Good Counselors

Lesson 56: Romans 15:14-16

Good Counselors

by Bob Burridge ©2012

It’s good to have those we can count on to give us loving advice when they believe we need it. Children may not always appreciate it when parents tell them to slow down when they chew, to go back to wash their hands again (this time to include both sides), to change clothes into something more appropriate for an occasion, or to get to bed when they aren’t feeling all that sleepy. Parents generally do not say those things to annoy their children. Believe it or not, those kinds of advice are for the most part acts of love. They are trying to help their children to be healthy, and to grow up to be responsible and happy adults.

As we get older we learn that some people give us advice in misleading and unloving ways. We discover that help is not always aimed at our own best interests. Some tell us that if we know what’s best for us we will always buy their brand of cereal, or vote for their candidate, or wear their style of shoes. They tell us to read certain books so that we will see things as they do. We are told to watch TV shows on their network, but it is so their ratings go up. They call us on the phone to get us to switch long distance services, or to contribute to so many charities and services that we would go into debt if we supported even just most of them.

When there is so much self serving guidance out there, it is necessary and good to be cautious. We often develop a defensive response to advice. The problem is that we often carry this over to where we see all advice as meddlesome and interfering. Extreme resistance to counsel can interfere with obeying God’s word.

This is not just advice for parents training up their children with loving counsel. We as believers, ought to know how both to give and to take admonitions so that we can responsibly help one another, and benefit from seeing things from a more biblical point of view.

Rather than allowing someone we love to continue in dangerously wrong behavior, we need to offer good and helpful counsel. We also need to be ready to receive it from others.

In Romans 15:14-16 Paul explains who is able to admonish those in the community of believers. Previously in this section of the letter he expressed his tender concern toward his readers. He told believers to learn to walk in a humble, considerate, patient manner. He urged them to encourage one another toward Christian maturity, specially toward the spiritually weak among them. He pointed them to the God of hope who fills his children with that joy and peace they need as counselors, so that they show in their own lives what they are encouraging others to be and to do. Our lives ought to be godly examples to others of patience, compassion, and restraint.

There are times when we need to deal with another person’s persisting sins. Paul expressed a confidence toward his Roman readers. In Christ they were not only full of goodness and knowledge. They were also able to be admonishers when it was needed.

Romans 15:14, “Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.”

Who is qualified to admonish?

We are living in an age of expertism. Secular views of the world reduce everything to physical laws and experiences. Humans are seen as merely highly evolved animals. We are told that since all reduces to the physical, only those trained in medicine and the objective social sciences are able to help what we view as emotional or behavioral problems. Secular Psychiatrists, Psychologists, and Sociologists are considered to be the only ones competent to help emotionally troubled people and their societal relationships. Some offer the appealing and anesthetizing idea that when we are lazy, mean, impatient, violent, rebellious, immoral, drunken, destructive, or even criminal, it is really not our fault. We are really just suffering from a physical illness, some type of syndrome, bad influences, or a simple misunderstanding.

These secularly trained professionals tend to make it clear that ministers and other counselors should not be trusted. Many blame the illness of their clients on the restrictions of biblical morality, or on their belief in a god who makes them feel guilty unnecessarily.

Certainly there are real organic physical problems that need to be treated. Medical professionals are valuable assets if they carry out their work responsibly. Some behavioral issues can be caused or aggravated by clearly identifiable physical brain damage from injury, chemical toxins, or birth problems. There can be genetic, and glandular irregularities that effect how the brain works. These are treated best by physicians who specialize in these matters. However, when it comes to most behavioral and attitude issues, God does not send us to Physicians. The God who made us sends us in a very different direction.

Here in Romans 15:14 we are told to help one another as a family in Christ, as brothers and sisters. This verse gives the biblical qualifications for those who are able to admonish one another.

The admonisher ought to be a born-again Christian. Paul calls them brothers. They are people redeemed by the grace of God in Christ. An unbeliever may know case histories, psycho-biology, and neurology, but he does not know the whole scope of human nature. In 1 Corinthians 2:14 the Bible says, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

The non-Christian sees sin as nothing more than a violation of subjective moral standards. He sees what some consider to be bad behavior as the result of imposing personal opinions upon others. Counselors of this sort often recommend therapies that just compound or hide the real problem. They may tell the counselee to go out and have sex with some one outside of marriage, or to beat up on a pillow to relieve pent up hostilities, or to use various techniques to shift the blame to their parents, teachers, or Pastors. They may give them drugs to dull or to control their feelings of guilt or depression.

Only a regenerate believer is able to see the true spiritual dimension of sin problems. Since they love God’s word and desire to submit to it, they have a sound foundation from which to reason. They understand we are not victims. We are fallen sinners who ought to admit our failings. They see one another not as either victims or experts, but as members of a spiritual family who are here to help one another grow up in Christ. They know that for a person to deal successfully with sin issues, he must first be born-again through faith in the Living Lord Jesus Christ. They respect the fact that sin must be confessed and overcome, not explained away or blamed on someone else.

Paul names two qualities the Christian counselor ought to possess:
1. The godly admonisher ought to be full of goodness. This is a general term that includes the qualities that are pleasing to God. It includes the inner motive of directing whatever we do toward the glory of God, not for the benefit of ourselves for personal comfort or gain. This is the central desire of true biblical love. It seeks the spiritual benefit of its object. 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, love “… does not seek its own.”

The self-serving counselor maybe more concerned with how his treatments make him feel successful, or with how satisfied customers improve his career security. The concerned brother in Christ is able to rise above these self-serving motives. He works for a greater good, the glory of God being realized and enjoyed in the heart of each of his redeemed children. This does not mean that we always have pure hearts when we advise one another, but it does mean that only the redeemed have the potential to put God’s glory first.

Of course there is nothing good in any of us in our fallen condition. Without Christ no one does good, not anyone (Paul said this directly in Romans 3:12). However, in Christ we are enabled to perform the works of God. Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Therefore, only redeemed believers, all of them, have this important quality necessary for effective counseling.

As we progress in growing in these Christ-like qualities, we have the confidence that in the eyes of God as our Eternal Judge we are clothed in the righteousness of the Savior who credits us with his own perfect goodness by his grace alone. This enables us to stand in the presence of the Holy Creator to receive his enablement to live more and more as we ought to live, and to be maturing spiritually.

If you want to be a greater help to others, make your own salvation sure, then pray for goodness. 2 Thessalonians 1:11 says, “Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power.”

2. The godly admonisher ought to be full of all knowledge. This does not mean he has all knowledge about everything. No one has that. It does not even mean that in order to give godly counsel you have to know all there is to know about God’s word.

Certainly the more we know about what God has said, the more helpful we will be. The brother who cares for others will look into God’s word for advice. That is our invaluable tool for helping another person both see his sins and know the assurances he has for overcoming them by the promises of God. Psalm 119:99 reminds us, “I have more understanding than all my teachers, For Your testimonies are my meditation.”

Admonition partly involves reminding others or teaching them about what God says in His word. Teachers have a fundamental obligation to properly present what is revealed in the Bible. This is why counselors who are not submissive to God’s word are dangerous. This is true both of secular counselors, and of so called Christian counselors if they follow the worlds theories and try merely to sanctify them by quoting a few Bible verses. In 1 Timothy 1:7 Paul warned Timothy that there are those who want “… to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm.”

We should never admonish others to adopt our ways, but rather to take on God’s ways. This is why first of all we must know the ways of God. No one is competent to counsel if he is not trusting in the principles of the gospel, and in the ways of God’s word. These lay the foundation for the help being offered.

Believers are able to admonish one another. Here Paul expresses his confidence that these qualities exist in the believers at Rome too. They are fully competent to do this. No better counselors could be recommended.

They did not need professional experts in the secular sciences. They needed biblical counsel from brothers in Christ. Jesus taught this during his earthly ministry. As part of his advice in Matthew 18:15 he said, “if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.”

How we admonish others is very important.

The word “admonish” is commonly used today with negative overtones. It often implies a harsh scolding, or a lording it over someone as their moral superior. Too often human pride gets in the way of trying to help others struggling in sin.

In the Bible, the word has a much richer and more positive meaning. The Greek word “nouthetein” (νουθετειν) is the one translated as “admonish” here in verse 14. This word is used in the New Testament 11 times. By looking at those uses we see that the Bible uses this word for loving brotherly admonition.

Biblical admonition treats others with respect, not with a critical attitude of fault finding or belittling. It treats others as if we really care for them as members of our own family who are in danger. We take the danger seriously and want them to look at the cause of their problems, not merely at the symptoms.

1 Corinthians 4:14, “I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you.”

2 Thessalonians 3:15, “Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”

Ephesians 6:4, “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.”

This admonition is the tender guiding of someone we value as if they were our own child or brother. It is not the way we would treat someone who was our enemy. It is done lovingly, humbly, not with arrogant scolding or judgmentalism.

We often call this approach to counseling “Nouthetic”, using the Greek word for admonishing in this loving way as we deal directly with sin and help believers to be encouraged in to grow in Christ-likeness.

Biblical admonition is done patiently with those who are weak in their Christian understanding and commitment. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 says, “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.” The Greek word translated as “warn” is this same word nouthetein.

The goal of biblical admonition is to make others complete in the Lord Jesus. Colossians 1:28 says, “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”

God’s revealed word is the sure foundation for helping one another. After commenting on the Old Testament story of Moses and Israel, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:11, “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.”

Biblical admonition is persistent, and is often done with tears. When Paul addressed the Elders of Ephesus he said in Acts 20:31. “Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.”

Here in Romans 15:14 the meaning is clear. We are to help the spiritually weak to become stronger in the Lord. We have Christ’s enablement to do so. We do it by loving, tender, patient, humble brotherly advice drawn from God’s word.

Biblical admonition can even be done with music. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

Of course it’s not the music that admonishes our soul. God never recorded even one note of music in his word for his people to use. Music may help create the setting or a mood, but it is God’s truth in the lyrics of music that admonishes us.

We must be careful that the words of the songs we teach our children, or sing to ourselves or with friends are soundly and accurately based upon God’s word.

This is why the lyrics of music used for admonition and in worship should be subjected to the same careful crafting that a pastor puts into the content of his worship messages. No one should choose admonition music just for its sound or feeling. It should not be selected for its popularity. It must rest upon the solid principles and promises of the Holy Scriptures.

Paul was a good example of lovingly admonishing others.

Romans 15:15-16, “Nevertheless, brethren, I have written more boldly to you on some points, as reminding you, because of the grace given to me by God, that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”

Paul was called by God to be a minister to the Gentiles, that is “to the nations”. He had a message for all the redeemed, not just for those of Israel. He did not write to Rome because of personal concerns or disagreements, but because of a divine commission. He was driven by a sincere love and sense of duty. Paul refers to his calling as a grace of God. In Ephesians 3:8 he said, “To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”

His Apostleship gave him a high authority from God the Creator. However, he did not arrogantly scold as someone superior to his readers. He used his Apostleship with great humility and desire for their spiritual growth. His letters are fine examples of biblical admonition. There is no better course to take to prepare for counseling than a good study of the Bible as God’s word.

His admonitions were to help others become sanctified by the Spirit. Paul was not acting as a priest in the Levitical sense. Jesus was the great High Priest who made the final sacrifice of his own body and blood. True Christianity has ministers teaching and leading the people. As good shepherds they are there to lead and to train us all to be competent in admonishing one another by the word of God.

Verse 16 speaks of making an “offering” in the sense of Romans 12:1. We are to present our whole persons as a living sacrifice, a giving up of ourselves in gratitude since we are the Lord’s, not our own. Paul’s offering of the Gentiles was not that somehow they should be literally offered. It is that by the gospel as applied by the Holy Spirit, they might be offered up as the living redeemed who had become one with Christ, and brought into a body of caring believers living for God’s glory.

Biblical counsel is not like that offered by the world.

Those who build their view of counseling upon an unbiblical understanding of how God made us, are not able to directly address the causes of our needs. Just calling our approach “religious” or “Christian” does not make it biblical.

In contrast with popular trends in counseling, the Bible does not call sin a sickness as if we are unwilling victims of some evil that floats around looking for someone to infect. God’s word does not teach us to psycho-analyze our souls as if to excuse wrong behavior because of what others have done. It does not tell us to vent our frustrations on some surrogate object of hate. It does not tell us to elevate our emotions into some mystical state of consciousness by emotional music, compelling altar calls, or alarming predictions of future horrors.

Biblical nouthetic counseling is when believers help one another by humbly admonishing them in love. It is firmly based upon the truths of God’s word, and is directed toward helping even the weakest among us to grow in spiritual maturity.

Sadly, some who need to see their own sins and foolish behaviors, will not accept loving admonitions. Paul warned Titus of this in Titus 3:10, “Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition.” If they show no evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives we need to change our course of help. Instead of treating them as a brother in the Lord, we need to assume they are outside the family of God. We need to begin with bringing the life-changing Gospel of God’s Grace to them before we can proceed.

Samuel is a sad example of loving admonition being rejected. Samuel’s sons rebelled and turned away from the things of the Lord. God said these words about this neglectful father, “For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them.” (1Samuel 3:13)

The word translated as “restrain” in this verse is the Hebrew word kihah (כהה). Its root meaning is “to make someone feeble, timid, or weak”. It came to be commonly use meaning “to rebuke”. The idea is to admonish someone so they would have a humble, holy, worshipful attitude before God. That is where the original concept of to make weak came to mean being humbled by admonition. The ancient Greek Septuagint’s translation of this word is the same one used for these loving admonitions in the New Testament, “nouthetein” (νουθετειν).

Samuel failed to admonish his rebellious and foolish sons. He failed to admonish them. When warned he did not correct and counsel his children. The Bible faults him for his failure as a parent.

God’s children ought not treat loving admonitions negatively. Loving counsel should neither be neglected by the giver nor by the receiver. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 says, “And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves.” Again, the word used there for “admonish” is the word nouthetein.

Paul admits that his writing has been somewhat bold at times. He was very direct in his correction. But it was always done humbly and in love. Though it was persistent, it was not without tears, and was always based upon the advice and warnings of God’s word, not upon Paul’s own customs and preferences.

Paul was also confident that these Romans who were so troubled by issues about which he was writing to them, were still the best hope of good counsel for one another.

Biblical counsel is always nouthetic, redeemed people admonishing one another as a family in Christ. Enabled by the Holy Spirit to goodness, and armed with the knowledge of God’s word, they persist, sometimes even in tears, to help all, even the weakest, toward mature spiritually.

Our love for one another is too dear, and our love for God is too overwhelming, to substitute superficial remedies for the real joy and peace promised to us in our Savior. Biblical counsel is good biblical advice given in a way that is truly reflective of the love of God toward his children.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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About Bob Burridge

I've taught Science, Bible, Math, Computer Programming and served 25 years as Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Pinellas Park, Florida. I'm now Executive Director of the ministry of the Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies

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