Objections to Biblical Counseling

Be prepared to receive them! You can be sure that they’ll come. There are so many out there that have been brainwashed into thinking that counseling must be done by a “professional” psychologist or psychiatrist that they rebel when they’re told that a preacher or laymen is doing counseling. You can understand their objections, and you should respect them for voicing them. At least they‘re concerned! You should have less respect for those who talk behind your back and are not man or woman enough to come out and challenge you. It’s the “Sauls” of Tarsus who, when converted, turn out to be “Pauls.” Learn to respond, cheerfully, cogently and challengingly. Those are the people we are especially concerned to win over to the truth.

Objections will come. You should become prepared to meet them. Most objections will take the form of “Who do you think you are to be doing counseling?” Your answer, of course, is that you are a child of God; that He has commanded to do so. The Galatians 1 passage, along with Colossians 3:16, along with Romans 15:14 are warrant enough for you to respond to a fellow believer. Learn all you can about those passages in order to be able to satisfy those who want a reason for the ministry you’re engaged in. Of course there are other passages such as 2 Timothy 3:15ff, and 1 Thessalonians 5:14 to which you might also wish to turn as well. But don’t confuse the discussion by citing too many passages. Know a few well, and indelibly impress them upon your listener’s thinking. Remember, in all of those passages the noun “nouthesia” or the verb “noutheteo” is used. And don’t forget that the word has the three elements: loving Confrontation, out of familial Concern, in order to bring about God-pleasing Change.

The object isn’t always to win the objector. Rarely, will you “convert” anyone to biblical counseling on the spot. But get them thinking biblically. Urge them to study the passages you’ve mentioned. Try to set up another time for further discussion. That, of course, is what you do with believers. So far as unbelievers are concerned, you will want to explain that you don’t knowingly counsel unbelievers, so he has nothing to worry about! But you might tell also him that you do pre-counsel [evangelize] people like him. Then, go ahead and do so. In all cases, you need to be able to give a thorough, reasoned response to objectors. Remember II Peter 3:15, 16.

As you do more and more counseling, you will eventually have people who can testify to the effectiveness of God’s word in their lives. Many of the people you have counseled will be willing to testify to the facts should you need them to do so. But never appeal to their testimony as the fundamental reason for doing Nouthetic Counseling. Always rest your case on Scriptural authority. Their testimony is merely illustrative; God’s Word needs no corroboration. And never ask anyone to testify unless he has agreed to do so beforehand.

My hope is that many people will object to your counseling. Not because I wish for difficulty to come your way. But because I hope you will make such an impact upon those around you that they can’t keep still about it. When people object, it’s usually because something is happening. Actually, many object because they are interested and want to understand. “There’s no better way to find out whether there’s anything to this Nouthetic stuff,” they assume, than to put some hard questions to its adherents. That’s good. And when you’re prepared to meet all of their objections, that’s very good!

Nouthetic counselors ought to be savvy about what they are doing, and why they do it. But they will not get that wisdom and knowledge apart from study. There are plenty of books to help. And that’s one reason why the Institute for Nouthetic Studies exists. If we can help you to be able to give a reasoned response to objectors by offering training in Nouthetic Counseling, please let us do so.

Missionary Giving

Other than those that I have preached, I have never heard a sermon on what I consider to be, perhaps, the greatest text on the subject; namely, III John 8. Which is as follows:

We, therefore, ought to take up (support) such men so that we may be fellow-workers for the truth

Gaius, along with unnamed others, had been thrown out of the church by Diotrophes (whom we assume was the pastor), who refused to share the limelight with visiting missionaries sent out by John. Gaius’ “sin” was that he gave money and supplies for these traveling missionaries to get safely to the next Christians’ home.

John is furious about what he did. And he tells Gaius to continue to support them in the future—no matter what the pastor might say or do. Indeed, he was soon coming with full apostolic authority to deal with (“remember”) the problem and the problem-maker!

In the midst of that discussion, John wrote the verse listed above. Playing on the Greek (in which he was writing), he says, Because these missionaries refused to “take” any support from the heathen to whom they preached (so as not to sully Christ’s name[i]), Gaius and other believers ought to “take up” such men. When one does so—supporting them in their work financially or otherwise—one becomes a “fellow-worker” for the truth.  He is looked upon by God as if he too were out there on the mission field preaching the Word. What an incentive to give!

It’s about time to hear some sermons from this passage—don’t you think?


[i] There were man travelling sophists who were simply out to make money. They wanted not to be confused with them.  They were not “selling” the gospel! The passage lends itself to a sermon about money-making in the church as well.

Frame It!

Betty (my loving wife) paints. I’m not talking about refurbishing the exterior of the house but about the kind of painting that eventuates in pictures hanging on the wall. She’s good at it, so I like to listen to what she says about it. Recently, she told me, “A picture isn’t a picture until it’s framed.” Profound! She’s right. Putting a frame around a painting makes all the difference. It defines, delimits, focuses and sets off the thrust of the painting. Truly, it makes a picture out of a painting.

While there is much more to a painting than the frame—try hanging an empty one on the wall—the frame enhances the painting. It is a shame to see good work diminished by either no frame or a poor one that fails to complement the painting. A picture becomes a picture when it has a frame!

The same is true of a sermon. Many preachers never take the time required to frame their sermons. And even when they do, some choose frames that clash rather than blend with the sermon itself. What is a good sermon frame? It is one that directs the listener’s attention to the focal point of a biblical message. This may be done in any number of ways, but let me list just two.

First, a good sermon frame is one that limits. A painting with a frame is bordered on all sides. That is also true of a good sermon. It does not extend out in every direction covering all sorts of topics and ideas thrown together in some haphazard fashion. Rather, it confines the sermon to those elements that are central to the Scripture portion from which the preacher is speaking. A good frame holds one’s attention upon what is inside of it. Likewise, a good sermon frame restricts a preacher to the topic at hand. In that way a preacher helps his listeners to concentrate on the one thought of the passage rather than distracting them by extraneous ideas.

There are a number of ways in which preachers may fail to limit their messages. The may wander off onto tangents. Usually, these are chunks of thought that interest the preacher, but have little direct bearing on the main point of the passage. They are bits of information that have caught his attention, about which he thinks (usually wrongly) that the congregation will be as interested as he is. Better to jot them down and file them for future use when they do pertain to the truth of another message. Take it as an axiom that whatever doesn’t directly contribute to the message of the hour will detract from it.

Some preachers fail to frame messages when—unlike the writers of Scripture—they think that they must say everything about every subject. It can’t be done. The attempt is futile. Biblical writers don’t do it, so why would you think that you need to? What am I talking about? The idea that unless you treat every aspect of any subject you have failed to preach the truth. It took Paul years to preach “the whole counsel of God” at Ephesus; how do you think that you can do so in less time?

Jesus, for instance, told His disciples that when they would ask anything in His Name the Father would give it to them (John 16: 23). Now, apart from the fact that this promise was made to them in the context their future ministry, even if the passage can be applied to us in a secondary way, it fails to tell us everything about how to pray. Elsewhere, James says that we must pray rightly (not to satisfy our desires), that to be “effectual” it must be uttered by a “righteous” person, and that we must pray without doubting—in faith believing. We would have to refer to numerous passages about prayer in order to gather the entire scriptural doctrine of prayer. But neither Jesus nor James did any such thing. Nor do you have to do so. What you do need to do, instead, is to know and hold all aspects of prayer in the back of your mind when preaching about any one of them so that, some day, when you preach about the next aspect, you won’t contradict what you said in a previous message. In each biblical passage the writer (or speaker) has a particular point to make, so he didn’t go into all aspects of his subject. Nor should you!

Secondly, as an appropriate picture frame pulls the eye inward toward the object that the painter wants to emphasize, so too a good sermon frame helps to attract ear to the focal point of a message. A common thread running throughout the message may accomplish this. Like a ribbon tying up a package (to change the simile) a sermon frame packages truth. A word, phrase or example repeatedly referred to throughout the sermon will often accomplish the same thing. Or a matching introduction and conclusion-a match that keeps the main subject before the listener and summarizes it in the conclusion—is another way to appropriately frame truth. A question asked in the introduction, then raised again and again within the message, and answered only at the end also tends to frame things well.

In short, we may say that the scriptural message stands out most vividly in a sermon when it has been properly framed. Good preachers always do it. Go thou and do likewise!

Have You Already Had Your Reward?

Blogs, tweets, Facebook pages, and the internet generally have changed our lives in dramatic ways. Wise believers have embraced our new technologies and have used them to promote the gospel of Jesus Christ in ways inconceivable just ten years ago. Much of what we do here at the Institute for Nouthetic Studies would be impossible without these new tools.

Some creative believers, however, have also found new and inventive ways to use the internet to dishonor both Christ and themselves. Consider our Lord’s words in the Sermon on the Mount—

Be careful not to do your righteous acts in front of people, so that you will be seen by them. Otherwise you will have no reward from your Father Who is in the heavens. Therefore, when you give to charity, don’t blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may be praised by people. Let me assure you, they have their reward.

Today, there is a growing trend to replace trumpeting with tweeting and the streets with the digital highway. Facebook and Twitter have become places for many to advertise their good works and promote their own spirituality. This past week I have read reports of how may counseling sessions a particular counselor has conducted (and how many overwhelmed pastors he has bailed out by his wisdom), how many tracts one individual has passed out, how much time one person has spent in prayer, and how many hours a pastor spent in sermon preparation for one sermon (which caused me to wonder about his sermon preparation skills). This morning I just defriended an individual who thought all his friends would appreciate knowing how much he loves the people in his church, the unique worship experience he feels only when he is with these wonderful people, and how much of this is caused by the ministry he is having there.

What about you? Do you use the internet and the many new social networking tools to communicate effectively and profitably with friends and family, or is it a means to promote your own personal piety?

Peace of Heart

“Having peace about a matter” is what many people think is the deciding factor about whether it is wrong or right to do something. And they base their opinion on Colossians 3:15,

let Christ’s peace have final say in your hearts . . .

Is that a fair understanding and application of the verse? Is it the way to determine what is right in answer to questions about which you need guidance? Are those who say, “I have peace about it,” right in concluding that God sends peace if a decision is correct, and that He sends a disturbed heart if it isn’t? That’s what many have been taught.

But “peace” can come from a conscience that has been seared so as to no longer effectively warn about what is wrong. So, how could you distinguish between the two? Moreover, we have all known those who said that they had peace about a matter, and the “peace” turned out to be the wrong way to go.

Well, the fact of the matter is this: the idea that this verse is speaking of guidance is wrong. Paul is not talking about some subjective peace that you have in your heart. Rather, in the context (see v. 14, and the rest of verse 15), Paul is talking about believers in the “body” (the church) getting along by showing love for one another. The peace, therefore, is an objective peace that you should promote among your brothers ands sisters in Christ.

Peace among the members of the body ought to have final say in your actions. If what you want to do or say will upset that peace, then don’t do it, even if it seemed right (of course, he’s not speaking of matters of clear biblical obligation). If what you are thinking of doing promotes peace among the members of the body, then do it. That is the true force of the passage.

It is not peace in your hearts, but that which you determine in your hearts will promote peace among the brothers. That ought to determine whether or not your should do something or other. That it will assure peace should be the determining factor in your heart (the place where such decisions are made).

So, let’s be careful about the way that the verse is used. Otherwise, “having peace about” something may cause disturbance among other believers—exactly what the verse is intended to avoid.

How to Get Him to Think Straight

The difficulty in attempting to explain the meaning of a passage of Scripture to one who has his mind made up already is a task greater than a human being possesses. Aren’t you glad that it’s the Holy Spirit Who illumines believers’ minds—and not you?

Of course, He does so—interestingly—not apart from but, through the Word itself.

It is, therefore, crucial when dealing with pig-headed Christians, who think they are accomplished exegetes, but can’t tell the difference between the meaning of a verse from a child’s jingle, to remember this and to do what you can do.

“What’s that?”

The first profitable thing to do is to refrain from argument, reason or trying to beat the truth into his head by pure repetition.

“I understand that—but what can I do?”

The thing to do—at all costs—is to get him to read (rather, study) the Bible.

“How will that help, if his mind is made up?”

Since, as Paul said, the truth is “spiritually discerned,” that is where your hope lies. When he gets serious about learning what God says from the Bible, you can expect things to happen. For truth to be spiritually discerned means, to have the Spirit working in him to enable him to understand His Word.

And that’s exactly what you want—isn’t it? Not what you think, but what the Spirit teaches from His Book.

So, don’t argue. Instead give him helps that will encourage him to study the Scriptures—concordances, Bible dictionaries, commentaries—whatever it takes to get him into serious study of the Bible.

If you succeed in persuading him do so, you’ve won twice over: in time he may soon come to see the truth about what you said, and—of greater importance—he will become a student the Word of God. Even if it takes time, humility, or even repentance for the former to occur, in the meantime you can rejoice in the latter.


Commenting on Genesis 6:7, where God says that He repents that He made man, Reformer, Henry Bullinger (successor to Zwingli in Zurich) wrote,

. . . repentance is figuratively attributed to God, like to the affection of mortal men: as when he saith, “I repent me that I Have made man.” For God in his own nature doth not repent as men do, so that he should be touched with grief, and that the thing should now mislike him which he before did like of. (Decade Four; Sermon two).

Anthropomorphic language is that which God frequently used to explain something to us in terms we can understand. He says, for instance, that his arm is not shortened, that he cannot save. He is using a figure of speech to say that he has all the power he needs to save. So when he speaks of repenting, God is saying something more about us and our wickedness than about Himself. To let us know that He doesn’t miss anything that we do He also speaks of His eyes and ears.  But He has no body. So, He is saying that, if He were a man, He would have to change His mind about making man because he has become so sinful. How do we know this? Because elsewhere, when actually speaking of God’s nature Scripture says, “God is not a man that He should repent” (I Samuel 15:29). There is no contradiction—one passage speaks of His actual being; the other speaks in human terms (anthropomorphically) as if He were a man in order to help us understand what he is saying.

God uses other figures of speech to help us thick-headed humans.  God is not a Rock, though the Scripture calls Him such, or a Fortress as, again, we are told in the Bible that He is. He is not a cosmic chicken, even though we are protected “under His wings.” We’re not chicks. All these figurative terms are for our benefit. We are so dull, we need to hear truth in such a manner.

So, when reading about God grieving—as Bullinger notes—understand: God isn’t sitting in the heavens weeping over a mistake He made. He stoops to our level to speak in terms we can understand for our benefit. Moreover, such figures of speech are usually more graphic and, therefore, striking, and memorable.

A concluding note: The word “Anthropomorphic” is composed of two Greek loan words, anthropos (meaning , “man”), and morphe (meaning “likeness, form”). God speaks in such passages as Genesis 6 as if he were man-like.

Open Door—Open Mind

For we are not to despair of anyone so long as the patience of God leads the ungodly to repentance, and does not seize him out of this life . . .
Augustine, Sermon LXXI, xiii, 21.

Have you given up on the conversion of your husband? Your child? Your relative? Your neighbor?

You must not do so. You do not know that God has done so. He/she may yet be converted. Perhaps on the death bed; perhaps before. But it is your task not to make a final judgment about anyone. God, alone, knows the heart.

Your task is, however, to keep on praying for him, to keep on witnessing to him, to keep on living a godly life before him.

Yes, I know it seems unlikely that he or she would ever believe. But didn’t it seem even more unlikely that Saul of Tarsus would become the apostle Paul?

Who are you to judge that the eternal destination of another will not be heaven—while the door to it still stands open? While the door stands open, your mind must as well.

No. If you have given up hope, it is time to renew it. Talk to the Lord about the matter. Tell Him you believe that His power is greater than any the evil one exerts over your unsaved friend. Beg Him to save him. Then tell Him you will be satisfied with the outcome.


But as he reasoned with him about righteousness, self-control and the coming judgment, Felix became alarmed and replied, “Go away for now; when I have time later on I’ll send for you.”         Acts 24:25

Ah, for a modern day Paul to stand before some of our government officials and do the same!

Are any three topics more appropriate to discuss with a number of them than these three?

Where is righteousness in government? God’s standard of right and wrong—the Bible—totally dismissed. How, then, can they even know what is right?

How many have demonstrated an out of control lifestyle! Can you even count the number over the last ten years in national and local governments who have exhibited an utter lack of self-control?

And the judgment to come—they have for the large part forgotten (or don’t believe) that, sooner than they might think, they must appear before the judgment seat of Christ to answer for what they have done.

Ah, for someone with the opportunity and intestinal fortitude to do so. Perhaps we should all pray that God will raise him up. Perhaps they too would try to evade the issues the way Felix did. Perhaps, not. But it would be good to know that a number of them were faced with these matters.

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