Promoting PErsonal Change, Centered on the PErson of Christ through the PErsonal Ministry of the Word
Biblical Counseling Coalition: Grace & Truth

Friday’s 5 to Live By

Friday's 5 To Live By

Each Friday our BCC staff links you to the top five biblical counseling and Christian living blog posts of the week—posts that provide robust, rich, and relevant insights for living.

Finding Joy

Have you ever had a circumstance you thought was impossible to overcome? Julie Ganschow provides biblical wisdom and encouragement during such times in Finding Joy in Impossible Circumstances.

4 Traits of Healthy Church Membership

At the Ligonier blog, William Boekestein notes that:

“Breakdowns in fellowship can be gut-wrenching events in the life of Christian churches. But what if we could take what we learn from church exit interviews, and ask with Paul, ‘How ought we conduct ourselves in the house of God?’ (1 Tim. 3:15). Those who trust in Christ, and love God and their neighbor, must also pursue certain traits which will strengthen and enrich church life for themselves and others.”

Read what we can learn in 4 Traits of Healthy Church Membership.

14 Lessons on Prayer

Randy Alcorn shares 14 Lessons on Prayer from Daniel 9-10.

7 Things That Christ Is

Tim Challies culls from John Owen’s quotes a list of 7 Things That Christ Is.

The Deceptiveness of Sin

In this video link provided by Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile, we glean insight into the deceptiveness of sin. View the video at The Hardened Heart.

Join the Conversation

Which post impacted you the most? Why? What blog posts have you enjoyed this week that you want to share with others?

Topics: Five To Live By, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Open Rebuke and Faithful Wounds

Open Rebuke and Faithful Wounds

BCC Staff Note: This blog was first posted at the Association of Biblical Counselors’ site and is re-posted at the BCC’s Grace & Truth blog with the permission of ABC and Jeremy Lelek. You can also read the original post at the ABC site here.

Person Centered Therapy?

Many theoretical approaches to counseling are strongly influenced by the works of Carl Rogers and his therapeutic model known as Person Centered Therapy (Rogers, 1989). His person-centered approach has had a profound influence on the fields of counseling and psychology both methodologically and ethically. From his theory emerged the notion referred to as non-directional counseling in which the counselor is trained to make a conscientious choice not to direct the counselee, but instead reflects the counselee’s words back to him or her in hopes that the counselee will discover his or her own way towards self-actualization and healing.

Therefore, much emphasis (on the part of the counselor) was placed on human potential and man’s innate goodness, while great care was taken by the therapist not to impose absolute values or even engage in any sort of confrontational methods. Certainly, it would not be fair to group all secular-counseling approaches into Rogers’ framework, but the spirit of his person-centered emphasis is extremely evident in the modern psychotherapeutic arena.

Faithful Wounds

Unlike Rogers, the author of Proverbs esteemed the use of confrontation as a precious gift of God. He writes:

“Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:5-6, ESV).

Here he emphasizes the importance of openness and honesty in relating to others. This is strongly contrasted to the idea he refers to as “hidden love” which may be understood as offering love in a very subliminal way. From a counseling perspective, such love may be illustrated in fostering kindness and compassion with a counselee to the exclusion of speaking truthfully about his or her sinful or maladaptive behavior, thinking, and living. Notice the phrase “to the exclusion of” here. In other words, dealing with counselees compassionately is very important, but compassion cannot be conceptualized as being equivalent to Rogers’ idea of “unconditional positive regard” in which judgments and confrontation are not allowed as it pertains to a counselee.

On the contrary, Solomon (the author of Proverbs) discourages such a view, and goes so far as saying that wounds (often created by the open rebuke of a friend) are faithful or trustworthy. A friend here may ultimately be understood as someone who seeks to influence another towards repentance before a holy God.

Evil Kiss

Conversely, he points out that an enemy may offer many kisses (e.g., compliments, encouragements, empathy, genuineness, unconditional positive regard, etc.), but that such gestures cannot be trusted. An enemy may be conceptualized, in the context of Proverbs, as anyone who engages in methods that are not ultimately centered in bringing glory and honor to God or methods that are not designed to point the counselee to truth (as a means of loving God and neighbor).

From a Rogerian perspective, such “kisses” mentioned in Proverbs do not serve this purpose, rather they are offered in hopes of connecting a client to his or her inner potential, (acquired self-esteem or self-worth) therefore fostering an assumed and illusory autonomy in which the person learns the power of believing in  and trusting self. As such, a counselor may be kind and empathetic towards a counselee, but if the motives behind such gestures are misguided, the end result is tragedy!

Counseling with Authority

As counselors who seek to honor Christ, it is important to remember the words of Solomon (cited above) as well as those of Paul who instructed, “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority” (Titus 2:15). The context of Paul’s encouragement to rebuke and exhort pointed to the process of change that is brought forth by the grace of God alone (Titus 2:11-14). It was a call to point people to the Gospel as the only true means of hope and change.

Confrontation can often be uncomfortable, especially when as therapists we are trained that it could be profoundly anti-therapeutic. Many counselees will leave the office angry once confrontation has occurred. Some may never return. Such an outcome could prove to be extremely discouraging.  But biblically, it is considered wise for the counselor or psychologist to carefully judge when it is appropriate to offer an “open rebuke” or inflict a “faithful wound” for the good of the counselee. Obviously such “good” must always be considered in reference to the counselee’s relationship (or lack thereof) with God as well as his or her relationship with the counselor.  Additionally, if a counselor/psychologist chooses to implement such methods, he or she must take great care to do so with love and compassion that is void of self-righteous judgment and condescension.

Counselees may not appreciate the wound in the moment, but it may very well serve as the catalyst that eventually brings about repentance in the counselee (one of the most precious goals for which a biblical counselor can hope). So, be aware of motives that may be keeping you from offering a rebuke that is needed. If you find yourself avoiding confrontation in a session, seek the support of a colleague who may help you better understand the motives of your heart, and encourage you in the wisdom of Solomon and Paul as it regards the issue of confrontation. Biblical counseling should not necessarily be characterized by a confrontational spirit, but if godly confrontation is not a component of one’s counseling practice, then it is questionable whether such counsel may be deemed genuinely biblical at all.

Counseling Considerations

Read Proverbs 27:5-6. Consider how open rebuke is better than hidden love. What might be Solomon’s rationale for making this assertion? How might you apply this wisdom to your own counseling practices?

Read Titus 2:11-15. While rebuke and exhortation are important, recognize it is grace that brings “salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,” and that it is Jesus who is purifying “for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

Make sure that your rebuke is characterized and motivated by love and compassion, and that your rebuke is for the good of the counselee and not your own self-serving agenda.

Join the Conversation

Are you fearful of confronting counselees (due to personal issues or training that has treated such methods as unprofessional)? If so, discuss your struggle with a colleague or fellow believer. What desires are motivating such avoidance? Is there merit to kind, honest, and godly rebuke?

Topics: Communication, Forgiveness, Gospel-Centered Ministry, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , ,

Our Ministry Goal: Love

Our Ministry Goal - Love

What are you trying to produce through your ministry? Perhaps you are an elder or minister in a local church: how would you describe the aim of your ministry? Perhaps you are a small group leader, a Sunday School teacher, or a biblical counselor—what is the purpose of your ministry?

Here’s one way to think about it: What’s your goal for those whom you disciple?

This is an important question—not just for counselors, but for all those engaged in gospel ministry. And of course there are various biblical ways to answer this, but in this brief post I want to point your attention to Paul’s words to Timothy: “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”

In contrast to the ‘different doctrine’ of false teachers that produces aimless speculations (cf. 1 Timothy 1:3-4), the goal of Paul’s charge is the production of love. In other words, Paul’s ministry aim—his ministry bull’s eye, if you will—was love. Ministry’s aim is love, and thus when love has been produced in those you minister to—your ministry purpose has been realized.

Love is a strong affection and regard for another; genuinely Christian love is seen in a willingness to forfeit my desires for the good others. In other words, true love is sacrificial. A disciple or counselee starts to learn how to love when she starts to seek the good of others around her—instead of being self-centred she becomes other-person-centred.

This may seem obvious, but prayerfully pause and ponder this: consider your next ministry activity. Perhaps its tonight’s small group, or your sermon on Sunday, or your next counseling session. Are you praying that God would produce love in the one(s) to whom you are ministering? Why not pray for that, right now?

The Source of Love

Of course, this raises a question: where does love come from? Thankfully, the apostle Paul identifies the three areas from which true love issues: a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Let’s briefly consider each.

The Source of Love A Pure Heart

Loves comes from a pure heart: the heart is the “source of a person’s psychological life… with special emphasis upon thoughts.” [1] In other words: a person with a pure heart has holy thoughts, desires and motives. As a result, they perform holy actions. A person with a clean heart loves God and loves people. Gospel ministry produces people who seek the good of others, not to get from others selfishly, but to give to others selflessly.

What strikes me about this, is the place of depth from which love must proceed. The heart is the deepest part of you. Love is to be true and genuine, pure and clean, not superficial and selfish but motivated by an authentic desire to bless others even when there is no personal advantage for doing so. Love comes from a pure heart.

A Good Conscience

‘Conscience’ points towards self-awareness, “it is a testimony given to oneself, and then passed on to others.”[2] Your conscience helps you identify right from wrong, what is moral from what is immoral, and thus is a gift from God. Clearly, the conscience is ‘good’ when it is able to accurately discern right from wrong—when it agrees with and has been molded by God’s Word.

Initially, many folk you come into contact with may have a distorted conscience, a weak conscience, or a desensitized conscience. But as you engage in ministry with them, teaching them God’s Word, their conscience can be renewed. As their conscience becomes shaped by Scripture, it becomes ‘good’—it becomes morally excellent, attuned to spiritual reality, their conscience starts to see God, life, decisions and relationships from a biblical perspective.

Of course, this has strong moral overtones—a truly Christian ministry helps folk think in categories of good and bad, right and wrong, truth and error. Genuinely Christian ministry produces disciples of moral excellence, those who love others in morally excellent ways, from a good conscience.

Finally, we see that love issues not only from a pure heart and a good conscience, but also from a faith without hypocrisy.

A Sincere Faith

Love arises out of a sincere faith: an authentic, personal belief in the Triune God. In other words, those with a sincere faith are not actors; they have not put a mask on, they are not faking faith, pretending to believe in God. No—there is a sincerity and authenticity to their beliefs; they live and love from the inside out.

Again, this challenges us who are seeking to make disciples. Are those we are discipling demonstrating a sincere faith? Or are they merely faking it to please us? Are they merely ‘jumping through hoops’ in order to secure our approval or some other benefit? Are they loving God and others from an authentic and personal faith?

In conclusion, the primary goal of ministry “is not the imparting of information or merely the increase of knowledge, but the production of love. That love looks outward at others with good motives (“a pure heart”), looks inward at self in self-judgment (“a good conscience”) and looks upward at God without ulterior motives (“a sincere faith”).”[3] May God be pleased to use us, even us, to produce love in others as we help them connect the truth of His Word to the details of their lives.

Join the Conversation:[4]

1. Why is love the proper outcome by which a teaching and counseling ministry must be evaluated?

2. How might an impure heart defile any ‘acts of love’ arising from it?

3.Why is a “good conscience” a necessary prerequisite for true love?

4.How would an insincere faith result in a failure in Christian love?

[1]Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 320.

[2]John A. Kitchen, The Pastoral Epistles for Pastors (The Woodlands, TX: Kress Christian Publications, 2009), 47.

[3] John A. Kitchen, The Pastoral Epistles for Pastors, 48.

[4] Taken and adapted from Kitchen, 48.

Topics: Biblical Counseling, Love, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , ,

4 Things Not to Say to Hurting People

4 Things Not to Say to Hurting People

If you are a Christian who has faced suffering in your life, then you have probably encountered a fellow Christian who wanted to provide comfort and help to you.

Some of them were probably helpful, while others…not so much.

Most people, including myself, have said things that are unhelpful and have made things worse for brothers and sisters who are suffering.

Here are 4 things not to say to people who are hurting…

# 1: Good things through impersonal forms of communication.

Sufferers often struggle with feeling isolated and alone. One of their biggest needs is to have people reach out and pursue relationship with them. A common mistake among younger people is the tendency to reach out in the least personal way possible. Rather than calling and having a conversation, they text. Rather than having face-to-face conversations or visiting people in their homes, they send Facebook messages. These methods of communication are good, but often aren’t sufficient by themselves to comfort hurting people.

Individuals suffering with chronic illnesses, and other situations that produce prolonged suffering, are most likely to feel this isolation. This was true for my wife after she had a liver transplant. While she appreciated people who texted, she still struggled with feeling disconnected from community. The less personal the communication the less help you are to the hurting person who feels isolated or alone.

Instead, try doing this: Have face-to-face conversations and visit hurting people in their homes. Texting and other impersonal forms of communication are not bad, but they are insufficient by themselves to care for the hurting person. People need to intentionally communicate with sufferers in the most personal forms of communication even if this is difficult and inconvenient for them.

# 2: Untimely problem solving statements.

Attempting to help a person solve their problems can be a wise and loving thing to do. If a hurting person wants someone to help them problem solve, offering advice on how to fix things can be just what they need. However, if we try to fix the problems of a hurting person who does not desire help and has not asked for it, then our efforts will usually make things worse not better. Let me be clear, problem solving is not always a bad thing, but it is almost always unhelpful if it’s not what the hurting person wants to talk about in that particular conversation.

Another reason to avoid jumping into problem solving is that it can distract you from the work of giving gospel-centered encouragement. On many occasions, I have been guilty of jumping into advice giving and problem solving, while failing to listen well and speak gospel-centered encouragement to someone who was hurting. I suspect I am not the only person who has struggled in this way. Hurting people often need us to remind them of the hope of the gospel more than they need us to be a problem solver. We can give gospel hope by pointing hurting people to the cross and the Savior who suffered to save them. Remind them of the guaranteed promises of God’s Word. Remind them they can trust God in their suffering because they have the same favor, love and perfect standing before God the Father that Jesus has because they are in Christ. Remind them of who God is in the midst of their uncertainties, questions and doubts. To do this well requires us to carefully listen before we speak. Don’t let your desire to problem solve distract you from this work of Gospel encouragement.

Instead, try saying this: “I am sorry brother/sister. I want to be here for you and support you. Do you want to talk about what you are feeling/ thinking right now or talk about some ways to try and make things better?” You will not know what the hurting person needs and wants in your conversation unless you ask them. Trying to problem solve the issues surrounding the hurt another person is experiencing should be avoided unless the person says he or she wants this or you ask the person’s permission to share your advice first. Don’t spend so much time, effort and energy focusing on problem solving that you short change the need to give gospel-centered encouragement to the hurting person. Ask, “Brother/sister, things sound really tough for you. Can I tell you why Jesus gives me hope for you in this situation?”

# 3: Saying either nothing to them about their suffering or nothing at all.

It’s hard to know what to say to sufferers. People who haven’t gone through significant suffering or death yet may feel especially uncomfortable, overwhelmed and dumbfounded in the face of someone else’s suffering. Because of this, some people find that the easiest thing for them to do is avoid talking about the problem. They talk to the hurting person about sports, current events, TV shows and a million other things, but they don’t talk about the person’s suffering. Some people’s discomfort goes further and leads them to completely avoid talking to a hurting person.

This may be the most hurtful response to someone who is suffering. Don’t do this!

Instead, try saying this: “How are you doing with (whatever their situation is)?” or “Friend, I care about you and am sorry, and I honestly have no idea what to say to you right now. I care about you a lot though.” If you are nervous or at a loss for what to say, just admit it. It shows love and concern in a way that will be meaningful to the hurting person.

# 4: “I know what you are going through.”

People who say this usually have their hearts in the right place. They don’t want the other person to feel alone and say this to show that they understand. But here’s the problem: The person who says this actually doesn’t know what the other person is going through. The same experience, such as the death of a grandparent, is different for every person because each person is different, the circumstances are different and the relationship is different. Saying this doesn’t help the hurting person. In fact, it often makes it worse.

Instead, try saying this, “I don’t know exactly what you are going through, but it seems painful, sad, etc., and I am sorry.” Often the most helpful thing that sufferers can hear is that you want to be present for them and to listen. Hurting people need to hear “I care about you and I am here to talk or just be with you.”

Ministering to those who are hurting can be tough. But, with God’s grace and some practical wisdom, God can use us to make a real difference in someone’s life.

Topics: Biblical Counseling, Communication, Love, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Suffering | Tags: , , , ,

Porn-Free Home: 3 Proven Tactics for Proactive Parents

Porn-Free Home - 3 Proven Tactics for Proactive Parents

Paul Fishbein, founder of the trade magazine of the adult industry, says, “Porn doesn’t have a demographic—it goes across all demographics.” He’s right. Young and old, men and women, Christian and non-Christian—all types of people regularly view pornography.

Unfortunately, by the time our kids turn 18, more than 90% of boys and more than 60% of girls have seen pornography online. What can you do to reverse this trend in your home?

Tactic # 1: Be Involved with Technology

Parents can fall prey to one of two unhealthy mentalities when it comes to technology.

Some parents are inexperienced. They buy technology or let their children buy technology that they know very little about. These gadgets have free access to the Internet without any parental oversight. These parents simply don’t know how their kids are getting online—through iPods, game consoles, smartphones, tablets, not to mention laptops and desktop computers—and as a result, they wrongly assume everything is fine and do almost nothing to put proper protections in place.

Other parents are immersed. These parents know and use technology proficiently, but they are themselves absorbed in their online world. Unfortunately, this sets a precedent in the home, and it models for kids an “always plugged in” lifestyle. This sets children up for bad Internet habits, limiting their face-to-face relationships with parents and peers, and reinforcing an instant-gratification mindset.

Instead, parents should be involved. They should have a grasp of the technology in their home and know about the benefits and the potential dangers.

  • Inexperienced parents need to take a technology inventory of their homes and do the work of learning how to lock down, filter, and monitor all their devices. Can it be confusing? Yes. But your kids are worth it. (You can download this free guide to help: Protecting Your Family Online.)
  • Immersed parents need to take a personal inventory of their hearts when it comes to technology. They should think about how their own habits have led to an imbalanced use of the Internet in the home. They should set new personal guidelines for balancing online and offline life.

Tactic # 2: Be an Authoritative Parent

Parents can also find themselves ascribing to one of two unhealthy parenting styles.

Some parents are authoritarian. These parents believe strongly in the importance of molding the character of their children, but they do this primarily through high demands, more rules, and very little personal interaction and warmth. These parents might be effective when it comes to setting rules about sexualized media in the home, but they constantly exasperate their children and provoke them to resentment (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21).

Other parents are approving. These parents are permissive, believing the best way to shape a child’s character is through fewer rules and more familial love. These parents might be effective when it comes to communicating tenderness and compassion in the face of temptations online, but they neglect the importance of training through discipline (Proverbs 19:18; Hebrews 12:9-11).

Instead, parents should be authoritative. Biblical parenting is always a blend of compassion and correction, tenderness and training, enjoyment and engagement, love and law. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 that godly parenting involves three key ingredients:

  • Exhortation: This means to summon your children to your side to admonish them, strengthening them with words of instruction.
  • Comfort: This means to console, calm, and encourage.
  • Charge: This is more than a command. This means to solemnly charge, implore and urge your children to live up to the high calling of the gospel.

When it comes to pornography, children need to know you are serious about your household rules around technology and sexual media, but children should also feel comfortable conversing with you about their online temptations because they know you will respond with compassion and acceptance.

As an important side note: It should go without saying that if you create rules about the Internet in the home, you should monitor your devices and hold your kids accountable to those standards.

The following diagram provides a map for any parent when it comes to creating a porn-free home. Where do you fall on the grid? What do you need to do to move towards the center?

Gilkerson - Technology Parenting Styles

Tactic # 3: Be the Source About Godly Sexuality

Ideally, children need to grow up in a home where parents are the primary source of information about godly sexuality. If parents do not speak early and often, the world is more than happy to fill the void.

Use tools that help you teach your kids:

Whether your child has been exposed to porn or not, the allure of pornography is not just that it promises to satisfy adolescent curiosities about sex, but that it promises a fantasy experience.

Porn promises the illusion of respect; it promises fantasy of risk-free intimacy; it promises a pleasurable refuge and escape; it promises reward for our boring lives and underappreciated egos. Knowing some of these false promises of porn helps parents to know how celebrate the gospel in the presence of their kids in a way that shows them that God is better than porn.

Join the Conversation

What do you think? What are necessary steps parents should take to protect their home from porn and prepare the hearts of their kids for our sexualized world?

Topics: Parenting, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Pornography, Sexual Purity | Tags: , , , , ,

BCC Weekend Resource: Women Counseling Women

The BCC Weekend Resource

BCC Staff Note: On weekends we like to highlight for you one of our growing list of free resources. This weekend we highlight a resource audio recording about Women Counseling Women.

The BCC has a number of ministry teams that “meet’ by phone conference call on a quarterly basis for “iron sharpening.” In addition to being of benefit to each person on the call, by recording and distributing these calls, you, our BCC readers can also benefit.

Today’s phone conference call conversation centers around an interview hosted by Leigh Ann Stull with Julie Ganchow. Julie is an author, teacher, and founder of Reigning Grace Counseling Center. Other participants include Hayley Satrom, Keri Seavey, Betty-Anne Van Rees, Ellen Castillo, Linda Rice, Eliza Huie, Suzanne Holland, Robin Barnes, Shannon McCoy, and Beth Strall.

Popout Audio Player

Topics: Audio, Interview, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Women/Wives | Tags: , ,

Friday’s 5 to Live By

Friday's 5 To Live By

Each Friday our BCC staff links you to the top five biblical counseling and Christian living blog posts of the week—posts that provide robust, rich, and relevant insights for living.

Are We Too Concerned with Demons?

R.C. Sproul writes a passionate post in response to the question: Are We Too Concerned with Demons?

5 Reasons I’m Excited to Minister with Crossroads Bible College

Our BCC Executive Director, Dr. Bob Kellemen, blogs about taking on a new VP role at Crossroads Bible College and as the Chair of their Biblical Counseling Department. And, Bob will continue in his leadership role at the BCC. Read more at 5 Reasons I’m Excited to Minister with Crossroads Bible College.

Islam: The Ultimate Religion of Works

Pastor J.D. Greear explains three biblical reasons why Islam Is the Ultimate Religion of Works.

How to Respond When Praised for a Good Sermon

Pastor Brian Croft provides 4 suggestions for How a Pastor Should Respond When Praised for a Good Sermon.

What Society Will Never Tell You

Randy Alcorn explains what society will never tell us: True Beauty Is Inner Beauty.

Join the Conversation

Which post impacted you the most? Why? What blog posts have you enjoyed this week that you want to share with others?

Topics: Five To Live By, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Bullying: A Deadly Poison in a Marriage

Bullying--A Deadly Poison in a Marriage

When we think of bullying, we often think of it in the school system—kids picking on and beating up other kids. And I would agree that is a definite problem. However, bullying doesn’t just happen with children; it also happens within marriages.

I have met many broken women and a few men who have been living silently for many years with bullying. They have learned to believe this is normal married life and they have been convinced that much of what goes on at home is their fault and their problem. They have learned that if they are quiet and always the one to say “sorry” then things go much better. Sooner or later they begin to wonder if something is wrong with them and they try to become better partners certain that if they just “do better” things will improve.

But they don’t.

They work harder at household duties, they workout more, they practice smiling when inside tears are welling up. Somehow they must have done something to deserve this is often a thought.

Subtle Forms of Marital Bullying

Bullying can be very subtle and hardly noticed at first, but over the years of marriage it becomes increasingly more felt if you are the bullied spouse. It can be correction constantly. It can be correction constantly, lovingly spoken.

It can be not giving you a voice to share or speak what you think, implying that your opinion really has no merit and doesn’t matter at all. Over the long haul, you begin to believe you don’t know anything about anything.

It can be words like, “you should…” or “why don’t you…” or “why wouldn’t you do…” or “if you wore this it would be more flattering…” or “when will you get the house clean.” All of these are subtle messages telling you that what you are doing isn’t good enough or right.

It can be spiritual subduing communicating to you that you have no idea how to interpret biblical truth or to understand it, let alone share it. And so the bullying spouse brings their interpretation to the passage and it often will be demeaning or condemning or correction of the bullied spouse.

You are told you aren’t submissive enough if you are the bullied wife, or you might be the bullied husband who is told that he has no idea how to manage the house or to lead or isn’t making enough, or working hard enough.

More Direct Bullying

It can be more direct and just outright mean. Name-calling and attacking character are often a big part of the bullying.

It can be threats of divorce or leaving or closing off their cash flow. It can be tracking every movement by keeping track of kilometers or miles put on the vehicle, or calling frequently throughout the day to find out what is going on. It can be over-protective by not allowing you to have outside friendships. It can be lying to you about what is going on with them. It can be manipulative. All of it is destructive and unhealthy.

The bully must have control and the bullied must yield to that control or World War III will take place. The one bullied soon learns that saying “sorry” or being quiet settles things down more quickly than trying to speak what you are thinking. Even your silence can sometimes be attacked, it seems the bully wants a fight and wants you to lose because they must win and be right.

Jesus Confronts Bullies

It’s important to know that we are all sinful people and live in sinful relationships, and so we all have the ability to hurt each other. The difference with bullying is that it continues and is a pattern for daily living. The difference would be that when the bully is confronted, they see no need to change because they are right and their spouse is wrong. It’s about winning. Bullies are not being Christ to others; it’s about their preferences, their rights, their wants and desires.

Leslie Vernick writes in her book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship, “Many people suffer in relationships where offensive words and threatening gestures are the weapons of choice, used to manipulate, control, punish, and wound without leaving any physical evidence.” But that is not what Jesus says. He is very clear that words that hurt and wound another are likened to murder (Matthew 5:21-22).

What to Do If You Find Yourself in a Bullying Marriage

If you are living with a bully, please reach out for help. You are not alone; you need not feel alone. You have more than likely been sold a bag full of lies, but know that you are not the cause of the bully’s hostility and poison. You are responsible for what you say and do. Please know there is help for you. You can learn how to speak and confront your spouse who is bullying. God desires to transform you through this experience as you find more and more an identity in Christ and not in the words of your spouse.

Proverbs 2:12 reminds us, “Wisdom will save you from evil people from those whose words are twisted.” God desires to bring help and healing into your life. He created us with a voice, with feelings, desires, and longings. He created us to interact with one another and when you are bullied you are prevented from giving voice to those things.

Join the Conversation

What are other subtle and not-so-subtle marks of a marital bully?

What biblical counseling wisdom do you share with a spouse who is being bullied? With a spouse who is being a bully?

Topics: Biblical Counseling, Conflict, Men/Husbands, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Violence/Physical Abuse, Women/Wives | Tags: , , ,

When Christians Despair

When Christians Despair

God comforts us in all our afflictions (2 Corinthians 1:3-8). This is a truth for all believers for all time.

However, the life context from which the apostle originally wrote these timeless words is the suffering of a faithful—though very flawed—minister of the gospel. In other words, it was from the crucible of ministry trials that Paul wrote such a comforting promise of God’s never-ending love and care. Notice the context: “We despaired even of life…we had the sentence of death within ourselves” (2 Corinthians 1:8).

Understanding that he lived in the center of an intense spiritual war (Satan hates with a passion all who preach the gospel), may help us better understand how desperately he and his companions needed biblical hope—a need that every gospel-loving believer has at certain times in his or her life.

While meditating on 2 Corinthians 1:8-11, I found myself asking two questions: What does the apostle mean when he says of his companions and himself, “we despaired even of life”? And what is God’s purpose in allowing: “the sentence of death within ourselves”? Before we attempt to answer those questions, let’s review the full passage.

“For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many”(2 Corinthians 1:8-11).

What Does It Mean to Despair Even of Life?

In verse 8, the apostle speaks of their afflictions, which led to being “burdened excessively, beyond [their] strength.” These unbearable burdens led these men to a state of deep despair and, consequently, the need for divine deliverance. Of these afflictions, Kistemaker writes,

“It is not unthinkable that Paul had been dragged into various local synagogues to stand trial before Jewish courts. The punishments he received were the prescribed thirty-nine lashes. He reveals, ‘Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one’ (11:24). These floggings could be perilous when administered harshly, especially if they were repeated in close succession. In addition, Roman authorities three times beat Paul with rods (11:25)….The fierce opposition that Paul had to endure from Jewish adversaries continued to be a persistent threat to his life….The danger Paul incurred was so great that he describes it as an extremely heavy load that he was unable to bear physically. More than that, spiritually he lacked the necessary strength and entered into a state of despair (contrast 4:8). He expected the end of his earthly life unless God himself intervened and, as it were, brought him back from the dead.”

To “despair even of life” means, therefore, to be so utterly burdened and without strength so as to succumb to affliction (the source of which does not matter, ultimately) to the place of accepting death as the only possible outcome. To be in despair means to be without a way out; that is, to be so mentally and emotionally without any hope of help in sight that death seems inevitable.

Though it seems the afflictions the apostle refers to here come from without, there are other times of suffering to the point of despair in which a finger cannot be so accurately placed upon the “source.” Despair, a crippling level of discouragement, is more common than we may realize for those who dedicate their lives to gospel ministry.

Biblical characters that battled deep discouragement and despair include David, Hannah, Elijah, and Paul. And before one concludes that all sorrow to the point of death is itself a sin—or is only, ever, always caused by sin, one should remember that Jesus experienced sorrow to the point of death (Matthew 26:38). His experience alone should slow down the zealous wheels of our mental judgment. Some well-known, post-biblical ministers of the gospel also experienced deep despair; Charles Spurgeon, Martyn-Lloyd Jones, and David Brainerd are just a few. We must accept that there are some parts of our fallenness we will never understand. Only the God of providence knows fully what He seeks to accomplish for His glory through our suffering.

What Is the Purpose of the Sentence of Death?

The burden of the apostle’s suffering was so heavy that he actually felt as though a death sentence had been pronounced against him. But this heavy weight was not without purpose. The overwhelming sense of impending death was “to make us rely not on ourselves but on God” (2 Corinthians 1:9).

There it is! God, in His grace, orchestrates suffering for His servants for the purpose of stripping them of self-reliance—the pride that feeds so many other sins and hinders our usefulness. In the case of the apostle and his friends, physical deliverance from actual death threats was provided by God. But even if they had not been delivered, their hope would have remained. Why? Their testimony remains, “On him we have set our hope” (2 Corinthians 1:10).

The Only Ground of Hope

Hope delivers us from the afflictions that threaten to take the very life out of us because its roots grip to the only sure foundation: God is for us in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:31). It was the promise of ultimate deliverance in Jesus that breathed life into the suffering apostles so that they could continue to press on without human explanation.

Believing—truly believing—that God is for us, not against us, counsels our troubled and fearful souls. It renews our strength, purpose, and desire to live even when the despair that takes hold is so deep that it feels like a sentence of death has been pronounced upon us. Setting one’s hope on God alone; not the lessening of pain or the improvement of circumstances is the only ultimate remedy for despair. When we have learned to counsel ourselves with these truths, then we will become equipped to counsel others who despair even of life.

Join the Conversation

In your life, how has God used those times when you felt the sentence of death and despaired even of life?

Topics: Doubt, Faith, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Sadness, Theology | Tags: , , ,

6 Biblical Perspectives on Strength in Weakness

6 Biblical Perspectives on Strength in Weakness

It’s human nature to detest pain, suffering, and weaknesses. Perhaps that’s why I find 2 Corinthians so intriguing. It shows how Paul suffered for his faith and responded to criticisms.

By that time, Paul had planted churches and proven his commitment to God, yet certain people in Corinth were attacking his apostleship and authority. In response, Paul could have boasted in his knowledge, experiences, and successes, but he repeatedly boasts in his weaknesses. For example, he had “visions and revelations of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 12:1), something worth boasting about, but he shifts the focus on a thorn in the flesh.

Paul suffers from a thorn in his flesh and pleads with God to remove it (2 Corinthians 12:7-8). Christians debate the meaning of Paul’s thorn, but the consensus is that Paul was suffering immensely and God used the thorn to humble him.

God’s answer to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). For most of us, it’s not the answer of our preference. We’d rather have our affliction, which could be physical, mental, or emotional, removed.

Perspective 1: Radical Discipleship (2 Corinthians 12:9-11)

Paul’s response is radical.

Paul writes, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

It’s radical because most people do not talk about contentment with hurtful experiences. Rather, we say that we “would” be content if we didn’t have weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities! So, typically, our prayers center on God removing weaknesses from our lives. “God, please take away this trial.” “God, are you disciplining me for holiness? You’ve got my attention. Now, can you make my situation easier? Can you remove this person from my life?”

Like Jesus, Paul resists trying to fulfill other people’s expectations or cater to them (2 Corinthians 10-11). A leader should look this way, talk this way, or avoid hard labor. He was able to remain steadfast in his ministry because of his godly perspectives. Other passages in the Bible provide helpful perspectives on weaknesses.

Perspective 2: Expect Persecution for Godliness (2 Timothy 3:12)

Even Jesus, our Savior, was persecuted because of His teachings. Persecution could be physical, mental, or emotional. It might be that family member or coworker who constantly argues with you about your faith or godly decision. It might be a job loss or humiliation from people who hate God. The point is that persecution will happen if you are striving to live for God.

Perspective 3: Renew Our Perspective and Hope

Are we focusing more on our earthly life and comforts or heavenly home? Sometimes, remembering that our life on earth is temporal can help change our longings, desires, and expectations. For instance: “Yes, this decision will cost me acceptance from peers or a significant amount of money, but those things will not matter in heaven. God, may you be honored by this decision.”

In 1 Peter, Christians are persecuted for their faith. Peter says to place your hope on the future when Christ returns, “preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded” (1 Peter 1:13). Keep an eternal perspective and practice self-control. Be prepared.

Perspective 4: Allow God to Use Our Weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:10)

When we are weak, then, we are made strong. The world says, “Be strong in yourself.” Paul says being strong isn’t about physical strength or confidence in self, but the power of Christ that helps us to endure hardships. That’s why he was able to be content with weaknesses. Paul’s confidence was in God, not himself.

Perspective 5: Remember Spiritual Warfare (1 Peter 2:11)

Remember spiritual warfare. The moment we placed our faith in Christ for salvation, we entered spiritual warfare as God’s children and enemies of the devil. We not only battle sinful desires, which wage war against our soul (1 Peter 2:11) but also the devil waging war all around us. Since the days of Adam and Eve, the devil’s mission has not changed—to deceive and tempt us to sin. Anything to distance us from God. What keeps you from pursuing God?

Too often, we’re more vulnerable to temptations and hardships because we’re spiritually weak, not because the devil is stronger. A common problem is that we allow ourselves to be spiritually complacent, living passively as if we have no choice. When we placed our faith in Christ for salvation, an inseparable, nondestructive, and permanent union with Christ occurred. This means that God will not give up on us and that we have the Holy Spirit to help us at all times. We are not alone.

On a related point, are we blaming the devil rather than taking responsibility for our decisions? In conversations, I’ve noticed that the blame on the devil becomes more common in rationalizing sins or questionable responses during times of hardship and confusion. The devil is always working to discourage us. Are we prepared?

Sometimes, spiritual warfare can intensify despite faithful efforts to pursue God and godliness. We will become restless and discouraged if we choose to overanalyze and dwell on the unknown. In the Bible the focus is on strengthening our faith and clinging to what we know about God and His truth.

Perspective 6: Do Your Part (Ephesians 6:10-20)

Strengthen your faith. How are you doing spiritually? Has it been some time since you’ve attended church or worshipped God from your heart? Are you crying out to God, like the psalmists did when facing hard times? Like a soldier fighting a battle, we need to be prepared all the time and put on our spiritual armor (Ephesians 6:10-20).

  • Open your heart to God. Pray! Confess your struggles, weaknesses, and need for His help (1 John 1:9-10).
  • Open the Bible. You could start with the Psalms or Proverbs. Reading a shorter book, such as James, might be more manageable. Ask others for suggestions. Write down what you learn about God and His promises.
  • Open your schedule to people and ministries. We need Christians in our lives and to serve them well.
  • Be careful of merely reading blog posts and listening to podcasts without taking action. Talk to a godly person about your present weaknesses and options. What needs to change?

We don’t know God’s exact purpose for allowing each hardship, but we know that His motives are always good and that He always makes himself available to help us. Like Paul, may we know that when we are weak, we can be strong—in Christ.

Join the Conversation

What additional biblical perspectives would you share about strength in weakness?

Topics: Christian Living, Discipleship, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Suffering, Theology | Tags: , ,

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