In my last two posts, I’ve pondered the relationship between truth and love in biblical counseling.
- You can read the first post at Truth and Love: Sharing Scripture and Soul.
- You can read the second post at 5 Biblical Portraits of the Biblical Counselor.
In my second post, I shared the first two of five portraits that Paul paints of his ministry: he relates as a brother and as a mother. Before I share three additional paintings by Paul, let’s reflect a bit on the language we use about truth and love.
I don’t think it is helpful to say that truth is the “key” or that love is the “key.”
I also don’t think it’s helpful to say that truth or love is “primary, secondary, or tertiary.”
It’s like asking, “Which counselor is least effective, the one who ignores the greatest commandment to love God and others, or the one who ignores commands to preach the Word?”
The Bible simply never pits truth against love. The Bible never lays them out on a gradation or ranking. The Bible presents equal couplets: truth/love, Scripture/soul, Bible/relationship, truth/grace, holiness/love.
The five portraits that Paul shares in 1 Thessalonians are relational portraits of truthing/loving. Let’s look at portraits 3-5.
Portrait # 3: The Love of a Shepherding Father
Paul’s third portrait of the biblical counselor communicates, “I love you individually and uniquely with a guiding love.” We see this beginning in 1 Thessalonians 2:11, “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children.”
The Greek highlights the individual focused attention that Paul gave each person he ministered to—each of you, his own children. Leon Morris notes that this is not just general group concern, but individual pastoral care. No one was simply a number, or an item on a “to do” list.
Could my counselee say this of me? “I experience you as a father focused on me with individual pastoral attention?”
Paul further describes his fatherly focused attention with these words. “…as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:10b-11).
Paul’s ministry was not a one-size-fits-all ministry. To those in need of hope, Paul offered encouraging care—coming alongside to help and to encourage—to implant courage into. To those struggling with loss, Paul offered comforting care—consoling the grieving and fainthearted, sharing in their sorrows. To those in need of insight and direction, Paul provided guidance by urging them—discussing the application of truth to the specifics of their lives.
Paul offers person-specific, situation-specific, and need-specific counsel (Ephesians 4:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; and Romans 12:15).
Could my counselee say this of me? “I experience you as a wise and caring father, shepherding me with exactly what I uniquely need at the specific moment.”
Portrait # 4: The Love of a Longing Child/Orphan
Paul now turns his portraits upside down. Previously he has described his relationships as a brother to a sibling, a mother to her young children, and a father to his individual children. What a contrast as he next says, “I love you as an orphaned child bereaved of his parents. “But brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of intense longing we made every effort to see you” (1 Thessalonians 2:17).
“Torn away” was a phrased used of a child left bereft by separation from a parent—an orphan. The Church Father, Chrysostom, depicts the word powerfully:
“He sought for a word that might fitly indicate his mental anguish. Though standing in relation of a father to them all, he yet utters the language of orphan children that have permanently lost their parent.”
It reminds us of Paul’s description of his leave-taking in Ephesus.
“When he said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship. After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Cos” (Acts 20:21-21:1).
Could my counselee say this of me? “I experience you as longing for me so much that when we are apart, you grieve like an orphan.”
When torn away, here’s how Paul responded. “…out of intense longing, we made every effort to see you” (1 Thessalonians 2:17b). We could translate the tense and the language of the original like this, “We experienced such non-stop, eager desire to reconnect with you that we endeavored exceedingly to see you!”
Let’s be honest. There are some counselees whose struggles are so difficult, and whose way of relating so troublesome and even self-centered, that at times we think, “Couldn’t someone else counsel this person?” In those fleshly moments, we need to pray for the Spirit to empower us with the type of love and longing that Paul writes about in 1 Thessalonians 2:17.
Could my counselee say this of me? “I experience you as desperately longing for deep connection with me as a child longs for connection with their parent.”
Portrait # 5: The Loving Respect of a Proud Mentor
Paul’s final portrait of the personal ministry of the Word comes in a military context. He writes in 1 Thessalonians 2:18, “For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan stopped us.”
“Stopped us” literally means a cut in the road—an obstacle placed in the road by a military opponent to impeded or slow the advance of oncoming troops.
Paul continues in this military context in 2:19. “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes?”
Paul now paints the image of the conquering king or general. Typically that general would gladly and not-so-humbly claim all the accolades for himself. Instead, Paul turns to the “lowly private” and says, “You earned the victors crown. The glory wreath! You are a spiritual warrior. Well done!”
Sometimes we so focus on confronting the sins of our counselees, that we forget that they are, by God’s grace, saints—victorious in Christ. And we forget to celebrate with them their victories.
Could my counselee say this of me? “I experience you as a mentor so proud of who I am in Christ that you give me a spiritual medal of honor.”
As if to put an exclamation point on his respect for them, Paul concludes, “Indeed, you are our glory and joy.”
Paul loves them and is proud of them. He publicly honors them for their esteemed service. They are champions in Christ.
Could my counselees say this of me? “I experience you as a mentor so proud of who I am in Christ that I am your pride and joy.”
It’s All about Him!
Paul is not pointing to himself. He’s saying, “It’s not all about me. It’s all about him—Christ. As we live truth in love by reflecting Christ and sharing Christ in Christlike loving ways, it is all for the glory of his grace” (1 Thessalonians 2:2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 12).
In God’s affectionate sovereignty, He has chosen to bless the ministry of those who share Scripture and soul—those who relate as a loving brother, mother, father, child, and mentor.
Milton Vincent, the author of A Gospel Primer for Christians, describes well who we are and what our role is. “We are significant players in each other’s gospel narrative, and it is in relationship with one another that we experience the fullness of God in Christ…. The greatest gift I can give to my fellow-Christian is the gospel itself.” We are caring brothers, mothers, fathers, children, and mentors who speak the truth in love through gospel conversations.
Join the Conversation
Let’s each prayerfully ponder these six questions about biblical portraits of our relationship to the people God calls us to shepherd:
- Could my counselee say this of me? “I experience you as a father focused on me with individual pastoral attention?”
- Could my counselee say this of me? “I experience you as a wise and caring father, shepherding me with exactly what I uniquely need at the specific moment.”
- Could my counselee say this of me? “I experience you as longing for me so much that when we are apart, you grieve like an orphan.”
- Could my counselee say this of me? “I experience you as desperately longing for deep connection with me as a child longs for connection with their parent.”
- Could my counselee say this of me? “I experience you as a mentor so proud of who I am in Christ that you give me a spiritual medal of honor.”
- Could my counselees say this of me? “I experience you as a mentor so proud of who I am in Christ that I am your pride and joy.”
This article first appeared at RPM Ministries and is posted here with Dr. Kellemen’s permission.
Bob is the Vice President for Institutional Development and Chair of the Biblical Counseling Department at Crossroads Bible College, and the Founder and CEO of RPM Ministries. For seventeen years he served as the founding Chairman of and Professor in the MA in Christian Counseling and Discipleship department at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. Bob was also the founding Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, where he served for six years. Bob has pastored three churches and equipped biblical counselors in each church. Bob and his wife, Shirley, have been married for thirty-five years; they have two adult children, Josh and Marie, one daughter-in-law, Andi, and two granddaughters, Naomi and Penelope. Dr. Kellemen is the author of thirteen books including Gospel-Centered Counseling and Gospel Conversations.