Preach! Don’t Construct Sermons

images4Sometimes preachers fail to distinguish between preaching a sermon and preaching to a congregation. For some, the two may be identical (preaching a sermon to a congregation) but, on the other hand, they may not be (and usually are not). What is the difference to which I allude, what are its consequences, and what can be done about it?

The difference between preaching a sermon and preaching to a congregation is enormous. In the first, all, or nearly all, of the preacher’s effort has gone into preparing what he hopes will be THE SERMON. It is a masterpiece of style and artistry. People come just to hear and admire the sermon itself. Usually, such sermons are read or memorized. Almost always they are written out in full. In such preaching, the focus is on the sermon as such; it is a thing in-and-of-itself, and whether the particular congregation before whom (not to whom) it was performed (not preached) were to hear it, or another, is irrelevant. It can stand alone on its own two feet as a literary work. There are actually no such sermons in the New Testament. The Sermon on the Mount might be thought to be so. But although it is a fine piece of literature, Christ’s sermon was not designed to be wondered at or appraised for its artistic merits. And, as you read it, you soon recognize that it will not allow such treatment. With its second person approach, it constantly prods and pokes at you, by its direct simplicity it unmasks and convicts. The literary critic can find what he seeks only at the cost of hardening his heart to the message while attempting to concentrate solely on form. Even that is difficult: the form itself is testy and terse rather than smooth and elegant; critics, who know their stuff, cannot for long feel at home with it. It cannot be subjected to good criticism; it demands subjection instead. The so-called Sermon on the Mount, therefore, is not an instance of THE SERMON. Rather, it is a supreme example of preaching.

Preaching is an activity; sermon-making is an activity. But the product of the latter is a sermon (or, in some extraordinary cases, THE SERMON) while the product of the former is changed lives. The end or goal of sermon construction is literary; the end of preaching is moral and spiritual. In preaching, the focus is not on the sermon but on God and what He has to say to the congregation. When biblical preaching takes place, people do not think about the sermon or about the preacher; they think about Christ and in some way about their relationship to Him.

In the Scriptures we are commanded “Preach the Word”; nowhere are we told to prepare sermons. Too often, homileticians in seminaries have focused on the art and craft of sermon construction or the preparation and delivery of sermons. While there is need for instruction about how to gather, order and deliver the elements of the message one preaches, nevertheless, the difference in emphasis can make all the difference in outcome. We should talk more about the activity of preaching and less about the production of sermons. The two activities along with their goals and products differ substantially as we have seen already.

Congregations know the difference. Many members of a congregation may not be able to articulate that difference, but they know. “Our former pastor preached to us; I went out of the service every week knowing that I had received a message from God. Our present pastor works hard on his sermons—you can tell that—they are smooth, polished, but.…” Notice where the focus is in each instance: in the first comment it is on God, His message and my responsibility. In the second, on the pastor and his sermon. Under the former pastor’s preaching there will be life in the congregation, challenge to young people, conversions, breakthroughs, growth. Under the second man there will be dullness, deadness, stultification, dry professionalism and a growing churchianity.

“What can I do, if I have developed the bad practice of preparing sermons rather than preparing to preach? How can I change?” In some cases, the answer may be complex, in others more simple. But it will probably consist of at least the following changes:

  1. Stop writing out sermons. That means, of course, that you will neither read nor memorize them. Instead, prepare full preaching outlines, designed to be used as a help in preaching.
  2. Focus your thinking in preparation on God, on the message, and on the congregation—not on the sermon. Ask continually “how can I best bring this message from God to this congregation?” not “how can I best prepare a fine sermon?”
  3. Think about the congregation: Who will be there, what knowledge, prejudices, beliefs, etc., that they will have. Concern yourself with preparing to convey God’s message to this congregation, not with preparing a universal literary masterpiece that can stand apart on its own. Instead, particularize. Prepare to preach to one specific congregation on one occasion, not a sermon for the whole church for all time. When you preach, preach for results in this congregation, not as though you were addressing the entire world, or perhaps the church universal!
  4. Care about your people and adapt every story (or illustration, if you prefer) specifically to them. Prepare to preach to their needs, weaknesses, etc.; don’t address the ills of the planet. The planet isn’t there to hear!

Other solutions to the problem might be suggested but, frankly, I am convinced that the basic need is to become fully aware of the problem with its various ramifications. Once an earnest preacher recognizes that his concern has been about sermons rather than about God and His flock, he will repent and find a way to change. Those pulpit prima donnas who can see no problem will go on destroying congregations with abandon, and nothing short of dismissing them before it is too late will do. But for those who have unwittingly fallen into the trap, or who have been led into it by seminary academies, and who want to change, let me suggest one final solution to the problem. If for a period of three months you will prayerfully burn your sermon outlines, together with any and all preparatory notes, so that nothing remains, and allow no tape recordings to be made, and concentrate on the activity of preaching, you should be able to make the transition from writing sermons to preaching to people. During that period you will discover what it means to prepare to preach for the blessing of one congregation, on one occasion, instead of preparing to play to the grandstands of all time.

Forgiveness

What a wonderful word! Yet, what does it mean? How do you grant forgiveness; and, for what?

As much as Christians talk about forgiveness, you’d think they could tell you all about it. Yet, there is hardly one in a thousand who can give sound, Biblical answers to the questions above.

Forgiveness of others is to be modeled on one’s own forgiveness by Christ: “… forgiving one another just as God, in Christ has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32).

Forgiveness must be extended to all who say they repent—even if the offense has been repeated (Cf. Luke 17:3). But it is only to be granted to those who confess wrong doing, claim to be repentant, and ask forgiveness (Prov. 28:13). In Mk. 11:25, Jesus tells you to forgive those who wronged you when you pray, thereby avoiding bitterness and resentment (Eph. 4:32). But, that is different from granting the wrongdoer forgiveness. You do that only when he repents. Forgiveness of others must reflect god’s forgiveness; He forgave you when you repented.

Some unthinking Christians advise forgiving another whether or not he confesses sin. But they misunderstood forgiveness. They urge this to benefit the one who forgives. Yet, it was for your benefit that God forgave you. Their self-centered concept of forgiveness is unbiblical. God did not forgive you until you repented, admitted you were a sinner, and believed. Indeed, even now, when God dispenses parental forgiveness, He says, “…if you don’t forgive men, then your Father won’t forgive your transgressions” (Matt. 6:15).

Some think when Christ prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them,” He forgave apart from repentance. But Jesus granted no one forgiveness by those words. He was asking God to forgive. Did God answer? Yes. On the day of Pentecost, thousands of those same people were converted, and their sins were forgiven. But, that did not happen apart from the means. Peter called on them to repent and believe in order to receive forgiveness (Cf. Acts 2:38).

Because in forgiving one promises not to bring up the offender’s sin, to him, to others, or to himself, it is not right to forgive before repentance. Jesus requires you to confront an offender (Matt. 18:15ff) in order to bring about reconciliation. If he refuses to listen to you, instead of forgiving him, you must tell one or two others. If he won’t hear them, then you must tell the church. Indeed, apart from repentance, the matter, must be brought up to an increasingly larger number of persons. Why? Through their aid to win the offender. In love, true forgiveness seeks not to relieve the forgiver, but to deliver the offender from his burden of guilt. Out of concern for the other person, the offended party pursues the offender until the matter is settled before God and men. Any bitterness on his part, Jesus said, must be dealt with in prayer. Because forgiveness is a promise not to refer negatively to the offender’s sin any more, it would be utterly inconsistent to forgive an unrepentant person before Church discipline has been successfully used.

People who try to be kinder than God, end up becoming cruel to others. The kind thing is not to focus on relief for one’s self, by forgiving others whether they repent or not, but by every Biblical means to win offenders. It may seem unkind to bring matters up again and again when an offender refuses to be reconciled, but you must do so, not to irritate, but to help relieve him of the burden of his sin. To ignore him and focus on one’s self, saying, “feel better since I forgave Bob, even though he didn’t seek forgiveness,” is the epitome of the modern, self-centered psychological heresy.

Seeking forgiveness is not apologizing. There is nothing in the Bible about apologizing—the World’s substitute for forgiveness that doesn’t get the job done. You apologize, and say “I’m Sorry,” but have not admitted your sin. The offended party feels awkward, not knowing how to respond. You are still holding the ball. You asked him to do nothing. But, confess your sin to him saying, “I have asked God to forgive me, and now I’m asking you,” and you pass the ball to the other person. You ask him to bury the matter for good. Jesus commands him to say “yes,” thereby making the promise that God does: “Your sins and you iniquities will I remember against you no more.” That brings the matter to a conclusion. Apologizing does not.

Is there someone to whom you should go ask forgiveness? Has someone sought it from you to whom you said “Once, yes; twice, maybe; three times, no!”? Perhaps there is someone whom you have never confronted about a matter that has brought about an unreconciled condition between you. Are any of these problems outstanding? Then you have business to attend to. Why not settle the matter today?

You don’t have to feel like it to forgive. Forgiveness is a promise that you can make and keep, whether you feel like it or not. And, it is easier to forgive another—even when he sins against you seven times a day—when you remember Christ’s great sacrifice for you sins by which He forgave you. And, then too, remember how many times a day He forgives you ever since you have become a believer. One other fact may help. If you have truly forgiven, it isn’t the fifth, or the third; it’s not even the second time. If you have truly buried the matter, truly forgiven—it’s always the first.

The Threat of Eclecticism

Alluring as it may be, eclecticism is a serious threat. It is a decided hindrance to achieving excellence in biblical counseling. The eclectic way offers encouragement from professionals and highly recognized degrees leading to plush positions and money. It requires little original thought and demands virtually nothing in the way of character growth.

There has always been a sinful tendency among God’s people to abandon God and His Word for something else. The entire Old Testament is replete with incidents of the sort. Speaking for God, Jeremiah puts it this way:

My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the Fountain of living waters, and they have hewn out for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that cannot hold water. (Jeremiah 2:13)

This is a serious problem that has plagued the church of Christ ever since counseling began. The problem with eclecticism is that it is based on the idea that the wisdom of man may be blended with the wisdom of God to produce a third and better thing than either provides alone.

In Acts 17:18 the philosophers in Athens used a derogatory word to describe the apostle Paul. They called him a spermalogos. This term I have translated “an eclectic babbler” in my Christian Counselor’s New Testament. It describes exactly what the eclectics do. The word pictures a bird going about picking up various sorts of seeds here and there. That, at its core, is eclecticism—it is filling the pot with a little Rogers, a dash of Freud, some Maslow, a pinch or two of Adler and a sprinkling of Scripture. Then the whole is mixed together and poured out into a pan to harden. It should not be done by God’s people.

God tells us that in His Word, everything necessary for life and godliness may be found (2 Peter 1:31). The eclectic procedure runs counter to Peter’s statement. Indeed, to add to the words of the living God is nothing less than unbelief. It is an act of rebellion. Isaiah describes God’s people as rebellious children when they engage in this sort of thing (Isaiah 30:1). He decries the fact that they go down to Egypt to make counsel that He says is not [His]. He speaks negatively of the alliance they make with Egypt as weaving a web that is not of [His] Spirit. That is, such a thing is not of His doing. Why? How is that rebellion? He goes on to say, that His people didn’t ask for a word from [His] mouth (v. 2). In other words, they trusted in the promises and schemes of the Egyptians rather than in the word of God. As Isaiah also points out, the Egyptians are men and not God (Isaiah 31:3). What utter foolishness! Why turn to the words and wisdom of men rather than to the words and wisdom of God? The entire second chapter of 1 Corinthians denounces the very same thing. And the Psalmist opens the book of Psalms warning against the counsel of the ungodly, urging the reader instead to delight in the law of the Lord.

The importance of this matter cannot be overstated. The entire church of the Lord Jesus Christ is filled with the ideas of men, largely brought in by so-called “Christian counselors.” One does not question the salvation of these spermalogoi (spermalogoi is the plural of spermalogos) but he must not approve of their thinking in this matter. Rather than calling themselves “Christian counselors,” they more properly might refer to themselves as Christians who are eclectic counselors. But because they (wrongly) use the title “Christian counselor” they deceive many—often including themselves. It is not a matter of their motives, it is a matter of their commitment to biblical counseling.

It is impossible to grow as a biblical counselor, making evident progress toward excellence, when one continually compromises his counseling with a mixture of alien elements. Take, for instance, the idea that one’s past must be investigated in detail in order to help solve his problems today (an essentially Freudian concept widely propagated within the church). When one subscribes to this idea, he will spend inordinate amounts of time attempting to do the impossible. No one can trace back all the past experiences that have led to a person’s becoming what he is today. It would take as long to do so as it did for one to live through them (or longer). Then at the end (which he could never reach because while following up leads his counselee would be experiencing new events that would need to be tracked down ad infinitum), how would he know that he didn’t miss the most crucial experience? No, going outside of the Scriptures is detrimental to progress in biblical counseling.

It has deleterious effects in other areas as well. Consider but one. Delving into the past to find the reasons for present behaviors (attitudes, beliefs, etc.) is a method that seems designed to provide excuses for a counselee. After all, if someone (or something) did it to him in the past, he is probably stuck with it for life. Very little (if any) change can be expected. He is a victim rather than a violator. He is a pawn to be pushed about by people and circumstances. Since this concept runs counter to all that the Bible teaches about human responsibility and change, it impedes the pursuit of excellence in biblical counseling. Unfortunately, too few of the spermalogoi seem to understand this fact.

Now, what I have looked at in terms of one concept eclectically brought into the church may be multiplied many times over. All of it keeps one from a true commitment to biblical counseling and craftsmanship. The entire process is deceptive. Most counselors who adopt the eclectic stance have no idea of the damage that they are doing to their counseling ministries and to their counselees. The Spirit of God produced His Word over a long period of time. He, Himself, declared that it makes the counselor adequate, and equips him fully for every good work. The work in view is the work of changing people by means of the Scriptures.

Moreover, the eclectic counselor must necessarily hold contradictions. You cannot say that all things necessary for life and godliness are found in biblical promises on the one hand, and then on the other hand, search for worldly wisdom that will add necessary dimensions to what you read in the Bible. That is but the beginning of the contradictions that abound in this approach.

In addition to holding confusing contradictions, the spermalogoi are themselves personally influenced by the principles and practices of the world as they imbibe and practice them in their counseling. A person cannot spend years in training of any sort and not be influenced by it. When day by day he works in the atmosphere of those principles and practices, advising others to follow them, this influence is deepened. Whether it is the direct influence of teachers and associates or the continued influence of the pagan system, the truth of 1 Corinthians 15:33 applies: “Don’t be misled; bad companions corrupt good habits.”

The warning is apropos. The eclectic counselor is misled. He may not realize it, but over time he will be led farther and farther away from the pure simplicity of the Scriptures into the world of human wisdom. His whole life will be affected by it. Often this defection takes place over a long period of time. Incrementally, as more and more he lays the Bible aside preferring to study the books of men whose views are in competition with God, his home life, his relationship to the church and other Christians, and (preeminently) his relationship to God are affected adversely. If he doesn’t divorce his wife (as far too many have done), he may effectively divorce himself from God and His people. Even when he doesn’t go that far, the little worldly beliefs that continually fill his heart and soul harden him to God’s Word. He may eventually become an adversary of the biblical pastor who attempts to be faithful to Scripture. In some ways, the one who runs off with his secretary is better off—at least he is aware of the radical changes that have occurred.

The incremental changes in one’s orientation are described by the Psalmist who speaks of walking, standing and (at length) sitting. Here is a dangerous progression. First, one becomes enamored with ungodly counsel and walks toward it. Next he is fascinated by it and stands there eating it up. In the end, he himself becomes a teacher sitting in the seat, scornfully speaking against that to which he once held.

I am not saying that this course is inevitable; it is my sincere hope that the words of the psalmist may jolt some of those walking along the road toward the wisdom of the ungodly and cause them to turn back. It is also my hope that some of those who have become enamored by such teachings may wake up. I even have an outside hope that some who now scoff may come down from the seat of the scornful. Since the Spirit of God is at work great things are possible!

Why, then, do I say that progress toward excellence in biblical counseling is impossible for the eclectic? Because so long as he continues his spermalogic course, he is heading in the wrong direction. You cannot go east and west at the same time (without coming apart). You cannot serve two masters. You will come to love one and hate the other. But that is exactly what happens. If one is making evident progress in biblical counseling, he is in retreat from eclectic counseling. If he is progressing toward the seat of the scornful, he is leaving biblical counseling behind. Which way are you traveling?

The Art and Science of Biblical Counseling

Counseling, like homiletics and most other aspects of ministry, is both an art and a science. There are specific skills to master—the Biblical disciplines of exegesis, hermeneutics, and theology, plus the counseling skills of listening, data gathering, note taking, and assigning good homework. It is an art in that each counselor brings his own personality and judgment to bear as he builds an agenda, decides when to press the indecisive, comfort the afflicted, confront the disobedient, encourage the fainthearted, or instruct the untaught.

As teen growing up in Waterloo, Iowa my pastor was David Moore. He was a kind and gentle man with a personality that embraced everyone in the room. He was not a pulpiteer but even as a young teenager I enjoyed his preaching because I knew and loved Pastor Moore and I knew my pastor loved me. I never remember a time when I met Pastor Moore that he did not give me a huge bear hug. When I left for college Paul Tassell became my pastor. Dr. Tassell was a short dynamo of a man, a powerful preacher, and a no nonsense kind of guy. He was full of joy and energy but he did not suffer a fool gladly. I never doubted his love for his people but he was not a touchy/feely kind of guy. I do not recall seeing him hug anyone—ever.

Both men were effective pastors. Their churches grew under their leadership and both were universally loved by their respective flocks. Yet they had very different styles of ministry. This will be true of good biblical counselors as well.

I have a friend who believes a good counselor will spend many hours with a counselee building a relationship before getting into the substance of the counseling issue. Typical counseling sessions, for him, will last 2–3 hours. I believe he is a good counselor and I know he has helped many. But this is not my practice nor is it what we teach our students to do. We believe it is far more loving and kind to get at the counselee’s problem as quickly as possible and get them on the way toward solving it.

Jay often tells the story an experience he once had with a dentist. Shortly after moving to California he developed a bad toothache. Since he was new to town he had not yet been to a local dentist so, upon the recommendation of a friend, he called for an appointment. He was greeted on the phone by the sugary sweet voice of a receptionist who gushed that she was so glad he had called and offered set up an appointment with plenty of time for the Doctor to “get to know you first so you will be comfortable with him as your dentist.” Since Jay needed a dentist and not a new friend he politely extracted himself from the conversation and called another dentist who, thankfully, quickly went to work on his problem. This dentist became his friend because he was of genuine help with his toothache. It is a story Jay tells frequently when teaching students about building involvement with counselees. The obvious point being that a counselor will build involvement with a counselee naturally by offering him solid, biblical help, and doing so quickly.

I relate all this because of a document I read recently written by a man who was critiquing nouthetic counseling generally and Jay Adams in particular. Referring to this example Jay often uses he wrote “Jay Adams believes good counseling is like pulling teeth! You just reach into the counselee’s life and yank on the problem regardless of how much pain it causes.”

Biblical counselors can certainly do things differently than Jay Adams or Donn Arms and still be quite effective. Biblical counselors can disagree with Jay Adams on a point of doctrine here and there—I certainly do. But these kinds of mischaracterizations are inexcusable, intellectually dishonest, and cause great harm to students who read this kind of thing. Perhaps we are derelict by not responding to them more often and more aggressively.

Providence and Reasons Unknown

God’s providence is a wonderful thing; by it we know that all things work together for the good of His children. In counseling, or preaching, a man of God is able assure others of this fact. He should often revert to that comforting doctrine.

But some are not satisfied with that assurance. They want more. They insist on finding out how God is working out good in any given situation. Sometimes it is apparent how God is providentially at work (or at least partially so), but more often than not we are unable to do more than conjecture about it, Paul—an inspired prophet and apostle—at times found that he could not say for sure what God was doing providentially. In the situation in which Onesimus, a runaway slave came to know Christ through that experience, he writes “perhaps” that is why the event occurred (v.15), but (having no revelation of such facts) will go no further. It would do well for us most of the time to do the same. What we have in this little book of Philemon, interestingly, is an inspired “perhaps.”

Father, Forgive Them

The words following are almost always misunderstood.

Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23: 34, CSB).

What do they call to mind for you?

That Jesus was kind and forgave those who were crucifying Him. And, therefore, forgiveness is not conditioned upon repentance or faith—He offered it unconditionally!

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! In those words, Jesus was forgiving no one.

Really?

Really! Read again, more carefully. To whom was He speaking?

Uh . . . to God, I guess.

Right, He was not granting forgiveness to those who were putting Him to death. He wasn’t even speaking to them.

Note, also, that His words were a prayer. Do you think it was answered?

Don’t know—it doesn’t say.

On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached to these same people as well as others. Five thousand Jews believed and were saved. That’s how the prayer was answered. Not apart from a condition—namely repentance and faith in Christ’s death for their sins.

Hmmmm.

Do you see? No one is forgiven unconditionally by God. The condition is always faith as the means of receiving it.

Contagion

This is what the LORD of Hosts says: Ask the priests for a ruling.  “If a man is carrying consecrated meat in the fold of his garment, and it touches bread, stew, wine, oil, or any other food, does it become holy?”

The priests answered, “No.”

Then Haggai asked, “If someone defiled by contact with a corpse touches any of these, does it become defiled?”

The priests answered, “It becomes defiled.”

Then Haggai replied, “So is this people, and so is this nation before Me”—this is the LORD’s declaration. “And so is every work of their hands; even what they offer there is defiled.

Haggai 2:11ff is interesting because it gives us important information about sin and righteousness. Here is what it says in interpretation of the Old Testament laws:

  1. Sin is contagious
  2. Righteousness isn’t.

What should that mean to you?

First, that you won’t become a Christian by growing up in a Christian home. It will require personal faith on your part as an individual.  As a Christian, being among Christians isn’t enough for your growth in righteousness.

Secondly, that if your associations are evil, you can expect some of that evil to rub off onto you.

So—consider this and act accordingly!

“Fearing” the Lord in Counseling

In some ways, there are churches like the Samaritans who were foreigners that were settled in Palestine by the Babylonians and who adopted some, but not all, of the elements of the Hebrew religion. They accepted the law of Moses, but none of the rest of the Scriptures. And included with this deficient, truncated acceptance of divine revelation, we read that “They feared the Lord, but they also worshipped their own gods according to the customs of the nations where they had been deported from” (2 Kings 17:33). Again, we are told, “they feared the Lord but also worshipped their idols” (2 Kings 17:41). They were eclectic “fearers.”

How can you “fear the Lord,” and do what they did? To speak of the “fear” of God was to use what had become a technical term that meant to become a member of the outward community of God. Like circumcision, where there was a circumcision of the flesh and a circumcision of the heart, so too, there was a “fear of God” that was but an outward profession of belief in Him, and there was also the “fear” of those whose profession of faith was also an inner reality.

How much has been gathered into the Christian church today, by people whose profession of faith is merely outward, that is detrimental! It is destructive because God will not take His stand alongside of false gods of man’s making—whether or not it involves idolatry—and accept worship. He tolerates no equal; no partner; no substitute, no one else.

So, my friend, is your worship as well as your counseling eclectic? Often the two go together. It is dangerous to adopt alien systems of thought having to do with the very deepest aspects of a man’s life (such as those involved in counseling) and not be personally influenced by them. Have you so compromised your thinking in the area of counseling that it has, in effect, diluted your views of God? This may be especially the case if you tout what you are doing under the label, “Christian,” when it isn’t. Pretty soon, you may come to the place where you even believe it! Whom do you really fear? Who is the sole object of your fear? In the light of much that goes for “fear of God” in the church, it’s a question worth asking.

No Sissies!

Doubtless, there are Christians who have quite a wrong view of counseling, in their minds. They picture a counselor and placid counselee conversing on a high level, untouched by outbursts of anger, times of frustration, periods of disgust, moments of ferocity, or the like. Such conceptions of counseling are naïve. The truth is quite to the contrary. The counseling room often becomes the scene of open hostility, a venue of weeping, a place of agonizing, of stress, of fear, of . . . You name it, and it probably has happened in counseling!

Now, of course, that isn’t what the counselor strives for or wishes to bring on himself; but, nevertheless, it may happen in spite of his best efforts to allay it. Counselees are in trouble, and they bring their troubles with them. Many—not all—of those troubles are also troubling. Their troubles spill over into the lives of others—family, friends, fellow-workers—counselors. It is the counselor’s task (and great privilege) to help them find God’s good solutions to their problems to replace their own bad solutions that didn’t work, and often made things worse!

It’s not pleasant to have to tell a counselee, “Please sit down, so that we can discuss the matter civilly. We’ll get nowhere so long as you keep yelling at your wife that way.” But it must be done. It isn’t easy to comfort one who has just broken down and is sobbing uncontrollably. But a counselor must do so. There can be little hope for a counselee who, disgusted with what her husband has just said, gets up to leave; but the counselor must stop her. There is no hope for a counselee if he refuses to do the appropriate homework that will solve his problem. But the counselor must persuade him to do it. It is never an easy thing to bring a counselee to repentance, or to tell him to confess his sin to another. But he must, for counseling to get anywhere. In other words, counseling isn’t the neat, simple, friendly matter of pleasant relationships that some may picture it to be.

There are times when in the course of counseling, someone may even turn on the counselor himself. He may threaten, utter epithets that we shall delete, or slam a door in his face. No one is exempt from the wrath of some people who want things their way and will broach no other. Very seldom does physical harm ensue, but even that is not beyond possibility. In other words, rewarding as it may be to see many of those very people I have been describing repent from their ways and receive the help of the Lord, the process of achieving those results isn’t easy or always pleasant. The road may be hilly and rough.

It is most difficult in many cases to persuade counselees that the prime purpose for seeking help ought not to be relief from some difficulty, but ought to be to please the Lord whether or not relief comes. Yet, that intellectual/spiritual struggle cannot be bypassed, and is necessary in the majority of the cases in which you will counsel. Counseling has its compensations, of course—wonderful ones! But that isn’t what I’m discussing at the moment.

Why, then, discuss it? Won’t that drive potential counselors away? Yes and no. For those who really want to help people, it will perhaps be enlightening, but helpful. They will not enter the lists unprepared. For others who wanted an easy, respectable “job”—well, yes, unless they repent I hope it does drive them off. But in the Scriptures, Jesus never called men to softness; it was always to hard things. And, as a result, He forged a team that would endure and spread His message to the ends of the earth.

It would be less than honest to allow potential counselors to think that counseling is a neatly-tied, easily-unwrapped package of goodies. It isn’t. You have to dig down through the stuffing to the bottom to find the prize. But it is a blessed way of serving Christ. Jesus calls no sissies to be counselors! Can you measure up to the task?

“Pastor, I already know how to farm better than I do.”

It was more than 30 years ago. I was the young (and very green) pastor of a church in a small rural town in southern Iowa. I had just told the chairman of our deacons about my plans to attend the latest and greatest conference on church growth when he said these words to me:

Pastor, I already know how to farm better than I do.

It was, of course, his kind and gentle way of telling me we simply need to do the things we already knew to do rather than constantly seeking the next big thing to make our church grow.

I was reminded again of his words as I recently reviewed this short blog from Jay which we posted nine years ago:

Nevertheless, let us walk on the same level that we have attained.
                                                                   Philippians 3:16

When you go to church; when you study your Bible; when you learn a biblical truth from a brother of sister, it should change your life.

This verse follows up one in which Paul says that God will help you learn what you don’t already know. But, nevertheless—even though you may not know many things—don’t be so much concerned about them as about the ones that you do already know.

The verse says:

Walk (i.e., live, day by day)

On the same level (not on some lesser level of knowledge and behavior but living up to what you have . . . )

Attained (You have a level of biblical knowledge? OK, then live up to it!)

Great wisdom from one who followed it!