Practical Christianity (VI): Counseling is Part of Preaching
I once overheard a preacher describe his formula for success in staying in one area for many years by saying, "I stay away from counseling anyone on family problems. That is the stickiest tar--baby one can get stuck in, and the preacher never wins!" Preaching includes more than two lessons on Sunday. It is giving people what they need from the word of God-ministering the Gospel unto all men. Paul was a man who gave people what they need. "I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you and taught you publicly and from house to house"(Acts 20:20). Paul not only "taught" but "showed." The evangelist is to be a positive part, a public example of his preaching and message. "Be thou an example unto the believers in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity." The preacher must not only "show and tell" publicly, but also "from house to house." There are problems that can be helped by public teaching, needs cared for in a group, but there are also needs and failures that need to be dealt with on an individual scale. Paul "nourished" the Thessalonians "as a nurse cherisheth her children" (1 Thess. 2:7). He did this by his individual concern as well as public teaching. He "exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you as a father doth his children"(2:11). Too many men believe that their responsibility to the brethren begins and ends behind a pulpit.
Our work as God's servants is to reconcile men to God through the word. We are the peacemakers of the scriptures (Matt. 5:9). But, one thing we often overlook is that one cannot make peace with God (changing a bad relationship into a good one) without also making an effort to make peace with our neighbor and brother. As scripture points out, our changed relationship with God means also a changed relationship with our enemies (Matt. 5:43-48; Luke 6:27-36), with our neighbor (Matt. 7:12; Luke 10:25-37), with our brother (Gal. 6:10; 1 Pet. 2:17; 1 Jn. 3:11-23), and with our family (1 Tim. 5:8; Eph. 5:21ff). No one can offer proper spiritual service to God without first seeking a right relationship with his neighbor. "If thou bring thy gift before the altar and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift" (Matt. 5:23, 24). "If a man say 'I love God' and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen" (1 Jn. 4:20)? Spiritual service to God is empty and vain without accompanying service in right relationships with man ("On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets").
Ministering to people's personal problems is not the work of professional "clergy" or psychiatrists. It is the work of all Christians to confront one another with the truth, help each other to obey it, and help each other to structure and discipline our lives in godliness. Our feeling of inability in this area belies our ignorance of God's will and practice in it. "Exercising unto godliness" is more than having a snappy answer for every denominational error, or knowing seven steps in effective personal work; it is "having our senses exercised (by continual use) to discern good and evil." But before we can help each other, we must first help ourselves. We cannot give away what we do not possess.
Physician, Heal Thyself
"God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted (tested) beyond that which you are able to bear, and will with the test also make a way of escape in order that you may be able to bear it" (1 Cor. 10:13). God gives us hope in our lives that no problem is too big to overcome. We, who teach others, must first find God's solution to our problems. The scriptures "throughly equip" us for every part of life (2 Tim. 3:17). Change is not only possible in our lives, but is vitally necessary. We were raised from baptism having "put off" the old man to walk in "newness of life." "Newness of life" means more than meeting in a different church building without an organ. It means a rebirth, a turnover, a new personality. We die to self (put off) and we follow (put on) the righteousness of Christ. "Putting off" without "putting on" the right manner of life will bring a falling away which will make the person worse off than before. (Matt. 12:43-45). "Putting on" without "putting off" is hypocrisy and just as doomed to failure as the other. Repentance is not just "putting off" the old manner of life, sorrow for wrong doing, it is turning to right doing.
A thief does not cease to be a thief when he stops stealing "but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may give to him that needeth" (Eph. 4:28). A liar does not cease to be a liar when he stops telling lies but when "he speaks truth with his neighbor"(5:25). One does not cease to be bitter, angry, an evil speaker, and malicious by "putting off" these sins alone, but rather when we become "kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ sake hath forgiven you" (4:31,32). The Bible is filled with "Put off / on."
Changing our lives requires the development and exercise of godly responses to the way we are treated by others. Not a reactive habitual response, but a thoughtful, God-pleasing response (cf. 1 Pet. 3:8-13; Gal. 6:7-10).
Preachers, elders, and teachers cannot provide the help needed to give to others until the word of God finds fruit in their own lives. This requires change: in living, in thinking, in relationships. We will seek to provide some practical biblical ways to change in our next article.
Truth Magazine XXI: 24, p. 374