When God’s Counsel Is Rejected…

Dr. Ab AbercrombieTeen depressed fence

God’s Word is fully sufficient for the counseling task and it is superior to anything the world can offer a hurting individual. Scripture, along with the working of the Holy Spirit, is complete in its provision for all matters eternal and functional. Paul wrote:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).

It is the counselor’s responsibility and calling to render the Word rightly (2 Tim 2:15); to yield to the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:13); and to be spiritually prepared for the counseling encounter, connected and abiding in Christ, so that the care offered is given in “truth and love” (Eph 4:15). But while our resource (Scripture) is perfect and our spiritual response sound, some will not heed God’s truth nor yield to His counsel (1 Thess 4:8). What then should be our approach?

I have a student who recently said: “Biblical counseling is ugly…” In fact counseling is rarely a smooth process whereby the counselee is convicted of wrong, seeking assistance, and thereby sensitive and responsive to scriptural care. Rather biblical counselors are called servants entrusted with the difficult task of turning sinners away from their wayward path: often a path to which they have invested much affection and commitment. And yet sin is progressive and deadly. Without the provocation of God’s Word there is no hope of repentance, salvation, restoration, or sanctification. James pointed to the root and eventual outcome of sin:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death (Jas 1:13-15).

Biblical counselors are called to intervene somewhere and sometime before the rebellious heart confronts its own demise. However counselors must be reminded that biblical care is a process of repeated application that demands the counselor’s obedience to the task and perseverance with grief and anguish for the lost and fallen souls with whom we contend. Paul wrote:

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction (2 Tim 4:1-2).

Biblicists must not forsake the final words of Paul’s plea: “with patience and instruction.” Rather we must hold firmly to the call and wage battle for the redemption or restoration of every soul designated to our care. It is after all spiritual warfare; a battle with eternal ramifications. It is no place for the faint hearted or unfaithful. Rather it is a divine appointment that cannot be refused. Still the counselor must remember that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood…” (Eph 6:12). Even when the counselee is hardened and rooted in sin, he/she is not the adversary. Counselors must not quarrel with their counselee but instead seek to serve, love, and rescue him/her from their delusional snare. Paul wrote to Timothy:

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will (2 Tim 2:24-26).

Our burden is to help the counselee see his/her condition before our Holy God. The quarrel and struggle is with the Creator, not the counselor. For this reality to prevail, the counselor must access and apply Scripture instead of personal commentary, confrontation, and condemnation. The counselor must never drift too far from the knowledge of his/her own fleshly state and vulnerability to sin, so that empathy and compassion accompanies the indictment of God’s Word. Scripture is the judge of man, as Jesus proclaimed:

“If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day” (Jn 12:47-48).

The biblical counselor is to direct the counselee to his/her Judge, so the template of examination is pure, authoritative, unbiased, and right. Only Scripture can both expose and heal the fallen nature of man and it is our duty to acquaint the counselee to as much truth as possible, in proper context and with careful application. We must allow the Word to do the work!

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb 4:12).

Only Scripture is able to rightly diagnose sin while surgically penetrating the calloused, willful heart. The counselor is nothing more than an instrument of delivery, entrusted with a great and awesome treasure. As Paul instructed the young pastor Timothy:

Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you (2 Tim 1:13-14).

Although the battle is often long and trying, all counseling finds its apex. And while it is sometimes difficult to discern, all counseling does end; and it ends with varying outcomes. Biblical counselors often experience the great grace of God anew, as He saves and secures a new believer. We often are witnesses to the provocation of godly sorrow and the sweet gift of repentance that restores that path of a fallen Christian. To be present in such a circumstance is a great privilege that every counselor should relish with praise and wonderment.

But there will be endings of another kind; endings that do not yield salvation, transformation, or a repentant turn. Regretfully some, in fact many, will leave the examination of God’s Word unchanged. God is sovereign and His purposes are unlike our own. Through Isaiah He proclaimed:

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
And do not return there without watering the earth
And making it bear and sprout,
And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;

So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Is 55:10-11).

God is the Creator of life and He is the Giver of salvation. His Word does not return empty…even when the counselor does not see or understand its affect. The process and objective is not ours to control but instead will yield the purpose God intends.

As ministers we are called to divine appointments without promise of outcome. Counselors must remember that the success of our ministry does not rest in its visible outcome. Our success is found in our obedience to serve as called and assigned. Just as many of the patriarchs of the faith never saw the product of their obedience (Heb 11), we must find our sufficiency through our communion with Christ, intimacy with His Spirit, love for His Word, and the continual involvement in our Father’s work.

It is a great certainty that God does not need man to execute His redemptive plan. But it is our great joy to be included in the working of the gospel, to the glory of God, knowing there is no better place to be than in the presence of our Savior as He touches lives in remarkable and supernatural ways.

As stated before, we must guard our hearts, pray for humility, and retain the poignant awareness of our own depravity as we minister. To do so will help us toward submission, gratitude, compassion, and love. And it will further ensure our abiding contact with the Vine, apart from whom we can do nothing (Jn 15:5).

Our functional task, beyond our spiritual preparation, it to be true to the sufficiency and superiority of God’s Word. Do not be tempted to change direction or employ alternate techniques. We must be like Paul who proclaimed to the church at Ephesus:

Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God (Acts 20:26-27).

In summary our calling is much like the prophet Ezekiel who was told his ministry would be to a rebellious nation who would not listen. But make clear the prophet’s task:

“Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, to a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day. I am sending you to them who are stubborn and obstinate children, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD’” (Ezk 2:3-4).

Counselors must not be dismayed when sinners sin; nor should we resist the duty to warn, the responsibility to instruct, and the burden even to beg their surrender to Christ. And while we are not prophets with any capacity of foresight, we do have the full canon of Scripture from which to proclaim, “Thus says the Lord GOD.”

This single point of truth must garner our unwavering attention, while guarding against personal sin, toxic emotion, or other disqualifying matters that would generate a stumbling block in our relationship with the counselee. We must battle against unbelief, fear, and hesitation, and yield ourselves to our divinely dictated task. As the Lord told Ezekiel concerning the house of Israel:

“Son of man, take into your heart all My words which I will speak to you and listen closely. Go to the exiles, to the sons of your people, and speak to them and tell them, whether they listen or not, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD’”… “But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth and you will say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD.’ He who hears, let him hear; and he who refuses, let him refuse; for they are a rebellious house” (Ezk 3:10-11, 27).

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