By: Scott O'Malley
January 28th, 2022
One of the great privileges of my life is serving people through biblical counseling at Twelve Stones. While not everyone is called to serve in full time ministry or in biblical counseling, every Christian is called to speak the truth in love to others (Ephesians 4:15). So whether we counsel people in a formal setting or provide informal advice to friends, what is a target that we should all aspire to in the counsel we give? I would argue that we should focus not on whether a person changes in response to our counsel, but that we should focus on faithfulness to God (Luke 18:18-30).
Foundation #11 – Focus on faithfulness
The Apostle Paul shared a similar sentiment for those of us ministering to others when he wrote: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:1-2). I would like to make two observations about these verses that will give us insight into what it takes to be found faithful. The first observation is the importance of humility and the second is the necessity of the proclamation of the Word of God.
From 1 Corinthians 4:1, we observe that we are to view ourselves as servants of Christ.
“Paul expresses his humility by using a word literally meaning ‘under rowers,’ referring to the lowest, most menial, and most despised galley slaves, who rowed on the bottom tier of a ship” (John MacArthur, MacArthur Study Bible pg. 1688).
If we are to be found faithful to God, it starts with humility. Tim Keller, in his sermon entitled “Blessed Self-Forgetfulness” defines humility as “not thinking more of yourself or thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.” In other words, humility is being forgetful of self. Jesus modeled this humility amazingly when He was on the cross. While suffering the worst torture human beings have ever devised, Jesus was modeling being forgetful of self by:
Praying for the crowds (Luke 23:34)
Ushering a thief into heaven (Luke 23:43)
Taking care of His mom (John 19:26-27)
And even thinking about all those who will be saved as a result of His shed blood on the cross (Hebrews 12:2).
One of the primary reasons humility is extremely important as a counselor is we can become conceited, thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought. When people come to us for advice, it is easy to become puffed up, develop an attitude of superiority, and stop relying on God for the counsel we give. In addition, when we act like we have it all together we can discourage others who are struggling by communicating they are somehow different than us. We all need consistent reminders that grace is for the weak – and we are all weak and fallible. Paul Tripp provides us an important warning against proud Christian servants.
“Boisterous, proud, self-confident Christianity is simply not what the gospel of human weakness and divine power produces. It is a false gospel that deceives those who preach it and discourages those who listen. A mature Christian is confident in weakness” (Paul Tripp, Do You Believe? Pg. 184).
Confidence in weakness comes when there is an accurate and sober view of ourselves coupled with an exalted view of God. “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
Returning to 1 Corinthians 4, a second observation is that we are to be stewards of the mysteries of God.
“The term stewards does not refer to a house and its owner’s personal effects; rather, the noun mysteries shows that it denotes stewards of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.”
In other words, as stewards we are responsible to share, proclaim, and make known the mysteries of God revealed in the Word of God. We are not to conclude we have a message of our own, but we are to be trustworthy or faithful to proclaim the message of hope from God.
Proclamation of the Word of God
As we consider what it means to be stewards of the mysteries of God, we must understand that Paul is arguing for the superiority of the Word of God over the wisdom of men. Just a few verses earlier Paul stated: “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God” (1 Corinthians 3:18-19). Unfortunately, many Christians have embraced human wisdom in the counsel and advice they give, allowing secular psychological principles to creep in and crowd out the rich truths of the Scriptures.
“In counseling, as in every area of life, the people of God must take their marching orders from the Word of God, committed to its authority and sufficiency. Believers are called to counsel one another with the rich truths of God’s Word in a way consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Albert Mohler, Scripture and Counseling pg. 10).
If we are to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God we must make the Bible our highest authority and have confidence in its sufficiency. What do we mean by sufficiency? Let’s consider how the Westminster Confession of Faith defines it:
“The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.”
As we then seek to live humble lives and proclaim and apply the truths of Scripture to the people seeking our counsel we can have confidence we are being faithful to God.
Let me close with one of the most foundational quotes I have ever come across that guides my counsel every day.
“Counseling – no magic, no technique, no sure cure. Biblical counseling is simply the way of speaking wisely with moral decision makers who will trust and obey either lies or truth” (David Powlison, Speaking the Truth in Love pg. 53).
This is one of the most impactful quotes I have ever read on counseling because it helps me in two particular ways. First, it humbles me by reminding me I do not have the power to change anyone. Second, it motivates me to study the Scriptures because that is where wisdom is found.
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways” (Romans 11:33)!
May God help us remain humble servants who faithfully proclaim and apply the truths of Scripture to the hearts of the people we serve. Next week we will look at the centrality of the gospel in our counseling, but for now let me conclude with a couple of questions for you to ponder this week.
Questions for Reflection
Spend some time prayerfully considering the question, “How well are you doing at consistently being forgetful of self in your life and while counseling others?” Because we are all prone to spiritual blindness, consider asking someone else to help you evaluate yourself.
How diligent are you at studying the Word of God so you are prepared to steward the mysteries of God?