Trudy and Tony were referred to you from another church. You’ve never met them before today. They’ve come to you after already having seen a divorce attorney. Trudy tells you that she is “100% motivated to be in counseling” and “desperately wanting to see our marriage saved.” Tony is meeting with you because he feels it’s his obligation to “make one more attempt to save this marriage.”
What do Trudy and Tony need from you first? Do they need truth—scriptural insight about sacrificial love applied to their marital relationship? Or, do they need love—to connect with you and to build a relationship with you so that they are ready to hear truth from you?
Which is most important in biblical counseling? Is the ministry of the Word primary and loving relationships secondary? Or, is the relationship central and you need to wait to share truth until you’ve established a trusting relationship?
Are these even the right questions? Does Scripture divide truth from relationship in ministry? Does the Bible rank truth and love? Wouldn’t that be somewhat like asking, “Which counselor is least effective, the one who ignores the greatest commandment to love God and others, or the one who ignores commands to counsel from the Word?”
The Bible never pits truth against love. It never lays them out on a gradation or ranking system.The Bible presents equal couplets: truth/love, Scripture/soul, Bible/relationship, and truth/grace.
Just the UPS Delivery Man?
And yet we’re forced to ponder these questions about truth and love every time we minister to others. I was forced to ponder the issue again recently when I listened to an excellent closing session at a biblical counseling conference. The message was biblical, relevant, and powerful. The wise, godly speaker wrapped the entire message around the theme that the power in our ministry comes solely from the power inherent in God’s Word.
His concluding illustration put an exclamation point on his theme as he shared about the Christmas present he purchased for his daughter. The gift arrived two days before Christmas, delivered by the UPS guy. The speaker’s daughter, hearing the UPS truck pull into the driveway, bolted to the door to meet the delivery man. She snatched the package from his hands and raced to place it under the tree, not the least bit focused on the UPS delivery guy. The speaker concluded with the phrase, “We’re just the UPS delivery guy. The real gift, the great present is the Word that we deliver. We’re just the UPS delivery guy!”
I joined the crowd in “Amening!” I loved the illustration. I got the theme—the power is in the Word of God!
More Than Just the UPS Delivery Guy
But later that evening, I started asking myself: Is that the complete biblical picture? Don’t we always say that God calls us to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), to make our love abound in knowledge and depth of insight (Phil. 1:9-11), and to share not only the gospel but our very own souls (1 Thess. 2:8)? Does the Bible really teach that only the message matters, or does it teach that the messenger’s character and relationship to the hearer also matter greatly?
Once these questions started whirring through my mind, I couldn’t sleep. Thinking about sharing Scripture and our soul, I turned to 1 Thessalonians 2. As I read those twenty verses, five biblical portraits of the biblical counselor emerged from the pages. I saw then what I share with you now:
Biblical counseling involves gospel conversations where we engage in soul-to-soul relationships as brothers, mothers, fathers, children, and mentors who relate Christ’s gospel story to our friends’ daily stories.
God calls us to love well and wisely. That’s why, in biblical counseling, we must weave together in our ministries what is always united in God’s Word—truth and love, which is comprehensive biblical wisdom and compassionate Christlike care. Biblical counseling is not either/or: either be a brilliant but uncaring soul physician, or be a loving but unwise spiritual friend. God calls us to be wise and loving biblical counselors.
We are more than just the UPS delivery guy. According to 1 Thessalonians 2, God calls us to share his Word with the love of a brother, mother, father, child, and mentor. This is vital to our ministries today, just as it was vital to Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica. Based upon 1 Thessalonians 2:2-3, 5-6, commentator Leon Morris notes that:
It is clear from the epistle that Paul had been accused of insincerity. His enemies said that he was more concerned to make money out of his converts than to present true teaching. The accusation would be made easier in virtue of the well-known fact that itinerant preachers concerned only to feather their own nests were common in those days. Paul was being represented as nothing more than another of this class of preaching vagrants.
Morris goes on to explain that in Paul’s day:
Holy men of all creeds and countries, popular philosophers, magicians, astrologers, crack-pots, and cranks; the sincere and the spurious, the righteous and the rogue, swindlers and saints, jostled and clamored for the attention of the credulous and the skeptical.
The Message and the Messenger
That’s why the unity of Scripture and soul and truth and relationship was so vital to Paul. In writing to the Thessalonians, Paul is saying, “You doubt my credentials? Then be a good Berean who examines the message and the messenger—what I say, who I am, and how I relate to you.” It’s the identical message that Paul sends to every young minister anywhere. If you want to validate your ministry, then “watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16, emphasis mine).
Paul writes 1 Thessalonians 2 to affirm his ministry as from God and to affirm the nature of all ministry from God by modeling the sharing of Scripture and soul, by embodying truth in love. It is God’s plan to use his Word powerfully when we share it truthfully and lovingly—like a brother, mother, father, child, and mentor.
The Rest of the Story: Ministering to Trudy and Tony
What Trudy and Tony need from you is truth and love. They need scriptural insight about sacrificial love applied to their relationship in the context of a family relationship where you share Scripture and your soul as a brother, mother, father, child, and mentor.
What does that mean? What does that look like? In my next two posts for Gospel-Centered Discipleship, we’ll explore in greater detail Paul’s practical teaching from 1 Thessalonians about 5 Portraits of Gospel-Centered Counseling.
Dr. Robert W. Kellemen: Bob is the Vice President for Institutional Development and Chair of the Biblical Counseling Department at Crossroads Bible College, the Founder and CEO of RPM Ministries, and served for five years as the founding Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition. For seventeen years Bob served as the founding Chairman of and Professor in the MA in Christian Counseling and Discipleship department at Capital Bible Seminary. Bob pastored for 15 years and has trained pastors and counselors for three decades. Bob earned his BA in Pastoral Ministry from Baptist Bible College (PA), his Th.M. in Theology and Biblical Counseling from Grace Theological Seminary, and his Ph.D. in Counselor Education from Kent State University. Bob and his wife, Shirley, have been married for thirty-five years; they have two adult children, Josh and Marie, one daughter-in-law, Andi, and three granddaughters: Naomi, Penelope, and Phoebe. Dr. Kellemen is the author of thirteen books including Gospel-Centered Counseling and Gospel Conversations.