What Is She to Do?

The following article was written by Dr. Adams 25 years ago. It is provocative and deals with an issue every pastor must be ready to face. We present it now in hope of provoking thoughtful interaction not only with Jay’s article but with the Scripture he cites. ______________________________________________________________________________________________

Okay, so I’m ready to bite the bullet! I’ve avoided the issue long enough. Not because there wasn’t an answer, but because of the answer itself. I simply didn’t like it. I had been hoping I could come up with a different or, at least, slightly modified answer. But I haven’t been able to.

Every week, it seems, someone writes, phones, or otherwise tells me about an instance of it. Evidently the problem has grown in proportions or, at least, people are more willing to talk about it than ever before.

Just what am I talking about? Wife-abuse, that’s what!

Millicent was “head over heels in love.” She met Phil at Bible college, they dated on and off for the better part of a year and then, upon graduation, they decided to marry. In every way Phil was her ideal: captain of the football team, well liked on campus, you name it. It’s true, there had been some early warning signs; Sally pointed out certain flaws, noting especially his temper whenever he didn’t get his way. “But Sally,” though her best friend, “is jealous. And, anyway, Phil has never shown any signs of violence toward me.” That’s how Millicent reasoned. As she now looks back, however, she says, “I saw things the way I wanted them to be!” Too frequent a story to ignore.

One thing I no longer fail to ask during premarital counseling sessions is, “Have either of you seen even the slightest evidence of uncontrolled temper in the other?” (I don’t use the word “violence” because few people seem to describe their actions, or those of their loved one [prior to marriage], by the term, no matter how vicious the action.) If I get even a hint that there might be something there, I will spend time probing until I am satisfied that either there is nothing to it or the problem will be dealt with in counseling before marriage (for help in this see the section on anger in The Christian Counselor’s Manual). It is far easier to deal with the problem at this point than later on and far less agonizing for all concerned. Don’t fail to include this matter in premarital counseling. You will be glad you did.

“That’s all well and good, but what about those who are already married? What does the Christian counselor do when he encounters a case of wife-abuse?” The first question to consider, as in all counseling, is whether the abuser is a Christian or at least professes to be one. This is altogether important. If he is a member of a Bible-believing church, then you may take one course of action; if he does not profess Christ, then you would take another. In either case, you are able to offer him help: in the latter case help will be the presentation of the Gospel, while in the former case, instruction in the way of overcoming anger and violence through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. An unbeliever cannot overcome his anger in ways that please God (Romans 8:8). Even if he does overcome it out of fear of the consequences, out of compassion for his wife, out of embarrassment, etc., he will not be doing so in a way that honors Him. It is not your task, as a preacher of the Word, to reform him; you are called to evangelize him. By leading him to Christ, you can not only help him overcome the immediate problem but place him in a condition to overcome all sorts of problems as well, in ways that do please God. Before trying to change his behavior, then, help him to make that basic change which will allow you from that time on to help him at a deep level. Never settle for superficial change.

You must tell him that wife-abuse is sin, a breach of the sixth commandment, with which he must deal at the root by the redeeming work of Christ. Such behavior simply may not be glossed over as inappropriate or even harmful action that must be replaced by more appropriate, helpful ways of handling anger. The very sin itself (which you must remind him is sin against God as well as against his wife) is clear evidence that he needs to be saved; only in the solution to that root problem is there any hope of making any lasting or eternal change. Take advantage of the situation to help bring him to Christ.

“What if he doesn’t trust Christ as Savior?” you ask. Then, he, being an unbeliever, may be taken to the legal authorities (1 Corinthians 6 deals with this); for his own sake, for the sake of his wife and anyone else involved, the state may be called in to restrain and, if necessary, punish him. Clearly, the wife should be informed about this option; indeed, it is often the only one available.

“What about divorce? Separation?”

Here is where I find it hard to give the biblical answer. If I had my ‘druthers,’ I’d say, “Yes” to either one or both of the above, but I can find no biblical warrant for doing so. Abuse is not among the legitimate reasons for divorce found in the Bible; and separation is never an option (see my book, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, for the exegetical and theological justification behind these two assertions). Of course, if a husband comes home drunk and begins to smash everything in sight, it would not be wrong for the wife to put one night’s clothing in a bag and head with her children for a neighbor’s house. That is not separation; it is akin to ducking, were he to throw something at her.

“But why is she required to remain with such a man?” Not only does the Bible hold out the hope that she may win him to Christ (1 Corinthians 7:10–14 and 1 Peter 3:1); it also has a good bit to say about enduring unjust persecution. In particular, I refer to 1 Peter 3:13, 14:

And who will harm you if you become enthusiasts for good? Yet, even if you should suffer because of righteousness, you must be happy. In fact, you must not even fear their threat, nor be upset.

As I said previously, I do not like that. It is not the response, when left to myself, I would give. But I don’t see how I can avoid it, so let’s consider it, at least in a preliminary way. First, notice that it is when and in doing good that the suffering is encountered. Suffering that one brings on himself is not in view; rather it is unjust, unprovoked suffering about which Peter is speaking. Indeed, his comment is that those who enthusiastically pursue good rarely encounter such suffering. That is the place for the counselor to begin.

I vividly remember calling at a home one summer afternoon. It was hot and sultry; the door and windows were open. As I approached the home, I could hear the wife shouting at her husband a block away. Here was a wife who represented herself in church as the poor, sweet, put-upon spouse of a vicious husband who, for no reason whatsoever, from time to time would clout her. The facts turned out otherwise: she was a regular ‘hussy’! She provoked him to anger most of the time. Now, of course, he never should have responded as he did; that was his sin, a problem with which he had to deal. But on the other hand, her sin was egging him on by her violent tongue. It is not always a one-way street; among other things, that is the insight that Peter gives us. Rarely does harm come to those who enthusiastically (not grudgingly) do good. Remember, “a soft answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1).

Then notice also that even in those rare cases, where violence was not provoked, one is not told to leave but to endure without fear (verse 14). This is the hard part, but it is biblical. How does Peter conceive of this? Well, his answer is that the believer does not shirk his responsibilities because another treats him badly. In 3:19 he says:

So then, let those who suffer according to the will of God do good and entrust themselves to a faithful Creator.

Peter is saying those who suffer must continue doing what is right, assuming all their responsibilities (in this case that means fulfilling the marriage vow, which included the promise “for better or for worse”) and leaving the outcome to God, who not only, as Creator, is capable of so ordering His world that He can work the matter out for good but also, as a faithful Creator, can be depended on to do so.

Now of course, if the husband is a Christian (a problem about which Peter is not writing), the wife always has recourse to the church. As a matter of fact, in such cases the Christian is forbidden to take her husband to law (1 Corinthians 6); instead, she is to call the elders of the church. They, in turn, should counsel her husband, giving him help that he needs to overcome his problem. There is great hope if he is a genuine Christian. He has within himself the Holy Spirit, who is capable of producing the fruit of gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22 and 24). But if he should fail to respond to all the help intelligently given, fail to change according to biblical principles, then the church must put him out and she then may treat him “as a heathen and a publican.” Practically speaking, that means she may call upon legal authorities if necessary to restrain him. For more about church discipline, please see my book, A Handbook of Church Discipline.

You don’t like my explanation? Sorry about that. Neither do I. But, until you can suggest a better one (i.e., one more biblical), I’m afraid I’m stuck with it. In all ‘high risk’ situations it is difficult to recommend endurance, the maintenance of duties, and trust as the solution. Yet, throughout the ages believers have borne up under persecutions and trials of a physical nature, even involving death, for Christ’s sake. Is my aversion to the biblical solution I have given merely evidence that the softness of our present age and the flabbiness of modern Christianity have gotten to me more than I realize? Perhaps so.

Take Note of This

Do you forget facts about your counselees? Unless you are highly exceptional, you will. That is to say, you will unless you do something to forestall forgetting. It’s important from week to week to be able to refer to what you learned before. That is one way to measure progress or the lack thereof. Moreover, unless you keep a running agenda of items to discuss, you will be likely to forget some essential items on that agenda. But to hold all of that in your head from week to week, together with much happening in between sessions, and in addition to the new data coming to light at each week’s session, you would have to be a genius. No, most of us aren’t able to do that. What then should we do?

Take and keep notes—that’s what! If you don’t take notes in counseling, you are remiss. Note taking is an essential element in the process. It is orderly and helpful. How shall you do so? Should you wait until the session is over, and then write out all that you can remember of the session as some do? Why would they do that? Well, they think that taking notes during sessions can be distracting both to the counselor and to the counselee. And some think that the counselee might be hesitant to say certain things if he sees you taking notes. But, for many years I have taken notes, taught others to do so, and have had no such problems. One thing, however, that I do consider important along the lines just mentioned: if a person is speaking of illegalities in which he is involved, I usually put down my pen and listen. Then, after the session I write out what I learned. That is the only time I think it is important to hold back on note taking.

“How do you take notes? Isn’t it difficult to do so and listen at the same time?” Quite to the contrary. I find that taking notes makes me concentrate on what is being said. In addition, taking notes requires me to make sense of what I have heard. I have to understand—at least to some extent—merely to do it. And taking notes enables me to be sure that I have things straight. I find myself from time to time saying a counselee, “Now let me get that straight. You said . . .” Then I carefully copy what is said into my notes. I do this whenever I think that the counselee wants to be sure that I have understood something or other. Indeed, I have had counselees lean over and look at the notes and say, “Be sure you get that down.” I use the notes also as a means of reminding counselees in weeks following what they said before. This is important if they are now denying what they said then. It is especially useful to put important data in quotation marks so that you will have exact material to refer to.

There are times when a thought or statement in the discussion distracts you from the course you want to take. If you have been taking notes, once you have finished dealing with that, your notes will remind you about where you left off. Thoughts about items you will want to deal with later also come to mind while talking. A short note to this effect will help you not to forget so that you can raise the issue when later on you have an opportunity to. I find the practice especially helpful in that regard.

Note taking is not difficult. Once you have done it for a short while you will find that it comes easily and that you will not want to counsel without doing so. Notes retained, carefully coded and filed, will become a means for you to remember and study your own counseling. And, should the counselee turn up again at a subsequent time, you can always turn to your notes to refresh your memory. Try it, you’ll like it!

About Counseling

Counseling is difficult work when done well. It’s not a shrink sitting leisurely in a soft chair taking notes, while a counselee spills the beans about his past life.

“Sometimes I get that picture of it—indeed, it’s often what you see in cartoons and elsewhere.”

Right. But, though that sort of thing may be true of the few psychoanalysts that still exist, it isn’t what you’ll find many other places.

“Oh? What is it like?”

Well, I can only tell you a bit about true, biblical, nouthetic counseling—but, above all, I can tell you that it’s hard work!

“How so?”

We sit at a desk, where we take notes, use the telephone when necessary, lay our Bibles for use, write out assignments, place hand-out pamphlets, and so forth. Instead of the shrink, get the picture of someone who means business and who is hard at work doing it!

”That does change the picture radically! Tell me more, please.”

Well, for one thing, in data gathering, we carefully follow the principles of listening in Proverbs 18:13, 15, 17 which insist that 1) you listen for all of the facts essential to the difficulty before giving any advice; 2) that you actively help gather facts when it is difficult for counselees to remember or verbalize them; 3) that you gather data from all who are involved in the problem. Then, these must all be considered in the light of the Bible’s teaching. And . . . well . . .I’m afraid that’s a process that would take too long to describe here. That’s just for starters.

“Do you counsel husbands and wives separately, or together?”

You don’t put people back together by keeping the apart! That Proverbs 18:17 verse is important in this regard; you ought to look it up sometime. If you don’t follow it, you’ll obtain distorted, incomplete, or otherwise flawed data. And you can’t work very well with those data. Of course, we counsel them together—if we can get both to come.

“What do you do if only one will come?”

There are many important considerations to keep in mind when that happens. For one, we allow no gossip about the party who failed to come. Gossip—even about one’s husband or wife—is sin. And, then in order to try to get the missing party to appear we. . . But, here, this is getting too long. Let me suggest that if you really want to go into such matters in depth, you ought to take our course.

“What if someone can’t afford it?”

Well, it is far less expensive than you might think—and surely, than most other programs. Go to our website and check it out.

Preaching Isn’t Counseling!

Unfortunately, some fail to recognize the fact. Or, at least they seem to do so from the way in which they write about the two.

When they utter or write the old worn-out phrase “The primacy of preaching,” for instance (as indeed some still do in spite of all that’s been said to refute that foolish notion), they betray their misunderstanding of the difference between the two ministerial activities.

What these traditional old-line pulpit orators are saying—whether they realize it or not—is that preaching is more important than other ministries of the Word—including counseling. Is not all ministry of equal importance?

Some of these “thinkers” have gone so far as to declare that their people don’t need counseling because of the excellence of their preaching which adequately deals with all of their problems! One would have thought that Paul would not have spent so much time counseling if that ever could be true. Yet, he tells us that he counseled each one of the Ephesians during his pastoral ministry there in Ephesus, and that he engaged in the activity day and night (Acts 20:20). Do they think his preaching was so poor that he had to make up for it by counseling? Do they think their preaching superior to the apostle’s?

Away with this talk! Counseling and preaching are distinct activities. One ministers the same Word, it is true, but I quite different ways. Let young preachers understand this and take heed. They should learn how to counsel—not merely learn to preach. The preacher, for instance, knows (or ought to) what he is going to talk about when he preaches. His knowledge quotient need be less than the counselor’s who never knows what issue may arise in any session, and so must be prepared for everything!

Pigs and Dogs

pigs dogsJesus made it clear when He said not to cast pearls before swine or give holy things to dogs.

What was he talking about?

The same thing Paul meant when he told us not to judge unbelievers, but to take care to judge our own.

Jesus was speaking of judging. Clearly, He meant to judge properly. He didn’t forbid all judging when in Matthew 7:1. He said, “Judge not,” else how would we determine who is/isn’t a pig or dog? Elsewhere in John, He also told us to “judge a righteous judgment.” So don’t let people tell you all judgment is wrong.

“But what about the pig and dog?”

They will respond wrongly to truth and to you!

That’s how unbelievers act when you attempt to reform them. It’s not our job to reform the world—just to witness to it about the way of salvation.

There are Christians who waste valuable time and money seeking to do what Jesus forbade. And what do they get for all their trouble? Just what Jesus said pigs and dogs would do!

Why then? Why disobey? Why cause yourself such misery? It’s wrong—and, therefore, it’s stupid!

Whoever reproves a mocker gets insulted,
and whoever corrects a wicked person invites bruises.
Don’t correct a mocker or he will hate you;
correct a wise man and he will love you.
Proverbs 9:7-8

Remember, it can be dangerous to try to reform unbelievers!

It Would Be Amusing . . .

. . . If it weren’t so shockingly sad!

These days a spate of books and/or articles declaring that we are in the second generation of biblical (nouthetic) counseling has been appearing. These, typically, declare that we have moved on from earlier concepts and approaches and now have opted for more kindly and thoughtful views. What would be amusing, if it were not so sad, is that those who are labeled with “first generation” thinking have, themselves, moved beyond their earlier works while their critics have not.

The “sad” part about this is that they so severely misrepresent the situation for people who are just now awakening to the existence of a biblical counseling movement.

Take one example. There is in more than one place a decrying of the supposed “fact “ that no notice is taken of the idea that truth may be received from other sources than the Bible. Yet, some time ago, for instance, I wrote a book entitled Is All Truth God’s Truth? based on Gaebelein’s famous statement. This is but one instance of failure to use all the sources available.

This sad sort of scholarship that avoids sources and then complains about the lack of attention given to subjects that have definitely been covered is typical. Complaints about lack of concern about suffering, for instance, neglect to refer to the series of pamphlets I wrote that are widely used by funeral parlors to help people in all sorts of grief situations, a homiletical commentary I wrote on 1 Peter to help pastors preach on the subject of suffering, my little book How to Handle Trouble which shows from the book of Philippians how to deal with problems that are not of the counselee’s own making, and many others. There is a book on the importance of faith in counseling—never referred to by those who like stress its importance. And so it goes!

These are but some of the areas in which “scholarship” has been seriously lacking. I am not saying that all of these writings (and many more not mentioned) are the best materials that could be made available, but simply that they exist!

So, be warned when you are told that a second generation has set forth more advance teachings that modifies previous ones that were neglected before. The neglect is on the other side! The fact is, some of those criticized who were of the first generation are also of the second and have continued to think and write about counseling. They lived too long, I guess! Others, failing to recognize this phenomenon, have too often neglected these writings and confined their comments to a very few earlier books.

Truly, this is sad! Don’t buy into it. Unless you have read the many more recent materials available you will not have the whole picture!

There are Times . . .

. . . When counselors may become so overwhelmed by a counselee’s situation that, along with Job’s wife, they want to say something like, ”Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9).

In such circumstances, what must they do?

Answer:  remember the many words of Scripture that make no such allowance for such bad advice (for instance, 1 Corinthians 10:13).

Now, I know that frustration because of both the counselee’s response and the problems to which he is responding badly is common. It is easy, therefore, for you (as a counselor) to conclude that you are simply “not up to it.” And, in many respects, you aren’t—you can’t seem to figure out what God would have you advise and do in a particular instance. But there are several things you can do rather than utter some sort of exasperated advice. Let me list them:

  1. You may seek further information about, or details concerning those aspects of the problem that seem fuzzy, puzzling, or unclear.
  2. You may pray and ask the counselee to pray that you will become further enlightened in the biblical advice that you don’t have at the moment.
  3. You may consult (by permission from the counselee) with another counselor—or bring him into the next counseling session.
  4. You may find a clue to where you have taken a wrong (unbiblical) turn in counseling by consulting your notes. You do take notes, don’t you?
  5. A check on past homework given—and how well it was followed—may help.
  6. More time out of session for praying, searching Scripture, and thinking about the counselee’s problem may help.
  7. Check out the fifty failure factors in the Christian Counselor’s New Testament/Proverbs to see if any of these apply.

Never hesitate (very long) to admit you are stumped. But make it clear that God isn’t—be sure he understands that the insufficiency is yours alone. But insist that there is a proper biblical answer. And it may not be the one either you or the counselee likes.

But one thing must be clear: God isn’t stumped!


Compromise is one of the largest problems of the modern “evangelical” church.

It isn’t entertainment carried on to attract numbers. It isn’t marketing tactics taking over instead of evangelism. As serious as these and other problems are—and they are—the spirit of compromise is an even more basic one. Indeed, why does one depend upon entertainment instead of truth to attract the lost? A willingness to compromise truth for numbers. Why do people rely on marketing principles rather than Scripture to draw men to Christ? You’ve got it—they are willing to compromise truth for success. Compromise is a significant issue, indeed, we might say, the basic issue today.

But compromise also may be found in the ministry of counseling. People who are willing to become certified by the state simply in order to receive third-party insurance funds compromise themselves for money. People, who are unwilling to stand for the sufficiency of the Scriptures in order to receive the approval of others who scoff at those who do, compromise. These and endless other compromises of the truth of God are made by those who seek to find ways of amalgamating Scripture with the unbelieving systems of counseling set forth by people who know nothing of the saving power of Jesus Christ. Some even compromise the integrity of the Scriptures when they knowingly misuse passages in order to support teachings and methods of counseling that are unbiblical. At its heart, counseling eclecticism is compromise. Some preachers even avoid counseling altogether, justifying their failure to properly shepherd the flock by echoing the statements of those who erroneously speak of “The Primacy of Preaching.”

Compromise is rife in the pulpit itself. Men who preach nice, soft-as-cream-puff essays, or who present truth in cardboard-like form with little or no application—not to speak of specific application—often do so out of a spirit of compromise. “It’s truth,” they (inwardly) reason, so God may use it without the necessity of driving it home to people who might become offended if I do. And, to think of presenting God’s Word in red-hot second-person form . . . “unthinkable! That’s utterly taboo! You just can’t get that personal with people! You might drive some away.” Avoiding passages of Scripture and difficult doctrines, with which it is known that members of the congregation disagree, is another form of pulpit compromise.

Thank God compromise isn’t universal in Bible-believing circles! Here and there, standing out from the crowd, are those stalwart leaders who will not compromise truth for reasons of popularity, success or anything else. It is they who hold God’s truth and God’s Name to be of greater importance than anything else. They seek not popular acclaim—and often get the opposite from the majority—but the future “well done” from God.

Sufficiency—Another Explicit Statement

Often biblical counselors who understand what Paul’s use of the word “noutheteo” means turn to 2 Timothy 3:15ff to prove that we have, in the Bible, all we might ever need to do effective counseling. They rightly point out the fact that it provides what it takes to carry a counselee through the four stage process of change mentioned there, to a place where he is able to live rightly in the future. Three times in that context, in various ways, the apostle says that the inspired Scriptures are sufficient to make the man of God adequate to deal with every difficulty that has to do with loving God and one’s neighbor. The passage should be so used.

In addition, another portion of the Bible frequently cited to provide the same thing is 2 Peter 1:3, where we are told that the Bible contains all that we need to find eternal life and live in a godly way. This, too, is a powerful testimony to Biblical sufficiency. If “all things necessary” are provided, what else could we possible wish for?

Yet, there is another passage, often omitted in such discussions, to which I want to call attention today. It is found in Hebrews where the writer tells us that God will “equip you with every good thing for doing His will, producing in us what pleases Him through Christ Jesus” (Hebrews 13:21).

That verse ought to be more frequently on the lips of those who contend for the sufficiency of Nouthetic counseling. Let’s take a second glance at it:

  1. The verse affirms that equipping necessary for doing God’s will can be found in Jesus Christ. The information and the know-how that it takes to counsel correctly is what Hebrews is referring to. It is precisely what a biblical counselor must have. And here, we are assured, he does—if and when he is willing to search it out. What an important fact that is!
  2. In addition, the verse states that “every good thing” for doing God’s will is available for the Christian counselor and counselee. That means in every case where there is a problem of loving God or one’s neighbor—the goal of all biblical counseling—what is needed is there for the taking. There is no excuse for claiming he doesn’t have all he needs, or for turning to non-biblical counseling for help.
  3. Along with the Scriptural information that He provides, we are told that God is at work using it to produce in those who need it those changes which please Him. It is important to help others, of course, but what biblical counseling, at its core, is all about is pleasing God. This happens whenever a counselor honors God by presenting the biblical way to help, and when a counselee accepts and follows it.


If you want to counsel effectively, it will take time to learn how to do so. I am appalled at the way some jump right into counseling after a short course or reading a few books as if they knew all there is to know about the task.

Certainly, any believer can counsel someone out of the knowledge of the Scriptures that he has—so far as that goes. And, in situations where no one is available, God may graciously enable the “counselor” to provide some significant help from the Bible. But I am not speaking of such occasional, casual, Informal, emergency counsel. I’m talking about a preacher or elder who intends to do counseling regularly at his church.

What he received in seminary, or Bible College by way of counseling—even if it was truly of a biblical sort (which is rare)—hardly supplies enough information and experience to enable one, who recognizes a calling to counsel as a part of his ordination, to do so. He will have to devote himself to the work, learning all he can of the Scriptures and how to apply them practically to counseling cases. This will, as I said, mean devotion to the task—and it will take time.

One of the ways in which he may improve is to sit in with a truly biblical counselor who is successfully helping others. There is no better way to discover how the principles and practices that he has learned should be applied. To sit down before and after a case in which he participated as a trainee, and discuss the case with the counselor whom he has observed will probably be as helpful an adjunct to his reading and formal work in school as is possible. Indeed, he may discover that it is far more helpful.

I have heard would-be counselors during a course remark that there was so much material to remember. They seem frustrated with it: “How will I ever get it all accomplished whrn actually counseling?” But I point out that when you are putting principles into practice, you don’t move from one to another in sequence, the way you learn them when studying. Rather, you use many of them in tandem–at the same time. It is amazing to see how four or five principles, learned separately in a class, come together as you actually use them during a session.

Once a student discovers this fact by seeing it in practice in another, and by beginning to see various practices coalesce in his own counseling, it all comes clear. But observation, and counseling under supervision are the two key factors that help new counselors make rapid effective progress. We can help you at INS with all of the information you will need (and you will need it all); but you will have to obtain the rest by  obsetvation. Let me warn you however, when you choose and begin to observe a counselor, be absolutely certain that his practice conforms to the teachings you have learned and to the biblical counseling practice he affirms. What a person does in counseling is what he really believes; even though it man not conform to what he says he does. Not that he lies about his practice; he may have simply fallen into practices that are of less value, less comprehensive, or different from, those that he learned and still (wrongly) believes he is still following.

However, if you find a good counselor to observe and discuss cases with and you will be glad you did.