In Romans 15:14, the apostle Paul told the church in Rome, “And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.” The Greek word used here for “admonish” is noutheteo, which means “to admonish, to warn, to counsel.” Paul was telling those in the church that he was convinced that they could counsel one another. That obviously goes for pastors too. Certainly there will be times when congregants or others step into your office whom you need to refer to more professional help, but do not be so quick to “outsource” the counseling that the Bible is quite clear that those with the Holy Spirit living inside of them are both capable and responsible to give to their fellow believers. Biblical counsel is a vital part of ministry.
But it is indeed quite overwhelming to think of others seeking your advice and help with their problems, so we must be certain that when given the opportunity to admonish others, we are acting responsibly and providing sound, biblical counsel.
Is the counsel you’re offering . . . well, biblical? You would think that doesn’t need to be asked here, but unfortunately, today’s culture has infused so many different theologies, practices, and beliefs that we can no longer safely assume that advice from the latest Christian writer or pastor that has become the next big thing is biblically based. That’s not to say you should throw away your counseling books from seminary or unsubscribe from the weekly podcasts that seem to give you great ideas. But when it comes to the great responsibility of counseling others who are seeking out your Holy Spirit–inspired advice, God’s Word must be the one and only litmus test your counsel is held next to.
If someone has emailed you about their situation, it is paramount that you pray for God’s leading before you reply. If you have the luxury to ask for time on your own after someone comes to your office to seek counsel, then pray earnestly for God to show you in his Word how he would have you respond. And then seek the answers in his Book.
In the end, if we believe the Bible is God’s message to the world, that it is complete and offers guidance for all situations, then we must live like that. Even the best writers and pastors should’ve used the Bible as their one and only litmus test as well, so why not skip the middle man and go straight to the Source for the best counsel?
Does the counsel you’re offering lead to people looking more like Jesus . . . or you? Biblical counseling should be based on God’s Word, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and seek to change people’s desires and behavior so that they look more like Jesus. Not Jesus, with a sprinkle of you. Second Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” Into God’s image. Not yours. Not Graham’s. Not Chan’s. God’s. (And those other two would agree, by the way.)
I know there’s a lot about your life that seems to say you’ve got it together. I know you wish some of those seeking your counsel would simply look to some of the things about your life to help themselves get it all together. And you’re probably not wrong. But even you are a work-in-progress. God’s not done shaping you, at least you better hope not. So be sure your counsel is continually pointing people to Jesus, the only no-longer-in-process work. They don’t need to look more like you; they need to look more like Jesus.
Is the counsel you’re offering grace-filled? The base ingredient of your biblical advice should be grace. The flavoring ingredient sprinkled in should be grace. And the secret ingredient that makes it stand out from other counsel should be grace as well. Just as God’s message to us is all about the grace he offers to his broken and sin-filled children, the biblical counsel we offer to the broken and sin-filled people in our office should be all about showing the same grace toward them.
Think of how you feel when you kneel at the cross and repent from your sin and give it all to God: He doesn’t tell you that you are fine and didn’t do anything wrong. Nor does he turn you away and offer only judgment and condemnation. He simply offers you his grace to cover up that sin. Your biblical counsel should do the same: not offer assurance that they’re fine, not respond with harsh condemnation, but offer up the same grace from God that you have been given too.
Kevin Harvey is the author of two books, his most recent being All You Want to Know about the Bible in Pop Culture. He also writes at BibleInPopCulture.com and can be found on Twitter under the handle @PopCultureKevin.