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.

ANTHROPOMORPHISMS

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.

Today?

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.

Hating Preachers

Is it surprising that some preachers are hated? Well, it shouldn’t be. For people to hate them is nothing new. Listen to this passage:

Jehoshaphat asked, “Isn’t there a prophet of Yahweh here any more?  Let’s ask him.” The king of Israel said . . . “There is one man . . . but I hate him because he never prophesies good about me, but only disaster” ( 1 Kings 22:8, HCSB).

The king of Judah was right in seeking God’s will through a prophet; the king pf Israel was wrong in hating the prophet.  What a contrast!

Why did the latter hate the prophet? Because he did his job—he told the truth about the sins of the king and his people, and predicted God’s judgment upon them apart from repentance.

Today, we have no prophets (contrary to the views of a popular theological writer), but we have preachers who are as close to being prophets as anyone.  When they do their job (fulfill their calling from God) they will frequently have to warn about the consequences of sin against God. When they do, they are often disliked (or possibly even hated) by those who listen. But they are as foolish for doing so as king Ahab, who lost his life as a result (v. 37).

Fools don’t listen. Will you listen—or will you too prove yourself a fool? There are still some preachers who will preach the truth, even though not appreciated for it. If you are fortunate enough to have one in your congregation, listen to him; don’t hate him for telling you the truth. Obey the Word of God as he proclaims it from the Scriptures!

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.