God’s Working Word

March 31, 2017

What makes counselling effective? What gives counselees an expectation that counselling will be a productive use of their time? In other words, how do we know that counselling will work? This is obviously a very important question, and it is one that has been at the center of numerous studies.

The effectiveness of counselling depends on a number of factors, but I’d like to come at the question from a biblical perspective with a simple—perhaps a startlingly simple—contribution: Biblical Counselling can be effective because God’s Word works effectively. Let me put it another way: biblical counselling works because God’s Word is a ‘working word’—it is the means by which God accomplishes His work in the world. The apostle Paul reminded the Thessalonian believers of this in 1 Thessalonians 2:13, “This is why we constantly thank God, because when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you welcomed it not as a human message, but as it truly is, the word of God, which also works effectively in you who believe.” Paul highlights two things in this verse that are worth reflecting on by counsellors.

A Welcomed Word

First, Paul says that the Thessalonians received or “welcomed” the gospel message. When these folks came into contact with God’s Word, they believed it! “The message was not only heard and received by the Thessalonians,” Leon Morris writes, “it was welcomed.” [1] They accepted God’s Word as God’s Word, and Paul was looking for the Word of God to be received and accepted in that way. The question for us counsellors is clear: are we seeking that type of response from our counselees? Are we wanting to see them welcome God’s Word—to believe and accept it—such that it changes them? Of course, there is a responsibility on the listener to listen up! Our counselees must be prepared to listen and receive God’s Word. But we also have a responsibility: to clearly present His Word in the context of a caring relationship with them. In biblical counselling, we are not merely offering human opinions, we are offering people God’s Word. And the Bible is not to be pondered abstractly; it is to be received personally. We long to see God’s Word welcomed in such a way that lives are changed! Paul describes how God’s Word changed the Thessalonians in chapter 1: “you turned to God from idols” (1 Thess. 1:9). When the Thessalonians welcomed God’s Word, they welcomed God Himself. This leads us to Paul’s second point about God’s Word.

A Working Word

Paul goes on to tell us that God’s Word isn’t only a word to be welcomed; it is a word that is at work. God’s Word “works effectively in you who believe” (verse 13). The Bible is not a dead word. Nor is it simply a human text. God works effectively through His Word to change hearts and minds.

Let me illustrate what I mean with an example from Speech-Act Theory. Speech-Act theory seeks to identify how words don’t just convey information but actually perform actions. For example, when a Marriage Officer says, “I now pronounce you husband and wife,” he hasn’t just said something; he’s actually done something. His words worked; they were powerful to accomplish something—marriage! God’s Word is like that, but at a much deeper level, because God’s Word works inside our hearts to renew and transform us.

Let the Word do the Work

In biblical counselling, we have the enormous privilege of seeing God work through His Word. As perspectives are shifted, as hearts and minds are renewed, and as attitudes and habits are transformed, we get a front-row seat to see God’s working Word. One of the challenges we have as biblical counsellors is lacking confidence or clarity regarding the effectiveness of God’s Word. It takes both conviction and courage to keep insisting that our counsel will remain dependent on God’s Word. In a world with ever-increasing information, techniques and resources, it might seem as though we are stubborn or foolish to insist upon using an ancient religious text when caring for people. We might be tempted to turn to something else in order to see “better” or quicker results. We might ask something else to do the work in counselling. But this is why it is so important for us to be clear and confident that God’s Word is a working word—a word that changes hearts and lives, a word that enables people to turn from idols to serve the living and true God. In our lives and counselling, let’s let the Word do the work. For biblical counselling to be truly effective, we must rely on God’s Word, which works effectively.

Join the Conversation

How did you come to the conviction that God’s Word is active and effective in counselling? How do you explain it to counselees?

[1] Leon Morris, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 13, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 63.

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