Legalism

The Judaizing Christians who gave Paul and his infant churches so much difficulty were legalists. There are, of course, legalists around today as well. The Jerusalem council once-and-for-all decided to put an end to legalism in the church when they ended their letter with these words:

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to lay any additional burdens on you than these essentials: . . .

Then they went on to mention sacrifices to idols, blood from strangled animals and sexual sin, all of which had to do with pagan worship.

Did you get it? Not “any additional burden!” No legalists I know are making additional rules regarding pagan idolatry. But, sure as the day is long, they are busy all the time laying other burdens on people. It’s interesting; if you ask “why do you think that we must refrain from this or that?”—or “why we must certainly do such and such?”—what sort of answer they give. Usually it’s something like this: “you don’t get it; these things are really important. Such rules are crucial.”

Whoa! Did you read Acts 15:28 carefully? It says nothing but “these essentials.” Those listed in their letter are the only essentials. I quoted them above—and if I were a betting man (which I’m not), I’d bet dollars to donuts that these “really important” matters aren’t among them.

Every legalist—one who wants to make rules that aren’t found in the Scriptures—has his own set of “essentials” that differs from those of the council. Think twice before requiring them of others. The important thing is to always sharply distinguish God’s commands from your suggestions. What you say may or may not be expedient, and it probably is worth giving consideration to, but if it isn’t God’s Word it doesn’t have the same authority. And whenever you add to God’s Word, you adulterate it—now, that’s something that’s really important to avoid, don’t you think?

Counseling by Cliché

How is nouthetic counseling different from just coming along side of those who are struggling and building relationship and speaking into their lives?

This was the question that was put to one of our students as he explained to his church elders his goal to complete his studies with us and seek certification. Though framed many different ways it is a common question—why the need for formal training and formal counseling? Why can’t our church people just help each other with problems informally? Isn’t this just the “one anothering” the Bible talks about?

Let’s think for a moment about how your church accomplishes the tasks it believes are important. You believe studying and learning the Scriptures is important so you have organized a Sunday School and other learning opportunities. You meet at a set time, someone is designated to teach, and when you meet everyone understands the purpose of the gathering. The teacher has studied, is prepared to take charge of the class, and leads the students in a structured way to make good use of the time allotted.

What about your choir? You have a goal of presenting a Christ honoring anthem in a way that will facilitate the worship of your congregation. How is that accomplished? The choir meets at an appointed time, a qualified leader who understands music is placed in charge, and he uses the rehearsal time wisely to prepare the choir to minister the following Sunday. Would the choir be ready if rehearsals were done informally with a few choir members meeting at different times, in different places, and informally going through music of their own choosing?

In Corinth the church tried to have just these kinds of worship services.

What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.   (1 Cor 14:26)

The result was chaos. No one was being helped and nothing was being accomplished. Look again at the specific question as it was posed to our student. It consists of three abstract clichés strung together and asked as though this was the preferred way to minister to those who are “struggling.” Come along side how? Speak what into their lives? How will you decide if you have built a sufficient relationship in order to do this “speaking?” Does this same church approach other important ministries with similar vague and ill-defined plans?

Helping people deal with important problems in a biblical way that pleases God is far too important a task to do in such a haphazard way. It should be pursued aggressively, by people who are trained thoroughly, and done in a structured way so much can be accomplished as quickly and effectively as possible. Why should hurting people have to wait for a relationship to be built with a counselor before getting help?

Biblical counseling is not the only ministry going on in a church, but it is a vital one. Church members are taught and ministered to in a variety of ways, in various settings, and by many different people—all leading to the building up of the body of Christ. But when people’s lives hit the rocks (how’s that for a good cliché?) and they have problems that need immediate attention, what could be better than to have a cadre of well-trained men and women in your church who are ready to meet with them with the same kind of purpose and focus that your other church ministries are afforded? So much more can be accomplished—and much more quickly—if counseling is done “decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40).

Forgiven, and then Counsel Others

David was forgiven! He rejoices over the Lord’s goodness for that forgiveness in Psalm 32.  But he doesn’t stop with celebrating God’s mercy. He also considers it an obligation to urge others to seek forgiveness for their sin.  Indeed, he seems to be obligated to help. So he counsels them:

I will instruct you and show you the way to go; with my eye on you I will give counsel.   Psalm 32:8.

But what is that counsel? We can read it in the next verse:

Do not be like the horse or mule . . . that must be controlled with bit and bridle (v.9).

Why mention that?

He says that these are needed to bring the animal to you. In other words, when one won’t come on his own to seek God’s forgiveness, he must be dragged along. And David is willing to do it!

He wants his reader to deal with their sin differently than he did. He counsels him to be willing to come readily to God and seek forgiveness.  David had to be stunned into submission to God by Nathan’s story. He wanted, therefore, to warn others that they need not go through the agony he had experienced when, mulishly, he wouldn’t come to God seeking forgiveness (see v. 4).

So, too, why not urge your counselees—forgiven of sin—to willingly counsel others as he did?

 

When Counseling, Also Don’t . . .

Yesterday we published Dr. Adams’ list. Here is mine. What would you add?

  1. Minimize your counselee’s problem. It was important enough to him to seek counsel.
  2. Tell your counselee that you understand what he is going through. You probably don’t. Tell him Christ does.
  3. Use psychological labels and jargon.
  4. Debate counseling models and methods with your counselee.
  5. Give homework that does not directly relate to the problem.
  6. Delay addressing his problem thinking you must build a relationship first. Build a relationship by addressing his problem.
  7. Adjudicate disputes between two people.
  8. Overwhelm your counselee with too much homework.
  9. Let your counselee’s emotions dictate the agenda.
  10. Let other things distract you during a counseling session.
  11. Fail to laugh and enjoy a humorous moment when appropriate.
  12. Try to make a point with a long list of verses. Instead, explain carefully the one or two verses that best meet the need.
  13. Fail to take good notes during the session.
  14. Charge your counselee for the privilege of counseling with you.
  15. Commiserate with a depressed person—help him!
  16. Excuse failure to do homework.
  17. Allow someone, whose own life is out of control, control yours.
  18. Have your counselee read Scripture during the counseling session. You read it TO HIM—clearly.
  19. Yawn
  20. Fake it. If you don’t know what to do next ask the counselee to pray for you as you study the issue during the coming week.
  21. Do another pastor’s work for him. Insist that your counselee’s pastor come along to the counseling session.
  22. Become angry with an angry counselee.
  23. Pity a pitiful counselee.
  24. Think more highly of yourself than you ought.
  25. Speak in abstractions, be concrete.
  26. Assume your counselee understands the biblical principle or passage you are referring to.
  27. Let your counselee settle for relief from the immediate problem.
  28. Give up.
  29. Settle for some substitute for church discipline.
  30. Promise absolute confidentiality.
  31. Ignore or gloss over doctrinal differences.
  32. Fail to secure commitments from your counselee.
  33. Confuse repentance with regret.
  34. Monopolize the conversation. Listen!
  35. Talk about a counseling case with someone who has no reason to hear about it.
  36. Fear litigation because you have obeyed Scripture.
  37. Back down when you should stand firm.
  38. Fail to handle the Word carefully and honestly. Do your exegesis!

When Counseling, Don’t . . .

  1. Counsel women alone
  2. Counsel drunks; wait till they sober up
  3. Counsel someone being counseled by another
  4. Counsel without access to a phone, desk, writing materials, etc.
  5. Counsel people who set down conditions
  6. Counsel when a person refuses to do his homework
  7. Counsel by telephone
  8. Counsel by separating spouses from one another
  9. Counsel people so drugged that they can’t reason
  10. Counsel young children; counsel their parents
  11. Counsel unbelievers; evangelize them
  12. Counsel a Christian who will not accept Scripture as a Standard
  13. Counsel on succeeding days, unless absolutely necessary
  14. Counsel without giving homework
  15. Counsel unrepentant persons, who ought to repent, until they do
  16. Counsel during the 6-week period prior to the checkup
  17. Counsel if there is any question of an organic problem
  18. Counsel when a person will not come regularly for counsel
  19. Counsel until you have a PDI properly filled out
  20. Counsel heretics or cultists; evangelize them
  21. Counsel unless a person is willing for you to use the Scriptures
  22. Counsel people who denigrate others when told not to over and over again
  23. Counsel blame-shifters who will not admit it after adequate discussion
  24. Counsel people who insist on running the session their way
  25. Counsel people to return to liberal churches

This list is preliminary. Many other items could be added. There are possible exceptions to some of the items in the list. Donn will be posting his list tomorrow. What would you add to our lists?

Literal Truth

In John 1:14 we read

And the word became flesh, and tented among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as a unique One from the Father, filled with grace and reality.

Notice several things:

  1. This literal, more accurate translation reveals much that the KJV does not.
  2. We learn truth about Jesus’ first advent and person that we don’t learn about elsewhere
  3. These truths are of importance to us in our daily, living relationship to Him.

Notice that His stay among us was temporary: He “tented” among us—He set up no permanent living quarters. He intended to spend only enough time here to accomplish what He needed to do upon His trip. From the time of His anointing as the Messiah (His baptism) to His death, He lived among us for only 3 1/2 years. His entire earthly dwelling was about 33 years in all. He intended not to remain, but to come and accomplish a purpose, and then leave—precisely what He did.

Note also that He was God’s message transformed from words alone into a living person (‘flesh”) so that we could see and hear him do and say what it was that God wanted us to know about Himself, delivered in this form. To see truth in person, in action, is more dramatic, clearer, memorable, etc.

Moreover, He was unique.  He was not only-begotten—all believers are begotten of God.  The word really means (as it does in John 3: 16, etc.) “the only one of His kind.” Only Jesus cold accomplish what He did because as a Person Who was unique in the ways in which He was, only He could do it. Only He, for instance, was God become man while yet remaining God as well.

Finally, He was full of grace (“help” of the sort sinners need)  and reality. There are two words N.T. Greek for “truth”—one for truth over against falsehood (not the one used here); the other reality as over against its shadow.   The Old Testament was full of shadowy types and truths, but no realities.  He was the reality that cast those shadows—the shadows that were but unreal, vague types, or pictures, of the reality that they represent.  He is the reality itself.

Take time to concentrate on each of these items and as you do, you will gain a much clearer understanding of Jesus and His earthly mission. Apart from a literal translation, you miss much of what God wants you to know about Jesus Christ.

God in Heaven and on Earth

Here is how a believer ought to think in the midst of the general confusion that he finds himself surrounded with today:

You guide me with Your counsel, and afterwards, you will take me up in glory; Whom do I have I heaven but You? And I desire nothing on earth but You.         (Psalm 73:24)

It really doesn’t matter whether or not we find the answers to the troubles, trials, and difficulties that we face in the present life. It is wonderful when God gives us such a boon! But we have more than the present for which to live and rejoice—we look forward to a trouble-free heaven where all tears will be wiped away, where we will no longer regret our actions because we will never sin again!  That is a place where righteousness will be at home!

So, whether now or later, our lives are sure and steadfast in Christ—and that is something for which we can be eternally thankful, beginning today!

That is something that those who do not know Him as their Savior cannot appreciate or affirm.  If it sounds too good to be true, read the Scriptures in which you can find God’s counsel, and the life of faith here and complete joy hereafter.

Women at Each Other’s Throats?

In the church at Philippi there was a division. This was headed up by two women—the worst sort of split any church can have! There’s always the possibility that it can become a real shin-kicker and hair puller!

Their names might easily have been Odious and Soon-touchy, if they were anything like what we find in churches today. Their actual names are found in Philippians 4:2.

Before Paul mentions any names, he makes clear two principles that must be at work when bringing unity to a divided church. In Philippians 2:3, 4, he sets these forth:

  1. Get rid of selfishness or vane thinking about your own worth, while at the same time considering others better than your self.
  2. Instead of being all—fired concerned with your own interests, for once in your life begin to put the interests of other before your own!

You can always find some way in which others are better than you—if you’re willing to prayerfully take an honest look (of course, as his words indicate, Paul would have you to look away from yourself in order to do so).

And, if you are concerned about furthering others’ concerns rather than your own, again, you’ll find ways of doing so.

The two principles are not hard to understand-just hard for quarreling people to follow. Repentance may be in order to be able to do so.

On those two points, he goes further in the verses that follow to show how that’s exactly what Jesus did for us. He selflessly put us first, going so far as to put our interests (salvation) before His manifested glory as the second Person of the Trinity. He was willing to stoop to becoming a man, to becoming a slave, to becoming a criminal who died on the cross—all for our sakes.

Think of His condescension the next time your foot gets stepped on, the next time someone disagrees with you, the next time you’ve been insulted, the next time . . . simply the next time! It isn’t a matter of who is right. The point is—how are you handling the relationship? Follow these two principles, and you will certainly be doing much to bring about unity. In unity, you can work out the differences!

Assurance

John Calvin’s emphasis was upon certainty. He abhorred the way in which Romanism kept people wondering whether or not they were saved. In his Defense of the Reformed faith, p. 256; Eerdmans, Grand Rapids (1958), he wrote:

Thus nothing is left but constant disquietude, and slow torture, and perplexing doubts, which will wear out the soul not less effectively than open murder.

In speaking of Roman confession, he also said,

The Apostles did not discharge their office of binding and loosing by hearing Confessions, but by preaching the gospel . . . And the reason why they strongly urge Confession is, because they wish to make the world obsequious to them, and to hold it in subjection . . . yet to color Confession, and hold it forth as a thing necessary to salvation, is neither expedient nor lawful. Conscience cannot be squeezed by the chains of such laws, without being strangled. (Ibid., p. 257, 258).

He was concerned about poor, wretched people, deluded by the traditions of men, who were enslaved to a system purporting to be Christian, but in reality, anything but.

There is salvation neither in works of penitence, nor in any other ceremony or human action. Salvation—with the assurance it brings—is in Christ alone. It is because by His death and resurrection He satisfied God once for all, that those who believe can have assurance of salvation. In what are you trusting—that which brings certainty or that which brings confusion and terror?

Ready to Enter

According to the writer of Hebrews the saints listed in chapter 11 among the faithful all died in faith

 “without receiving the things that were promised.”

As the last verse in the chapter makes clear, this is the point of the words written about them. They believed, their faith led to extraordinary works, they went to be with Christ (which is far better than anything they knew here), but they still were waiting—waiting for the coming of the One Who would finally die, once for all, that they might be assured of life eternal. God was waiting for us to arrive on the scene—and believe. How wonderful that He and they patiently waited for us.

But patience is one of the great biblical virtues; it is not merely another piece of the Spirit’s fruit.  How good God has been to us (as He was to them) to postpone the fulfillment of the promises so that we too could cash in on them. The day when we rise to meet the Lord in the air, and all that occurs subsequently, is yet in the future, but we have come right up to it. We could not be closer without being inside enjoying the festivities of Hebrews 13:22-24! It’s as if we were standing in the vestibule looking through the glass doors at the joyous gathering inside. As we die, the door opens and we join the crowd!

THANKS FOR THE WONDERFUL PICTURE OF THAT DAY FOUND IN THIS CHAPTER!

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