The previous post in this series may be found here: https://memoirandremains.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/introduction-to-biblical-counseling-interpretation-1/
WHY HOMEWORK IS NECESSARY
As Jay Adams writes, counseling is not the “magic hour” – it a period of intensive instruction, but such instruction alone is insufficient to produce change. We know the same thing from other disciplines. If you went to a lecture on playing the piano for an hour each week, you would probably never learn to play the piano well. For counseling to be effective, it needs to include effort and training outside of the counseling session:
Homework enables the counselor to do more counseling more rapidly. Written homework speeds up counseling. Work is not confined to the counseling session alone. Indeed, work continues throughout the week. Counseling does not sag, then, in between the sessions. Actually, homework emphasizes the important fact that most of the work must be done by the counselee outside of the counseling session itself. Change with respect to one’s job or neighbors or relatives does not take place within the sessions themselves. The work has to be done outside, and that is what the counseling assignment focuses upon.
The transformation of the human heart entails transformation of the entire life. The goal is to teach someone to “walk in the Spirit”:
Here in Galatians 5 Paul used four distinct verbs to designate the Spirit-controlled life of the believer, all of which are roughly equivalent in meaning: to walk in the Spirit (v. 16), to be led by the Spirit (v. 18), to live by the Spirit (v. 25a), and to keep in step with the Spirit (v. 25b). Each of these verbs suggests a relationship of dynamic interaction, direction, and purpose. The present tense of the imperative peripateite, “walk,” also indicates a present activity now in progress. Paul had earlier reminded the Galatians of how they received the Holy Spirit upon hearing him preach the message of Christ and his cross (3:1–3). Here he was exhorting them to continue the walk they had begun on that occasion. … Although this is the only place in Galatians where the word “walk” is used in this sense, it is a common Pauline designation for one’s daily conduct or lifestyle. In its wider usage the Greek word means not only “to walk” in a general sense but “to walk around after someone or to walk in a particular direction.” For example, the students of Aristotle were known as the Peripatetics because of their habit of following the philosopher around from place to place as he dispensed his teachings. In Paul’s vocabulary, to walk in the Spirit or be led by the Spirit means to go where the Spirit is going, to listen to his voice, to discern his will, to follow his guidance.
The goal of counseling is not merely information, but giving counsel in such a way as to transform the way in which one lives. We want to walk in the Spirit as a matter of daily conduct.
When you look to the effects of walking by the Spirit – or failing to do so – you see that the goal of counseling Christlikeness is met only by walking in the Spirit:
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:16–24 (ESV)
Homework will be necessary to achieve this end.
A. The Elements of Homework
Homework will entail two related sets of responses: There will be learning of and obedience to the Word of God. Both aspects are necessary to walk in the Spirit. We do not learn so that we can know alone. We learn so that we can actively love God and our neighbor.
However, the Scripture does not list out behavioral changes for the sake of behavior. The importance of good works, right behavior, was explained in the Westminster Statement of Faith, chapter 16 as follows:
These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith; and by them believers manifest their thankfulness,6 strengthen their assurance,7 edify their brethren,8 adorn the profession of the gospel,9 stop the mouths of the adversaries,10 and glorify God,11 whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto,12 that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life.
For our purposes, we should also note that obedience is a means by which God fits for understanding doctrine and changing our hearts:
14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5:14 (ESV)
There is a great deal more which can be said concerning the relationship between obedience and doctrine. Perhaps the most direct way of saying this is that a Christian must learn to know and do.
In short, we are teaching spiritual disciplines.
B. Results of Homework
Homework has three positive types of results.
1. Homework Requires Spiritual Disciplines
The spiritual disciplines which tend to be emphasized in homework will be addressed below. Before we get to the specifics we must understand something generally about spiritual disciplines.
a. Spiritual disciplines are not magic. In and of itself, a spiritual discipline has only limited value. Spiritual disciplines are not the destination, but rather the means to a destination. Fasting, prayer, study, service do not effect spiritual transformation. Transformation takes place because the Spirit changes our heart. The Spirit deepens our union with Christ and remakes us into the image of Christ (Col. 3:9-10; 2 Corinthians 3:18; etc. The doctrine of the union with Christ will be taught in a later lecture).
I forget where I read the description, but spiritual disciplines work because they are a means of meeting someone. If you wanted to meet a person, you would go where they could be found. If you knew where someone walked in the afternoon, you could meet them by walking there at the same time. Spiritual disciplines are the places where God has said he most frequently will be found.
We teach counselees to engage in spiritual disciplines because we want them to commune with God, to walk in the Spirit – the Spirit will then change their lives. The Spirit will turn them into worshippers. If the counselor is a worship leader, he is also a guide onto trails.
b. Disciplined use of right means creates good habits. Spiritual disciplines practiced regularly sustain us through difficult times through the force of habit. In Psalm 73, the Psalmist despairs over his circumstance and the apparent blessing of the wicked. However, in verse 17 we read, “Until I went to the sanctuary of God”. He continued in the habitual return to the temple, as was his discipline, and in that habitual resort to the discipline God opened his eyes and resolved his despair.
c. The counselee begins to live in a right manner. Right living with our neighbor and God is itself a spiritual discipline and kind of worship. Obedience to the will of God creates an ability to better understand and worship God. Moreover, obedient living has the effect of spurring other believers onto godliness (Ephesians 5:25-27). Conversely, sinning creates temptation for others to sin.
Thus, marriage counseling may entail a homework assignment of going on a date – not because dates per se are spiritual disciplines, but because a date is a means of showing demonstrative love for one’s spouse.
d. Homework Provides Additional Data and Interpretation. The mere fact of giving homework creates the potential to learn about whether a counselee has much self-discipline. There is an interesting tendency here: Most men at the beginning do quite poorly with homework. Most women do quite well at completing the given assignments, but they often do them in such a grim manner as to do them no good. They answer the questions and resent their husbands for not doing so – and they have learned nothing in the interim.
Oftentimes homework asks for data directly. For example, one can ask for times and thoughts at which one is most tempted to be angry. This helps provide data. It also begins to support the spiritual discipline of watching
2. Spiritual Disciplines as Homework
Ideally your counselees will come to the place where they are regularly reading their Bible and some secondary book to support their Bible reading; they will be praying and meditating (which typically includes some sort of journaling) regularly; they will attend and participate in public worship (most importantly hearing the Bible opened to them); they will be engaged in active love of neighbor.
a Some Resources
This lesson can only introduce the topic. Here are three places to start to study spiritual disciplines. First, Donald Whitney’s work http://biblicalspirituality.org/. Whitney is probably the best source for detailed study of spiritual disciplines. Moreover, his work will lead to look for still other sources. Second, R. Kent Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly Man is a very good introductory source. Third, Jack Hughes taught a series on spiritual disciplines at CBC in 2011, “Practicing the Godly Disciplines”.
- Disciplines of Intake
The primary, as in first and most powerful, means of spiritual discipline is Bible intake.
This must begin with regular Bible reading. There are many good Bible reading plans. The first homework assignment should be to get the counselee reading the Bible on a regular basis. The plan itself is not so important as is the regularity of the conduct. Some people are not good readers. Fortunately, there are many audio Bibles available. Here is an index to links to audio Bibles http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/audio/ The ESV Bible is both free online as is the audio version: http://www.esvbible.org/
In addition to personal reading, there should also be memorization of the Bible. There are free applications to assist you in Bible memorization, such as “Bible Minded”. The ESV has an online Bible memorization plan. The Navigators have a very well developed Bible memorization plan. Andrew Davis recently wrote, An Approach to Extended Bible Memorization. You will direct your counselee to memorize specific passages as a means to support your instruction and their spiritual health. Psalm 119:11.
Sermons/Bible teaching. There is no excuse for not receiving good Bible instruction. First, most churches will have some level of Bible instruction. Pastors should have training and ability to explain and apply the Scripture in a manner best suited for the people at that congregation. Second, due to the internet one can easily access very good Bible preaching and teaching for free: Here are two great places to start, gty.org, desiringgod.org.
Secondary books: These are books which develop Biblical instruction, much as a proper sermon or Bible study should. There are books which can help with almost any Biblical topic. Since there are far too many books to list, I will put nothing here. But, if you need recommendations, just contact the office and one of the pastors should be able to help you.
When you have a counselee read a book, one good method to track the homework is to have them underline five sentences per chapter and then discuss those particular sentences – making sure they understand the content.
b. Meditation & Prayer
It is difficult to neatly separate out the elements of Bible intake and Bible expression, as you can see in this passage from Psalm 119:
Psalm 119:9–16 (ESV)
9 How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
10 With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
11 I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
12 Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
13 With my lips I declare
all the rules of your mouth.
14 In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
16 I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.
He obeys, seeks, stores, learns, speaks, delights, meditates, looks at, delights, will not forget the Word of God. The content of our meditation should be the content of Scripture. Such meditation entails detailed consideration, intensive study and thinking, speaking of, writing about, the Scripture. As one meditates upon the Scripture it comes back out as prayer.
It was a great lesson to George Muller, who is a Christian famous for prayer, that prayer must first be spurred on by meditation upon the Scripture. When his heart was well fired, prayer became natural. John Bunyan wrote a book on prayer, which I think could be summarized as follows: prayer is the natural response of a Christian who realizes that he is before God.
Some great resources for learning how to pray the Scriptures: matthewhenry.org, hismagnificence.com/books use these resources for yourself and direct your counselees to use them.
b. Disciplines of Application
Another category of disciplines could be seen as application of or obedience to the Scripture.
Note: Since this is a point often missed by Bible teachers, whether counselors or not: Application should be understood as obedience to the text. Sometimes the obedience will be direct from the text: Thou Shalt Not Murder. Pretty easy application. In other places, the obedience will be implicit. But in either case, the application, the call to obedience must be grounded in the text.
c. Homework which entails all elements.
The best homework assignments will thus be based in Scripture. They will require reading, study, meditation and memorization which results in prayer & application. You should construct assignments which require your counselee to learn (read, study, meditate upon, memorize) a section of Scripture. Your counselee, with your help, should learn to identify the proper application of the passage. The counselee should learn to pray the passage, and pray for assistance in obedience to the passage.
- What are the doctrines that drive homework?
Scripture: Our only infallible guide to life and godliness is the Scripture (2 Tim. 3:15-17; 2 Pet. 1:3). Thus, our doctrine of Scripture will have serious consequences for our doctrines of God, sin, man and sanctification. We are naturally beset with error; we are born with lies upon lips (Ps. 58:3; 51:5). The light of creation is insufficient to bring us to saving faith, for redemption is not plainly declared in nature, but only in Scripture (Rom. 1:18-20). Thus, a true, infallible guide was necessary and has been given to uproot error: “For errors can never be uprooted from human hearts until true knowledge of God is planted therein.”1
Sin: Human beings are sinful, inherently, persistently, in overt and in self-deceiving ways. (Rom. 1:18-3:23; 7:7-24; Gal. 5:16-24 (implied in the commands to not exhibit the fruit of flesh and in the conflict of desires)). Thus, a counselee must first be plainly presented with the fact of his sinful state. Adams refers to this as the initial stage of conviction: “conviction means bringing facts to bear upon a case so as to prove someone guilty of a sin.”2
Human Responsibility: Human beings are responsible to God (Rom. 2:6; Rev. 20:12; Heb. 9:27). They are repeatedly exhorted to disclaim sin, act righteously, repent and believe (See, e.g., Mark 1:15; Mic. 6:8). The fact of such commands implies a responsibility to comport with the command (the extensive and intensive effects of depravity cannot be covered in this document).
God: “The distinctive of biblical counseling is its trust in a redeeming God who has the power to change the human heart.”3
Progressive Sanctification: The work of sanctification begins in this life and ends with glorification. Here, we see Christ and begin our change (2 Cor. 3:18). Yet, “when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2 (ESV)).
- What are the benefits of homework for the counselor?
For both the counselor and counselee, homework drives the counseling time into a biblical framework, developed within the context of biblical categories for biblical ends. This “clarification” is of great importance to the counselor: “If the problem was wrongly set forth or there was an attempt to deceive, nothing will disclose this so readily as homework.”4 Adams goes on to explain that this clarification extends to expectations of both parties5.
Moreover, homework “enables the counselor to do more counseling more rapidly; . . . keeps counselees from becoming dependent upon the counselor; . . .enables both the counselor and the counselee to gauge progress or lack of it; allows the counselor to deal with problems and patterns that develop under controlled current conditions.”6 In short, it keeps the counselor on track. Tripp adds, “Biblically designed homework gives the counselor the delightful opportunity of surprising the counselee with the personal, practical wisdom of Scripture that speaks to the specifics of life.”7
Since homework directs the counselee into confronting God in the Scriptures, the counselor is freed from the temptation to (falsely assume to) take over the role of the Holy Spirit, who is the true and ultimate counselor.
- What are the benefits of homework for the counselee?
The counselee, who has developed a pattern of thinking and conduct which runs counter to scriptural models can benefit greatly from homework which drives him into the Scripture and into Scriptural models:“Homework enables the counselee to mine the riches of Scripture for understanding, conviction, promises, and guidance.”8
Tripp supplies additional elements of the benefits to the counselee:
1. [It forces the counselee to take up Scriptural categories.] In short, homework practically applies the doctrine of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture to the life of the counselee. . . . Our doctrine of Scripture calls for homework that gets counselees into the Bible.9
2. The doctrine of Scripture for homework that gets counselees listening to God. This doctrine of human responsibility calls for another genre of homework: looking at oneself. Our doctrine of human responsibility calls for homework that helps counselees to stop and look at themselves accurately.10
3. The problem is that people lose sight of God in the midst of their circumstances and the self-centeredness of their flesh. . . .Since they fail to interpret their circumstances in light of the Fact of facts: God IS, and . . . . Since they fail to refer their situation to God, his character, and his work, they respond as if they are alone. . . . Homework offers a wonderful opportunity to put God back into sight. . . . Our doctrine of God calls for homework that has counselees meet God.11
4. Homework provides an opportunity for the counselee to understand God’s sanctifying purpose and to participate in the process. . . . Homework teaches the counselee that growth in grace doesn’t come by lightning bolts and magical encounters but by humble, honest, obedient and practical application of God’s word to the specifics of everyday experience.12
5. Finally, homework challenges the ‘right to privacy’ attitude that many Christians retain in the Christian experience. Often sanctification is thought of as a private matter between a person and God, but it is impossible to read Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12 and conclude that sanctification is an individual concern. The nature of homework assumes accountability and submission to a fellow believer.13
Adams also expresses how homework internalizes and habituates godly disciplines which will affect and control thoughts and conduct.
 Jay Edward Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1973), 305, “How focus upon the counseling session(s) causes a sag during the intervening periods. Approaches that emphasize the session as the magic hour tend to (1) stress the expert, (2) fail to get much done quickly, and (3) make counselees dependent upon the counselor.”
 Jay Edward Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1973), 304–305.
 Timothy George, Galatians, vol. 30, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 386.
 James 2:18, 22.
6 Psa. 116:12, 13; 1 Pet. 2:9.
7 1 John 2:3, 5; 2 Pet. 1:5–10.
8 2 Cor. 9:2; Matt. 5:16.
9 Tit. 2:5, 9–12; 1 Tim. 6:1.
10 1 Pet. 2:15;
11 1 Pet. 2:12; Phil 1:11; John 15:8.
12 Eph. 2:10.
1John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1960; repr., ed. John McNeill, trans. Ford Battles (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 73. “Let the Word be the sun-dial bywhich you setyour feet” (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, 1692; repr. (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 2003), 370).
2 Jay Adams, How to Help People Change (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 118.
3Paul Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2002), 322.
4 Jay Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973), 295.
5Homework also develops necessary information, often indirectly. As Adams explains in his commentary on Proverbs, failed homework assignments can give insight into the counselee’s character for laziness or lying (See, e.g., Jay Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Commentary on Proverbs (Woodruff: Timeless Texts, 1997), 104).
6 Adams, 304-305.
7 Tripp, 319.
8 Tripp, 319.
9 Tripp, 319-320.
10 Tripp, 320-321.
11 Tripp, 322-323.
12 Tripp, 326.
13 Tripp, 327.