Isaiah the prophet called the coming Savior “Wonderful Counselor” (Isaiah 9:6). Isn’t it astonishing that very few in the biblical counseling field have undertaken the effort to study the Wonderful Counselor as the master counselor? I was deeply struck and encouraged as I paid closer attention to our Lord and His way of dealing with people. Here is an example from John 4:5-28.
The Wonderful Counselor is Different
Jesus, being tired from the journey, was sitting beside the well, and it was the sixth hour. Why is this woman coming at the sixth hour? Because everybody in town knew her lifestyle and she was filled with shame. She did not dare to look into the despising eyes of her people.
The Wonderful Counselor starts talking to the woman. May I ask you a question at this point? Let’s say you know the woman and you already know what kind of lifestyle she is living. She’s from your town, she’s from your village, or even “worse,” she is a member of your congregation and you found out about her lifestyle. She had five men and the man she’s presently living with is not her husband either. The chances are high that at this point we would be going in the wrong direction with her by approaching her sinful actions in a sort of “head-on collision.” Yet the Wonderful Counselor knows better – her sleeping around is not the main problem. Her sinful actions of adultery are rather the bad fruits which come from an underlying problem which is much deeper, grounded in her heart. She still follows the old scheme of Satan, believing that the life lived for herself is the best life to be found.
The Wonderful Counselor is Profound
Christ’s approach is so much more profound. Christ is not satisfied by just dealing with her sinful actions. He is about to teach her the fundamental principle that we have been made for something bigger than just living for ourselves. In order to show her this truth, He prompts her to give Him a drink. By drawing attention to physical thirst, our Wonderful Counselor uses a common Jewish teaching method by going from the known to the unknown. Coming for water at this time of the day shows the woman was very aware of physical thirst. What she did not know was that there is something like a spiritual thirst. Christ is using this illustration of physical water and physical thirst to teach her this crucial lesson that her main problem does not lie in the physical, but in the spiritual. Even worse, she tries to quench a spiritual thirst with physical means.
The Wonderful Counselor is a Patient Teacher
How different is Christ’s approach in counseling this adulterous woman. Verse 10 makes very clear what distinguishes the Wonderful Counselor from so many counselors today. Christ is aware of the fact that the woman does not know the gift of God. She does not know what it means to live in a close and intimate relationship with the living God. She has no idea of what it means to enjoy a redeemed and reconciled relationship with the one she has been created for. She is very aware of the fact that she is a relational being, but she is looking for satisfaction merely in the horizontal, not knowing of the vertical relationship for which she has been created but which has been broken by sin. Therefore, a main portion of Christ’s counseling is teaching, rather than just rebuking her for her sinful actions. He’s teaching her that she is trying to look for satisfaction merely in the physical, where indeed her real problem lies in the spiritual. The woman is looking for satisfaction in horizontal relationships and so Christ is pointing her to God for her first and most important relationship. He does not focus on the sinful consequences of her self-centered lifestyle. The Wonderful Counselor is able to look beyond her fault and see her need.
Too often in counseling we are just focused on reproof and correction. Doubtless, those are core elements of biblical counseling (2 Tim. 3:16). Yet we can learn from the Wonderful Counselor that even reproof and correction has to be done by looking beyond the mere behavioral level. Man is living from his heart (Prov. 4:23) and this is why Christ teaches the woman first about the true nature of her problem (John 4:7-15) before he reproofs her actions (v. 16-18) and corrects her thinking (v.19-26).
The Wonderful Counselor Points to Infinite Fullness
Many commentators believe that the woman, being intimidated by Christ’s knowledge of her life, tries to change topics in verse 19. Yet I argue for the fact that this woman is far more on target than most observers of the scene might anticipate. This woman was following Christ’s teaching and its ramifications very closely and comes to the inevitable conclusion: if this is really true that I’ve been created as a worshiper and therefore true satisfaction is not to be found in worshiping creation and ultimately worshiping self, but rather in living for God, where then do I find this true God I’ve been created for? As a Samaritan woman she was in conflict over the question whether the God of her ancestors in the Northern Kingdom was the one true God or whether it is the God which has been worshiped in Jerusalem, the Southern Kingdom. She’s not changing topics, but rather trying to clarify who this true and only God is that she is to build this intimate and life-fulfilling relationship with. The Wonderful Counselor corrects the faulty teaching of the Samaritans and points her to the true God of Judah. Yet at the same time, He reveals to the woman that true worship and fellowship with the one living God is not bound to a certain temple or location. True worship is grounded in an intimate fellowship with God in spirit and in truth. It is a relationship we cherish and enjoy on a heartfelt level. Whoever wants to enjoy this fellowship with the living God has to do so with affections in his spirit and with sincerity in truthfulness.
Just by studying this short encounter between Christ and the woman at the well we can learn numerous lessons from the Wonderful Counselor:
- We are to build a relationship with our counselees in order to have access to their hearts.
- We should not limit our focus on outward sinful behavior; we have to be able to look beyond the fault and see the need.
- True biblical change is always fueled by a loving relationship with God as Creator and Savior; the indicative must spur the imperative.
- True “success” in counseling is not found by merely seeing a change in outward behavior, but rather in a change of worship which takes place on a heart level.
- Reproof is a vital and legitimate part of biblical counseling, yet we are not to overlook how much our counselees are in need of truthful teaching and loving correction.
- The ultimate goal of any biblical counseling is to help people live a life of worship and love towards the One they have been created for and saved by.
- True biblical counseling is not satisfied with behavioral change, but rather with a heart which submits freely, lovingly, and joyfully to its Creator and Savior, in spirit and in truth.
Questions for Reflection
With the abundance of biblical counseling resources in our culture, do we see the great responsibility and high calling we have in studying the ultimate role model of a counselor, our Wonderful Counselor? Do we ourselves enjoy this intimate relationship with God in spirit and in truth so we can point others to it? Are we capable of looking beyond our counselee’s fault to see their need, just like the Wonderful Counselor did?