Five Biblical Portraits of the Biblical Counselor

by | Jun 1, 2017 | The Gospel and the Ministry, Featured

In my previous post, Truth and Love: Sharing Scripture and Soul, I addressed the question, “Does the Bible teach that in biblical counseling relationships are tertiary?”

I was responding, in part, to a blog post I had read by a fellow biblical counselor, Donn Arms, that stated that relationships are secondary or perhaps tertiary in biblical counseling. I based my response upon numerous biblical passages including Romans 15:14; Ephesians 4:15; Philippians 1:9-11; and 1 Thessalonians 2:8.

2 Analogies of the Biblical Counselor 

Donn shared two analogies of biblical counseling. I understand that all analogies break down at some point. However, I don’t believe either analogy quite captures the biblical portrait of biblical counseling. Here’s the first analogy Donn shared:

“Picture a man working under the hood of his car in his driveway. Along comes a relationship guy who stops and engages the shade tree mechanic with questions about the car, the problem, his job, his family, his health, his lawn, his pets, his longings, and desires. The relationship guy shares stories of his own struggles with dysfunctional automobiles and communicates how sorry he is that this car has broken down and that his friend has to deal with the problem. Finally, he promises to return later to check on his new mechanic friend and encourage him in his journey toward resolution.”

I’m sure that we all agree that this caricature of “the relationship guy” does not equate to biblical counseling. Not only does this caricature lack the truth component; in actuality, it also lacks the love component.

Here’s the second analogy that Donn crafted:

“The nouthetic guy, however, upon encountering this mechanic takes off his coat, rolls up his sleeves, and crawls under the car. ‘I see the problem,’ he calls up to his neighbor. ‘The starter is not aligned properly. Raise it up a bit, and I will put the bolt in from here.’ From under the car, the nouthetic guy guides the socket onto the nut and holds it in place while the mechanic turns the wrench above until it is tight. Now, which one has built involvement with his neighbor?”

I understand the gist of this analogy. The truly caring, loving counselor gets to the business of helping people with their problems. But is this the best analogy to communicate the biblical portrait of biblical counseling?

It is significant that rather than portraying himself through the imagery of a fix-it-man mechanic, Paul paints portraits of himself as a brother, mother, father, child, and mentor in 1 Thessalonians 2.

Which analogy best portrays building involvement—brother/mother/father/child/mentor relating soul-to-soul, or a car mechanic fixing an engine?

Paul does not see people as inanimate objects to be fixed. Paul does not see issues of sin and suffering as car parts needing mechanical alignment.

I know that neither Donn nor I see people, sin, and suffering in those ways—which is why I’m presenting Paul’s five biblical analogies as a better way to communicate our calling.

Paul sees people as image bearers requiring truth and love. Paul sees issues of sin and suffering as personal issues requiring Scripture and soul. 

According to Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2, God calls us to share His Word with the love of a brother (1:4; 2:1-2, 9), a mother (2:7-8), a father (2:10-12), a child (2:17-18), and a mentor (2:19-20). Join me as we begin exploring these five biblical portraits of biblical counseling.

Portrait # 1: The Love of a Defending Brother 

Paul uses the Greek word for “brother” twenty-one times in 1 and 2 Thessalonians. He starts his first letter to the believers in Thessalonica by letting them know that he always thanks God for them, “for we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you” (1 Thessalonians 1:4).

He is saying they are siblings in God’s family by grace. Imagine hearing from the great apostle Paul that you are family; you are equals—equally loved by God by grace.

Could my counselee say this of me? “I experience you as a beloved brother embracing me as a fellow, equal member of God’s forever family by grace.”

Paul’s use of the word “brothers” is not limited to a family context, but also extends to an army/military context in the sense of a band of brothers who have one another’s backs. Paul says it like this in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-2. “You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition.”

The word “opposition” means agonizing and struggling together. It was used of teammates training together and of soldiers fighting together in warfare.

Though persecuted, Paul courageously shared because he cared. Paul describes his counseling ministry in similar language in Colossians. “To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy which so powerfully works in me. I want you to know how much I am struggling for you” (Colossians 1:29-2:1a).

Could my counselee say this of me? “I experience our relationship as a band of brothers, and I experience you as a teammate who fights for me and agonizes on my behalf.”

Portrait # 2: The Love of a Cherishing Mother

In the first portrait, Paul says to his counselee, “I’ve got your back bro!” In this second portrait, Paul speaks as a mother who says, “I long for you with a nourishing and cherishing affection.”

We read of Paul’s motherly love in 1 Thessalonians 2:7. “But we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.”

Paul’s describes his gentle relational ministry as like a nursing mother, literally picturing the tender nourishing of a breast-feeding mother. The word “caring” highlights cherishing, keeping warm, tenderly comforting.

The Reformer, John Calvin, portrays the scene beautifully:

“A mother in nursing her children manifests a certain rare, and wonderful affection, inasmuch as she spares no labor and trouble, shuns no anxiety, is tireless, and even with cheerfulness of spirit gives of her own blood to be sucked.”

Paul speaks in similar motherly language in Galatians 4:9. “My dear children, for who I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.”

And he shares similar affectionate language in 2 Corinthians 6:11-13. “We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also.”

Could my counselee say this of me? “I experience you as a nursing mother nourishing me with tender, cherishing love.”

Paul continues with this theme of motherly affection in 1 Thessalonians 2:8. “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well because you had become so dear to us.”

I call this a “ministry sandwich” because Paul sandwiches loving them so much and being dear to us around sharing Scripture and soul. The phrase “we loved you so much” means to long for, to affectionately desire, to yearn after tenderly. “Delighted” means to joyfully serve out of pleasure and not out of a sense of duty or obligation. “And “impart” emphasizes sharing generously and personally.

Theologian and commentator, Leon Morris, summarizes Paul’s words well. “But the real sharing of the gospel implies the total committal of the preacher [I would add “counselor”] to the task. If they give a message, they also give themselves.”

Could my counselee say this of me? “I experience you as an affectionate, generous mother giving me your very own soul because you dearly love me.”

The Rest of the Story 

Join me next time as we explore three additional biblical portraits of the biblical counselor: father, child, and mentor.

This article first appeared at Dr. Kellemen’s website and is posted here with his permission.

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