[전통주의] God’s Glory is the Goal of Biblical Counseling
God’s Glory is the Goal ofBiblical Counseling
BY JOHN PIPER
In a series at our church on eschatology, Iwas preaching on Jesus’ second coming from 1Thessalonians 4:13-18. Paul begins and ends ina way that helped me take my people and say,“This is what you do with eschatology.” Paulbegins like this: “We do not want you to beignorant, brothers, concerning those who havefallen asleep, that you might not grieve as thosewho have no hope.” Then he closes, “Now, comfortone another with these words.” He begins andends on this pastoral note. Eschatology’s abouthow you suffer and how you help.
I stopped speaking, and we took sometime for discussion. People only wanted toknow whether the time frame was pre-mil, post-mil, or a-mil. I said, “You’re missing the point.Do you hear this? Paul doesn’t want them to beignorant of the fact that Jesus is alive. Jesus willcome back. We will be with Him forever. Why?So they’ll grieve a certain way. So they’ll comforteach other a certain way. Do you get this? Doyou see what knowledge is about? It’s about howto grieve. It’s about how to counsel grievingfriends. You speak knowledge into people’slives, and it shakes their grief. Do you see this?This is what your mouth is for, people: ‘The
*John Piper is Senior Pastor of Bethlehem BaptistChurch in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This article isadapted from a talk given at CCEF’s Living Faithconference, November 9, 2001.
mouth of the wise is a fountain of life.’Knowledge is so others can drink life-givingwords. Doctrine is all about feeling, all abouthow you live, all about how you counsel.”
Let me give my definition of biblicalcounseling right off the bat: “Biblical counsel-ing is God-centered, Bible-saturated, emotionally-in-touch use of language to help people becomeGod-besotted, Christ-exalting, joyfully self-forgetting lovers of people.” I’d like to unpackthat definition for you in what follows, and ask,What is the relationship between delight anddoctrine? What is the relationship betweencounseling and the church? and What is therelationship between God’s glory and His lovefor us?
BIBLICAL COUNSELING IS...
God-centered, Bible-saturated, emotion-ally-in-touch use of language to help peoplebecome God-besotted, Christ-exalting, joyfullyself-forgetting lovers of people. What does thatmean?
First, it means teaching truth. That 1Thessalonians 4:13-18 passage bursts withtruth:
For if we believe that Jesus died and roseagain, even so God will bring with Himthose who have fallen asleep in Jesus. Forthis we say to you by the word of the Lord,that we who are alive, and remain untilthe coming of the Lord, shall not precede
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those who have fallen asleep. For the LordHimself will descend from heaven with ashout, with the voice of the archangel,and with the trumpet of God; and thedead in Christ shall rise first. Then wewho are alive and remain shall be caughtup together with them in the clouds tomeet the Lord in the air, and thus we shallalways be with the Lord.
Biblical counseling is nothing if it is not God-centered and Bible-saturated. R. C. Sproul saidto me not long after James Boice died that inone of his last conversations with him, Dr.Boice said, “R. C., we are surrounded by pastoralwimps who say, People don’t need teaching,they don’t need knowledge: they need to behugged, they need silence, they need stories,they need experiences shared.” James Boice isabsolutely right about the shrinking emphasison teaching. People desperately need to betaught about the nature of God. They desper-ately need a biblical, God-centered perspectiveon everything. Before a calamity like September11, you lay the foundations for your people ofthe granite sovereignty and glory of God so thatthey don’t say, “Nonsense!” or don’t shut theirmouths with nothing to say. That’s whatChristian counseling is about—whether it isfrom the pulpit, in the office, or over the fencein the backyard. My take on the nature ofcounseling is that it has to do with knowledge,it has to do with your mouth, it has to do withdoctrine, it has to do with the nature of God—communicated in ways that change hearers.
I get that from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18,and, of course, it is all over the Bible. ConsiderRomans 15:4: “Whatever was written before-hand was written for your instruction in orderthat by the steadfastness and encouragement ofthe Scriptures you might have hope.” Everythingwritten is hope-giving. It all moves fromwritten knowledge to heart-fearing. Or Psalm19:7-8, “The law of the Lord is perfect, revivingthe soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure,making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lordare right, rejoicing the heart.” Teaching makesalive. Witness makes wise. Precepts producejoy. If they don’t, something is wrong! You aredoing something wrong! Precepts producechange in emotions. Preaching goes to theemotions with doctrine. John 15:11 says:
“These things I have spoken to you that your joymight be full.” Speaking is about joy. Preachingis about joy. Counseling is about joy. You gofrom the head to the mouth to the head to theheart and produce joy, which transforms life.
Let me shift to my second concern,getting counseling into the church. Where elsewould it be, for goodness’ sake? Can it beanywhere else and be true?
There are hindrances here. Let me pointout and address just one. (I will say much moreabout the church later.) A lot of peoplelistening to what I have said might respond, “Itdoesn’t work,” or “I’ve never seen anybodygiven to doctrine who is emotionally in touch!”There’s one of the biggest obstacles! Here’s myrecommendation. Almost everything I do withmy life is intended to solve this problem. Ifcounseling, as I have laid it out, is to be restoredto the church, affection must be restored toreflection. If counseling is to be restored to thechurch, delight in God must be restored todoctrines about God. Savoring Christ must berestored to seeing Christ. Tender contritionmust be restored to tough conviction.Communion with God must be restored tocontending for God. I got that last one fromJohn Owen. He said, “We have communionwith God in the doctrines we contend for.”1That is his measure of whether he is contendingtruly. “I must learn to commune with God inthe doctrine.” Isn’t that an interesting phrase?Who talks like that today? You have to go backthree hundred years to find things so powerfulon sin and communion with God. “Contendingfor and communing with God in a doctrine.”Where is there a systematic theology class thathelps students realize that when you unpack theincarnation or the nature of the Trinity or thetwo natures of Christ or the substitutionaryatonement, you commune with the Lord as youdefend and contend for the doctrine, or else youare not doing it right? No wonder people oftendon’t want to be around doctrinally-drivenpeople! They aren’t doing doctrine right. Theyaren’t emotionally in touch with the truths theyteach.
1John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William Gould(Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965 [orig., 1850-1853]), Vol. I, pp. lxiii-lxiv.
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We have a huge problem with this in theReformed community. Reformed people are soafraid of emotion that they think I am talkingabout subjectivism. Pastors, you have a big jobhere, an impossible job. But you have to do this.Let me read to you your mandate with regard tomodeling for your people what is hindering thearrival of their being effective counselors toeach other. I am much more concerned aboutmy people counseling each other than I amabout my doing counseling myself. I counselmainly from the pulpit in order to createcounselors, a couple thousand of them. Here iswhat it says in Hebrews 13:17: “Obey yourleaders and submit to them, for they are keep-ing watch over your souls as those who willhave to give an account. Let them [the leaders,elders, pastors] do this with joy and not withgroaning, for that would be of no advantage toyou.” This is an amazing mandate for pastors.Basically, it is saying that if you want to loveyour people and to be an advantage rather than
way that indicates he’s kind of afraid that it willmake him happy. Why would you want to comeback to listen? We all want to be happy! That isexactly the way God made us. The desire to behappy is the same as the desire of being hungry.It is a God-given thing, written right on ourhearts. God put Himself as the all-satisfyingcenter of all joy. The reason you are not happy,if you are not, is because you have not gotten tothe center yet. Joyful leaders, who communewith the truths they contend for, are crucial torestoring counseling to the church. That’s mysecond observation.
Third, how does this relate to the glory ofGod? This restoring delight to doctrine,affection to reflection, savoring to seeing,communion to contending: how does thatrelate to the glory of God? Let me say a wordabout Hebrews and the way it is structured andthen read something from Jonathan Edwards.The whole book of Hebrews moves toward bigissues like “hold fast to your confidence, be
Joyful leaders, who commune with the truths they contendfor, are crucial to restoring counseling to the church.
a hindrance to them, you need to be happy. Isthat a bad paraphrase? I’d go to the mat withany scholar over that paraphrase! It says, “Letthem do this pastoral work—watching overyour souls—with joy, not with groaning,because that would be of no advantage to you.”Pastors, if you want to love and bless people,pursue your joy! If you become indifferent tothe pursuit of your own joy, you becomeindifferent to love, and you can’t equip thechurch to counsel. That is sin! You cannot lovepeople if you are indifferent to your happinessin the Lord.
Now there are hosts of Reformed andother types who sin when they preach and talkabout doctrine, by denying in their wholedemeanor the preciousness of what they aretalking about. The people do not come awaysaying, “That was the sweetest thing I have everheard.” The pastor doesn’t look like he thinks itis sweet or precious. He doesn’t look like hethinks it is life-changing or that it would makehim happy. In fact, he seems to be talking in a
strong in your encouragement, be joyful in yourassurance, be deep in your contentment” (Heb.3:6, 6:18, 10:34, 13:5.) These words—confidence, encouragement, assurance, con-tentment—are all emotion-laden. The book ofHebrews is all about your joy, persevering in it,and being radically ready to lay down your lifeto take the gospel where it hasn’t gone. Why?Because it is all about Christ. Everything in it isabout the superiority of Christ’s priesthood,sacrifice, covenant, and mediatorial work. Thatglorious, grand, Christ-exalting foundation inHebrews aims to produce confidence and joyand assurance and contentment and the radicallifestyle that flows from it. That means that ifyou preach in a way that people begin to delightin this Christ, He gets all of the glory. The bookis structured so that the magnificence ofChrist’s superiority supports confidence,encouragement, and contentment. Thepervasive presence of such positive, satisfyingemotions in your church magnifies thefoundation for them, Jesus Christ.
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Jonathan Edwards said it this way: “So,God glorifies Himself also toward the creaturesin two ways: 1. By appearing to...their under-standing. 2. In communicating Himself to theirhearts, and in their rejoicing and delighting in,and enjoying, the manifestations which Hemakes of Himself...God is glorified, not only byHis glory’s being seen [known, reflected upon], butby its being rejoiced in...God made the worldthat He might communicate, and the creaturereceive, His glory and that it might [be]received both by the mind and the heart. Hethat testifies his idea of God’s glory [doesn’t]glorify God so much as he that testifies also hisapprobation of it and his delight in it.” 2 You seeand understand Christ: doctrine. You trust andlove Christ: joy.
When asked “Why did God create a worldin which there would be continuous rebellion?”even some Reformed leaders answer by saying,“We don’t know.” We do know! It is for Hisglory! It’s as plain as day in Isaiah 43:7: “Bringmy daughters and my sons from afar, everyonewhom I have created for my glory.” This world,as He knew it, was created for His glory. Ofcourse there are all kinds of complexities andmysteries in that. But you don’t need to startwith ignorance. You can start with knowledge.Then you can move to ignorance, of which, ofcourse, there is much in our minds because weare finite. There are all kinds of questions to askabout knowledge that we can’t answer. But youdon’t need to start with empty-headedness! It’sa cowering in fear.
On the one hand, you have the Reformed,who testify to their ideas about God by crossingevery “t,” dotting every “i,” and getting thedoctrines right, to which I say, “Absolutely,Amen! I am with you.” On the other hand, youhave the Charismatics, who are loosy-goosyabout their doctrine. They are all emotion—getthose hands up and clapping, and those feetstomping, and feel something, for goodness’sake, or God hasn’t arrived! I’m also with them!I hate the cleavage between these two. I am
2Jonathan Edwards, The “Miscellanies,” ed. by ThomasSchafer, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 13 (NewHaven: Yale University Press, 1994), p. 495. Miscellany#448; see also #87, pp. 251-252; #332, p. 410; #679 (notin the New Haven Volume). Emphasis added.
going to do everything within my power whileI breathe to help each of these folks see that,according to Edwards, they are giving God onlyhalf His glory. Know Him truly and don’t feelHim duly—He gets half His glory. Feel Himduly and don’t know Him truly—He gets halfHis glory. Let’s give Him all of His glory, likeJonathan Edwards.
That means, pastors, depending uponwhich of those camps you are in, we must joinPaul in his apostolic goal. Let me quote him foryou: “Not that we lord it over your faith, but weare workers with you for your joy” (2 Cor 1:21).The apostolic goal: work with the church for itsjoy! Do you do that? Is that your mandate? Doyou get up in the morning, dreaming about howto work with the church for its joy? Maybe youthink that was an isolated slip of Paul’s pen, andthat he meant to write “faith” there. That’swhat it sort of sounds like. “Not that we lord itover your faith, but we are workers togetherwith you for your faith.” But he said “joy”instead of “faith.”
Let’s go to another text to confirm this. InPhilippians 1, Paul is not sure whether he isgoing to live or die. He wants to die to go to bewith Jesus, yet he knows he should stay. Why?“But I am persuaded I will remain and stay withyou all for your advancement and joy of faith”(Phil. 1:25). Isn’t that amazing? The greatwriter of the doctrinally unsurpassed book ofRomans says his whole life on planet earth isdevoted to the joy of the saints. So, pastors, youbetter not think you have a more noble goal.
Let me summarize where we’ve come. Wetalked about the nature of counseling, and howWord and knowledge have an impact on heartand feeling. Second, we talked a little aboutrestoring counseling to the church by restoringaffection to reflection. Third, I tried to relatethat to the glory of God by arguing that God ismost glorified in us when we are most satisfiedin Him. Therefore, pastors, if you want God tobe most glorified in your people, you mustsatisfy them with God. The agenda that notionsets for how you preach is wondrous. How willyou be faithful to the Scripture and get Godright? The heart-work can be done only by theHoly Spirit. Joy is His fruit. This goal makes youa desperate pastor because you cannot makepeople happy in God by yourself. Yes, you can
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make them happy in church by telling stories,by making them laugh, so they’re glad theycame to your church. You can even grow achurch without God and without the HolySpirit. What you cannot do, though, is makepeople happy in God without God. The humansoul is wired to be happy in everything else butGod since the fall. If your goal is to be a workerwith and for their joy in God, you aredesperately inadequate. This is why we arecalled to the Word and prayer. He performs; askHim. We are desperate for His help.
Fourth, I want to speak concerning whatit is to love and be loved. What is it for God tolove and for us to be loved by Him? What is itfor us to love God and love other people? Thisis right at the heart of biblical counseling, isn’tit? A sense of being loved, helping people tobecome loving people, and understanding howGod loves us—sinners that we are.
For many years I have been trying to figureout how God’s pursuit of His glory relates to Hislove for you and me. What I find gets clearerevery year, and in recent months has gotteneven clearer. For example, a woman came up tome after church, weeping her eyes out indistress over the problems in her life. At onepoint in our conversation I asked her, “If youwere in a place where you had your family,perfect health, all your favorite foods, and allyour favorite recreation, and you didn’t have tofeel guilty, would you still want to be there ifJesus wasn’t there?” She cried out, “Yes!” Thatis where a lot of professing Christians are. Thegifts of Christ are what they feel good about,not Christ. Forgiveness feels good, getting rid ofguilt feels good, staying out of hell feels good,having a marriage work feels good, having thekids stay off drugs feels good, and having thebody made well feels good. Frankly, Jesus cantake a vacation. Just give me these things.
But, I don’t think there will be anyone inheaven who doesn’t want to be around Jesusmore than they want anything else. This is whyI am serious about joy. If you do not have joy inJesus, you won’t go to heaven.
So, what does it mean to be loved by God?God’s love is almost impossible for Americansto grasp after fifty years of being saturated withlove interpreted as enhancing self-esteem. Formost Americans, to be loved is to feel made
much of. That’s the very definition of love. Ifyou do things and say things that make much ofme, I feel loved by you. If you don’t, I don’t.That means the love of God is inconceivableand unfeelable by those people. God is not intomaking much of us. To the degree that wedistort the cross into an affirmation of mydiamond-in-the-rough value, we lose the loveof God. The cross is all about vindicating therighteousness and the glory of God, who hasbeen pleased to enable unworthy sinners todelight in God.
Why would He treat us so kindly when weare sinners, forgiving all our sins so that wemight enjoy making much of Him? I ask thisquestion everywhere I go now, to see if peopleare American or Christian. I ask, “Do you feelmore loved when God makes much of you or doyou feel more loved when God, at the cost ofHis Son, enables you to enjoy making much ofHim forever?” These are two profoundlydifferent root sources of satisfaction. One isbeing made much of; the other is seeing andsavoring God and making much of God. Whereis the bottom of your satisfaction? Everything inour culture teaches you to make being mademuch of the bottom of your satisfaction, whichis what the devil wants you to do. This has beenthe case for all of us ever since the fall. That wemight instead be so deeply and inwardlytransformed that there might be a new rootsource to our joy is inconceivable to the naturalman! This is why the cross is folly, God is folly,and the church is folly to the natural man. Thespiritual man is fundamentally a person whosedeepest root source of joy has been altered fromself to God.
Let me read a text to you from John 11.“Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus ofBethany, the village of Mary and her sisterMartha. It was Mary who anointed the Lordwith oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whosebrother Lazarus was sick. So the sisters sentword to Him saying, ‘Lord, behold, he whomyou love is sick.’” Don’t miss that word, love.Jesus loves Lazarus. Lazarus is sick. What doeslove mean? “But when Jesus heard this, He said,‘This sickness is not to end in death but for theglory of God.’” There are two massive biblicalrealities here: love of people and the glory ofGod. The driving question in my life for the last
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twenty years has been, “How do they relate?”The passage goes on, “This sickness is not goingto end in death but for the glory of God, sothat the Son of God may be glorified by it.Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister andLazarus.”
This is not a loveless thing going on here.This is love. This is a portrait of love, and aportrait of how God the Son will be glorified.Then comes the absolutely, unintelligibleconjunction from the standpoint of the world:“Therefore, when He heard that he was sick,He stayed two days longer in the place whereHe was.” The “therefore” carries a megaton oftheology! Jesus loves Lazarus. Lazarus is sick andhe is going to die. It’s a hard thing to die, Jesus,for someone to drown in his own pneumonia, orfor his liver to be eaten away or his kidneys orstomach with such horrific pain, and nomorphine in those days. I don’t know howLazarus died, but he was dying, and it was slow.Are You just going to let him die? Why do Younot love him? But Jesus says, “I love him. I loveyou, Martha, and I love you, Mary. I’m notgoing to fix this problem.” Why? In order thatthe Son of God may be glorified.
How would you define love on the basis ofthis text? Here’s my definition. Love is doingwhatever you have to do at whatever cost toyourself in order to help another person stop
were made for something great outsidethemselves that draws the soul out into themost healthy, glorious, self-forgetting experi-ence of delight—call it worship—that theworld can scarcely imagine. Love does what isneeded to help others love God’s glory inChrist. Counseling is one of the most crucialforms of love. Counseling does what is neededto help others love God’s glory in Christ.
ACCORDING TO HEBREWS, PERSE-VERANCE OF THE SAINTS IS ACOMMUNITY PROJECT, THEREFORE...
We need biblical counseling as the life-blood of church life. We share in Christ only ifwe hold our original confidence firm to the end.This is a life-and-death matter. You can hearthe urgency in Hebrews 3:12-13: “Exhort oneanother every day, as long as it is called ‘today’that none of you may be hardened by thedeceitfulness of sin,” that you won’t have “anevil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall awayfrom the living God.” Perseverance of the saintsis a community project. Being together insmaller settings, exhorting one another day inand day out over the phone, in person, face-to-face, in notes, in e-mails. This is not icing onthe cake! We won’t survive and go to heavenwithout it.
This involves a striking two-sided
How can we all forget this little thing called the ego,and be ravished by what we were made for—God?
finding pleasure in being made much of andhelp them get to the mature, God-exalting,Christ-besotted, joyfully self-sacrificing, self-forgetting delight in making much of God forthe sake of others. Jesus was going to do whatLazarus, Mary, and Martha needed to be able toglorify Him. How can we help our people breakfree from the love affair of being made much of?How can we all forget this little thing called theego, and be ravished by what we were madefor—God? Nobody takes a trip to stand on theedge of the Grand Canyon in order to enhancehis or her self-esteem. The reason people go tothe Grand Canyon is that a whisper of commongrace remaining in their lives tells them they
dynamic in those of us (all of us) who need suchcounseling every day. Hebrews 10:23 puts it thisway: “Let us hold fast the confession of ourhope without wavering, for He who promised isfaithful.” God holds on to you, therefore youhold on to God. Paul expressed the samedynamic in Philippians 3:12: “I press on inorder that I may lay hold on that [Christ,resurrection, glory] for which also I was laidhold of by Christ Jesus.” Hold on to the onewho holds on to you. So many people pull thesetwo apart. If you are a preacher of “lay hold on,”you don’t sound like you believe in theperseverance of the saints. If you are a preacherof “He laid hold on you,” it doesn’t seem like
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you have urgency about what we must do. TheBible won’t let us choose between the two. Godwill keep His hand on your hand and won’t letyou let go of Him. Hold on, and don’t let go.
This perseverance in faith happens incommunity, as Hebrews 10:24-25 goes on toteach us. Now here’s a great text for counselingin the church, if there ever was one! “Let usconsider how to stir up one another to love andgood works.” Unfortunately, not a single trans-lation gets this text right from the Greek. In theGreek, the direct object of the verb “consider”is “one another.” A literal translation wouldread, “Let us consider one another, unto thestirring up to love and good works.” That’s plainawkward, so all the translations say, “Let usconsider how to stir one another up.” But thefocus of the considering is you! In a counselingsession, or as a friend, or as a preacher lookingout on the congregation, look at those people.Consider them, think about them, know them,figure them out, get into their lives. How canyou stir them up to love? How will you provokethem to do lots of good works, to get healthyand start to care about others? You have toconsider people. That’s verse 24.
The passage continues: “...not neglectingto meet together as is the habit of some.” I grewup in a church where that verse was used tobeat people over the head to get them to cometo church on Sunday mornings. But that’s notwhat the text is about! The next phrase says,“But encourage one another.” That’s why youget together: to counsel each other. It does nothappen, by and large, on Sunday morning. Bydesign, in my church, I’m preaching on Sundaymorning. These folks who come may talk toeach other before or after the service. I hopethey are incredibly friendly and have greatconversations, but that’s not the main event onSunday morning. The main event Sundaymorning is us going together to God in song, inprayer, in Scripture, and the Lord’s table. We doit through the Word and the power of the Spiritand get as vertical as we can because that is animportant piece of the church. Later, you getout of there and do church with each otherelsewhere: in living rooms and car pools and onthe phone. “Don’t forsake our meeting togetherso that you may encourage one another”: that’sbiblical counseling. “And all the more as you
see the Day drawing near.” One of the responsesto apocalyptic times is to have more smallgroups, more getting together to consider eachother and help each other hold fast to Christand to love well. That’s exactly what this versesays. There will be terrors, fearful things, beforethe Day of the Lord. When those happen orloom on the horizon, more togetherness, moreencouragement, more mutual lay counselingneeds to occur. Open your mouths and becomefountains of life to each other, even sages.
I love to speak to the women at mychurch on this topic. I happen to be one ofthose conservative, old-fashioned, stuck-in-the-mud people who think the Bible teachesthat women should not be pastors. Now, mychurch is full of young, bright, articulate, andcompetent women who are all smarter thantheir husbands. They know the Bible better. So,here I am with this quirky, biblical view. Theyare okay with that. One of the reasons they areokay with that is that I try to keep holding upvisions for what mature, articulate, intelligent,creative womanhood can be. One of my modelsis the sage. If you women (and men, too) arelooking for a model of what to grow into as youget into your forties, fifties, and sixties, andwrinkles become beautiful and gray hairbecomes a crown, and the shape isn’t what itused to be, then consider the sage.
The sage has grown wise doctrinally, readgood, substantial solid books, meditated on herBible, taken courses, and possibly learnedGreek and Hebrew, whatever it takes to go deepwith God like that old washerwoman whotaught Charles Spurgeon all his Calvinism.The sage has also gone deep through suffering(every woman suffers), and has taken it,embraced it, and learned from it, withoutbecoming a where-are-you-God? self-absorbedkind of woman. Instead, she sees that God hasa great, solid, deep, loving purpose in her life inall her pain. She comes through those things asa sage. She may not preach in public, but she issomeone to whom younger women stream forhelp, wisdom, and insight in how to live lifeand know God. There are young women by thethousands who want women like that andcannot find them!
We have been doing this feminist thingfor thirty or forty years. I have ideas about why
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it isn’t working, but I just want to say, make ityour aim, instead, to become a sage. Know howto encourage. Have something helpful to say bythe grace and the anointing of the Spirit. Makeavailable a head filled with biblical truth and aheart filled with learned, person-orientedexperience. A sage has walked through hardtimes with God, has gone deep with God, and,therefore, is wise about how to live, how tohandle a husband who is just maddening to awife because he doesn’t touch her the way heought, he doesn’t talk to her the way he ought,he seems distracted and distant, and she feels soalone, empty, and barren that she wishes shehad married the right guy. She needs a lot ofhelp. She needs to be told something like, “Atage thirty-five, be encouraged that at ageseventy-five, when you have been married tothis man for fifty years, you will look into eachother’s eyes with the deepest sense ofsatisfaction and say, ‘We made it!’”
Hebrews 3 and 10 lay the groundwork forcounseling in the church. I will draw out fivepoints to guide us in our counseling.
Perseverance, like joy, is essential.
You are lost if you don’t persevere, whichmakes a pastor very serious if he believes this.People say, “Do you ever preach salvationmessages on Sunday morning?” I say, “That’s allI preach on Sunday morning! I am trying tosave the saints!” (1 Tim. 4:16; 2 Tim. 2:9-10).Exhort one another every day as long as it istoday. Christians should exhort one another sothat there will not be in you an evil heart ofunbelief, leading you to fall away from theliving God. The Word of God mediated to thepeople of God keeps the saints saved! Hebrews3:13–14 amounts to saying: “I don’t want you tofall away. I want you to be exhorted. Hold firmyour confidence to the end.” Look at Hebrews3:6: We are His house if we hold fast ourconfidence and the boast of our hope. Hebrews4:14: Since we have a great high priest, let ushold fast our confession. Hebrews 6:18: Holdfast to the hope that is set before you. Hebrews10:23: Let us hold fast our confession of hopewithout wavering. Hebrews 10:35: Do notthrow away your confidence, which has greatreward. This whole book is about joyful,confident, assured perseverance that lives a
radical lifestyle of love. This means that if thereis an evil heart of unbelief in somebody you arecounseling, you need to warn him or her thathe or she might not go to heaven.
A missionary, twenty-eight years of age,comes into my office. She is married, with twochildren, and is back from the field. She comesto confess to me that she is living in adultery.She is disappointed with her husband. He is soemotionally inadequate that when she gotback, a man befriended her and she and thisman wound up in bed together. She feels awfulabout her marriage, and she does not want toleave the adulterous affair. She tells me all ofthis, and I say in response: “You know what youhave to do. God can handle this. This can befixed. You don’t have to have a ruined life oryour husband have a ruined ministry. Tonightyou don’t go back to this man, right?” She says,“No. I’m going back.” I ask, “Why would you dothat?” “I need it. My husband’s just not there forme.” I say to her, “You know, if you go onpursuing this relationship, you have no warrantthat you are born of God and heading forheaven.” She looks at me and says, “You’recrazy! I have been saved, and I am eternallysecure. Maybe someday I’ll repent and maybe Iwon’t, but you can’t tell me I am lost! I havetrusted Christ.” I say, “Well, you may or maynot have, I don’t know. But I can give you noassurance, on the basis of your present behavior.If you go on in this, you should not believe thatyou are saved.” She becomes so angry that sheleaves in a huff.
I tell you this story because I got a letterfrom her ten years later. They went back to thefield. I don’t know if the liaison continuedthrough the mail or not, but she wrote me along letter, saying that nobody in her life knewhow much she struggled with sexual sin. Shesaid, “I slept with so many men, you wouldn’tbelieve it. I thought I had a need. Nobody evertold me what you said, and I want to thank you.I believe now exactly what you said, and it’skeeping me out of bed and helping me fight thefight.” I talked to her recently, and she thankedme again. She said, “Nobody got tough with melike that. Everybody tried to give me somemealy-mouthed, touchy-feely, God-cares-for-you kind of answer. Nobody frightened meexcept you.” I believe the book of Hebrews has
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all these warnings for the sake of assurance, notto militate against assurance.
Hebrews does not teach that salvation can oncebe had through new birth but then be lost.
It gives sharp warnings, that cause peoplegreat distress about this matter: “lest you fallaway from the living God” (3:12; cf. 6:6-8,10:26-31). I want to affirm the great biblicaldoctrine of the perseverance of the saints,meaning that if you have been justified, you
hard to figure out. You have become born ofGod, united with Jesus Christ, full partaker ofall of His heavenly and eternal benefits andthus everlastingly secure if you hold fast. Theholding fast is the evidence and sign that youbecame a partaker. It does not say that you willbe a partaker if you hold fast. That would throweverything up for grabs. It says, “You havebecome a partaker if you hold fast.” If you don’thold fast, it isn’t that you lost your partaking;you never had a partaking. That is the meaning
Daily counseling sustains faith, inspires joy,enables perseverance, and spurs love.
will be glorified. Romans 8:30 to me is anincontrovertible teaching of the perseveranceof the justified. “Those whom He justified Healso glorified.” But that does not negate theseriousness of the warnings to professingChristians, and that is all I ever have in front ofmeasfarasIknow:Ihaveachurchfullofprofessing Christians. I preach to them whatthe Bible says: “If you do such things, you willnot enter into the kingdom” (Gal. 5:23, 1 Cor.6:9), and the warnings of Hebrews. I havepeople come up to me, saying, “Do you thinkyou can lose your salvation?” I didn’t say that.Don’t infer that. Why don’t I infer that fromthis text, where it says, “...lest there be in youan unbelieving heart, leading you to fall awayfrom the living God”? There are two reasons.
One is that you can fall away from theliving God in lots of ways before you are saved.There are ways to come near to God, exper-ience things about God, and even haveenablements of the Spirit to do certain signsand wonders and still not be saved, not be bornagain. But the other reason is from the text.The NASB gets it exactly right: “We havebecome partakers of Christ if we hold fast thebeginning of our assurance firm to the end”(3:14). Notice the tense of the verbs. “We havebecome partakers of Christ [that is past with apresent effect] if [and then he gives a futurecontingency] we hold fast the beginning of ourassurance.” Something has happened in the pastif something does happen in the future. Do yousee that? That is perplexing, isn’t it? But it is not
the verse demands. We have become partakersif we hold fast. If we do not hold fast, we havenot become partakers. So, I do not think thebook of Hebrews jeopardizes the doctrine ofeternal security or the perseverance of thesaints.
In contrast, Hebrews 8:10 and 10:16 makemuch of the New Covenant, the superiorcovenant. In those verses the piece of the NewCovenant that they quote is twofold: (1) “I willforgive their sins and remember their iniquitiesno more” and (2) “I will put my law withinthem and write it on their hearts.” What doesthat mean? “I will put my law within them andwrite it on their hearts.” That means God is notjust coming to the church and saying, “Okay,here is the standard. Measure up, and we willsee whether you qualify for the judgment.”Rather, He says, “Okay, here is a law.” Fleshmeets it and begins to rebel. God, triumphantlyin His New Covenant people, penetratesthrough the rebellion, overcomes all resistance,and writes His law on the heart, not just ontablets, which means the heart loves what Godsays and is thus drawn out joyfully to complywith her maker. The most beautiful state-ment—the hope-giving, assurance-giving,perseverance-producing, warfare-encouraging,promise of the New Covenant— is Jeremiah32:40. I love this text. I give it out all the timebecause it helps people get a handle on the NewCovenant: “I will make with them an ever-lasting covenant, and I will not turn away fromdoing them good, and I will put the fear of me
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in their hearts so that they will not turn awayfrom me.” If God were not like that, I would bea goner. “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, proneto leave the God I love, here’s my heart, O takeand seal it,” with a New Covenant oath andpromise that I might have strong encourage-ment to lay hold of life. So this verse, eventhough it talks about “lest there be in you anevil heart of unbelief, leading you to fall awayfrom the living God,” does not mean that youcan have come to God savingly, become a fullpartaker in all that God is for us in Jesus, beelect, born again, called effectually, and then belost. It cannot happen! There are a lot of fakeconversions; but the real ones persevere infaith, holding onto Christ through thesufferings and the struggle with sin.
Perseverance is a community project.
I say it again, because this is the reasoncounseling must be in the church. The writer ofHebrews’ remedy against falling away is not tosay it cannot happen, so don’t worry aboutbeing urgent and earnest in the way you talk toeach other. No biblical writer takes that view orsays to people who are born of God, “You canbe indifferent and cavalier about helping eachother get saved and stay saved because it is allwrapped up and is automatic.” They never talkthat way. They talk like this: “Exhort oneanother, encourage one another every day, aslong as you have another day to do it, lest therebe in any of you an evil heart, leading you to fallaway from the living God.” Daily counselingsustains faith, inspires joy, enables persever-ance, and spurs love.
Pastors, when you preach, preach asthough souls hang on your message. They do. Ifyou preach the truth and people reject it,shaping their lives around the error, they arelost. It does not matter what professions theymade in the past. Perseverance is essential tosalvation, and now I am arguing that it is acommunity project. I want to get my peoplecounseling each other. I want people to usetheir God-centered, Christ-exalting, God-besotted, Bible-saturated mouths to drawpeople to Christ and joy, and to warn peopleabout the creeping sins in their lives. We mustspot, name, and rescue people from lack ofdelight in God, indifference to the Scriptures,
and lack of love to minister to others. James 5says, “If you bring somebody back, you savetheir soul from death” (paraphrase of v. 20).That’s urgent.
Most churches on Sunday morning don’tact like very much is at stake because pastorsthemselves don’t believe very much is at stake.Most churches don’t have much counseling forthe same reason. They have a theology thatsays, “They are secure and safe, so I am not surewhat I can do except maybe just spread a littleicing on the cake here. There might be one ortwo unbelievers, so maybe I could get urgentwith them and sound like something serious isat stake.” What a theology! No wonder we playgames. No wonder we want to feel goodtogether. No wonder we hardly talk with eachother about important things.
Every time I stand in front of my people, Ifeel like every one of them could go to hell ifthey don’t listen to what I am saying. Theycould be lost. They have a thousand competi-tors with what I am saying, dragging them downduring the week, pulling them away to loveeverything but God! There are not many voicesin my people’s lives waving the banner ofdelight in God above all things, saying,“Everything is refuse compared to thesurpassing value of Jesus Christ. You will notgain Him if other things are more important toyou.” People in our congregations are notusually joyous in Christ. They love their newcomputer programs, what’s for lunch, andwhat’s on TV more than they love Christ. Thisindicates a defective heart.
What am I going to do? I am not going tomassage them and tell them everything is okay.Hebrews 10:23-24: “Consider one another, anddon’t neglect to meet together.” Raise thestakes, pastors, of the small group ministry ofyour church. Consider one another. Don’tneglect to meet together. Raise the stakes infriendship. Sages, exhort one another every day.Sometimes people ask (and I often ask myself),“How does a once-a-week small group satisfy‘exhort one another every day’?” That is whyGod created telephones, and lunch breaks atwork. God has allowed a fractured, fragmented,non-neighborhood-oriented society, wherenobody knows anybody who lives within ahundred feet, but everybody knows somebody
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at work. None of our networks areneighborhood-based anymore. We have e-mail,telephones, faxes—and best of all, people inperson. If you can’t have the best, get on thephone. Say, “Did you look at any pornographylast night? Good. Let’s pray and give thanks.‘Thank you, Lord, that Christ is our Savior, andthat my friend got through one more day.Amen.’ Call your mom. I’ll see you tomorrow.Pray for me to stop and really connect with theLord and with my wife.” That’s every day.
What we are to exhort one another to flourishin is faith.
“Exhort one another every day as long asit is called ‘today’ lest there be in you an evilheart of unbelief.” Unbelief is the prime issue.Our goal in counseling is faith, our goal inpreaching is faith, our goal in getting on thetelephone is to strengthen faith. Pastors, youshould preach for ten or twelve weeks on whatfaith is because the word “faith” and the word“believe” have become overworked andunhelpful to most believers. My neighborhoodis a burned-over, inner-city district with acharismatic Bible college in it. Those folks aregood at street witnessing. Every prostitute,every drug dealer, every street person, everydrunk knows the story. I meet them on thestreet. “Can you help me out?” “Yes, I can helpyou out. I don’t have any money, but do youknow Christ?” “Oh, yeah, I know Christ.” “Doyou trust Him?” “I trust Him. He’s really cool.”What are you going to say? Good words that arecrusted over need to get their real meanings andlife breathed back in.
It has taken me thirty years to figure thisout. Everything I write is to try to find a way tosay the obvious in a way that will make peoplebolt awake and come alive in Jesus. Here’s thelanguage we are using now at Bethlehem. TakeJohn 1:12: “As many as received Him, to themHe gave power to become the children of God.”I now say, “Have you received Jesus as yourtreasure (not Lord, not Savior, although I saythose, too)?” People say, “I’m not sure.” “Good,that’s helpful. Now we can talk about what faithis.” I wrote 400 pages in Future Grace, trying tojustify and explain what I mean by thisdefinition of faith: Faith is being satisfied withall that God is for you in Jesus. “I am the bread
of life. He who comes to me will not hunger,and he who believes in me will never thirst”(John 6:35). The coming so as not to hunger isparallel with the believing so as not to thirst.Ask, “What is faith in John 6:35?” Believing iscoming to Christ so as to have your soul thirstsatisfied in all that God is for you in Him.
What is the definition of faith inHebrews? It openly defines it for us. “Faith isthe assurance of things hoped for.” It is a futureorientation, and you hope for good things. Youdon’t hope for bad times. Faith is the deep-felt,strong conviction that the future thing youhope for—Christ Himself, no more sin, nomore suffering, life—is yours. That’s faith inHebrews.
Therefore, counseling is helping peoplefight the fight of faith. Oh, to get people intothe fight! So many Christians coast. Hebrewshas devastating words to say in chapter twoabout those who drift. Then suddenly thewaterfall is there, and over they go. You have toswim to heaven against the current. You haveto fight. Don’t hear me saying, “Perform worksof the law to measure up so God will like you.”Everybody here knows that is not what thefight is about. In fact, the fight is specificallyagainst that. To rest in the all-satisfying glory ofGod through His love is the fight. Our soul iseither leading us to luxury or legalism. The fightis not to give way to legalism and not to giveway to luxury. Love, delight in, be satisfied by,enjoy, treasure, and value Jesus above all things,so that the law is written on our hearts and wedo what He wants us to do. That’s the fightworth fighting. Paul comes to the end of his lifeand says, “I have fought the good fight, I havefinished the course, I have kept the faith.”That’s the fight.
Teach your people how to fight.Counseling is war. We will fight for people’ssouls by getting at the truth. “Faith comes byhearing and hearing by the Word of Christ”(Rom. 10:17). That is not just for unbelievers.That is for the person in adultery, the person inaddiction, in discouragement, in worry, or inbitterness. Faith comes by hearing a Spirit-anointed word. Let me tie this in with what Isaid about love and being loved. I have aburden for my people right now, just like I dofor myself, that we get beyond propositions and
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Bible verses to Christ. I do not mean “getaround” Bible verses, but “through” Bible versesto Christ, to the person, the living person, toknow Him, cherish Him, treasure Him, enjoyHim, trust Him, be at home with Him. I wantto count Him more to be desired than all otherthings—wife, husband, children, success incareer, leisure, vacations, health, food, sex,money. He’s more precious.
Here’s an illustration I used in a recentsermon. My wife, Noël, is in Georgia. I amsleeping by myself these two days, and it’sweird—nobody at my back. (She puts her backagainst my back and whoosh! I go to sleep.)She’s not there. So I’m lying there in this bigempty house. She has our little girl, Talitha,with her. The four boys are grown and gone.The house is empty. When you’re alone and thehouse is empty and you’re wired like I am,morose (you need to know that I write all thesebooks about joy because I want it, not because Ihave it; the book is called Desiring God, not IHave Arrived at Joy in God), I lay my head onthe pillow and I pray. It’s a Saturday night and Italk to God. “Lord, I’m going to go to sleep now,I hope. I have to preach in the morning. Would
deeply. If all you know is a list of attributes andyou don’t ever go through the list to the Personand enjoy Him and walk with Him and say withthe Apostle Paul, ‘He stood by me, and I wasable to preach the gospel to the Gentiles andthe Roman praetorian,’ then you don’t knowwhat faith is.” Faith is being satisfied with allthat God is for us in Jesus. Not being satisfiedwith preaching, with church growth, witheffective counseling, but with God, the Person,the only thing you will have when you die. IsHe enough?
This faith is the root of all love and gooddeeds.
Faith and love are what you preserve,deepen, enhance, and enlarge in mutual one-on-one lay counseling in small groups. This iswhy Hebrews 10:24 speaks differently than3:12-13. It says, “Consider one another, how tostir each other up to love and good works.” Itdoesn’t say, “Consider how to stir one anotherup to have a believing heart,” which is the ideabehind 3:12-13. We’ve got 3:12-13 down.We’re moving now in the book of Hebrews to aradical lifestyle in chapters 10 through 13. The
Faith is being satisfied with all thatGod is for us in Jesus.
You help me right now, as I go to sleep, to so seeYou, so know You, to be so authentic with Youand You so authentic spiritually to me in all Iknow about You from the Bible, that I would beso content in You that if in an hour and a half,in my sleep, my heart stopped beating and Idied, and that very moment woke in heavenand thought I was dreaming and You reachedout and pinched me and said, ‘It’s not a dream,’that would be okay. No more Noël, no moresex, no more little six-year-old Talitha, no morepizza, no more preaching, no more ‘Isn’t JohnPiper nice to have at a conference?’ No more—just Jesus.” I said, “Jesus, would You let me knowYou so well that that would be gain. Lose it all;gain.”
I told my people that. I said, “That’s whatI want for you. I want to help you get there. Iwant you to know Him that well, love Him that
question is, “Where does a radical lifestyle oflove come from?” It comes from faith, and thefaith being preserved by people exhorting youdaily. But now the writer says it plainly in10:24: “Stir one another up to love and goodworks.” How does that happen?
Maybe the way to draw things toward aclose here would be to take some sample waysthat faith works love. Do you remember mydefinition of counseling? It ended on beinglovers of people, having the mark of health, themark of faith. “Neither circumcision noruncircumcision is of any avail, but faithworking through love” (Gal. 5:6). Let’s see howthat works by looking at four texts. I use theseover and over in my life to test whether or notI am in love with Jesus as I ought to be, andwhether I love people. Hebrews 10:34: “Youhad compassion on those in prison, and you
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joyfully accepted the plundering of yourproperty, since you knew that you, yourselves,have a better possession and an abiding one.”The craziest and most amazingly inexplicableword in that verse is “joyfully.” “You joyfullyaccepted the plundering of your property.”Those who have compassion on others are notin love with property. Their property has beenplundered, the windows broken, maybe theirhouse set on fire. They went to the prison tovisit their Christian friends, and it cost them.When they saw in the distance their housesburning, they did not say, “Where’s God?” I’mso tired of hearing that. I should not talk likethat as a pastor; I must be long-suffering; forgiveme for getting tired of it. I am always going tohave people come to me after the service andask questions I have tried to answer for twentyyears. But I am tired of hearing that, frankly. Iwould like to see a church, an evangelicalmovement in America that, instead of saying,“Where’s God?” when their houses burn down,they rejoice. They’re too busy loving God andpeople. That’s in the text. I didn’t make that up.That’s not a pastoral, rhetorical flourish andoverstatement. You joyfully accepted theplundering of your property, probably withtears, too. If my house burned down, do youknow what I would cry over? Thirty-threevolumes of journals. Books I can replace. I can’treplace journals containing all the Lord hastaught me since I was twenty years old. I don’tmean I wouldn’t have tears. You do have acategory, don’t you, all you counselor-types, ofjoyful weeping and grieving joy? “Weep withthose who weep, rejoice with those whorejoice”—at the same time. You can’t be apastor if you cannot do both. Last Sunday atwenty-three-year-old daughter of a pastoralstaff member gave birth to a healthy baby, and,that same day, Jamie Berglund, a twenty-three-year-old in my church, died of Hodgkin’sdisease. Weep with those who weep, rejoicewith those who rejoice, pastor (Rom. 12:15). “Iheard about Jamie last night. This is hard” and“Congratulations, Grandpa.” You have thosecategories, don’t you? You love.
This is how faith yields radical love to goto the prison. Here you are asking, “Should wego to the prison or not? If we go to the prison,they are going to know we are Christians. If
they know we are Christians, we get thrown inprison or they burn down our house. What dowe do?” Answer? Look at Hebrews 10:34: “Youknew that you, yourselves, have a betterpossession and an abiding one.” Faith is theassurance of things hoped for (Heb. 11:1). Wehave heaven, we have possessions, we haveChrist. Let’s go, let’s love, let the chips fallwhere they will. That’s the kind of people I ampreaching for. Muslims all over the world don’twant missionaries to come. I want to breed ageneration that will go right into the sword,right into the gun, and preach Jesus as long asthey are given breath. How are you going toproduce a church like that? By having a wholelot of counselors who continually exhort othersevery day lest there be in them an evil heart ofunbelief. Unbelief is lack of satisfaction inChrist, loving the comforts and securities ofthis world more than we love people.
Let me mention the other three texts I useto consider whether I love Jesus and othersenough. Moses, because of what God was goingto be for him in Jesus, “bears reproach for theChrist” (Heb. 11:24-26). When God is mytreasure, I can take criticism and opposition,and keep loving. “For the joy set before Him,”Jesus did the greatest act of love that ever was(Heb. 12:1-2). Joy motivates the deepest acts ofpainful, self-sacrificing love. To be satisfied inGod makes me lay down my life, not liveselfishly. “Therefore, let us go to Him outsidethe camp, bearing reproach that He endured.For here we have no lasting city. We seek a citywhich is to come” (Heb. 13:13). Are yousatisfied in the city to come where God is? Willyou walk away from comfort and toward need?That’s the reversal I am preaching for all thetime, and it’s what I want my small groups andmy sages to be counseling for, moving awayfrom comfort and toward need, at any cost. Youwill make that move (it’s called love) if youdon’t have an evil heart of unbelief thatenamors you with the praises of men, thepleasures of family, and the lures of success.Instead, if you are ravished by the glory of Godand show it by laying down your life for others,guess who gets the glory? This is where Hebrewsends. It goes like this: “Now may the God ofpeace (He is our hope!), who brought againfrom the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep,
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our Lord Jesus Christ, through the blood of theeternal covenant, equip you with everythinggood, working in you (may the Lord performHis Word) that which is pleasing in His sight,through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for everand ever” (Heb. 13:20-21).
If you are satisfied in Him, you arereleased to do what pleases God. What pleasesGod is to get involved in people’s lives. ThenJesus will get the glory. Let’s pray.
Father in heaven, I plead with you now to
perform this word in me. Oh, how I want to bewhat I preach! I want these friends also to beGod-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturatedspokesmen for you in order to help peoplebecome God-besotted, cheerfully self-forgettinglovers of people, no matter the cost. Lord, if youwould do that in 800 people, the effects onchurches, nations, and peoples around theworld would be untold. We together say, “Doit!” Perform your word, I pray. In Jesus’ name,Amen.
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