PARRESIA–The Church’s Need Today!

The Book of Acts ends with Paul awaiting trial, yet preaching the Word as he could from some rented quarter:

He preached God’s kingdom and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ with great boldness (parresia) . . . Acts 28: 31.

There is one word that runs through the entire book of Acts. It is that great Greek term parresia which here is translated “boldness.”  However, it is not the ordinary word for boldness.  It is a word that puts the emphasis not upon courage—though that lies behind it—but upon a particular kind of courage and boldness.

The word means “courage to speak without fear of consequences.”

Too many Christians (and preachers as well) lack this God-blessed quality which is why so little progress has been made in recent days in evangelizing a nation that is rapidly going down the drain. We complain about the fact that we have been remiss as a nation when it comes to truth, holiness and the like, but we are loathe to do what needs to be done about it, namely, to proclaim the one message that is capable of transforming a degraded society into one that pleases and serves God. Science won’t do it, technology can’t, politics is incapable, and only the Gospel has the power to do so. But if we remain afraid to open our mouths honestly and forcefully—as the preachers in Acts did—things will continue to go from bad to worse.

Read the book of Acts again, focusing upon this bold preaching of the apostles and others, and you will see how it was what made it possible for them to “turn the world upside down” as those opposed put it (Acts 17:6).  Actually, they were turning things right side up, but unbelievers always get things upside down.

Hating Evil

People often speak of the fear of the Lord and, thereby, mean different things.  “Fearing” God is a large concept embracing many aspects of faith.  One of these aspects is mentioned in Proverbs 8:13

To fear the Lord is to hate evil.

Indeed, the latter is a pretty good index of the former: how much you hate evil probably tells one how much you fear God.

To hate evil is not merely to hate evil that you see around you—that is all too easily achieved.  Genuine hatred of evil most of all begins with hatred of evil within yourself.  Is your hatred of evil genuine?

Judge Not

Most savvy Christians know that the prohibition to judging in Matthew 7:1 has to do with wrong judging, and not with judging altogether.

“I didn’t know that!”

Sure. In John 7:24 Jesus commands us to judge a righteous judgment. And, here in Matthew 7, he explains that he is speaking about the one who does not first take the log out of his own eye before he removes a splinter from another’s. That comment presupposes he will judge once he has dealt with his own sin.

“I guess I hadn’t connected that rightly.”

Yeah. But there are a couple of other things in the passage that also ought to be noted.

“Like what?”

Like v. 6.

“What has that verse got to do with the subject?”

Everything.

“Please explain.”

Gladly. Here’s what Jesus said: “Don’t give what is holy to dogs; and don’t throw pearls before pigs; otherwise, they may trample them with their feet and turn on you and attack you.”

See, that has to do with judging too.

“It does? Can’t see how.”

Well, for one thing, if you want to obey it, you will have to first determine who is a dog or hog!

“So?”

So, that’s judging.

“OH! I gotcha.’”

It’s none of our business to judge the actions and words of unbelievers; we have enough to do to rightly judge our own. Paul said, “What reason would I have to judge those who are outside [unbelievers]? Isn’t it those who are inside [Christians] that you are to judge?”(I Corinthians 5:12,13).

“Wow! That’s pretty clear, isn’t it?”

Very clear. But that’s not all. Jesus said that if you give valuable advice when trying to judge unbelievers (your dogs and hogs) they’ll not be able to assay its value and trample it underfoot, or turn on you because it wasn’t what they thought it was.

“Oh. Oh! I see that it can be dangerous to deal with such people.”

Proverbs has a powerful way of saying the same thing: “Whoever reproves a mocker gets insulted, and whoever corrects a wicked person invites bruises!” (Proverbs 9:7).

“Had no idea about such things. You mean he might punch me out?”

Literally or figuratively, yes.

“Woof!”

Yep. Lots of people who don’t have a biblical perspective, get angry over such reproof. It’s time we started focusing on those things in the church that need cleaning up before we take on the unsaved who can’t appreciate the value of biblical teaching.

“I can see that.”

Teaching is not Lecturing

Back in the 50s when I attended Johns Hopkins University, I remember vividly a professor on the first day of class saying to us, “Now I don’t care whether or not you pass this class. All I’m required to do is to present the material and it’s up to you to get it or not.”

I suppose he meant well—trying to motivate us to study by that approach— but it was clearly not the Christian approach to teaching.

The original terms for teaching and learning found in the Old Testament are so closely aligned that to remove the one from the other is to destroy both. In Scripture, the teacher is one who facilitates learning; not one who merely lectures, leaving the learning entirely up to the student.

If you teach, you will want to remember this fact. God holds you responsible to so work at the way you communicate His truth that there is no reason (short of his own resistance) why a student doesn’t learn what you have to say. It is your task to teach people; not lecture about subjects.

That means you must work hard at becoming a good teacher—one who has spent time not only gathering facts, but also discovering how best to present them so that those who hear cannot mistake what God says in His Word. Too often, in Christian higher educational institutions there is much of the same attitude that the “teacher” at Hopkins had. Too often the goal is for accuracy in presenting truth—and that’s all!

We train youth who need help learning God’s truth (while unlearning error)—especially when they come to us from the watered-down, secularized, paganized, “education” that they receive in our public schools. This is a double task that requires extra effort on your part. To teach such persons well requires knowledge not only of data, but also of those persons to whom we communicate it. It requires special concern, extraordinary effort, and meticulous care to see that our students truly “get it.” If you consider yourself a “lecturer,” then consider again.

Students will come with minds that have been marinated in continuum thinking—nothing is right or wrong, true or false—ideas are on a continuum somewhere between such poles (if, indeed, they are even recognized). In contrast, you must attempt to inculcate an antithetical mindset in which they will be taught absolutes such as saved/lost, true/false, right/wrong, heaven/hell, etc. This biblical approach to life will clash with theirs, and it will take extra effort on your part to help them make the paradigm shift involved.

Because of such matters, Christian teachers carry an additional burden. We must not glean our teaching methods from the world. Rather, each must develop those approaches to teaching God’s truth that neither add nor subtract from it, and in such a manner that they rejoice in it! That, indeed, is a great responsibility. Are you prepared, and ready to bear it?

Think About That

Lots of thoughts occupy the minds of counselees when they come for help. Some are hopeful thoughts; some doubtful. Some are confused; some are harmful, some downright hateful. Unless a counselor is aware of this fact, he will go on talking blissfully as if there were nothing to bother one’s self about. But that isn’t true. Early in counseling, he will want to coax these thoughts out so that he will know which to encourage and which to discourage. Moreover, he may have to deal with them before he can go further. You can’t deal with people abstractly as some, today, try to. Where there is doubt, for instance, he will have to make it clear to his counselee from James 1 that he shouldn’t expect God to answer prayer if it persists. That’s concrete, personal counsel. Faith must replace doubt. He knows that if it doesn’t nothing the counselee does can be expected to last. James also says that the person who doubts is like a wave that continually takes on different formations, the next never really the same as the last. James goes on to explain that a doubtful person is “unstable in all of this ways.” If that is so, nothing he does will be certain to last. Both his words and his ways will fluctuate; he cannot be relied upon.

So, it will be absolutely essential for your counselee to replace doubt with faith. Of course, the faith we’re speaking about is faith in the promises of God—not faith in the counselor. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. It is, therefore, important to use and fully explain those biblical promises that counter the doubt that fills his mind.

What is true of doubt is true of any and all thoughts that debilitate counselees. These must be countered by God’s unfailing Word. But of course, the Word must be used concretely so that it may be mixed with faith, as we read in Hebrews. So, you will need to pray for your counselee as you open the Scriptures to him. Pray not merely that God will bless him as part of the body of Christ, but that the Spirit will so use His Word and that it will displace whatever it is that stands in the way of belief that leads to biblical action.

Counseling—because it involves concrete thoughts and actions—is perhaps the best antidote to that run-away biblical theology that falsely teaches application is unbiblical. Not only do biblical writers themselves apply Scripture concretely to those to whom they preach and counsel, they do so with great power (Cf. the exemplary application in I Corinthians 10!). What those who only want to talk about the “history of redemption” fail to realize is that there are always two strains running side by side in that history. There is what God is doing in history over the large, long-range scope of things, but there is also what He is doing in the lives of those involved-those who live in the milieu of that history. A clear example of this harmony of the whole with the part is found in the last chapter of Genesis where Joseph speaks of how God ordered his personal history 1) for his good and 2) to save a whole people alive. The theocratic, covenant people from whom the Messiah would come. To fail to recognize God’s hand simultaneously at work in both spheres—the personal and the corporate—is to fail to interpret the Bible correctly. And a failure to help people. Because of this failure on the part of those who see only the larger picture, perhaps there is no greater antidote to falsely using the Scriptures than to be forced to deal with the wayward thinking and living of individual counselees. Moreover, the providential working of God in Joseph’s life, again, points to the way that God deals with individuals. Providence, a principal doctrine daily in use by biblical counselors, shows how God cares and blesses His church as a body, but also every individual in it.

Jesus is not much of a Messiah, if He is viewed only as the One about Whom history speaks. No, He is a Messiah about Whom history speaks as a saving and providentially-working Savior Who changes the lives of His people—even settling their doubts, giving the faith, and enabling them to live for Himself. Just think about that!

The Write Way

I’ve been writing a book. In order to do so, I’ve been spending a great deal of time researching, studying, and digesting materials from the Scriptures and commentaries. I wonder, sometimes, when other people write. how they do it. With me, it’s hours of commitment to work, prayer, thought discussion. I couldn’t do it without these.

Yet, when I read some of the materials that are published today I wonder—did people spend much time on this book, pamphlet, article, or not?

Writers, please give us something to sink out teeth into when we read it—please?

I have picked up (and put down), purchased (and regretted I did) any number of books that probably shouldn’t have been written. The titles are great, but the content doesn’t measure up to them. How about some really good stuff?

What do I look for in a book? Something I didn’t know before I read it that makes it worthwhile reading. Something that challenges my beliefs, views, etc., and makes me think. Something that let’s me know what problems people are facing that, perhaps, we could do to help them deal with. I could go on; I won’t. I will say this: when you write, please make it substantive.

“I Never Talk About Religion or Politics”

That’s what you hear people say. But times have changed; now all people want to talk about is politics.

It isn’t as popular, however, to talk about religion today—unless derogatorily. Frankly, I hope the era of excessive talk about politics will soon recede and men and women will once again talk about religion. There once was a time, older people told me, when, after a Dwight L. Moody campaign in Baltimore, streetcars filled with people singing hymns could be found rolling along throughout the city. It was because Moody suggested that something be done to reach sailors at the harbor of Baltimore, that Port Mission was formed—a mission at which I worked one time, evangelizing young children, and out of which we held street meetings for the populace. There was a day, then, when religion—not just any religion but the religion of Jesus Christ—was a chief matter of discussion. May such times reappear!

What can you do to help that transformation of this secular country to take place? You can begin to speak more about Christianity wherever you are. Things have changed so that in many communities people don’t even know their neighbors. They are isolated from them at times when they can simply talk. People used to sit out on their porches on a summer evening, visiting and chatting with each other. Now, they spend time in front of an HD wall TV in air-conditioned comfort. Progress? Electronically? Yes. Socially? No. What came naturally, yesterday, must be done deliberately today. It is necessary to “make time” to do what just “happened” in past eras.

So, what shall we do? Well, it will take creative new ways to bring about what once were “givens.” It will mean thought, effort, and dedication if we are ever to bring about conditions where people, in mass, begin to congregate around discussions of the faith. Perhaps you can be a catalyst in your community. For starters, you can talk more to more people in more places about Jesus Christ. Perhaps you can become a “community organizer”—not for some political cause—but for the Lord!

Providence

Providence is the name of the biblical teaching that God not only planned His work, but actively works His plan.

Since we know that “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28), we can be assured that He is working out a beneficent plan for each of His true children that is going to turn out well.

We can, therefore, say, whenever a situation arises that may not be very pleasant

  1. God is in the problem
  2. God is up to something in the problem
  3. God is up to something good in the problem

Every truly saved person, therefore, may take heart, knowing that in the end, God has something in view that in this life, or the next, will be seen to have been for his very best.

Sometimes God allows us to see that outcome in this life; sometimes He doesn’t. Often we see only parts of it. Usually, that is the case. Joseph is one of those exceptions (See Genesis 50:20). Indeed, since He is working “all things together” it’s virtually impossible to begin to understand all of the ramifications of what is happening. (Even Joseph didn’t know what effects his words would have throughout the centuries and in your thinking today!). We don’t know all things; we can’t, therefore, put very many of those infinite number of things “together” to see the overall pattern of His plan at work.

So, then, what do we do?

Trust. Or, as the song rightly puts it, Trust and Obey.

Reasons

There are always reasons behind every action. What they are and how they impact Christian counseling is important to understand. That is why so many counselors attempt to “dig out” these reasons. But the task isn’t always quite so simple as some suppose. The first reason why is because we cannot know what is in another’s heart (the inner source of outer actions). That is clear from such passages as 2 Chronicles 6:30 and the like. So, what can a counselor do to discover (as fully as possible) what it is that motivates a counselee?

First, we can ask him. Biblical counselors are not Freudians. Freudians always suspect a wrong answer to any such question asked of the counselee. They believe that down deep inside, in the unconscious, lies the true answer—and it is unknown to the counselee, who will answer by rationalizing his words and actions. Since we believe that we ought to “believe all things” as Paul instructed in his hymn on love, we begin by asking, and then trusting, the counselee. More often than you might suppose, he will hit the nail on the head. When he has difficulty getting it out, we may need to help him do so. Of course, in bringing forth the truth we must always be careful not to “feed” him suggestions of our own which will shape his answer. Before all else, check the first answer on his PDI (Personal Data Inventory) before you attempt any other ways of obtaining the answer you are looking for. You may have to ask further questions about what he has written there, if it isn’t altogether clear but. Again, you should be careful not to add your own ideas to his answers.

But what if he lies? Counselees sometimes do. How do you discover the truth? One way, which presupposes that you take his word for the truth, is to assign homework that is based upon his answers. If he has lied, and your homework is to the point, at the following session, you will discover that he has either done incomplete, poor, or otherwise inadequate homework . In investigating “What went wrong that this wasn’t done properly?” you will often uncover the truth. Homework built on erroneous assumptions will fail. That is the reason you will soon be able to uncover either the lie or the truth (since the lie doesn’t work). Both pieces of information will give you a good beginning from which to move.

Whose Plans Are Accomplished?

Many think that God proposes, but man disposes. But they have it dead wrong!

Man simply doesn’t change God’s plans, as that statement indicates.

From all eternity God planned (rather than proposed), and man does what He planned in the first place. Now, this happens in such a way that man does what he intends to do (without any pressure exerted upon him to do it), but it always turns out to be exactly what God planned for him to do.

What man does fulfills God’s plans.

If you don’t believe me consider Genesis 45:5,7 and Genesis 50:20—

Now don’t be worried or angry with yourselves for selling me here, because God sent me ahead of you to preserve life.

God sent me ahead of you to establish you as a remnant within the land and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.

You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people.

Joseph’s brothers had one intention, which they carried out, but God had an entirely different intention—which they also carried out! Both their intentions and God’s were accomplished in such a way that they were rightly held responsible for their actions, and God’s will was carried out by them.

For more biblical instruction in this matter, consider—

this man, delivered up by God’s predetermined plan the foreknowledge, by hands of lawless men, you killed by crucifixion!     Acts 2:23

In this city it is true that Herod and Pontius Pilate together with the Gentiles and people of Israel gathered together against Your holy Servant Jesus, Whom You anointed to do those things that Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place.  Acts 4:27-28

Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of Yaweh will prevail.         Proverbs 19:21

Man proposes; God disposes!