This is the first week of an introduction to biblical counseling course I am teaching in my home church. The lecture which accompanies this lesson may be found here: https://s3.amazonaws.com/media.calvarybiblechurch.org/audio/class/biblical_counseling_2014/20140105.mp3
INTRODUCTION TO BIBLICAL COUNSELING
I. How Counseling Fits into the Mission of the Church
18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18–20 (ESV)
A. There are three basic aspects of disciple making.
1. Evangelize: Go therefore
2. Baptize: Baptizing them
3. Instruction: Teaching them to observe
B. Instruction: Counseling Consists of Instruction
a. Public: Preaching and teaching
b. Private: Acts 20:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:14
2. By example, e.g., 1 Corinthians 11:1a; 2 Thessalonians 3:7
C. Practical Theology: Counseling is Practical Theology
1. The purpose of instruction: “I might by many other arguments demonstrate this truth to you, but let these suffice; because I would not unwillingly keep you longer from the use and application of the point—application being the life of all teaching” (Thomas Brooks, “A Saints Last Day his Best Day”, in Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 6 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1867), 400.).
2. “Application is the skill by which the doctrine which has been properly drawn from Scripture is handled in ways which are appropriate to the circumstances of the place and time and to the people in the congregation” (William Perkins, The Art of Prophesying (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth, n.d.), 54.)
3. It is built into the nature and use of Scripture: “16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16–17 (ESV).”
a. Teaching: This is the propositional content. It is the basis upon which all further instruction must rest.
i. Concern for the content of the doctrine is the primary responsibility of the elders of a congregation. We see this in the first charge Paul makes to Timothy, 1Timothy 1:3. It is the last charge Paul makes to Timothy in 1 Timothy (6:20-21; see also, 2 Timothy 4:1-5). It is a necessary attribute of an elder “9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9; 1 Timothy 3:2 (apt to teach)).
ii. To teach is to incur stricter judgment. James 3:1.
iii. Thus, teaching the propositional content of a passage is a matter of the gravest concern.
iv. Too often counselors have been so quick to give “good advice” that they have misused passages. Be careful.
b. Reproof: It sets the stage for repentance and thus transformation, “Regular and careful study of Scripture builds a foundation of truth that, among other things, exposes sin in a believer’s life with the purpose of bringing correction, confession, renunciation, and obedience” (John F. MacArthur Jr., 2 Timothy, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 157.)
c. Correction: “The third use of Scripture is to provide correction. The terms ‘correcting’ and ‘training’ show a positive use for Scripture. Negatively, the Scripture is helpful for convicting the misguided and disobedient of their errors and restoring them to the right paths. The term ‘correcting,’ used only here in the New Testament, suggests that Scripture helps individuals to restore their doctrine or personal practice to a right state before God. Correction is one means God uses in order to restore people to spiritual positions they have forfeited. This emphasis frequently appears in the wilderness experience of Israel (see Deut 8:2–3, 5)” (Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, vol. 34, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 237).
d. Training: this just means education. “This illumination upon our path through life comes from the many directives we have in the Scriptures concerning different aspects of life—our use of time, family life, the use of money, the rearing of children, marriage, sexual relations, etc. In all these things, broad principles and guidelines are laid down which help to train us in the life of righteousness”(Peter Williams, Opening up 2 Timothy, Opening Up Commentary (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2007), 86).
e. But note that the training for a purpose:
Equipped for every good work could be paraphrased, “enabled to meet all demands of righteousness.” By his life he will affirm the power of the Word to lead men to salvation and to equip them for righteous living and for faithful service to the Lord. When the man of God is himself equipped by the Word, he can then equip the believers under his care. Just as “we are [the Lord’s] workmanship,” Paul explains, we also should be doing His work. We are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Christ says to all those who belong to Him what He said to the Twelve: “We must work the works of Him who sent Me, as long as it is day; night is coming, when no man can work” (John 9:4).
D. Counseling may be both public and private
1. If the purpose of Scripture is instruction which leads to change, then all teaching and preaching in the church well done will rightly include an aspect which one could call ‘counseling’.
2. E.g. 1 Corinthians; 1 Peter
3. We, however, tend to think of counseling primarily as private instruction.
E. Counseling is not “good advice”.
1. Counseling is application of the Scripture to one’s particular life. It is not your experience or your good advice. It flows out of exegesis.
2. It is the Word of God which the Holy Spirit uses to transform people. Psalm 119:11
3. It is not word-association. It is a common enough thing. The preacher goes along until he finds the word “sin” or “love” and then launches off into a spiel on sin or love which may all be fine but which has nothing to do with the text. I saw a great example of this, on an Amazon review by Gepraptai on the book Saving Eutychus: How to preach God’s word and keep people awake:
Phil’s comments are right on: “Chappo had a point. (The Preacher) had sanctified a bunch of commonsense suggestions by mixing them with the text of Luke 5 and delivering them with all the authority of Scripture. None of it was wrong. It was just that none of his points were the points Luke was actually making. Sure, Luke mentioned the party – but he wasn’t telling us to have one. It wasn’t God speaking. It was (the Preacher) [emphasis added]”
Do not do this: it is not counseling.
F. Conclusion: Counseling is not an exotic or occasional aspect of the Church’s work. Rightly understood, it takes place in all instruction from evangelism to the conversation of the most mature believers. Now, such counseling will either be done well or poorly. The purpose of training is not to create some “elite” class of believers; but rather to help all the persons in the church to be able to “rightly handle the word of truth” (1 Timothy 2:15).
II. What is the Purpose of the Instruction?
A. This is perhaps the greatest error of Christian counseling.
1. A woman in an unhappy marriage to an unbeliever comes in for counseling. You read to her,
3 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. 1 Peter 3:1–6 (ESV)
2. First, you should never just pluck a sentence or paragraph from the middle of a letter. If you are going to teach, teach it in context. To give her this command as a stand-alone without the appropriate context would be cruel.
3. What is the purpose of this instruction?
4. Will this instruction make her “happy” or give her a “happy marriage”?
5. Some context:
6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:6–7 (ESV)
6. Some more context:
12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:12–13 (ESV)
7. The purpose is not a “happy marriage.”
B. To glorify God and to enjoy him forever. Thomas Watson, in A Body of Divinity writes:
The glory of God is a silver thread which must run through all our actions. “Whether therefore you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Everything works to some end and purpose; now, man being a rational creature, must propose some end to himself, and that should be—that he may lift up God in the world. He had better lose his life than the end of his living. The great truth is asserted—is that the end and purpose of every man’s living should be to glorify God. Glorifying God has respect to all the persons in the Trinity; it respects God the Father who gave us life; God the Son, who lost his life for us; and God the Holy Spirit, who produces a new life in us. We must bring glory to the whole Trinity.
C. From Dr. Ernie Baker’s course notes for “Introduction to Biblical Counseling”:
1. Your primary goal is not to dig into the subconscious, or get proper behavior, or constructive thought patterns, or self-esteem, or well-functioning families; it is to please the Lord; to grow in Christ-likeness (note diagram/1 Cor. 10:31).
2. Romans 8:28-30, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”
III. The Nature of our Trouble
A. All our trouble stems from sin: our own, the sin of others against us, and the effects of sin generally. In his book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. writes of “shalom” the Hebrew word usually translated as “peace” but refers to the order and beauty:
We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight—a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.
He goes on to explain, “In sum, shalom is God’s design for creation and redemption; sin is blamable human vandalism of these great realities and therefore an affront to their architect and builder” (16).
B. Sin has brought in guilt and shame.
1. Genesis 3:7
2. We experience shame when we are sinned against. 2 Samuel 13:1-20
C. Sin has disordered our ability to think. Ecclesiastes 9:3 & 10:3; Romans 1:28.
D. Sin has made us unable to rightly use and enjoy the creation. Ecclesiastes 2:1-11.
E. Sin has subjected the creation to futility. Genesis 3:17-19; Romans 8:20; Ecclesiastes 1:2.
F. Sin has subjected us to death (and disease). Genesis 3:19.
G. Sin has separated us from God. Isaiah 59:1-2.
H. Sin has made us into enemies. Genesis 3:16.
I. All our guilt, shame, sorrow comes from sin. Therefore, anything which fails to address sin and remove all its stain and power is too little. “20 And her brother Absalom said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? Now hold your peace, my sister. He is your brother; do not take this to heart.” So Tamar lived, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom’s house.” 2 Samuel 13:20 (ESV).
IV. The Heart
A. The heart is the locus of our trouble. Mark 7:14-23.
B. Therefore, change must take place at the level of the heart.
C. The heart is the center of the human being, affections, thoughts, desires, et cetera.
1. It is the source of all life (Proverbs 4:23).
2. But it is also the place where one interacts with God, “for with the heart one believes and is justified” (Romans 10:10).
D. Godward change
1. The analogy of the pond atop a hill.
2. The analogy of a swamp.
3. The analogy of a tree.
4. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV)
5. This is the trouble of the various extra-biblical psychologies: All our experience, our physiology, our circumstances do not per se cause sin. The root of rebellion against God which gives rise to sin is inherent in our very being. Psalm 51:4; Romans 2:1-3:23. Let us assume a “perfect” psychologist who explains why you do X. The most such a psychologist could do is tell why you sin in this way. That would be like explaining why the water runs down the hill in a particular gully as opposed to another place; or how the mosquitoes get from the swamp to your skin. Let us further say that the psychologist could get you to stop performing behavior X. That would be like damming up a particular channel so that the filthy water could flow in a particular direction. But the filth would continue to burble up; the mosquitoes would continue to fly. No change in our mere behavior is sufficient to cause you to glorify and enjoy God. No mere psychology however good can ever be good enough to reach our goal.
6. This change is better, because it is does not depend upon circumstances. Moreover, true godliness is sufficient for any circumstance. Stop and imagine the worst possible counseling trouble – the one you fear discussing with a brother or sister. Now assume that your brother or sister learns to walk in the Spirit and abound with the fruit of the Spirit: what trouble remains? Galatians 5:22-23.
V. The Means of Change
A. The Word of God being used by the Holy Spirit to transform the human heart.
B. This change takes place within the congregation of believers: Christ committed discipleship to the Church and it is his Church that transforms human beings.
C. The power for this transformation comes from union with Christ: it is the result of our union with Christ that we become true worshippers of God. Therefore, our goal is to become conformed to the head (Romans 8:29; Colossians 3:10).
VI. An Encouragement and an Admonition
Too many people in the church have the wrong understanding of counseling. First, many people think that counseling is something akin to the work of a professional psychologist: it is not. Counseling is the work of one Christian and a Bible speaking to another Christian with a Bible. This is to be the normal work of the people of God. James 5:16; Hebrews 3:12-13. Therefore, this is work that all Christians are called to. Second, other Christians seeing that this work of admonition and encouragement belongs to all Christians jump to the opposite error and believe this something anyone can do without preparation. That is no more true than that everyone should preach on Sunday morning. The Scripture is a powerful instrument; misused it causes great damage. Thus, while everyone is called to this work in some measure, not everyone has been trained to handle the Scripture sufficiently so as to be able to counsel well.
The balance is perhaps best seen in Colossians 3:16: First, one takes in the Scripture. Only after that does one teach and admonish:
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16 (ESV)
Since the Scripture must first work in you and only later in another, I am going to leave you with a homework assignment. I want you to decide on an aspect of your own life which you need to address, such as a besetting sin, a relationship, a difficult affection, such as depression, et cetera. For this first week, I want you to begin by taking a look at your own heart. Begin a temptation journal. Write out when you are tempted. Describe the circumstances of the temptation. Look especially to your thoughts and desires. What do you see is true about you? What are you thinking when it comes to God?
Also – very important – look to see how you explain this to yourself: what excuses or explanations do you give. For example, if your trouble is depression, do you think “God could never forgive my sin?” (Not all depression stems from unrepentant sin. It can have many causes, such as profound loss or even bodily illness.) Or if it is a repeated sin, do you think, “This is a small sin”?
We will continue with this exercise next week.
John F. MacArthur Jr., 2 Timothy, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 161–162.
Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: a Breviary of Sin (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 10.