Truth and Love: Sharing Scripture and Soul
I recently read a blog post by my fellow biblical counselor, Donn Arms, that described well the importance of relationships in biblical counseling:
“Now, of course, nouthetic counselors understand the importance of building involvement with counselees. In Competent to Counsel Jay Adams confronted the prevalent notion of the day that counselors should take a stoic, detached stance toward counselees. He pointed out that Paul counseled ‘with tears’ (Acts 20:31) and ‘intense concern’ (2 Corinthians 11:29) (CTC, 52-54).”
The post also developed a point that I would flesh out a bit differently. It said:
“For the nouthetic counselor, the ministry of the Word is key and relationships, while important, are secondary—perhaps even tertiary. Counselees do not change as a result of a relationship with the counselor, they change because of a relationship to Christ and through obedience to His Word.”
I understand where Donn is coming from, and I agree that the power of our ministry comes from the power of God’s Word. But does God’s Word identify our relationships as “tertiary”? Does the Bible speak in terms of ranking truth and love?
I do not believe that ascribing “tertiary” value to relationships is the best way to express the biblical portrait of biblical counseling. Further, I’m concerned that this “tertiary” language can perhaps inadvertently convey what the critics of biblical counseling have often written. “Well, yes, you will mention the importance of relationships occasionally, but then you almost immediately communicate in ways that minimize relationships” (my paraphrase of many critiques of biblical counseling).
Loving Well and Wisely
God calls us to love well and wisely. That’s why, in biblical counseling, we must weave together in our ministry what is always united in God’s Word—truth and love—comprehensive biblical wisdom and compassionate Christlike care.
We’ve all heard of brilliant surgeons with horrific bedside manners. We’ve likely known some scholarly people whose relational skills could use a little development. On the other hand, many people know what it’s like to care deeply, but do not know what to do after the hug. Perhaps we’ve experienced friends who can cry with us but seem unsure how to offer much additional help.
In biblical counseling, God’s Word calls us to keep united Paul’s ministry theme of Scripture and soul 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 own lives as well because you had become so dear to us.”
The biblical counselor’s prayer follows Paul’s wisdom and relationship prayer in Philippians 1:9-11, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.”
The biblical counselor’s mission follows Paul’s truth and love passion in Ephesians 4:15-16, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
In the original Greek, the phrase “speaking the truth in love” should be translated “embodying the truth in love.” We could translate it as “truthing and loving” with no biblical dichotomy between truth and love, but rather, a biblical unity of truth in loving relationship.
According to the Bible, biblical counseling is not either/or: either be a brilliant but uncaring soul physician or be a loving but unwise spiritual friend. God calls us to be wise and loving biblical counselors.
Sharing Scripture and Soul: 5 Biblical Portraits of the Biblical Counselor
According to 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).
Relating truth in love is vital to our ministries today, just as it was vital to Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica. Based upon 1 Thessalonians 2:2-3, 5-6, commentator Leon Morris notes that:
“It is clear from the epistle that Paul had been accused of insincerity. His enemies said that he was more concerned to make money out of his converts than to present true teaching. The accusation would be made easier in virtue of the well-known fact that itinerant preachers concerned only to feather their own nests were common in those days. Paul was being represented as nothing more than another of this class of preaching vagrants.”
Morris goes on to explain that in Paul’s day:
“Holy men of all creeds and countries, popular philosophers, magicians, astrologers, crack-pots, and cranks; the sincere and the spurious, the righteous and the rogue, swindlers, and saints, jostled and clamored for the attention of the credulous and the skeptical.”
That’s why it was so vital to Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2 to highlight a combination of Scripture and soul, truth, and relationship. In writing to the Thessalonians, he is saying, “You doubt my credentials? Then be a good Berean who examines the message and the messenger—what I say, who I am, and how I relate to you.”
It’s the identical message that Paul sends to every young minister anywhere. If you want to validate your ministry, then “watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). It’s the same message that Paul models in his relationship to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:13-21:1. It’s the same message that Peter sends in 1 Peter 5:1-4 when he outlines the humble, loving heart of the true shepherd and elder.
Peter and Paul insist that as we share God’s Word, we do so with Christlike character and Christlike love. It’s the same message Paul emphasizes in Romans 15:14 where he tells us that the person who is competent to counsel is the person who is both “full of goodness” and “complete in knowledge.”
Paul’s word for “goodness” in Romans 15:14 highlights grace relating, relating as Christ did: full of grace and truth. Ministry is always about truth and love because Jesus is full of grace and truth.
Paul writes 1 Thessalonians 2 to affirm his ministry as from God and to affirm the nature of all ministry from God by modeling sharing Scripture and soul, by embodying truth in love. It is God’s plan to use His Word powerfully when we share it truthfully and lovingly—like a brother, mother, father, child, and mentor.
The Rest of the Story: 5 Biblical Portraits of the Biblical Counselor
Stay tuned as I developed from 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul’s 5 Biblical Portraits of the Biblical Counselor.
This post first appeared at RPM Ministries and is shared here with permission of the author.
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.