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When We Counsel God’s Words

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Biblical counseling requires impeccable stewardship.  It is a practice in which we, as counselors interpret and apply sacred truth to hearts often ravaged by the relentless presence of sin and suffering.  This is a profound responsibility.  Misapply or misinterpret the divine treasures of God’s Word and hearts are not mended, but tragically wounded.  Even worse, such misapplication or misinterpretation is an offense to the One whose words we are attempting to communicate.  D.A. Carson’s warning is certainly relevant here,

                  “Make a mistake in the interpretation of Shakespeare’s plays, falsely scan a piece of Spenserian verse, and there is unlikely to be an entailment of eternal consequence; but we cannot lightly accept a similar laxity in the interpretation of Scripture.  We are dealing with God’s thoughts:     we are obligated to take the greatest pains to understand them truly and explain them clearly.”[1]

Depending upon the Bible for our counsel is a high call that warrants a reverent fear of the One whose words we translate to others.  Referring specifically to the book of Revelation, John wrote:               

                “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book:  if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the  words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19)

It is obvious from this text that John was referring to the book of Revelation, but I think his words are very applicable nonetheless, not to mention terrifyingly sobering.  Tampering with God’s words is a dangerous thing.  Our hearts should tremble at the possibility of misapplying His wisdom. 

                All books in the Bible are as equally sacred as Revelation.  Therefore, the spirit of John’s stern warning merits our attention and is affirmed elsewhere in the Old and New Testaments.  Consider the following: [Emphasis added in each verse] 

                “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.  Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.” (Prov. 30:5-6)                   

                “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15)       

                “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (Jas 3:1)

It is almost impossible to overlook the relational imperative incited by these authors when mentioning the use of Scripture.  The writer of Proverbs points to a Person committed to rebuking those who mishandle His words.  Likewise, Paul is encouraging Timothy to handle the word of truth wisely for the purpose of presenting himself approved by God.  James warns of a higher standard by which teachers of the Word will be judged by God.  The way we choose to represent and utilize the Bible horizontally (in counseling others) has enormous implications vertically (in our relationship to our Lord).

The good news for Christians is that we belong to a God who does not leave us to ourselves when reading and interpreting His thoughts.  He has sent the Holy Spirit to enable us to understand His words (1 Cor. 2:6-16).  We are utterly dependent, and the Holy Spirit’s faithfulness in equipping believers in their dependence is glaring.  Jesus promised His disciples,

                  “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). 

Jesus made good on His promise (Acts 2:1-4), and the Spirit continues to guide and lead believers today (Rom. 8:14).  The Helper is present to help us interpret and apply His words well.

Finally, another means by which the Holy Spirit has facilitated this helping process throughout the ages is by gifting many saints to produce helpful commentaries so that generations following might glean from their biblical scholarship.  Commenting on such scholars, Charles Spurgeon once noted:

                  “In order to be able to expound the Scriptures…you will need to be familiar with the commentators: a glorious army, let me tell you, whose acquaintance will be your delight and profit.”[2]

May we experience the high call of our work to carefully handle God’s Word, may we never grow weary of exercising methods of wise stewardship in interpreting and counseling Scripture, may we continually seek help from the Holy Spirit to understand His thoughts more deeply, and may we always delight in the gifted scholarship of others as the Spirit continues to use their work to equip us in our journey as instruments of God.

Counseling Considerations:

1.     If you have never taken a class in biblical hermeneutics, consider doing so.

2.     Work to develop your skills in biblical interpretation by engaging your pastor or someone with more advanced skills than you.  Share your interpretation of passages and how you arrived at your conclusions.  Be open to learn.  Be willing to consider new ways of seeing.

3.     Be at ease with admitting error.  It is a part of the process of growing and developing as a student of Scripture.

4.     Find solid biblical commentaries and consult them often.

5.     As you grow in your ability to rightly divide the Word of truth, pray for and pursue continual humility and guidance from the Holy Spirit.

Helpful Steps to Interpret Scripture:[3]

1.     Select and Identify Your Passage (Start by browsing the whole book to see the whole picture of what is going on.)

2.     Explore the general meaning of the passage.  What does it say?  (What is it?  Who is the author?  What is the intent of the passage?  What is the major theme?  What is the story-line?

3.     Explore the specific meaning of the passage.  (How is the passage arranged?  What is the sequence of thought?  What are the contexts and/or background?  Look at the grammatical structure such as nouns, verbs, etc.  Examine the significance of individual words and phrases.  Look at other translations.  What are the intentions and propositions?  What are the problems and solutions?  Are there any theological terms that need to be researched?)

4.     Explore the Context.  (What is the historical setting?  What is the literary setting?  What is going on preceding and following the text?  What was going on in that time of history?  Who is the author and what does he bring to the passage?  When and where was the book written?  To whom was the book written?  What are the cultural considerations?  What are the relationships to other passages?  What are the facts?  How doe they compare to your opinions?) 

5.     Explore the Contents.  (What are the different topics involved and how do they relate?  Are there phrases or words repeated? Why?  What are the ethical teachings?  What are the precepts? What do you recognize and what do you need to research?) 

6.     Put it all together.  (Make sure you do not spiritualize something that is not there.  Make sure not to allow your experience to dictate your interpretation/teaching.  Make sure not to justify your opinions by twisting Scripture to fit them.  Make sure not to make dogmatic statements that are not justified such as a way of dress, going to movies, etc.)

[1] D.A. Carson.  Exegetical Fallacies (2nd Ed.) (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Academic, 1996) p. 15

[2] Charles H. Spurgeon, Commenting and Commentaries: Two Lectures Addressed to the Students of The Pastor’s College,

  Metropolitan Tabernacle (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1890).

[3] Exegetical Bible Study Methods. (Francis Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development, 2006).  Retrieved from  www.churchleadership.org, November 19th, 2012.

 


Posted on February 2, 2015