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!

Don’t You Know?

In 1 Corinthians 6, the phrase “Don’t you know” appears at the beginning of six sentences in verses 2, 3, 9, 15, 16, 19. Amazing! How forgetful and/or neglectful the members of the Corinthian church were. Paul spent about 18 months with them, teaching them everything that he repeats in these six verses, but here, he has to say it all over again.

But he doesn’t simply repeat himself. Rather, he puts each matter in the form of a stinging question which points out their failure to recall or obey what he had told them about God’s will for their lives. Surely, having to do so didn’t mean that their flawed behavior was because of that master teacher’s inability to teach them!

Certainly, today, there are preachers who would like to get into their pulpits and shoot forth a sally of similar questions about what he has been endeavoring to get into the heads—and lives—of his people. But most of them would be afraid to be as bold as Paul. Right? But, now wait a moment. Maybe you can, after all.

Perhaps a way to begin to do something like this is to preach a message on Six Questions that Shouldn’t Have Been Asked. Then, use this sextet of verses to show how some people respond to truth. He might, then, raise the issues that were in his mind about his people covering at least six that he thinks they need to pay attention to. Best wishes. People need such preaching, pastor—don’t you know?

Trust and Obey

 

Therefore, buckling the belts of your minds for action, keeping level-headed, set your hope entirely on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.   1 Peter 1:13

The encouragement that comes in suffering is not mystical; it doesn’t just suddenly appear from nowhere. The Christian himself is responsible for it. If he doesn’t experience the joy, gladness, and hope mentioned in the previous verses, that is his own fault. He cannot complain against God, the church, or anyone else; this verse makes it perfectly plain that he is responsible for developing the hope that will sustain him in trial.

Encouragement in trial is not merely a matter of trusting in God’s promises in some purely intellectual manner. Surely that is important—indeed it is a theme that Peter never really leaves behind—but there is another side to the page; the suffering believer must do good. That doing of good begins with the matter of hope. Right here, at the outset, the believer’s trust in God’s promises is pictured as a matter of obedience: “set your hope on the grace . . .” That is a command, involving a duty. Consistent with the major thrust of the entire epistle, Peter already strikes the note: Trust and Obey! There is no other way to be happy in trial, but to trust and obey. God holds the individual believer responsible for his behavior in times of trial and trouble and says that these two elements constitute that responsibility.[1]

[1] This post is an excerpt from Dr. Adams’ short homiletical commentary on 1 Peter entitled Trust and Obey (now out of print).

Casting Out Demons

Does God expect you to cast out demons? Have you wondered whether or not that ought to be an adjunct to your counseling? Some have; others have assured them that it is necessary to do so.

In counseling for 10 hours a day two days a week for many years, I have yet to encounter anyone demon-possessed. Oh, sure, I’ve had people claim that a counselee is; I’ve had counselees say so too. But in every instance, the problem turned out to be something else.

But, enough for my experience. What does God say about the matter? The answer? Nothing.

“Nothing?”

Precisely. He says nothing about it. And because nowhere in the entire New Testament does He command you or me to cast out demons there is no reason to expect that He wants us to do so. We ought never to do in His Name that which He doesn’t command. To do so is to misrepresent Him.

“Are you sure He doesn’t tell us to do it?”

Absolutely. Read your New Testament from beginning to the end and you’ll find no such command. That is an important fact because in Jesus’ parting words to the apostles (Matthew 28) He told them to teach their disciples to “observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you.” Obviously, since they left no such command for s to observe, there is no reason to think that we should do so. Don’t let anyone add to the commandments of Jesus and tell you that he has the right to do what He never gave Him the right to do. To do that is a serious matter. The issue is as simple as that!

For whatever reason, today we are to preach the Gospel to the lost, and nothing more. We’re not apostles armed with signs and wonders as they were (Cf. 2 Corinthians 12: 12). They faithfully did as they were commanded. Let us do so too.

Church Discipline

I received the following question today:

Would you comment on the practical ramifications of church discipline when it concerns a family member? Let’s say a woman is divorcing her husband for unbiblical reasons.  She has been urged to repent by the elders, her family, and the church.  But she refuses to repent.  What would you say to the parents, or other family members concerning their relationship to her?  Are they to not associate with her as well?  For example, if your son or daughter would not repent, would you still have her over for holidays, etc.?

Good question. The several stages in the process are often confused. During church discipline every effort of the entire church, including family members, is turned toward urging the person to repent. This is the “tell it to the church” stage. After that, when he is put out of the church, he is to be treated “as a heathen man and a publican” i.e. as an unbeliever.

So, how do you treat an unbeliever? You evangelize him! You have him over for a barbecue, you go golfing with him, you love him and seek opportunities to talk to him about his need for the Lord. It is during the “tell it to the church” stage that you tell him that you can’t go to the game with him.

Bill, I would love to go to the game with you. We used to enjoy great times tailgating together. But now, you have chosen to break that fellowship we once enjoyed because of your sin. Instead of going to the game, let’s spend the time talking about getting this thing resolved.

After he refuses to respond to these admonitions of the entire church, the church makes a formal judgment that the person is not a believer (since he does not act like one) and is therefore to be treated as an unbeliever. So treat him like one!