In answer to the question, “How do I engage in biblical counseling with another Christian?” I am tempted to say, “Open your Bible and remain silent” and leave it at that, but that certainly doesn’t fulfill any sort of word count requirements for an article such as this. However, the issue of biblically counseling a Christian friend is more complex than my short answer (but admittedly, not paralyzingly complex), because it does require a bit more intentionality and thoughtfulness. Therefore, as I reflected on my own ministry of biblical counseling, I decided to speak to 3 issues that we as Christians must consider if we want to counsel faithfully according to Scripture.
Know What Biblical Counseling Is and Isn’t
In my studies, I’ve found that much of the debate surrounding biblical counseling involves well-meaning brothers and sisters speaking past each other. This sort of behavior is tragic because there is so much literature that has been published over the last few decades on the subject that we should all have better definitions. As it relates to Christians counseling one-another, I like this definition from the late David Powlison:
“…Biblical counseling is part of the interpersonal ministry of the Word. God means for us to bear each other’s burdens. It’s a good goal to become more competent at self-counsel, the private ministry, but we always need other people. We need their prayers, encouragement, and insight. There may be something you have said to yourself a hundred times, but then you hear it from the lips of someone else, and the Holy Spirit chooses to work. Hearing it from another person’s voice makes it come to life. Wise counseling brings that personalized relevance of interpersonal ministry of the eternal Word of Truth that turns our lives upside down and inside out.”[i]
First, Powlison says that biblical counseling is part of the interpersonal ministry of the Word. That means that the Word of God should be fleshed out in our relationships with one another. The idea that Christians would keep their faith private is foreign to the Scripture and is a contradiction for what it means to be a believer. Of course, we are to be ambassadors for Christ to a lost and hostile culture, but we are to be ambassadors committed to God and His gospel to each other as well.
Secondly, Powlison warms up our idea of counseling. I think we often associate counseling with stuffy offices and therapists with notepads, but it doesn’t have to always be this way. Biblical counseling is warm and can happen over a cup of coffee. It is a tangible way of ‘bearing each other’s burdens’.
Now, implied in Powlison’s definition here is the idea of the sufficiency of Scripture. In one sense it can be said that the sufficiency of Scripture is the authority of Scripture applied. Christians historically have believed that the Scriptures really are sufficient for life and godliness (2nd Peter 1:3). And the ministry of biblical counseling is a means by which we can use the Scriptures to teach doctrine, reprove, correct, and train in righteousness so that believers can be thoroughly furnished (2nd Timothy 3:16-17). This is a little bit of what biblical counseling is as it relates to applying it in our relationships with one another. But we should also be mindful of what biblical counseling is not.
Biblical counseling is not a ‘take two verses and call me in the morning’ sort of ministry. Biblical counseling is not an assertion that the Scriptures speak to every situation in life explicitly. Biblical counseling is not a refusal to acknowledge or utilize God’s common grace in the advancements in medical practices and medications. The ministry of biblical counseling should be holistic and believers who counsel biblically (which should be all Christians) should have humility in not speaking beyond what they know.
Have Clear Biblical Categories and Seek to Apply Your Own Counsel First
Matthew 7:1-3 (KJV) states, “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”
First, Christ is warning Christians to have proper, biblical categories. What do we measure our judgements by? It should be according to Scripture. Therefore, we should have robust, biblical categories of sin, suffering, justification, sanctification, glorification, etc. We should know biblical words and we should know their definitions so that we may apply them rightly, and thus helpfully. Furthermore, Christ is teaching us that we are to apply the standards we counsel to ourselves. Hypocrites hold others to a standard in which they themselves do not keep. Yeah, sure things may seem great on the outside, but are you regarding iniquity in your heart (Psalm 66:18)?
Humble yourself before the Lord through confession, repentance, and resting in the finished work of Christ. Then, with the joy of having your sins forgiven, counsel others and do so with gentleness and respect (1st Peter 3:15).
Grow in Your Ability to Counsel
Counseling in a way that magnifies Christ and effectively loves your brother/sister is hard work. Yet, work is good. God instituted it before the fall. Therefore, the hard work of growing in our ability to counsel biblically should be a priority in the Christian life, and we shouldn’t be deterred because it takes time and labor (your whole life actually!).
It is wrong to think that you can just open your mouth and give true, seasoned, God-centered counsel if you are not cultivating your own knowledge and love for God and His Word through the means He’s provided to you; namely, public worship each Lord’s Day, and the private means of Bible study and prayer.
This article is by no means exhaustive on the subject of counseling others biblically, but it is my prayer that this will be a good starting point for you as you seek to honor the Lord in how you help care for your brothers and sisters.