Throughout the course of a week, pastors and counselors will have many different people walk through their office doors, struggling with a variety of issues and responding in a variety of ways. They will encounter unrepentant counselees, suffering counselees, and struggling counselees.
We cannot adopt an approach that deals with everyone the same. The suffering saint must be counseled differently from the unrepentant saint. So, where do we start? 1 Thessalonians 5:14 is a great verse to get grounded in and be reminded of: “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (ESV).
One Type of Counselee: Unrepentant Saints
Paul is clear, admonish the idle (unruly or undisciplined). If you are new to the biblical counseling movement, this word “admonish” is one keystone in counseling methodology. It carries the connotation of warning, instructing, or counseling. It involves handling the Word of God accurately and compassionately while alerting someone to the consequences of their wrong choices. It is the understanding that has formed “nouthetic counseling.” Nouthetic counseling is not judgmental or critical counseling; it is loving people who are determined to go their own sinful way and showing them the devastating consequences they will reap for their disorderliness and resistance to God’s Word.
As persons desiring to please God in biblical counseling, we must be willing to minister to our parishioners and counselees by lovingly confronting them if they demonstrate a sinful desire to continue in unrepentant sin. Knowledge of God’s Word is one key, as is a compassionate heart. Paul uses this word “admonish” several times in the New Testament and by studying it we find a well-rounded biblical counselor: He admonished with tears (Acts 20:31), speaking as to dear children (1 Cor. 4:14), keeping his counsel Christ-centered (Col. 1:28), as well as purposeful (1 Thess. 5:14). A biblical counselor is a person who keeps Christ preeminent, keeps compassion abundant, and makes Scripture relevant.
Another Type of Counselee: Unsure Saints
Different from those who brashly desire to continue in sin, are those who desire to do what is right, but have real concerns about their own ability—lacking confidence to boldly move forward for the kingdom of Jesus Christ. A stern hand is not what is necessary here. Paul states that we are to encourage the faint-hearted.
Faint-hearted counselees might be discouraged about their ability, or worried about what other people might think if they choose to act in a way that pleases God. The biblical counselor must encourage these counselees by coming alongside them compassionately, offering comfort, and providing consolation.
The biblical counselor will put 2 Corinthians 1 into action: having received comfort from the God of all comfort, we now will comfort others in their affliction. We can use opportunities with this type of counselee to demonstrate from God’s Word the comfort of God’s character, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the building up capabilities of the Church.
A Third Type of Counselee: Unable Saints
In every church body are those who are weak both spiritually and physically. The person who desires to counsel biblically will strive to minister to both. Those that are weak in the faith might be so due to a lack of understanding and knowledge of God’s Word, perhaps consumed with doubts of the realities of God’s Word or plagued with their own sinful past. Those weak physically might be struggling with issues ranging from how to respond biblically to chronic pain or ongoing illnesses, perhaps they are struggling with accepting the physical malady they find themselves enduring or struggling with a lack of strength to accomplish what they desire to do for the Lord.
The compassionate biblical counselor will help the weak as Paul instructs. We should understand our role as ones who will hold these people up, supporting them, and expressing our commitment to them. Consistent reassurance and reminders of God’s Word are important. With the spiritually weak, instruction may be necessary. With the physically weak, devoted time will be necessary. A person who counsels biblically is a person who compassionately helps God’s flock endure the rigors of this life by providing them with the tools necessary to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
With Every Counselee: Be Patient with All
Paul concludes his thoughts on interaction with various types of saints by saying, “be patient with them all.” How easy it is to be frustrated as a counselor! What a challenge from the Apostle Paul to all biblical counselors.
We are to be imitators of Christ in our interaction with our counselees. Christ is long-suffering toward us, so should we be toward our counselees. We might not even perceive spiritual growth or personal change, but we should not become frustrated or angry. Recall to mind this simple phrase from Paul, “be patient with them all.”
Join the Conversation
What resources have you found to be beneficial for learning how to engage appropriately each unique person, each distinct type of counselee?