear the term counseling, we don’t think of the ministry of the word. Rather, we think of psychology or therapy. But counseling is a biblical word that has a wide range of meaning and as noted, it has special reference to the Commission given to us by our Lord to make disciples.
Making disciples is a two-fold dynamic. First, the lost are to be evangelized. Second, those who have come to Christ in repentance and faith are then to be taught to obey everything that Christ has commanded us. That teaching certainly includes doctrine. But, the Lord told us to teach persons to obey. Teaching to obey is the application of doctrine. Teaching to obey is the how to of the Christian life. Teaching to obey is Christian discipleship. That discipleship is in fact counseling from a biblical perspective. One of the things He has commanded us to do is make disciples. Thus, evangelism is not complete until the evangelized become the evangelists, that is, until those who have been made disciples make disciples.
The word "counseling" refers to evangelism and teaching, that is, the entire task of making disciples. (Note: during evangelistic crusades those who receive persons coming forward to make decisions are always called counselors). The word "biblical" refers to the fact that the Scriptures are the sole authority and source-book for counseling, that is, making disciples.
Thus, we would say that biblical counseling is mandated by the Lord. Counseling is a biblical word containing literally hundreds of references. Consider just a few examples. In Ps. 1:1-2 we read, "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night." In Acts 20:27, Paul declared, "For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God." Note the word "counsel" in both of those verses and how that counsel is grounded in Scripture.
The primary Greek word that embodies the full range of meaning regarding "counseling" is noutheteo. It is translated "admonish" in Romans 15:14. "And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish (counsel) one another." The word noutheteo means to admonish, warn, rebuke, reprove, correct, teach, instruct, witness, counsel, minister etc. Paul wants believers to "counsel" one another.
Think about some of the goals of and in biblical counseling. First, as noted, there is the goal of discipleship. Discipleship is the building-up of the body of Christ. In simple terms, the primary goal of biblical counseling is to equip every member to minister to one another. Writing to the Ephesians, Paul noted that "...he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love (Eph. 4:11-16)." It is evident from this passage that biblical counseling involves, among many other things, "speaking the truth in love." In order to edify the body we must speak the truth in love. Speaking the truth in love is biblical counseling.
Second, in biblical counseling, there is the goal of education. Christian education is training the church members through Sunday School, discipleship courses, small groups, etc., to apply the truth they have learned from Scripture, first, to their own lives and then, to the lives of others. Paul commands Timothy, "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15)." We are to study and apply the Scripture to our own lives. Paul then says to the Galatians, "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ (Gal. 6:1-2)." We are to apply the Scripture to the lives of others in love.
Third, in biblical counseling there is the goal of evangelism. Evangelism is sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit that persons might repent of their sin and place their faith in Christ alone for salvation and become active members of His church in submission to His Lordship. This definition is the essence of the Great Commission. "And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:18-20).'"
Fourth, in biblical counseling, there is the obvious goal of counseling. Counseling simply refers to discipleship of the members for the edification of the body, education of the members for the work of the ministry, and evangelism of the lost in obedience to the Great Commission, from the Scriptures. Counseling is a biblical term that we use as a catch-all for biblical discipleship, biblical education, and biblical evangelism. It is nothing more and nothing less than what the Lord Jesus Christ has commanded us to do. The church doesn't set up a biblical counseling center. Rather, the church is a biblical center.
Looking at counseling in this way--through the lens of the Great Commission--is not only biblical but helpful in terms of embracing the essence of what the discipline is and in terms of helping a congregation to embrace it. Of course God will raise up individuals from a congregation who deal with serious crises in the lives of people. But counseling is both preventative and intervening just as church discipline is both formative and corrective. To think of biblical counseling in terms of discipleship, education, evangelism, and then counseling is to put the discipline in familiar territory. In so doing, not only will the congregation embrace biblical counseling as a legitimate ministry for the church, but they will also be likely to involve themselves in some way in that wonderfully Christian ministry.