Principles of Biblical Counselling

Occasionally, people in conflict (or who have had past conflicts) will ask a pastor for help in resolving the situation.  These encounters are often called “counselling” — but that term brings with it some baggage.

Lots of things pass for “counselling” in the world today.  People may simply be looking for someone to lend a sympathetic ear or to validate their behaviour.  Sometimes, people view counselling as their opportunity to air grievances about another person.  Ideally, they want a counsellor to pass judgment on the other person.  Certainly, a counsellor won’t question their side of the story, or suggest any substantive change in their own behaviour!

This post is not intended to be a complete discussion of Biblical counselling.  It is simply a brief discussion that can be useful to help keep a right focus in any counselling on conflict (past or present).

Principles of Biblical Counselling

1. The Word of God is true.

II Timothy 3:16-17

16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

If Scripture is God-inspired, then what it says about this situation is going to be true.

2. The Word of God is sufficient for the need (same Scripture, II Timothy 3:16-17).

If Scripture is sufficient to completely furnish / equip us for every good work, then it is sufficient to equip us to face and handle this situation rightly.  The answers for the situation can be found in the Bible.

3. The problems in our lives come out of the heart.

Matthew 15:16-20

16 And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding?
17 Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught?
18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.
19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:
20 These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.

Jesus was refuting a false teaching that it was necessary to wash in a particular way before eating, or you would be morally / legally unclean.  But He gave a broader principle.  Our moral issues are not external to us, but internal, from our own hearts.  This is particularly important for us to remember in times of conflict.  It is what comes from us, not what comes from others, that makes us sin.

4. The Word of God deals with heart issues.

Hebrews 4:12

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

This connects points 2 and 3.  The Word of God is sufficient for our problems, our problems are heart issues, and the Word of God addresses heart issues.

5. There is never any excuse for wrong behaviour.

I Corinthians 10:13

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

The “no excuses” verse, it dismantles every excuse.  Biblical counselling will not endorse any excuse for sin.  “I can’t help myself” is a lie.  So is “I had no other choice.”  Sin is never mandatory.

6. Counsellees want the problems to be resolved, and God is able to bring the victory. (same Scripture, I Corinthians 10:13).

This is important when two people in conflict come for counselling together.  Each must be prepared to accept that the other wants a resolution, too.  And each must believe that God can give victory in the situation.  A Biblical counsellor will expect each person to behave in accordance with Biblical principles to resolve the problem.

7. Humanistic counselling violates the principles of Biblical speech, and counsellees must be encouraged to adopt principles of Biblical speech.

Pouring out all of our complaints and accusations, as humanistic counselling often encourages, is not Biblical.  That is true even if the complaints and accusations are all true — and sometimes, there is another side to the story.

8. Humanistic counselling often sets the counsellor up as the arbiter or judge. Even Christ did not rush to take on such a role.

Luke 12:13 -15

13 And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.
14 And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?
15 And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.

This man had a grievance, and He wanted Jesus to hear his side of the story and pass judgment on it, sorting his brother out.  This is exactly the model that many people have in mind when they go to counselling.  Jesus declined that role.

9. We are to confess our own sins, not the sins of others.

James 5:16

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

The purpose of counselling is not to recount the sins of others, but to help each person to address his own sins and responsibilities.

10. Counselling is not primarily focused on past wrongs, but on directing future actions, attitudes, thoughts, and feelings into proper Biblical patterns.

Philippians 3:13-14

13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

We must confess our own sins of the past.  But sometimes the wrongs of the past cannot really be resolved because:

a. Sometimes the person who committed the wrong will not repent.
b. Sometimes there are differing memories of the past.
c. Sometimes one or more people who did wrong in the past don’t even remember doing so.

Even when the past cannot be resolved, the future is our responsibility.

11. A proper understanding of repentance is needed.

II Corinthians 7:9-10

9 Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing.
10 For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.

a. Feeling sorry is not the same as repentance, and accomplishes little.
b. An apology is not the same as repentance.
c. An apology is usually one of the fruits of repentance.

(See also “Good” at Repentance)

12. Repentance is a condition for God’s forgiveness, which is the pattern for our forgiveness for one another.

Luke 24:47

And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

Luke 17:3-4

3 Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.
4 And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.

Matthew 6:12

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

Matthew 7:2

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

God expects us to repent, and He expects us to forgive when others repent.  Counsellees must be prepared to do both, even when the one repenting is weak and needs to repent again.  If we want God to forgive us, we must forgive others.

Related:  Counselling and Complaining

About Jon Gleason

Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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2 Responses to Principles of Biblical Counselling

  1. UK Fred says:

    I must agree very strongly with what you say about there being no excuse for sin. Most often what we mean when we say “I had no alternative” is “I was not willing to pay the price for doing what was right.” I have been in that situation and my boss’s boss found out that he had to tell the lie himself, because I refused, and when my boss asked me why I was not prepared to perform the action requested and was fully informed of the situation, he also refused. I have also been stitched up for acting honestly when the company I was working for at the time had a culture of dishonesty. Overall, it is well worth maintaining one’s personal morality to be able to sleep at night.

    You also quoted part of the Lords Prayer. I find it interesting that the word translated as “debt” in Scotland, is “trespass” in England and was also used for guilt in a legal setting.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hello, Fred. It’s so important in conflict situations to remind ourselves (and others) that no one can make you sin. We always come up with excuses.

      ***

      I quoted from the Authorised Version, which I think says the same thing in England. 🙂 But the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (1662) used “trespasses” / “those who trespass against us” and that is what is frequently used in English churches, even non-Anglican churches. It refers to moral indebtedness, so the Book of Common Prayer translation is conveying the general idea in talking about “trespass” but it misses the force of it somewhat. The use of “debt” here is to emphasise that you really are forgiving something, the wrong really has cost you something — but you are to forgive anyway, just as your sin and forgiveness cost God something..

      So “trespass” is not wrong, but a little unfortunate in that it obscures an aspect of the message that Christ was emphasising by using that word.

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