Christ-Centered Counseling

He sits there—tears streaming from his dark gray eyes, like a stream falling over a rough, jagged boulder. You sit at his side, arm around his shaking shoulders. The news had hit him hard—his mother had cancer for several months, but the sudden turn for the worse barely gave him time to prepare for this—the news of her death.

And now, as his best friend, the one he’s always confided in, you feel obligated to be there. Words fail however, as you can barely even begin to relate to the chaos of feelings that he is undoubtedly feeling. Pain. Bitterness. Anger. Silence seems sufficient, however, at least for now.

But what about in the days to come? How will you minister to him as the friend he’s always looked to? To whom will you point your hurting friend?

The Importance of Offering Biblical Counsel to Friends

We all need help—that’s simply part of what it means to be human. You don’t have to look outside yourself to notice the effects of what life in a broken world looks like. As a result of this brokenness, most of us, if not all of us, at some point in our journey, have had the opportunity to walk with a friend through the heat of everyday life.

As believers, however, we must ask ourselves the question, “Is my coming alongside my hurting friend ultimately pointing them back to the source of all comfort,namely Christ, or does it begin and end with me depending on my own wisdom to aid them in their difficulty?”

Many Christians today lack a biblical understanding of how to build good relationships with one another. This can be seen in the countless divided churches and broken families in so-called Christian circles. Reality is, relationships among Christian brothers and sisters are far too often no different from the relationships between non-Christians.

It’s time we evaluated our own relationships through the lens of Scripture, and ask ourselves, “How often are people in my life a source of personal frustration?” “How often do I view my friend and his/her problems as obstacles to ministry rather than an opportunity to exemplify the love of Christ and the power of the gospel?” As believers, we are the recipients of Christ’s love (Romans 8:31-39) and, in turn, we are called to be a channel of Christ’s love to others. (I Corinthians 13).

Biblical Counseling Defined

Before moving further into what it looks like to biblically love others (John 13:34; Galatians 5:14), it is important that we define the term Biblical Counseling. After all, the idea of “counseling” might scare some of us, as our immediate idea of that word is a formal setting with a professional counselor and client.

Ultimately, biblical counseling is not about offering a system or a program, but rather, as people committed to walking alongside others in brotherly love, we offer a person—the Person—Jesus Christ. Biblical counseling seeks to help people see that life is not as it was originally intended to be. Rather, because of sin (Genesis 3), life is broken— pain, death, shattered relationships, tears, injustice, etc abound.

It should be our goal to help them see that even though sin creates chaos, the gospel message restores order. Because of the death and resurrection of Christ, we have hope, not only in having our sins forgiven, not only hope of an eternal reward, but hope, here and now, in the everyday, nitty gritty circumstances of life.

The Counselor/Friend

The first goal of anyone desiring to love like Christ is to first become a transparent and humble friend at ease with themselves and their own neediness. Without seeing and understanding our own neediness and sin, and without humbly speaking openly about them to God, asking others to pray for us, we will be unable to effectively point our hurting friends to Christ. We will also fail to fully obey the second goal of becoming more like Christ in our relationships: to love our neighbor as ourselves. This can only happen as we follow Christ’s command to lay down our own lives (Luke 14:26-27).

Jesus, in Matthew 22:36-40, reveals to us God the Father’s desire that believers have a right relationship with Him and with others. It is important for us as Christians to understand that our relationship with God is intrinsically linked to our relationships with other people. As we learn how to love God as Scripture commands, we are also learning how to love people (I John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11-12). Without a personal, vibrant love relationship with God, we can forget about effectively bringing others to the point of lasting change through the gospel message.

Loving Others Biblically

When we forget that we have been called to embody the love of Christ within our relationships, we quickly take control, allowing them to be governed by our pleasure and comfort. How can we, as those who desire to walk alongside our friends in a biblical way, build relationships of love, grace, and trust? Let me introduce four things that are important in building redemptive relationships.

1. Enter the world of your suffering friend

As we come alongside hurting people, we must seek to follow Christ’s example by entering the world of our hurting friend. Christ made relational interaction with people and their struggles by connecting with their needs. Entering our friend’s world is not done by assuming we think we know what his problem is. Rather, it is done by asking questions. As they confess how they are struggling, we will have common ground with them and a door of opportunity to take our ministry to a deeper level.

Paul David Tripp gives four helpful things that we should train ourselves to listen for in our dialogue:
– Listen for emotional words (“I’m angry.” I’m afraid.”)
– Listen for interpretive words (“This shouldn’t have happened to me.” “I wonder why I even get up in the morning.”)
– Listen for self talk. (“I am such a failure.” “I’m not capable of doing that.”)
– Listen for God talk. (“How could God let this happen to me?” “God just doesn’t hear my prayers.”) (Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, 128)

2. Represent the love of Christ

As we listen for a theme to emerge, whether it be anger, pride, idolatry, fear etc., our focus should be on our friend and his struggle at the moment. When we have identified a certain theme, we must meet our friend in that particular struggle and represent Christ’s love. Hurting people are often blinded by the pain of their struggle and forget that God is still active in their lives, working for their good through the circumstances they are facing.

Incarnating the love of Christ then, should have the gospel at its core. The gospel message has the hope we long for our friend to realize, not a set of strategies, but rather a person—Jesus Christ. This hope is rooted in the reality of all that Christ has accomplished on their behalf through his death and resurrection.

3. Identify with your friend’s suffering

Part of entering our friend’s world and embodying the love of Christ is humbly identifying with him as a brother, part of the same heavenly family, who is also in the process of being changed into the image of Christ. We are all sinners in need of grace. Not one of us is exempt from the affects of sin and suffering.

Identifying with our hurting friend may involve sharing how we have suffered, giving testimony of the grace of God and his purpose in hardship. Romans 8:28-29 gives us confidence in understanding God’s ultimate purpose in suffering. For anyone who loves Christ, God is working for our good, conforming us into the image of Christ.

4. Accept with an Agenda

As those seeking to be more like Christ, we must never approach our relationships with a condemning, self-righteous attitude. Rather, out of humility for what Christ has done on our behalf, we offer others the same acceptance that we have received from God.

Acceptance, however, does not mean that we tell our friends it is okay to stay as they are, but rather, as Titus 2:11-12 teaches, being accepted by God is a lifestyle that requires work—renouncing ungodliness and living self-controlled lives. We must call our friends to God’s kind of change, and never compromise it in the relationships he has given us.

Conclusion

God has called each of us to minister his love within our relationships. Have you embraced his work and allowed it to transform your heart, so that you can minister his love to those you relate to every day? Are you someone who lives out the gospel, pointing people to Christ rather than to yourself? Are your relationships a place where people can be renewed, restored, refined, and where God is at the center and receiving all the glory? May we all continue to grow in love, minister in humility, and continually call each other to more Christ-likeness.

“Johnny Beiler” Johnny Beiler lives in Elnora, Indiana where he is currently pursuing certification in Biblical Counseling at Elnora Bible Institute. If he’s not busy working on homework, you may find him waiting tables at a local pizza shop in town. He enjoys interacting with people, hiking/enjoying nature, and diving into a good book with a cup of coffee close by. Johnny is passionate about seeing young men embrace godly masculinity as they are transformed by Christ through the Gospel story.

Sources used:

The Holy Bible ESV: English Standard Version: Containing the Old and New Testaments. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2001. Print.

Street, John D. Men Counseling Men. Eugene, Or.: Harvest House, 2013. Print.

Tripp, Paul David. Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2002. Print.

Welch, Edward T. Side By Side. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015. W

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