What does it mean for counseling to be biblical? (Kaifang Zheng)
All of the care providers at BRCC strive to live and serve in a biblical manner, but several are specifically titled “biblical counselors.” In one sense, this simply means that our services include providing what the broader society calls spiritual direction and pastoral counseling without all staff members serving in the specific role of local church “pastor.” But in a larger sense, being biblical in our counseling is our aspirational ideal. The main reason for this goal is that we believe this is what we see reflected in the heart of God toward His people – He shares with us words of life that we in turn love to share with others.
Counseling (whether pastoral, professional, or lay) is certainly a societal service to people in the midst of problems such as depressive episodes, marital conflict, and career transitions. But we believe that the words of help that we provide will be most sustaining and helpful–and ultimately more than a social service–when they follow the contours of Christian love that we see expressed in the Bible.
Even a brief survey of the Bible makes it clear that any helpful words must ultimately be rooted in the beautiful reality that the triune God is great in counsel and that Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. Scripture shows us that the LORD is wonderful in His counsel and excellent in wisdom (Isa. 9:6, 28:29; Jer. 32:19; Prov. 8:14, etc.). The triune God gives counsel (Ps. 16:7, 73:24; Isa. 11:2, Job 12:13, Rev. 3:18, etc.) and the LORD’s counsel and purpose stands forever (Ps. 33:11, Eph. 1:11). Moreover, God’s Word is His rich counsel to us. Jesus preaches publicly and does the interpersonal ministry of the Word. Jesus converses wisely, honestly, and compassionately, dealing with the deepest issues in life and in heart, such as the purpose of life, identity, death and life. The Bible’s reality map, as David Powlison said, “sets the goal of all valid counseling lived in the consciousness and lifestyle of Jesus.”
The whole counsel of God is the ground and Christ is the source of believers’ wise counsel to others and to one another (Acts 20:27, Col. 2:5, Eph. 4:15-16). Scripture shows that creation comes through God’s speech (Gen. 1) – the divine God speaks and how powerful His speech is! Scripture also reveals that God’s testimonies (the Word of God) are our counselors (Ps. 119:24) and all the wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ (Col. 2:5). Seeking wise counsel is positively encouraged. Seeking Christ and letting the Word of Christ dwell in us richly is commanded (Col. 3:16).
The LORD also provides human counselors to speak wisely to His people (Isa. 1:26), and it is wise to seek help from the wise counselors (Prov. 11:14, 24:6). In contrast, when God’s people were disobedient, they did not ask counsel from the LORD (Josh. 9:14, Pss. 106:13, 107:11). Plans fail without wise counsel, and the counsels of the wicked are deceitful (Prov. 15:22, 12:5). God’s people need to grow in discernment through His Word and His help.
In Eph. 4:1-16, Christians in the unified body of Christ are called to “walk in a manner worthy” of our calling (4:1). This can only be accomplished by God’s power through the ministry of gifted believers who Christ gives to the church. In Eph. 4:15, the Greek word “ἀληθεύοντες” (“speaking”) is an active and plural participle, modifying the following clause “we are to grow up…into Christ.” This verse is translated as “rather, by speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (ESV). Speaking the truth in love is a means of all the members of the body (the Church) growing up in union with Christ. And speaking the truth in love is a commitment of the whole community of Christ!
In Eph. 4:16, Paul continues to discuss growth but with more explicit reference to the whole body of believers. Both special offices and every member find a place. Each part of the body receives the energizing power it needs, and the proper growth of the whole body is in proportion to and adapted to each part. Each member has his or her distinct role in the well-being of the whole body, and our unity in diversity (4:1-16) is essential for the proper growth of the Church.
Additionally, in Eph. 4:25, in the imperative of the gospel, each believer in the body of Christ (the Church) is called to speak the truth with his neighbor for “we are members of one another.” Love and truth are inseparable, as at the heart of the proclamation of the truth is love, and a life of love is the embodiment of the truth. And love is the lifeblood of the body of Christ. Love is the energizing power behind the church community’s drive to maintain unity, at the heart of its proclamation of truth and all the way through its process of corporate growth (Eph. 4:15, 1 Cor. 12-14). And relationships and communities are the context of Christian growth.
Summarizing from Eph. 4:1-16, the biblical patterns for our counsel include these qualities:
- The truth of the gospel (the truth of salvation) should be the foundation of our counsel.
- Speaking the truth in love (biblical counseling) is a means for the growth of the whole body of Christ, the organic entirety of all the members – growing up into union with Christ. Speaking the truth in love is a commitment of the whole body of Christ.
- Christian communities are the context of growth.
- Christ is the goal as well as the source of this growth for His Church and His people.
As biblical counselors, we are called to follow Jesus, be grounded in the whole counsel of God, and counsel people with the love and wisdom from Him, though we cannot give perfectly wise counsel. In this way, together with the work of all other believers by God’s power, the body of Christ may be built up and all the members of the body may grow up into Christ.
Specifically, in our ministries at Blue Ridge Christian Counseling, we care for hurting individuals who are in need of true wisdom, grace, and practical support; and we build up individuals and ministry leaders to go back to their communities, to love others well in their own church communities and in turn to energize their church communities to speak the truth in love, in order to maintain unity and grow up in union with Christ.
Our prayer is that we would not offer less than practical and useful counsel for the problems of life. Yet we always pray for more, wanting people to be well resourced through life’s troubles by the Word of God and the people of God, and also to find their refuge in the Lord.