Inspiration (6 & 7), Gathering Data (8 & 9), Interpreting Data (10)
In August 1710, Thomas Boston preached a sermon entitled, “The Instability of Human Goodness” based upon the text of Hosea 6:4, “For your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.” The text itself concerned the instability of the Israelites faced by the prophet Hosea. Boston takes the text, which first applied particularly to the Israelites as a common attribute of us humans. The fault of the Israelites was not unique to them:
Such is the instability of many in the good way of the Lord, that the goodness at which they sometimes arrive, passeth away as a morning cloud, and as the early dew.
He then begins to make observations on the good state of human beings. First, he notes that he often fails quickly after some good thing has come to them. The Israelites turned to the Golden Calf just after Mount Sinai. How quickly the disciples deserted Christ after the Last Supper. How quickly the disciples feared after the miracle of the loaves and fish.
Second, goodness often fails slowly,
The devil does not always act the part of a roaring lion when he intends to strip people of their attained goodness, but in this work advances with a soft pace. We may observe that men’s goodness ordinarily goes away by degrees, almost imperceptibly.
He goes on to note:
It is a piece of Satan’s policy to attack people with slender temptations at first, when he designs to rob them; for then they think they are strong enough for them, therefore they grapple with them on their own strength and are foiled. A small temptation will take off the chariot wheels of the soul. An unseasonable thought has sometimes proved a wide door, by which a good frame has escaped.
Third, goodness will fail when it is most needed:
As the heat of summer produces many insects which are not to be seen in the frost of winter; so the time of peace in the church produces many false friends who will never stand the shock of trouble for the gospel.
Why then does goodness fail? The primary reason he gives is that the one who fails truly does not know the Lord. He notes this in three ways: The Spirit does not dwell in them. They are not united to Christ. They may be frequent in a church, but that is not their real element.
He then addresses those who know the Lord, do show a loss of their goodness. And for this he gives four types.
First, they become discouraged; they will not seize heaven by force. They face a difficulty, a delay and they quit:
They cannot wait on at Christ’s gate. They know not what it is to have their appetite sharpened with disappointments; but as soon as they feel not that sweetness in religion which they imagined, they go directly to their old lusts; and find in them what they could not find in religion.
Second, they will not mortify their sin, but let it linger until it turns on them in force:
Another reason is, the entertaining of unmortified lusts, which are like the suckers that draw the sap from the tree and make it barren. It is hard to get wet wood to take fire, but harder to get it to keep in the fire, but hardest of all, to get a heart polluted with, and enslaved to vile affections, to retain any attained goodness. They that have many friends in the enemy’s camp will find their hands sore bound up in the day of battle. …That heart will not abide with God that has secret filthy lusts to nourish.
He then considers these two matters from a different angle; rather than consider them subjectively, he states them objectively: :The profits and pleasures of the world soon charm away men’s goodness.” He gives these in rather strking terms:
They are tenter hooks of the soul, the black devils that draw men from God, and from that sweetness that is in the enjoyment of him, and drive them like the demoniac among the tombs in the region of the dead. They are the wasps and flies that buzz about and sting the soul when it should rest in the bosom of God. And for the pleasures of the world, when they once get a hold of the heart, they quickly run away with it.
He gives a final statement which helps explain the whole, “Unwatchfulness over the heart and life. Our goodness is a tender bud that will easily be blasted if we do not take all possible care of it.” He turns this into a remarkable picture:
What wonder then, if in such a case our goodness goes away, when there is no watching; for such a soul is like a great fair, where some are going out, some entering, and those within are all in confusion.
He ends with an admonition to jealously protect what goodness we have. To this he provides practical direction:
Advices 1. Do not sit down contented with any measure that you have attained. Alas! little satisfies people in religion. He that does not exert himself to grow, will assuredly decay. “Do not think that you have already attained, or are already perfect; but follow after, if that you may apprehend that for which also you are apprehended of Christ Jesus.” Labour to make two talents of your one by industry. The fire will be extinguished by withholding fuel, as well as by throwing water upon it.
Lastly, And what I say to one I say to all, watch. The time is short. Watch, and ere long you shall be in that place, where the gates are not shut by day, and there is no night there. But if any man draw back, the Lord’s Spirit will have no pleasure in him. Amen.
Another word to describe the error being criticized in the second lesson is utopianism. 76 The inability of the Mosaic covenant and Israel’s geopolitical kingdom to deliver a righteous and just political commmunity should have ended visions of heaven on earth by such means. Not even heavenly inscribed laws, divinely handpicked kings or God’s own temple presence could make a difference. Human nature itself needed changing. How strange then that Christians still approach the promise of new constitutions and presidential campaigns with utopian dreams! 77 Christians should rest their hopes for true justice and righteousness not upon the state but upon the son of David and the political community that he is forming: “My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes” (Ezek 37: 24).
Jonathan Leeman, Political Church
Some very general rules about relationships and communication: something which is far easier to understand than it is follow:
First, there is the matter of communication. It is to be clear and direct, not manipulative. That is what Jesus meant by “let your yes be yes”; and what is behind the command in Matthew and James against swearing:
The theme of greater righteousness continues, but Jesus’ examples move outside the Decalogue. As with his teaching on divorce, he again forbids what the Old Testament permitted. “Do not break your oath” alludes to Lev 19:12 and Num 30:2 and would more commonly be translated “do not swear falsely” or “do not perjure yourself.” To “swear” (v. 34) does not mean to curse or use bad words but to affirm the truth of a statement while calling on God to judge oneself if it is in fact untrue. Again qualifications are implicit. There are oaths which are consistent with God’s character and demands even in the New Testament (e.g., 2 Cor 1:18; Gal 1:20), but given the casuistry (an elaborate hierarchy of laws) of first-century Judaism on oaths (cf. the entire Mishnaic tractate Shebuoth), Jesus declares that it would be best to avoid them altogether. The situation described is one in which many Jews viewed swearing by “heaven,” “earth,” “Jerusalem,” or “one’s head” as less binding than swearing “by God.” Jesus stresses that each of these items belongs to God in an important way (cf. Isa 66:1) so that the conventional Jewish distinctions are spurious. Even one’s head, which might be thought to be uniquely under an individual’s control, has divinely predetermined features, such as hair coloring (temporary dyeing is not in view here!). Rather, Jesus’ followers should be people whose words are so characterized by integrity that others need no formal assurance of their truthfulness in order to trust them.
Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 112.
Communication is to be timely, build up the other (edify), and gives grace. Eph. 4:29
We will be judged for every careless word. Matt. 12:36
Second, there is general matter of behavior. Put simply we must act in a way which makes it easy for the other person to act properly before God and man.
The marriage relationship as the most basic (Gen. 2) and intimate, contains some basic elements of relationship which will be illustrative of other relationships.
For example: If a wife respects her husband, it makes easy for him to love her. If a husband loves his wife, it makes it easy for him to respect her. The duty of each is independent of what their spouse does (your bad behavior doesn’t excuse my sin): but if I make it hard you to be holy, if I tempt you to sin by my behavior, I am responsible for that also. It is causing a little one to stumble.
Phil. 2:3 Do not act in a way to promote yourself at the expense of others. Instead begin with humility and consider the other person as more important than me.
These basic elements of love, respect, humility are intrinsic to all relationships: even relationship of authority:
24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The difficulty: These commands are difficult to fulfill, because our emotions get in the way. It will often cross our own desires and fears to do this.
First, the other person does not “deserve” this conduct. Kirkegaard gave a good illustration here. If I loan someone money, I can require that they repay that money by giving it to someone other than me. God has a right to make any demand upon us. He has the right to require that we show love to others who do not deserve it.
Second, we may not get what we want from the relationship. Again, we need to understand in relationship to God. We are not supposed to think of other persons as resources. We do not have the right to expect other people to do anything for us or to reward us. We are to do what God requires and look to God for the reward.
Third, we are afraid we will be hurt. Again, our task is to do what God commands to leave the result to God.
On this point: it is the case that when both parties do what they are required to do in relationships, we both get what we desire. We want the other person to show us love and respect; we get that by first showing love and respect.
This is very, very hard to do. And the more we do the opposite, the harder it becomes.
(Again, notes not text of a lecture. There would be a lot of fill-in between discrete notes)
There are three potential types of causation for depression: physiological, environment, or spiritual. Often these three elements will affect one-another.
A Physical Causes of Depression
There are number of physical diseases and physiological conditions which will either cause symptoms of depression or which are associated with depression.
The Mayo Clinic webpage makes the following statements respecting physical causes of depression:
It’s not known exactly what causes depression. As with many mental disorders, a variety of factors may be involved, such as:
Biological differences. People with depression appear to have physical changes in their brains. The significance of these changes is still uncertain, but may eventually help pinpoint causes.
Brain chemistry. Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring brain chemicals that likely play a role in depression. Recent research indicates that changes in the function and effect of these neurotransmitters and how they interact with neurocircuits involved in maintaining mood stability may play a significant role in depression and its treatment.
Hormones. Changes in the body’s balance of hormones may be involved in causing or triggering depression. Hormone changes can result with pregnancy and during the weeks or months after delivery (postpartum) and from thyroid problems, menopause or a number of other conditions.
Inherited traits. Depression is more common in people whose blood relatives also have this condition. Researchers are trying to find genes that may be involved in causing depression.
Since there are actual physical diseases which can cause depression symptoms (remember depression is a description of symptoms, not the diagnosis of a singular disease), it is appropriate to send someone to a medical doctor for a check-up. For instance, heart attack, stroke and thyroid disease are associated with depression.
This is what most people think of as a physiological cause of depression. There have been theories about the relative levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin as a cause of depression. But there is no possible way to measure the relative levels of neurotransmitters, particularly between the salient neurons relative to a state of depression.
This “chemical imbalance” theory of depression has largely been set aside. As was explained in a Harvard Medical School article:
It’s often said that depression results from a chemical imbalance, but that figure of speech doesn’t capture how complex the disease is. Research suggests that depression doesn’t spring from simply having too much or too little of certain brain chemicals. Rather, there are many possible causes of depression, including faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications, and medical problems. It’s believed that several of these forces interact to bring on depression.
To be sure, chemicals are involved in this process, but it is not a simple matter of one chemical being too low and another too high. Rather, many chemicals are involved, working both inside and outside nerve cells. There are millions, even billions, of chemical reactions that make up the dynamic system that is responsible for your mood, perceptions, and how you experience life.
The article goes on to make a case for physiological elements of depression, but the point is that a simplistic “chemical imbalance” theory is simply inadequate.
B Environmental causes
Depression can be a response to something in one’s environment. And again remember that depression can refer to sadness, fearfulness even anxiety of a sort.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 (ESV)
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
Here we have Paul explaining that death can lead to sorrow and that if not rightly understood can lead to a sorrow without hope.
One of the best tests for determining whether a depression is the result of a environmental cause is to ask when the depression began (learned of this test from Charles Hodges, M.D., excellent book, Good Mood Bad Mood). If you receive a response that the depression began shortly after my dad died, you have good evidence of a response to environment
C Spiritual Depression
There are three types of spiritual depression
1 Depression for unrepentant sin
2 Depression as a response to a corrective of God
2 Cor. 1:8-10 & 12.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes of spiritual depression which comes out a defective theology and thus a misunderstanding of the Christian life.
V Responses to Depression
The response will be dependent upon the cause.
A Physical disease
Where there is a diagnosable disease with a discrete treatment, then physical treatment is appropriate.
Aside on antidepressant medication
Antidepressant medication is typically medication meant to affect the “chemical imbalance” in the brain. In private conversation with a well-respected psychiatrist at a major university (he has since deceased), said over dinner, “Sometimes antidepressants work, sometimes they don’t; and we don’t know why.”
There many issues when it comes to antidepressants.
First, if the depression is not physical, then medication is inappropriate.
Second, feeling bad may be unpleasant but it is not necessarily bad. As noted in the citations above for spiritual depression, bad feelings may be means of correction or training.
Consider this passage from Paul:
Romans 5:1–5 (ESV)
5 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
At the end of verse two, Paul identifies the “hope of the glory of God” as the basis upon which we rejoice. The question then arises, who then do I increase hope? He goes on to explain that painful circumstances which could overwhelm us (as explained in 2 Corinthians) are used as a means to increase hope, in the end.
Third, antidepressants are subject to a substantial placebo effect. For mild to moderate depression, the placebo effect of antidepressant medication appears to be the principle benefit, “The combined effect of these and other biases suggests that the benefits of antidepressant drugs for mild to moderate depression (over and above the placebo effect) may not be clinically significant.” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/doctor-you/201907/its-time-depression-make-friends-the-placebo
For those who suffer “severe” depression, the medical indications are different.
Fourth, antidepressants have serious side effects. For instance:
In the latest and most comprehensive analysis, published last week in BMJ (the British Medical Journal),a group of researchers at the Nordic Cochrane Center in Copenhagen showed that pharmaceutical companies were not presenting the full extent of serious harm in clinical study reports, which are detailed documents sent to regulatory authorities such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) when applying for approval of a new drug. The researchers examined documents from 70 double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of two common types of antidepressants—selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI)—and found that the occurrence of suicidal thoughts and aggressive behavior doubled in children and adolescents who used these medications.
Aside on electroshock
Electroshock therapy has returned as a therapy in cases of severe depression. In a recent conversation, a psychiatrist explained to me that the current theory is that the electroshock causes a “hard reset” of the neurotransmitters and shows some alleviation of depression symptoms following the treatment. When I see her next, I’ll ask about her current opinion of the treatment.
B Spiritual depression
Obviously, exploration of unrepentant sin is appropriate and repentance (Ps. 32 & 51) may be the necessary response to depression. A warning here: be careful of insisting on this point, because it could easily cause despondency in a troubled conscience.
Administration of Hope
Ps. 77 Gives a good example of how to perform this work:
Psalm 77:1–10 (ESV)
The first four verses describe a case of serious depression
1 I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, and he will hear me.
2 In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
3 When I remember God, I moan;
when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah
4 You hold my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
At this point, the Psalmist administers a series of questions which force him to realize that he has reason to hope:
5 I consider the days of old,
the years long ago.
6 I said, “Let me remember my song in the night;
let me meditate in my heart.”
Then my spirit made a diligent search:
7 “Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable?
8 Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah
10 Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, taking instruction from Psalm 42-43 explained that our trouble lies that we listen to ourselves rather than preach to ourselves. We allow our feelings to cloud and our judgment and we make our emotional state the truth of our condition. He explains that we must turn this on its head must take ourselves by the hand and tell ourselves the truth:
Psalm 42:5 (ESV)
5 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
C Environmental Depression
1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 (ESV)
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Understanding the matter correctly as a means of remedying the sorrow of loss.
Romans 8:28–29 (ESV)
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Note that “good” is defined in v. 29 as being conformed to the image of Christ (not in getting a new car or a better job or some other possible “good”).
(I was out of the country on a counseling conference in Chile. Here is the first half of my notes from a lecture on depression)
Notes on Depression Lecture
Begin with Psalm 88
Psalm 88 (ESV)
I Cry Out Day and Night Before You
88 A SONG. A PSALM OF THE SONS OF KORAH. TO THE CHOIRMASTER: ACCORDING TO MAHALATH LEANNOTH. A MASKIL OF HEMAN THE EZRAHITE.
1 O LORD, God of my salvation,
I cry out day and night before you.
2 Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry!
3 For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am a man who has no strength,
5 like one set loose among the dead,
like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand.
6 You have put me in the depths of the pit,
in the regions dark and deep.
7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah
8 You have caused my companions to shun me;
you have made me a horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
9 my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call upon you, O LORD;
I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah
11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
13 But I, O LORD, cry to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 O LORD, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me?
15 Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
16 Your wrath has swept over me;
your dreadful assaults destroy me.
17 They surround me like a flood all day long;
they close in on me together.
18 You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
my companions have become darkness.dep
I “Depression” is an Ambiguous Term.
A It is ambiguous in terms of what we mean by depression.
1 It can refer to merely feeling down.
2 It can refer to extraordinary pain and inability to act
“The pain of severe depression is quite unimaginable to those who have not suffered it, and it kills in many instances because its anguish can no longer be borne. The prevention of many suicides will continue to be hindered until there is a general awareness of the nature of this pain.”
― William Styron, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness
3 Therefore, when someone uses the word “depressed”, it is necessary to fully define in fact of that particular person what is meant.
B It is ambiguous in terms of causation
1 There are multiple physical conditions which are associated with depression
2 There are multiple environmental conditions which are associated with depression
3 The physiological and environmental aspects will often work in conjunction to create the condition
II It is suffering
It suffering which afflicts us physically and emotionally. The most crushing things about depression is the loss of hope
“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.”
― Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation
“It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul.”
― William Styron, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness
II It is not uncommon
A The “common cold” of psychiatry.
In 2009–2012, 7.6% of Americans aged 12 and over had depression (moderate or severe depressive symptoms in the past 2 weeks).
Figure 1. Percentage of persons aged 12 and over with depression, by age and sex: United States, 2009–2012
B It is common even among Christians.
1 Martin Luther suffered from serious physical problems and repeated depression
In a letter to his friend Melanchthon on August 2, 1527, Luther wrote:
I spent more than a week in death and hell. My entire body was in pain, and I still tremble. Completely abandoned by Christ, I labored under the vacillations and storms of desperation and blasphemy against God. But through the prayers of the saints (his friends), God began to have mercy on me and pulled my soul from the inferno below.
2 Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, Vol. 1, Lecture 11, The Minister’s Fainting Fits:
AS it is recorded that David, in the heat of battle, waxed faint, so may it be written of all the servants of the Lord. Fits of depression come over the most of us. Usually cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy. There may be here and there men of iron, to whom wear and tear work no perceptible detriment, but surely the rust frets even these; and as for ordinary men, the Lord knows, and makes them to know, that they are but dust. Knowing by most painful experience what deep depression of spirit means, being visited therewith at seasons by no means few or far between, I thought it might be consolatory to some of my brethren if I gave my thoughts thereon, that younger men might not fancy that some strange thing had happened to them when they became for a season possessed by melancholy; and that sadder men might know that one upon whom the sun has shone right joyously did not always walk in the light.
It is not necessary by quotations from the biographies of eminent ministers to prove that seasons of fearful prostration have fallen to the lot of most, if not all of them. The life of Luther might suffice to give a thousand instances, and he was by no means of the weaker sort. His great spirit was often in the seventh heaven of exultation, and as frequently on the borders of despair. His very death bed was not free from tempests, and he sobbed himself into his last sleep like a great wearied child. Instead of multiplying cases, let us dwell upon the reasons why these things are permitted; why it is that the children of light sometimes walk in the thick darkness; why the heralds of the daybreak find themselves at times in tenfold night.
3 It is reported in the Psalms
See, Psalms 42-43
4 It has been written about extensively by Christians
At this point, I you want to think more broadly about a biblical counseling ministry. Up until this point, we have been discussing biblical counseling as a response to a crisis. The person who comes to biblical counseling is someone who is suffering a significant trouble; whether a significant circumstance like a difficult marriage; or a significant sin which has led to trouble. This leads us to think that biblical counseling is unique in life of the church; it is somehow detached from the normal functioning of the church.
All that we have done so far and all that we will do next week may seem to support that idea: here you are going through serious sustained training on some very difficult subjects. I just spent a session telling you to be very careful whom you choose to be a counselor in your church.
At this point I want to adjust your thinking slightly. Biblical counseling is specialized, and it is part of the core function of a church.
Matthew 28 records the resurrection of our Lord. That chapter ends with the Lord’s instruction to the Church:
Matthew 28:18–20 (NASB95)
18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.
19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
The main verb in that sentence is to “make disciples”. We will do this as we go out into the world. We will baptize them and teach them to observe all that Christ has commanded. That is the job of the church. We are given no other commission, beyond making disciples of Christ.
So let’s turn the question around: We need to ask if Biblical Counseling fits into that job description for the Church. Is Biblical Counseling the work of making disciples? If the answer is “no”, then it has no place in the church. Yes, it might be a good work, like caring for the poor or bringing blankets to the cold.
On the other hand, if biblical counseling is included within the scope of making disciples, then it is a necessary function of the church.
So let’s consider what it means to give Biblical counsel. It simply means to tell someone what the Bible says about their circumstance. It means to teach someone what Christ has said. Moreover, as Jay Adams noted it includes giving instruction. Biblical Counseling is precisely the act of teaching one to obey all that Christ has said.
When the street evangelist speaks to someone on the corner about Christ tells them of sin and repentance, they are giving counsel from the Bible. When parent tells a child the importance of not lying or working diligently as onto the Lord, the parent is giving biblical counsel. When a pastor opens the Bible on Sunday morning and explains the text and applies the text, the pastor is giving biblical counsel.
In an essay in from Scripture and Counseling, Kevin DeYoung and Pat Quinn write:
The ministry of the preacher and the ministry of the counselor are not different kinds of ministry but rather the same ministry given in different settings.
When a pastor sits with dear saint who is on her death bed, and the pastor sets her gaze upon Christ; the pastor is giving biblical counsel.
What you need to understand is that front to back, beginning to end, the duty of the Church is to give biblical counsel. That counsel starts with evangelism, leads them to baptism, to the Lord’s Supper, to knowledge of how to renounce ungodliness, to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present evil age and to live in earnest expectation of the Lord’s return. That is all biblical counsel.
We fit the counsel to the person and the circumstance. The street evangelist does not debate the details of difficult doctrine involving last things or the order of the decrees of God. His message is fit to the circumstance: sin and repentance. We do not teach four-year-olds like we teach college students.
Some questions are very difficult. We refer tricky theology questions to the pastor. We send young mothers to older mothers to learn from their experience.
Already in all of your churches, you have made some divisions in the way in which discipleship instruction is taking place.
When we bring in biblical counseling to the congregation, we are doing nothing new. Rather, we are doing what we should always be doing: teaching people to observe all that Christ has commanded.
We are merely saying that we have too often restricted Christ’s counsel. We have said that Scripture has something to say about repentance, but nothing to say about depression, anxiety, sorrow, loneliness, shame, conflict, laborious work, fear. We are saying that Scripture has nothing to say about all the troubles which came into the world with sin; well, nothing other than you need to leave the world.
When we restrict the scope of the Scripture’s counsel, the people in our congregation are going to get counsel. However, they are going to get it from someone other than the Lord.
I want you to imagine that your congregation has many well-trained counselors who know how to speak of difficult marriage problems. They can speak with sympathy and wisdom from the Scripture and give hope to trouble marriages.
I want you to imagine that your church once a week gives free marriage counseling to people in your area: unbelievers who are desperate for something that will work. Your counselor sits down with this frightened desperate couple and explains that their troubles with communication and selfishness and anger all have a cause: human beings don’t work correctly because we are estranged from the source of the one who speaks with perfect clarity, the God who loves and gives from an endless fountain of grace, that the love of the perfect God drives out fear and calls us in as children.
I want you to imagine that you have unbelievers who come to your church to hear the hope of the Gospel because the pain of sin has become too great to bear. When unbelievers hear sin, they often think you simply don’t like them. But when their pain is great and you explain that sin is not your dislike of them, but rather the cause of their sorrow; that sin is irrationality that ruins human life; and that there is an answer to that sin: an answer which will relieve of us the guilt and power of sin and that we can learn to live differently; when you can say that in a way that the one who is now lost can understand: you are putting the Gospel to work.
As Dr. Baker said, If unbeliever think you can help them with their marriage, they will line up to hear the Gospel.
And so these people who had “without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12), are brought into the Church. They are baptized. They entered into membership; and now comes the task of teaching them to observe all that Christ as commanded.
Teach them to Observe
Imagine a brand-new Christian who comes to your church. While this person is in true faith, they are far from mature. They need to be taught and admonished so that they may be presented complete in Christ. Col. 1:28. Certainly the normal work of the Church, preaching, teaching, singing, praying, receiving the Lord’s Supper in the assembly of believers will have a real and profound affect of people.
But two hours on Sunday when weighed against the entire pressure of the world for all of the other hours of the day and week will hamper our growth. Moreover, it is a truncated understanding of Christianity. There is an entire aspect of the life of a Christian which goes beyond Sunday.
Please do not hear that I am in any manner making light of Sunday worship: it is the apex of our week. But if try to box our Christian life into just that time, we fail to honor the life of the Church:
Colossians 3:16 (NASB95)
16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms andhymns andspiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
The work of teaching and admonishing is a work of everyone to everyone. The Christian life is public worship but is also life together. In Acts 2 it describes the life of the very earliest Church:
Acts 2:42–47 (NASB95)
42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.
44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common;
45 and they beganselling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.
46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,
47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Without going through the elements of that passage, you can see that there was substantial life together.
Now let’s think again about discipleship: to be discipled is to be trained to a manner of life. Everything in your life and everyone with whom you interact is busy discipling you. You are discipling others.
There is a meaning which takes place when you try to limit one’s Christian life to merely Sunday morning. That Sunday-only Christianity means something different than a Christianity which entails one’s entire life.
One of the reasons that we have so much “crisis counseling” in the Christian church is due to the fact that we are not doing a better job discipling the people within the church.
Here is an example: When a couple comes in for marriage counseling, you will work them through what the Scripture teaches about marriage. A faithful pastor in the pulpit who is working through the Scripture will preach through the Gospel of Mark and have maybe a sermon or two which even touches on marriage.
The failure there is not because the pastor has failed, it is because the congregation has failed:
Titus 2:3–5 (NASB95)
3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good,
4 so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children,
5 to besensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.
Did you hear that? The Holy Spirit has delegated to the older women in the congregation the task of teaching the younger women the work of being a wife and mother. How many marriages would be in better shape today in our churches if the older women were continuously teaching the younger women godliness in marriage and motherhood?
But instead, we wait until there is a crisis and the wreck of a marriage shows up in need of help.
Imagine a young husband who comes to you because he has hurt his wife by not loving and caring for her? What if there had been a man in your congregation who had been weekly meeting with this man, asking him questions about his marriage (and other things)? What if the questions had revealed two years ago that the marriage was suffering? How much easier would it have been to help this family two years ago, when the problems were less, when the pain was less, when the bad habits were not so firmly put into place?
What I want you to see is that giving counsel from the Bible is something which needs to be built into the fabric of our church, so that the work of discipleship is done.
Where then is the pastor in this process?
Ephesians 4:11–16 (NASB95)
11 And He gave some asapostles, and some asprophets, and some asevangelists, and some aspastors and teachers,
12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;
15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspectsinto Him who is the head, evenChrist,
16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
Look at verse 12: the head teachers in the church have the job of equipping others for ministry. Those who have the most knowledge are to pass on that knowledge to others in the church.
Those others, under the direction of their pastors, are busy equipping still others: the work of the ministry is spread out through the church.
There are people in the church who are masters at caring physically for others. Those people must know how needs help and how to give that help. Some are especially gifted at hospitality. Others at teaching. Some at preaching. Some are more proficient at evangelism. Some people are quite good at answering questions. There are mothers and fathers to help give wisdom. There are employers who can help employees learn how to work well; and employees who can help employers learn to be not abusive or unfairly demanding.
And now I want to return to our question of training counselors. Not every person in the congregation needs to be a preacher; not every person needs to be fully trained to handle depression and severe anxiety. Some people need to know how to ask questions, give encouragement, and provide basic instruction about the daily life of a Christian.
Think of the entire church as all having a role in the work of discipleship. You can think of the training you give in giving biblical counsel as something which moves from the most general and basic to the most particular and difficult.
If you have small groups, you train the small group leaders in a level of counseling so that they can give accurate instruction on daily life, know how ask questions and also know when they come across a marriage which needs substantial help.
When I oversaw a counseling ministry in a church, I learned that there were people who were especially fit for various tasks. Some people needed a great deal of intense structure. Some young men needed very direct rebuke and unquestioning follow-through. Others were discouraged and needed help and encouragement and support. I had people in the congregation who were fit for all sorts of tasks.
Think of your congregation as an army and the battle being, the World, the Flesh and Devil. The Holy Spirit has given you many, many weapons in this fight: all of the people in your congregation. And now think of how few weapons we use. Do we really deploy our congregations to serve in building up the body of Christ?
In most congregations, very few people do most of the work. And since the needs are great, we do not always use people to the best of their gifts. Imagine you have a tremendous evangelist whom you are using to keep the church clean. There is nothing wrong with cleaning the church; it must be done. The way we use the misuse the people in our church is sort of like using a racecar to pull a plow across a field. It might work, but it is not the best way to use the racecar.
Counseling training is more than just training a counselor who looks exactly like you. Your congregation has been called to be a counseling center: a place where people are taught to observe all that Christ has commanded.
And when the entire congregation is busy in this work, it frees up those who have been fully trained to be able to help unbelievers and believers at other churches. You create capacity for everyone to work at their full potential.
This model also takes enormous burdens off of the church leaders so that they can do their work. Too often we expect the pastors to do all of the visiting and preaching and counseling and caring and evangelism. When we do this, we crush our pastors under enormous burdens.
Now this is only introducing you to this idea: it is not a full-fledged plan with all of the details.
[ask for questions]