How Much Do You Weigh?

In describing how those whom the world calls important, and whose influence in deciding business matters, or even world affairs, is considered weighty, here is what God has to say about this:

Men are only a vapor, exalted men an illusion. On a balance scale, they go up; together, they weigh less than a vapor.   Psalm 62:9

Did you get it? You put them on one side of a scale and instead of weighing it down, the balance goes UP. They weigh nothing—or less—in God’s sight! So, why should Christians be concerned about sidling up next to them? They are as weightless as you or I!

What Is She to Do?

The following article was written by Dr. Adams 25 years ago. It is provocative and deals with an issue every pastor must be ready to face. We present it now in hope of provoking thoughtful interaction not only with Jay’s article but with the Scripture he cites. ______________________________________________________________________________________________

Okay, so I’m ready to bite the bullet! I’ve avoided the issue long enough. Not because there wasn’t an answer, but because of the answer itself. I simply didn’t like it. I had been hoping I could come up with a different or, at least, slightly modified answer. But I haven’t been able to.

Every week, it seems, someone writes, phones, or otherwise tells me about an instance of it. Evidently the problem has grown in proportions or, at least, people are more willing to talk about it than ever before.

Just what am I talking about? Wife-abuse, that’s what!

Millicent was “head over heels in love.” She met Phil at Bible college, they dated on and off for the better part of a year and then, upon graduation, they decided to marry. In every way Phil was her ideal: captain of the football team, well liked on campus, you name it. It’s true, there had been some early warning signs; Sally pointed out certain flaws, noting especially his temper whenever he didn’t get his way. “But Sally,” though her best friend, “is jealous. And, anyway, Phil has never shown any signs of violence toward me.” That’s how Millicent reasoned. As she now looks back, however, she says, “I saw things the way I wanted them to be!” Too frequent a story to ignore.

One thing I no longer fail to ask during premarital counseling sessions is, “Have either of you seen even the slightest evidence of uncontrolled temper in the other?” (I don’t use the word “violence” because few people seem to describe their actions, or those of their loved one [prior to marriage], by the term, no matter how vicious the action.) If I get even a hint that there might be something there, I will spend time probing until I am satisfied that either there is nothing to it or the problem will be dealt with in counseling before marriage (for help in this see the section on anger in The Christian Counselor’s Manual). It is far easier to deal with the problem at this point than later on and far less agonizing for all concerned. Don’t fail to include this matter in premarital counseling. You will be glad you did.

“That’s all well and good, but what about those who are already married? What does the Christian counselor do when he encounters a case of wife-abuse?” The first question to consider, as in all counseling, is whether the abuser is a Christian or at least professes to be one. This is altogether important. If he is a member of a Bible-believing church, then you may take one course of action; if he does not profess Christ, then you would take another. In either case, you are able to offer him help: in the latter case help will be the presentation of the Gospel, while in the former case, instruction in the way of overcoming anger and violence through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. An unbeliever cannot overcome his anger in ways that please God (Romans 8:8). Even if he does overcome it out of fear of the consequences, out of compassion for his wife, out of embarrassment, etc., he will not be doing so in a way that honors Him. It is not your task, as a preacher of the Word, to reform him; you are called to evangelize him. By leading him to Christ, you can not only help him overcome the immediate problem but place him in a condition to overcome all sorts of problems as well, in ways that do please God. Before trying to change his behavior, then, help him to make that basic change which will allow you from that time on to help him at a deep level. Never settle for superficial change.

You must tell him that wife-abuse is sin, a breach of the sixth commandment, with which he must deal at the root by the redeeming work of Christ. Such behavior simply may not be glossed over as inappropriate or even harmful action that must be replaced by more appropriate, helpful ways of handling anger. The very sin itself (which you must remind him is sin against God as well as against his wife) is clear evidence that he needs to be saved; only in the solution to that root problem is there any hope of making any lasting or eternal change. Take advantage of the situation to help bring him to Christ.

“What if he doesn’t trust Christ as Savior?” you ask. Then, he, being an unbeliever, may be taken to the legal authorities (1 Corinthians 6 deals with this); for his own sake, for the sake of his wife and anyone else involved, the state may be called in to restrain and, if necessary, punish him. Clearly, the wife should be informed about this option; indeed, it is often the only one available.

“What about divorce? Separation?”

Here is where I find it hard to give the biblical answer. If I had my ‘druthers,’ I’d say, “Yes” to either one or both of the above, but I can find no biblical warrant for doing so. Abuse is not among the legitimate reasons for divorce found in the Bible; and separation is never an option (see my book, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, for the exegetical and theological justification behind these two assertions). Of course, if a husband comes home drunk and begins to smash everything in sight, it would not be wrong for the wife to put one night’s clothing in a bag and head with her children for a neighbor’s house. That is not separation; it is akin to ducking, were he to throw something at her.

“But why is she required to remain with such a man?” Not only does the Bible hold out the hope that she may win him to Christ (1 Corinthians 7:10–14 and 1 Peter 3:1); it also has a good bit to say about enduring unjust persecution. In particular, I refer to 1 Peter 3:13, 14:

And who will harm you if you become enthusiasts for good? Yet, even if you should suffer because of righteousness, you must be happy. In fact, you must not even fear their threat, nor be upset.

As I said previously, I do not like that. It is not the response, when left to myself, I would give. But I don’t see how I can avoid it, so let’s consider it, at least in a preliminary way. First, notice that it is when and in doing good that the suffering is encountered. Suffering that one brings on himself is not in view; rather it is unjust, unprovoked suffering about which Peter is speaking. Indeed, his comment is that those who enthusiastically pursue good rarely encounter such suffering. That is the place for the counselor to begin.

I vividly remember calling at a home one summer afternoon. It was hot and sultry; the door and windows were open. As I approached the home, I could hear the wife shouting at her husband a block away. Here was a wife who represented herself in church as the poor, sweet, put-upon spouse of a vicious husband who, for no reason whatsoever, from time to time would clout her. The facts turned out otherwise: she was a regular ‘hussy’! She provoked him to anger most of the time. Now, of course, he never should have responded as he did; that was his sin, a problem with which he had to deal. But on the other hand, her sin was egging him on by her violent tongue. It is not always a one-way street; among other things, that is the insight that Peter gives us. Rarely does harm come to those who enthusiastically (not grudgingly) do good. Remember, “a soft answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1).

Then notice also that even in those rare cases, where violence was not provoked, one is not told to leave but to endure without fear (verse 14). This is the hard part, but it is biblical. How does Peter conceive of this? Well, his answer is that the believer does not shirk his responsibilities because another treats him badly. In 3:19 he says:

So then, let those who suffer according to the will of God do good and entrust themselves to a faithful Creator.

Peter is saying those who suffer must continue doing what is right, assuming all their responsibilities (in this case that means fulfilling the marriage vow, which included the promise “for better or for worse”) and leaving the outcome to God, who not only, as Creator, is capable of so ordering His world that He can work the matter out for good but also, as a faithful Creator, can be depended on to do so.

Now of course, if the husband is a Christian (a problem about which Peter is not writing), the wife always has recourse to the church. As a matter of fact, in such cases the Christian is forbidden to take her husband to law (1 Corinthians 6); instead, she is to call the elders of the church. They, in turn, should counsel her husband, giving him help that he needs to overcome his problem. There is great hope if he is a genuine Christian. He has within himself the Holy Spirit, who is capable of producing the fruit of gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22 and 24). But if he should fail to respond to all the help intelligently given, fail to change according to biblical principles, then the church must put him out and she then may treat him “as a heathen and a publican.” Practically speaking, that means she may call upon legal authorities if necessary to restrain him. For more about church discipline, please see my book, A Handbook of Church Discipline.

You don’t like my explanation? Sorry about that. Neither do I. But, until you can suggest a better one (i.e., one more biblical), I’m afraid I’m stuck with it. In all ‘high risk’ situations it is difficult to recommend endurance, the maintenance of duties, and trust as the solution. Yet, throughout the ages believers have borne up under persecutions and trials of a physical nature, even involving death, for Christ’s sake. Is my aversion to the biblical solution I have given merely evidence that the softness of our present age and the flabbiness of modern Christianity have gotten to me more than I realize? Perhaps so.

Heeding God’s Truth

Here is a verse to keep in mind—the time will come when you need it!

When I am filled with cares, Your comfort brings me joy.  Psalm 94:16

Who has a right to claim the wonderful promise in this verse? Move back a few verses and you will find the answer:

Lord, happy is the man You discipline and teach from Your law, to give him relief from troubled times.  Psalm 94:13

God’s Word (His law) teaches and disciplines those who study, understand, and obey it. Believer, you cannot expect the promise to apply unless (and until) the conditions are met. But, Oh when they are—the riches of it are yours!

How conversant are you with the Scriptures? How frequently do you listen (and act) when they expose and rebuke you for your evil ways? Are you a person who drifts with the crowd, or one who goes in the direction that pleases Him? That is the way to receive His comfort and relief. When necessary, to please God, you must to walk against it. It isn’t easy to head in the opposite direction from other Christians when they are part of that crowd—is it? That makes it especially difficult. Yet, it isn’t what others do that matters; it’s what God says will bring comfort and relief in troubled times that counts. There are many such times in all of our lives; there may be even greater ones in the near future. Take heed to God’s truth!

Reflections on the “Debate”

Last night, like many others, I stayed up late to watch the debate and the various commentaries that followed. One thing seemed clear—this was called a “debate,” but it was anything but! Yet, no commentator said anything about the fact. Other than a brief scuffle between Christie, who seemed and anxious to really debate and Paul, there was nothing even to resemble a true debate.

Instead of a debate where back-and-forth propositions and rebuttals upon various topics continue for a substantial amount of time, what we had was a slight opportunity to learn something of the opinions of each man (and one woman—who was outstanding) always closely guided by the questioner from Fox News. Obviously these questions did not always correspond to that which a contestant wanted to speak about. Consequently, he had to hedge on it, then try somehow to weave his own concerns into his answer.

Now it is understandable that with 17 individuals participating in two tiers there could be no real debate—where issues were really discussed at some length. It was physically impossible to do any such thing. Probably, then, we could be treated only to the question-and-answer evening that we experienced.

So be it. My protest is that the label that was affixed upon this—a “debate”—was false advertising. Frankly, I’m still waiting to hear one. Perhaps one or two of the candidates could elsewhere at another time really debate. How I’d like to hear that!

Using the Original Languages in Preaching

“Why do I need to? After all, there was no time in the history of preaching when there were more good translations than now.”

The argument sounds good; but the objector misses the obvious fact that the more translation possibilities that he has to choose from, the more one needs to know (at least something about) the original languages; otherwise, when they differ (and they do), how does he know which is correct? From which should he preach? Which more faithfully represents the original text of the writers? This is a special problem today, when so many translators have determined to become interpretive in their renderings. The very wealth of modern options itself should (all the more) point up the need for an acquaintance with the original languages.

“Where can I get this knowledge?” Self-help books and typed language courses in both Greek and Hebrew exist. There are several good training opportunities offered on the internet these days. But (easiest) many Bible colleges, all conservative seminaries and a number of other schools provide courses in the original languages. Any pastor who has never had Greek or Hebrew (even if he doesn’t ever complete a seminary education) ought to take these courses.

“Why?” Well, not only to decide between translations, but:

  1. To be able to “get the feel” of a passage. English translations tend to trowel off the original tone of the writers. Only by becoming acquainted with the original can one restore this. This “feel” is essential to good preaching.
  2. To be able to use the best commentaries and read the better Bible helps (most of which refer to the original text. Without some knowledge of the languages, one cannot follow the reasoning behind the renderings suggested.
  3. To be able to evaluate other books that (again, not using the original) may be far afield in their interpretations and/or uses of many passages.
  4. Preaching that flows from the study of a passage in the original moves forward with a more sure-footed stride; other preaching often limps. A certain confidence derives from having examined the text for one’s self.

“But I’ll never be a Greek or Hebrew scholar.” Right! That is true of most pastors. And right there lies the problem. Many good men who could have profited from a sensible use of the original languages were turned off by seminary teachers who taught them the study of languages as if their life occupation would be to teach Classics or Semitics in a university. They never recommended short cuts (e.g., like forgetting all about the rules for Greek accents—learning these is an almost totally unnecessary chore. One can get along well with learning only those distinguishing accents that count). They tried to build up a conscience against using analytical lexicons and interlinear translations (two very valuable helps that no one should feel guilty about using freely). They talk negatively about such books as Kubo’s Reader’s Lexicon and don’t tell students about Spiros Zodhiates’ crib for Machen’s grammar. All such “purism” is sheer nonsense. Who cares if a pastor leans on some Bagster help? Who cares how a person learns to get the right answers to his exegetical questions concerning the original languages so long as he gets them? Of course one should use the Englishman’s Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance if he finds it helpful. Why not?

With all that a busy pastor must do, it is only right for him to employ every available aid that he can afford, to keep his hand into the continued use of Hebrew and Greek. He would be a poor steward of time and energy if he did not. Many men have lost any language ability they once had because they believed (what they were told, or strongly led to think) that it was wrong to use anything but the naked text and the standard grammars and lexicons. Sheer, unadulterated nonsense! Pastor, if using an interlinear will help you get back to the Greek and Hebrew, use it—let me emancipate you from the chains of guilt forged in the hops of language teachers who never had to face the everyday problems of the pastorate. Use it! Use whatever is available. Indeed, every teacher of Hebrew and Greek in a theological seminary ought to take the time to compare and contrast these helps, giving his opinion about which is best (and why) and instructing pastors in the most effective and intelligent use of each.

Preach; preach from a study of the original text, and you will preach with confidence and joy.

 

What does your sign really say?

Sign4Several times each week on my way to and from church I pass a couple of church signs—you know, the sort on which you place letters to spell out words and sayings. I grit my teeth over and over again as I cannot help but notice that there is not only a failure on the part of these churches to communicate an intended message by these signs, but rather a howling success in communicating a wrong one.

One of these churches has the words TO GOD BE THE GLORY, emblazoned in letters two or three of which have either fallen out of line or out of sight. If it were true that this happened only one week to be corrected soon as discovered, it wouldn’t make any difference. But there they hang, perilously teetering from their perches week after week, calling attention to the fact that the members of the congregation seem not to really care about glorifying God after all—at least that’s what one might readily conclude from the apparent neglect that the disorder evidences. It would be better to have no sign at all than to have one that disgraces God rather than glorifies Him. That the intended message might not be one that connects with the average unbeliever is an additional point that I shall not discuss.

The sign in front of the church across the road is usually neatly cared for, and its message is changed with regularity. But it has a fault of a different sort. This sign is much larger than the first and can carry at least three fairly long lines of wording. And—you guessed it—the message that it sets forth is unreadable because, typically, all three lines are used. It’s unreadable because you’d have to stop your car on a busy street to be able to do so. It is cluttered with too many words to take in at a glance—or even two or three glances! I’ve tried.

So, what am I saying? Simply this: when it comes to using signs either do it rightly or don’t do it at all! Pastor, if you have one—take a look at yours.

p.s. This church has a new pastor and the sign has been fixed.

Empirical Evidence?

minion-clipboardQuestion: What empirical evidence do you have that Nouthetic Counseling is superior to other forms of counseling?

Answer: Quite frankly, none. Do you wonder at that? Let me tell you why you shouldn’t. To compare Christian counseling with other forms of counseling is to compare oranges to apples (no, let’s say, oranges and socks!). Consider the goal of Christian counseling over against that of others. Most counseling seeks to solve a person’s problem in order to bring relief. That is the prime goal. In Christian counseling, however, the goal is to honor and glorify God, whether or not relief is obtained. How, then, do you compare the outcomes?

Moreover, since the object of biblical counseling is to bring about change in the counselee that honors God, how would you test for that empirically? Would you put his soul in a test tube, shake it up and hope it turns blue? How would you test whether God was honored, whether the motives of the counselee were sound (since God looks upon the heart; not merely on outward behavior) or whether he only made changes outwardly? How would you determine the extent of the Holy Spirit’s work in the counselee’s life so as to make the desired spiritual changes? In other words, there is no way to obtain empirical evidence. Since it is biblical attainments that are under consideration, it is impossible to get statistical evidence for the spiritual changes that the biblical counselor seeks to bring about.

Then, further, why would we need any tests anyway? The One Who tries the hearts of men is the Lord. He infallibly knows what is happening within the person. We can look only at his outward behavior and listen to his speech. It is He Who tests; and that is all that counts. Besides, from the counselor’s perspective, success is measured not by the outcome of the counseling sessions but ultimately by whether the counselor did those things that were biblical, thereby honoring his Lord. Success may be measured in many ways; Christians should measure it in terms of how well the counselor followed the Bible in a given case. And once again, there is no way to test this except by comparing what he does with what the Scriptures require of him.

So, what does the Christian counselor have to demonstrate the effectiveness of Nouthetic counseling? Nothing, as I said before. And he is absolutely content to say so. He must do as well as he can to meet biblical requirements in order to please God, and then let the chips fall where they may. He knows that his performance as a counselor will be flawed since he is not perfect. But he also knows that when he asks for forgiveness for failure God measures his success by that as well as by the performance. So, given the goals, given the persons at work (the counselor and the Holy Spirit) and given the kinds of outcomes that are expected and achieved in the sight of God, it would be not only foolish but arrogant to attempt to test Nouthetic counseling by some human apparatus. We do not have to set results of the sort that they might wish before the world, so long as we honor and please God. On Judgment Day, He will reveal the statistics! Any counseling claiming to be “Christian” that makes much of statistics thereby invalidates itself as such by showing that its goals and outcomes are not thought of in biblical terms.

Since the human counselor is not the only one who is at work in Christian counseling, the Christian has an “unfair advantage” over other counselors. With the Holy Spirit enlightening the minds of counselees and enabling them to overcome sinful propensities that hinder growth, producing His fruit through His inerrant Word, what profit would there be in trying to determine how well a human counselor counsels? In effect, he is but a catalyst, ministering the Scriptures in ways that the Spirit utilizes to bring about change in counselees. The Spirit is the ultimate Counselor. The whole concept of empirical evidence, statistics and the like, begs the question. And the thought of attempting to obtain them is repugnant. Sorry, but that is how it is.

Take Note of This

Do you forget facts about your counselees? Unless you are highly exceptional, you will. That is to say, you will unless you do something to forestall forgetting. It’s important from week to week to be able to refer to what you learned before. That is one way to measure progress or the lack thereof. Moreover, unless you keep a running agenda of items to discuss, you will be likely to forget some essential items on that agenda. But to hold all of that in your head from week to week, together with much happening in between sessions, and in addition to the new data coming to light at each week’s session, you would have to be a genius. No, most of us aren’t able to do that. What then should we do?

Take and keep notes—that’s what! If you don’t take notes in counseling, you are remiss. Note taking is an essential element in the process. It is orderly and helpful. How shall you do so? Should you wait until the session is over, and then write out all that you can remember of the session as some do? Why would they do that? Well, they think that taking notes during sessions can be distracting both to the counselor and to the counselee. And some think that the counselee might be hesitant to say certain things if he sees you taking notes. But, for many years I have taken notes, taught others to do so, and have had no such problems. One thing, however, that I do consider important along the lines just mentioned: if a person is speaking of illegalities in which he is involved, I usually put down my pen and listen. Then, after the session I write out what I learned. That is the only time I think it is important to hold back on note taking.

“How do you take notes? Isn’t it difficult to do so and listen at the same time?” Quite to the contrary. I find that taking notes makes me concentrate on what is being said. In addition, taking notes requires me to make sense of what I have heard. I have to understand—at least to some extent—merely to do it. And taking notes enables me to be sure that I have things straight. I find myself from time to time saying a counselee, “Now let me get that straight. You said . . .” Then I carefully copy what is said into my notes. I do this whenever I think that the counselee wants to be sure that I have understood something or other. Indeed, I have had counselees lean over and look at the notes and say, “Be sure you get that down.” I use the notes also as a means of reminding counselees in weeks following what they said before. This is important if they are now denying what they said then. It is especially useful to put important data in quotation marks so that you will have exact material to refer to.

There are times when a thought or statement in the discussion distracts you from the course you want to take. If you have been taking notes, once you have finished dealing with that, your notes will remind you about where you left off. Thoughts about items you will want to deal with later also come to mind while talking. A short note to this effect will help you not to forget so that you can raise the issue when later on you have an opportunity to. I find the practice especially helpful in that regard.

Note taking is not difficult. Once you have done it for a short while you will find that it comes easily and that you will not want to counsel without doing so. Notes retained, carefully coded and filed, will become a means for you to remember and study your own counseling. And, should the counselee turn up again at a subsequent time, you can always turn to your notes to refresh your memory. Try it, you’ll like it!

About Counseling

Counseling is difficult work when done well. It’s not a shrink sitting leisurely in a soft chair taking notes, while a counselee spills the beans about his past life.

“Sometimes I get that picture of it—indeed, it’s often what you see in cartoons and elsewhere.”

Right. But, though that sort of thing may be true of the few psychoanalysts that still exist, it isn’t what you’ll find many other places.

“Oh? What is it like?”

Well, I can only tell you a bit about true, biblical, nouthetic counseling—but, above all, I can tell you that it’s hard work!

“How so?”

We sit at a desk, where we take notes, use the telephone when necessary, lay our Bibles for use, write out assignments, place hand-out pamphlets, and so forth. Instead of the shrink, get the picture of someone who means business and who is hard at work doing it!

”That does change the picture radically! Tell me more, please.”

Well, for one thing, in data gathering, we carefully follow the principles of listening in Proverbs 18:13, 15, 17 which insist that 1) you listen for all of the facts essential to the difficulty before giving any advice; 2) that you actively help gather facts when it is difficult for counselees to remember or verbalize them; 3) that you gather data from all who are involved in the problem. Then, these must all be considered in the light of the Bible’s teaching. And . . . well . . .I’m afraid that’s a process that would take too long to describe here. That’s just for starters.

“Do you counsel husbands and wives separately, or together?”

You don’t put people back together by keeping the apart! That Proverbs 18:17 verse is important in this regard; you ought to look it up sometime. If you don’t follow it, you’ll obtain distorted, incomplete, or otherwise flawed data. And you can’t work very well with those data. Of course, we counsel them together—if we can get both to come.

“What do you do if only one will come?”

There are many important considerations to keep in mind when that happens. For one, we allow no gossip about the party who failed to come. Gossip—even about one’s husband or wife—is sin. And, then in order to try to get the missing party to appear we. . . But, here, this is getting too long. Let me suggest that if you really want to go into such matters in depth, you ought to take our course.

“What if someone can’t afford it?”

Well, it is far less expensive than you might think—and surely, than most other programs. Go to our website and check it out.

Are You Troubled?

Are you troubled by the machinations of wicked persons? Well, you ought to be since God is! But is it all one-sided? Are God’s people the only ones to endure ills—and no one else?

Listen to what God said about this matter:

There is no peace for the wicked says my God.   (Isaiah 57:21 HCSB)

Take heart in the fact that the wicked are like the troubled (storm-tossed) sea (v. 20) They do not have true, lasting peace. Oh, they have their seasons of happiness, revelry, etc., but these don’t last. Nor are they truly satisfying. God sees to that. He troubles them inwardly—even if you can see no such trouble outwardly—Be assured of this! He calls them through their troubles to repent. Some do—and it may or may not make the headlines. But, of course, most do not. So God brings judgment. Now that is real trouble!

Regardless of how they respond to troubles, be assured they do come!

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