Tell Me What to Do

“Tell me what to do when I counsel a person.”

What, in particular, do you want to know?

“Oh, you know—just what you do when you counsel someone.”

Well, I’m afraid I don’t know how to answer that question. There is a lot to counseling—one way of approaching people will not do—one size simply doesn’t fit all.

“Yeah, but what do you do?”

The fact is I do all sorts of things—a lot more than I could begin to mention in this Q&A session.

“Let’s say the person is considering getting a divorce. How do you handle that—do you tell his wife or not?”

Well, since I’d have both of them present [if possible], I wouldn’t have to tell her. Counseling people who are both involved in a problem apart from one another is foolish; you don’t bring people together by taking them apart.

“Yeah, but what do you say? How do you go about the counseling itself?”

Listen, friend, you don’t seem to understand how much goes into counseling or I expect you’d get more specific in your questions. I say all sorts of things depending on the situation. They just have to be biblically based.

“But counseling is so much easier than preaching–you ought to be able to tell me what to do.”

I guess this has gone far enough. Let me suggest a few things at the outset:

  1. Counseling is much tougher than preaching. A preacher knows what he is going too talk about (at least, he ought to). On the other hand, the counselor never knows what will come up in a session–so he has to be ready to handle anything—indeed, everything!

“Oh—I never thought about that!”

  1. A counselor also has to gather lots of information before he is able to begin following a particular course of counsel. That’s why I can’t answer the sorts of questions that you’ve been flinging at me. I believe in serious data-gathering. Sometime, read and consider Proverbs 18: 13, 15, 17 and I think you’ll see what I mean.

“Hmm . . .I’ll have to do that.”

  1. Let me just mention one more thing (I could go on listing lots of other points): But consider this: before I can really begin (assuming the person is a Christian) I will want to know whether or not he is interested in getting relief from his problem(s) or (at bottom) he is interested in learning how to please God in his handling of the problem—whether he gets relief or not.

“I never thought of that.”

And I can tell you there probably are many other things that I can see you haven’t thought about as well.

“Yeah—probably there are.”

Let me suggest that you take our course in nouthetic counseling and systematically learn about some of them.

“How do I do that?”

Thought you’d never ask—the answer is contact Donn Arms at donnarms@nouthetic.org. He’ll lead you the right way.

“Thanks.”

Demonic Docility

When Jesus exorcises demons, it is obvious from their words that they not only know Who He is but also that they know something about the fact that He will someday punish them. Demonic knowledge evidently includes information about His person and authority but also about His role at the final judgment of men and angels. Their theological acumen is better than that of many Christians.

They make no attempt to thwart the power of Christ, but acknowledge it, and seemingly, note that it is hopeless for them to do so. They evidence an inevitability about things. They speak and act like defeated enemies. And, indeed, they—and their infernal leader—are exactly that.

The encounters that Jesus had with these fallen angels show that their power is not only limited, but also subject to His. He has bound the strong man, and He is now taking away his goods. Yes, like the snake that he is, he writhes and strikes out where he can from under Jesus’ heel, but he is a defeated foe who knows that his days are numbered. His followers reveal a similar attitude.

When the seventy rejoiced over having cast out demons, Jesus indicated that this was a sign that Satan had fallen like lightening from heaven. The old serpent has been cast out, and has no authority to touch the believer (I John 5:18). He can no longer do what he did to Job.

When the Lord confronted demons, it was they who feared—not the other way around! So should this be true of the relationship of the believer toward the evil one and his hordes. After all, the Christian has the Holy Spirit dwelling within him.

So, when you meet a believer who has become fearful of demonic power, let him know about these facts. They are all too seldom mentioned.

Trusting God’s Ways

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:3).

Here is an important injunction given to those who know Christ as Savior. Obviously, an unbeliever not only rejects the very concept expressed, but finds it impossible even to approach the fulfillment of any such command.

Believer, do you keep such injunctions with you as you go about life’s activities? If you fail to do so, it may be time to reconsider how you approach these activities—don’t you think?

Today, you will make decisions a-plenty. Most of them will be small, though some may be life-changing.  It doesn’t matter—this verse applies to all. Do you turn to the Bible to discover what the Lord would have you do? Or do you simply go about doing what you think is right? Well, re-read the verse!

How about at work? At home? At school?  It doesn’t matter where you apply it, the verse covers all choices in life—will you trust God’s ways or you own?

Of course, to trust His ways means that you must know them. That is where many otherwise well-intentioned Christians go wrong: because they are unfamiliar with God’s  ways, they can’t trust them. And they are unfamiliar because they don’t study their Bibles in order to discover His ways. There is no excuse for not knowing His ways—they are spelled out explicitly in the Bible; how familiar are you with them?  When there are various options before you, do you know how to go about selecting those that please God?  It’s time for you to begin doing so—don’t you think? It’s also time to know His ways—don’t you think?

The question in brief is a matter of how you think, don’t you think?  How will you answer that question: I think biblically” or “I think my own thoughts?” Which will it be?

Why Do You Want to Counsel?

Is it because you see the need in the church today? Is it because of some situation that you were involved in where you saw that counseling was not provided when it ought to have been? Is it because you have always had a desire to minister to others? Is it because you like to be authoritative and tell others what to do? Even from these few suggestions, obviously, you can see that there are many reasons why someone might want to counsel; some laudable, some not. What are yours?

Perhaps you don’t even know why you are becoming interested—couldn’t spell out the reasons out if you were forced to do so at gun point. There simply may be something about counseling that entices you that you are unable to articulate. Perhaps you believe that you have gifts that seem to point you toward counseling. Whatever the reason—or reasons—you ought to sort them out. Why? Because the time will come when you will have to ask yourself whether or not your reasons are sufficient to sustain your interest in counseling. Counseling can get wearisome at times. It can become demanding, discouraging and time-consuming. It is in times like those that a proper, biblical motivation will enable you to endure.

If you are a minister of the Gospel, you have a flock and, of course, your motivation ought to be to fulfill your responsibilities to the flock—many of which will involve both informal and formal counseling as a part of the office to which you were ordained. If you are called by the church of Christ to minister; you are called to counsel. It goes with the territory.

What of you—a layman who has no flock, who is not ordained to a shepherding ministry? You too are required to counsel—informally. Galatians 6 puts you in the business of doing such counseling. If after reading the first verses of that chapter you don’t understand your place in counseling, you might want to read my explanation of it in the book, Ready to Restore.

All I’m saying is if you are going to counsel it ought to be

  1. because God requires it of you
  2. because you care about your hurting brothers and sisters.

Any lesser motives ought to be expunged from your thinking and, instead, the proper ones must take their place. Otherwise, your counsel is likely to falter, fail, or be seriously flawed. Why not take time to think these things through, pray about them, read again Acts 20, Galatians 6?

Is it time for you to check out your motives? Then, to do so, without distraction. In the long run, you will be glad that you did—and so will your counselees.

All You Need

There is something about the way in which God provides more than what we need. We see it in the Scriptures about the feeding of the 5000, for instance—there were baskets full of leftovers. But there is one thing that we don’t usually recognize—the Bible contains far more truth than we will ever need to avail ourselves of.

Think of it—in it is everything one could eve want to meet every difficulty. There is everything we could ever need to know about how to love God and our neighbor—and we could go on.

But, since this is true, why are we always searching somewhere else to find something more?

That’s of course, the problem with the eclectic; he believes in the Bible—plus. Actually, all we need is the Bible—less (in the sense that we could ever be able to know or use it all. And when we do use it, there are always so many leftovers.).

There is always something that the eclectic can’t seem to be able to find to help him or his counselee in the Scriptures, so he looks elsewhere. Then, finding a piece of “worldly wisdom,” he gets out his Gorilla Glue and attempts to make a fit that will hold together. The trouble is that either 1) the Bible gets warped in the process in order to make an unnatural union, or 2) the Bible refuses to stay fixed to the other object so in the final analysis, he junks it in favor of the extra-biblical finding..

You can’t fasten worldly wisdom together with biblical truth; something always goes wrong when you make the attempt. 1 Corinthians 2 ought to be sufficient evidence of the fact that this procedure is futile. The world doesn’t welcome the truth of God (v. 14), and even thinks that it’s foolishness. If some kind of union is effected in spite of these facts, doubtless it will be like the clay and iron of the toes of Daniel’s metallic man—the mashing together of two incompatible items. They won’t hold very long as, indeed, the Roman Empire’s “union” of provinces demonstrated when they attacked and overran the mother city!

So, since we have all we need in the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:17), why attempt to “enhance” it with man’s “wisdom?” It can’t work; it doesn’t work; it will not work. This has been demonstrated over the last generation by a host of eclectic counselors and theorists who, admittedly, have found no amalgamation of the two that does work. Why waste time doing what God has already told you can’t be done and, moreover, has told you what can? The Bible has what you need to solve all true counseling problems; in it are all things necessary for life and godliness; in it is all you need to know in order to love God and your neighbor. And then some! It’s time to toss the world’s “wisdom” aside, and get down to work learning how to use your Bible to help those in need of its guidance! You’ll find all you’ll ever need—and much more.

Got a Secret?

There’s nothing esoteric about the Christian faith. There is no secret mystery into which you must become initiated in order to be admitted. It’s not like the Gnostic sects where one had to become an initiate for years before he became a full member. Jesus spoke to this issue plainly when He said,

I have spoken openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues, or in the temple court, where all the Jews assemble, and I didn’t teach anything secretly.
John 18:19

Christianity isn’t Masonry, or Mormonism, where you take vows “never to reveal and always to conceal” rituals that you are required to perform in a Lodge meeting or in a “temple” ceremony. It has always been completely aboveboard about its beliefs and practices.

Indeed, as Jesus said, He always spoke “openly.”

If an organization—or pseudo church—has anything worthwhile to offer, let it be open to examination. How can anyone vow to never reveal something before he knows what it is? That is one form of what the Bible calls a rash vow. It is sinful to rake a vow that one doesn’t know whether or not he ought to keep before he knows what it is he is vowing to keep secret. Suppose, after taking a vow, one were to realize that he must expose the error or sinfulness of what he learns—he’d then find himself in an intolerable position. On the one hand, he’d be obligated to expose it; on the other hand he would have vowed not to do so. That is an unacceptable dilemma, one into which one must never allow himself to be inveigled.

One more thought—if a group of any sort has something worthwhile becoming a part of, it has no right to conceal it from anyone; but like our Lord said, it is something that should be proclaimed “openly to the world.” If it’s worthwhile, spread it abroad; why would you selfishly cling to it as private truth? If it’s not something worthwhile, then don’t get into it in the first place.

On every score, then, no Christian should ever become involved in a secret society. A fundamental principle of our faith is to preach the message of salvation to all the world. We have nothing to hide.

Assurance

The book of 1 John was written to give assurance to true believers (1 John 5:33). What does it tell you is the way to know that you are saved?  There are many statements in the book which answer that question. Although each of these may put it differently, 1 John 2:29 is as clear and concise as any of them:

Since you know that He is righteous, you may know also that whoever is doing righteousness has been born of Him.

Assurance comes from a change in one’s life that John says is a birth which God brings about: “whoever is born of Him.”

This new life is the result, John says, of what we call “regeneration” (being given spiritual life that enables one to believe the Gospel). To be born of God also enables him to live differently—to live righteously. Apart from this spiritual birth one is unable to do those righteous things that God approves: “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 5:5). To be “in the flesh” means to have only the natural, sinful life with which you were born—to be unregenerate (that is, to be without the newness of life that comes only with being born of God). So, those who do righteousness may know that they have been born from above.

The interesting phrase that is central in the verse is “doing righteousness.” When one sees the fruit of the Holy Spirit (righteousness), Who regenerates, begin to appear in his life, he may know that the change has taken place—that he is a child of God? Notice, it is not when he feels something different, but when he does things differently, that he may have assurance of his salvation.

How can one know what these righteous acts are? By studying the Bible.  There alone is the standard of righteousness.

Friend, do you do righteous things—those that God says please him? If your life has been changed so that more and more it conforms to that standard, you have reason to believe you are saved.

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Do You Rob Temples?

In taking on the inconsistencies of Jews who claimed to be God’s people, but who had actually broken covenant with Him, Paul asks this question:

You who find idols an abomination, do you rob temples?   Romans 2:21

“I’ve read that before, but it doesn’t seem to make any sense. What is this ‘robbing temples’ all about anyway?”

Good question. Are you sure you don’t understand?

“Absolutely. I know what a temple is and what robbing is, but can’t seem to put the two together.”

Well, Paul is pointing out that those who were so concerned to be religiously correct in one area—if they thought more carefully about themselves—might discover that they weren’t so righteous after all, and needed the saving grace of Jesus Christ to cover their sins and cleanse them from all unrighteousness. In Romans 1 he laid out the reasons why Gentiles were sinful in God’s sight and needed to be saved. Here, he mentions ways in which the same is true of Jews. And, then, in Chapter Three concludes that “all [Jews and Gentiles alike] have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

“All very helpful, I’m sure. Thanks for the exposition. But what about robbing temples?”

Oh I forgot to mention that, didn’t I? Sorry.

“You did. So ‘mention’ it!”

OK, OK. You see, temples—both those in heathen lands, and also the temple at Jerusalem, in addition to being the center of worship for a people, served additional purposes. In addition . . . “

“In addition, what?—tell me please!”

My, my. Patience, please. As I was saying, in addition, temples were used as banks. To rob a temple is to be a bank robber!

“At last. Thank you.”

Welcome. One can be all fired up about one aspect of what his religion teaches, and scrupulously keep all sorts of regulations appertaining thereto, but at the same time, perform some other heinous sin without compunction. Presumably, Paul had in mind some well-known instances to which he hoped his readers would respond.

“Don’t expect there are any temple robbers around today.”

Possibly are in some of the heathen lands where temples surely still exist, but we’d probably never hear about it. Yet, the principle is still applicable—even to Christians.

“How’s that?”

Well, it’s easy to be quite careful about certain observances while neglecting some (perhaps, even weightier) items.

“Give me a for-instance.”

During the early days of the Reformation, there were Lutherans who zealously contended for the bodily presence of Jesus at the Lord’s table. Over this issue, they followed Luther’s lead when he refused to take Zwingli’s offered hand. So, later, when some persecuted Reformed people fleeing for their lives during severe storms sought a haven for their ships in the ports of the towns held by high Lutherans, they turned them down. Seems a good example of this sort of inconsistency.

“I agree.”

But, now, the thing to do is to bring temple robbery from the days of the apostles, and the Reformation rigidity of some, down to our day. The question is, How do you carry out your biblical beliefs in ways that are consistent with other aspects of your Christian life? The question is important for us all to ask ourselves from time to time.

“Any suggestions? About what to explore?”

No. you’ll have to look after your own temples—I have enough of my own to care for!

Providence

What is providence, and of what importance is it to counselors? That’s the matter before us.

There are few other doctrines which are more important to the work of counseling. A tragic event in a believer’s life occurs. How will you help him handle it? In large measure by explaining the biblical doctrine of providence.

“Could you explicate?”

Certainly. Christians are not Deists. Deists believe that God made the world and then walked away from it to allow it to function on its own. We believe, in contrast, that God had a plan for everything and everyone, and then stayed around to see that the plan is carried out. That is to say, God is at work in His world today.

“But how does that affect counseling, tragic events, and the like?”

This way: God is always up to something in everything that happens. He planned His work, and He is now working His plan. When something takes place that calls attention to itself—one ought to ask, “I wonder what God is up to?”

“Is He up to something only in tragic or otherwise noteworthy events?”

No. God is at work in everything that happens. But it’s often in noteworthy events that people begin to ask questions about where God is and whether or not things are out of His control (take a look at the Psalms, for instance).

“OK. But what should the fact of His providential working mean to us?”

Simply this—God is not only up to something’ He’s up to something good!

“How do you know that?”

He told us so.

All things work together for good to those who love God, who are the called according to His purpose.
Romans 8:28

That truth is the believer’s warrant for saying that

  1. God is in his problem
  2. God is at work in his problem
  3. God is up to something good in his problem.

It’s great that Christian counselors have such a wonderful promise to bring to the counseling table!

“Is it possible to find out what God’s up to?”

Generally, yes; specifically, not always; comprehensibly, never.

“Please explain.”

Gladly. We know that it’s something to help us grow when we handle the event His way. In Romans 8: 29, He makes it clear that such things are sent to make us more like Christ. We can know that generally. Specifically—exactly how this is so—may or may not be apparent immediately (or perhaps ever—until eternity). Finally, because all that happens in one event affects so many others, we’ll never know comprehensively all God is doing. All things works together to accomplish many things. In God’s providence, what happened to Joseph affected not only him, but the entire nation of Israel (and Egypt, for that matter).

“So, you are able, then, to bring the truth of God’s providence—that He is up to something (working out His infinitely good plan) for good—to reassure believers who are in trouble.”

You’ve got it!

Refreshment

I want to translate more accurately a very important passage of Scripture. It is the verse in Matthew 11:28 which reads, in the original.

Come to Me all who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will refresh you.

The idea is not merely to come to Christ to find rest from our futile efforts to keep the law, although rest does result when one stops striving to be saved by works and, instead, is justified by faith alone. But the idea is not that of settling down, and resting on one’s laurels. Rather, it is enjoying the refreshing peace and joy that enable one to serve Christ in the future.

Jesus goes on to say that “you will receive refreshment for your souls” (v. 29). This refreshment enables one to carry on, unburdened by an impossible weight, so as to serve Him Whose burden is light, and Whose yoke—the symbol of work and service—is easy to wear. It does not rub and injure those who wear it (v. 30).

To take another’s yoke upon one’s self meant to come under his teaching (that’s why Jesus says, “learn from Me.”). The passage is, therefore, a call, not to leisure, but to discipleship. The call is strong. The interesting word “Come” in v. 28 was normally accompanied by a gesture. One moved his finger when speaking it so as to indicate that he wanted another to come over to him.

Christ’s service is a pleasure to those who truly “learn from Him. That is the secret of joyous discipleship. Too often, fatigued disciples have been learning from every other source than their Lord. The answer to exhausted efforts in the Lord’s field is to return to, and imbibe the refreshing words of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then, service will be “easy” and “light.”

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