August 4, 2019
Brian Liechty (North Campus) | (Downtown Campus) | (South Campus) | | 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.—2 Corinthians 1:3–4
The title of this morning’s sermon is Counseling One Another. You may be thinking, Oh my, Pastor Brian, are you saying what I think you’re saying? Are you saying that I should be counseling other people in the church? But I’m not qualified. I don’t have a degree or license to do that!
Or maybe you’re thinking something different. Maybe you’re thinking, I’m okay with counseling others, but why would I ever need to receive counseling? I mean, I’m not in a crisis. I don’t struggle with a mental illness. I’m not battling an addiction. Isn’t counseling for those people?
Or maybe you’re okay with this concept of counseling one another but you’re just having a hard time wrapping your mind around what it actually looks like. All you can think of is going to an office and lying on a couch and spending 50 minutes with a complete stranger.
Well, let me try to address some of those thoughts that you might be having …
To begin with yes, I do believe we should be counseling others in the church. After all, think about what counseling is. Counseling involves a conversation where we help someone who is struggling. So every time people share a struggle with us and we listen to them and respond with some sort of guidance, we’re counseling. And it’s true, there will probably be some situations that we’re not fully equipped to speak into. I know there are some situations that I’m not fully equipped to speak into. And during those situations, it’s wise to partner with others in the church or community. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have anything to say. As Christians, we have a living relationship with the God of the universe. So we know what it’s like to cry out to him and receive his help. We know what it’s like to resist temptations and persevere in trials. We know what it’s like to walk in the Spirit, and grow in faith, and live for God’s glory. So the reality is that we do have help to give. We may not always feel qualified, but we do have counsel to offer.
And not only do I believe we should counsel others, I believe there are times when all of us need counseling. It’s true that many in our culture believe counseling is only needed for certain groups of people. It’s for those people labeled as “broken” or “troubled.” It’s for people who have “messy lives.” But according to Scripture, that’s all of us, isn’t it? Christian, non-Christian. Male, female. Black, white.
We’re all broken. We all have troubled and messy lives. To put it simply: As sinners and sufferers, we all struggle in this fallen world. And that means we all need help at times. So it may not be today and it may not be tomorrow, but there will be times when we get stuck, or we lose hope, or we feel overwhelmed, or we face some other difficulty. And when we do, rather than that hiding those struggles we should admit them. We should admit them to others and be open to their counsel.
Again, you may be wondering how all of this looks practically. And you’re right, sometimes counseling does happen in offices with comfy couches with someone who’s had additional training. In fact, that’s what I would refer to as formal counseling. And I believe God calls some of us to that. For instance, here at the North Campus we have several lay counselors who do formal counseling. They’ve been trained to meet with people over the course of weeks and months and sometimes even years to help them sort through intense struggles. But that’s not the only kind of counseling that exists. There’s also informal counseling—where we walk with others and minister in the context of our everyday relationships. And that’s something we all have opportunities to do. Whether we’re tucking our kids in at night or talking to a friend on the phone, we can all pursue informal counseling with one another.
And so, with all that in mind, here’s what I want us to consider this morning.
Main Point: We as the church are called to counsel one another during times of sin and suffering.
And actually, we see this emphasized in Scripture in lot of places. And so instead of diving deep into one passage this morning, I want us to briefly examine three passages We’ll work through our main point phrase by phrase as we go.
First, let’s talk about how we as the church are called to counsel one another. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul writes,
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
At this point in Ephesians 4, Paul is instructing the church about spiritual growth and maturity. And to help us understand what that looks like, Paul uses the analogy of a child becoming a man. So in the same way a child grows and develops into full manhood, we as the church are grow and develop until we reach maturity. And according to Paul, the mature Person that we are growing into is Jesus. So, we are to be conformed to his image. We are to take on his character and his conduct. As verse 15 says, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.
I think there are lot of ways that growth toward Christlikeness can happen. We can grow by reading God’s word and praying. We can grow through suffering and service and sharing our faith. And of course, we can grow on days like today—where we gather to worship the Lord and hear his word preached. But we can also grow in in the context of relationships and conversations. And that’s what Paul focuses on in verse 15. He says, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” And speaking the truth in love is in many ways a concise definition of biblical counseling. When we give biblical counsel, we’re doing those three things in an interpersonal, relational context. We’re speaking. So we’re having a conversation—one that involves listening and asking questions and showing concern. And we’re speaking the truth. We’re looking for timely opportunities to connect Scripture to their lives and apply the gospel to their hearts. And we’re speaking that truth in love. We’re coming alongside of them in the context of a relationship where we genuinely care for them.
A couple weeks ago I had a really challenging week. It was one of those weeks were every conversation was hard and every decision was difficult. And by the end of that week, I was drained and weary and done. I was about to head home for the day, when I ended up passing by a staff member in the hallway. And as we saw each other we started with the typical exchange: “Hey, good to see you … How are you doing? …” And I just decided to be honest with him. So I said, “You know, I’m tired. It’s been a really long week. And I’ve been dealing with some really complex situations.” He asked a few questions, and we talked for a couple minutes. Then I figured it was time to wrap up the conversation, so I said, “Hey, I gotta get going, but please pray for me.” I started to walk away when he said, “Hold on Brian, I want to tell you something …” He said, “I will pray for you, but I want to share with you how I’m going to pray.” And in next few moments, you know what he did? He counseled me. He spoke the truth in love. He helped me to get a biblical perspective on my situation. Now it doesn’t always happen right in the middle of the hallway, but that’s what informal counseling can look like.
That is something that all of us get to be involved with. Speaking the truth in love is not just for just pastors or leaders or professional counselors—it’s for everyone. That’s why Paul says, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” The “we” Paul addresses in verse 15 is the same “we” he’s been addressing throughout chapter 4. It’s all of us. It’s the church. As Paul goes on to share in verse 16, every part of the body contributes to its overall growth. So we’re all called to help each other grow up. We’re called to speak the truth in love. We’re all called to counsel one another.
2. We As the Church Are Called to Counsel One Another During Times of Sin (Galatians 6:1–2)
All right, so we know that we as the church are called to counsel one another. Second, let’s talk about how we as the church are called to counsel one another during times of sin. Beginning in verse 1, Paul writes,
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
In this passage, Paul gives instruction on how to minister to those who are “caught in a transgression.” This phrase has the idea of being overtaken or entrapped in sin. And the reality is that could happen to any of us. Because our hearts are so prone to temptation and deception, we can all go down a sinful path and get stuck unexpectedly. That’s probably why Paul says, “If anyone is caught in any transgression ….” He knows that any one of us could get caught by any number of sins. So this passage isn’t just addressing new Christians or immature Christians. It’s addressing all of us. We’re all prone to wander. We all need help at times.
And notice who Paul calls on to provide that help. The very first word in verse 1 is “Brothers,” a term for male believers that applies here to all believers—male and female. That’s who Paul is saying can help. That’s who Paul is calling on. He’s saying anyone within that spiritual family—anyone who is a spiritual brother or sister can help that person who is caught in sin. And sometimes we wonder about this, don’t we? We think, But I’m not a pastor. I’m not a leader. Or as mentioned before, I don’t have a degree—I’m not licensed for this. But think about what you do have. You have the Holy Spirit. You have God’s indwelling presence leading and guiding you. In fact, that’s what Paul just finished emphasizing in chapter 5. He talked about how we as believers walk by the Spirit and bear the fruit of the Spirit and live by the Spirit. In other words, it’s the Holy Spirit who enables and empowers us to minister. That’s why here in 6:1, Paul says, “you who are spiritual” are to help this person. So when we see a brother or sister caught in sin, we don’t have to wait on someone else. As people of the Spirit, we can help.
Notice what this help looks like. Paul says that you who are spiritual should restore the person who is caught in sin. The word restore has the idea of putting something back in order that was out of place. For example, that term was used in medicine to describe the setting of broken bone or a dislocated joint. So to restore a brother or sister means to put matters back in order. It means to help a person return to fellowship with God and others. And that’s really a beautiful picture of counseling, isn’t it? You see, counseling is not just going to people caught in sin and telling them to stop it. It’s not just a quick transaction where you speak the truth and walk away. No, it’s relational and conversational. It’s walking with someone as we speak the truth in love. It’s carefully ministering the Word in such a way that a person can be restored to God and others. And so, it’s no surprise that Paul talks about restoring that person in a spirit of gentleness. When we go to restore someone, we do so with a heart of compassion. After all, we know what it’s like to be caught in sin. And not only do we go in a spirit of gentleness, but we go with the intention to bear someone’s burdens as we see in verse 2. That means were willing to get involved in the difficulties caused by sin. That means were willing to be affected by some of the mess someone’s sin has created.
And so let me ask you, are you willing to go and help your brothers or sisters when they’re caught in a transgression? Are you willing to counsel someone another during times of sin? Just a moment ago, I mentioned that the word restore was used in medicine to talk about setting a broken bone. Imagine later this week you’re out on a trail hiking, and you come across someone with a broken bone. What would you do in that moment? Would you just keep going and ignore that you saw it? Would you call a friend and start gossiping about what you saw? (“John, you will not believe what I just saw. There was this guy on the trail today, and his bone was just hanging off his arm. It was so nasty!”). Would you walk up to that person and start condemning them for having a broken bone? (“Man, that looks horrible. You must have done something really stupid!”) No, you wouldn’t do any of those things. You would go and help. Even if you weren’t able to reset the bone, you would do everything you could. Brother and sisters, we’re all going to be in this situation at times. We’re all going to be caught in sin. We’re all going to need someone to help us restore fellowship with God and others. So let’s be the church. Let’s go and help. Let’s counsel one another during times of sin.
3. We As the Church Are Called to Counsel One Another During Times of Suffering (2 Corinthians 1:3–4)
So far we’ve talked about how we as the church are called to counsel one another, and we’re called to do that during times of sin. As we finish this morning, let’s talk about how we as the church are called to counsel one another during times of suffering. To help us see this, let’s look together at what Paul has to say in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4. He writes,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
At this point in his ministry, Paul had gone through quite a bit of suffering. According to chapter 11, he had been stoned, beaten, and shipwrecked. He experienced danger, sleepless nights, and exposure. And among other things, he wrestled with anxiety as he faced the pressure of serving so many churches. And sadly, instead of sympathizing with Paul in his sufferings, the Corinthians questioned him. In fact, the more they saw Paul’s suffering and weakness, the more they questioned his leadership and role as an apostle. And so one of Paul’s goals in here 2 Corinthians is to help them understand suffering from God’s perspective. He wants them to see that suffering is not only part of God’s plan for him but it’s a part of God’s plan for them. In verses 3-4, Paul begins by focusing on God’s comfort and how that relates to their suffering.
The word comfort in this passage is not what we typically think of when we think about comfort—we envision ourselves lying on a beach or sipping hot chocolate or getting cozy by a fireplace. So we associate comfort with having an easy life or feeling relief or being free of pain. But here in 2 Corinthians, “comfort” has a different meaning. It means to encourage or strengthen. So when we’re comforted, it causes us to take heart and persevere. It gives us the resolve to face hard times and to suffer well. One of the reasons Paul praises God in verse 3 is because he has personally experienced that kind of comfort.
For instance, consider what happened with Paul’s thorn in the flesh. According to chapter 12, Paul asked God three times to remove that thorn. So clearly, Paul was looking for relief. But God didn’t give him relief, did he? No, He gave Paul comfort—he strengthened Paul and encouraged him. He did that by reminding Paul that God’s grace was sufficient and his power would be made perfect in Paul’s weakness. And that comfort actually changed the way Paul faced his suffering. After he was comforted, Paul started boasting about his weakness. He became content with his hardships and persecutions and calamities.
Brothers and sisters, that kind of comfort is not just for Paul—it’s for us as well. It’s something that God promises every one of his children. That’s why Paul says in verse four that God comforts us in all our affliction. So maybe you’re struggling with a broken relationship right now. Or maybe you’re under a lot of financial burden. Or maybe you’re wrestling with the decisions that your adult children are making. Those afflictions are real. And they’re painful. And it’s okay to ask God to remove them. But know this, if God chooses not to remove your affliction, he will comfort you in it. He’s committed to giving you the strength and encouragement you need to persevere and suffer well. He promises to comfort you in all of your affliction.
But there’s something else you need to know about God’s comfort. When we receive God’s comfort, it’s meant to be passed on. In other words, it’s meant to extend beyond ourselves to others in the body of Christ. As Paul says in verse 4, God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction.” And here again, we have another compelling picture of counseling one another. But this time it’s a picture of how to counsel one another during times of suffering. Notice how it works. God meets us in our affliction by giving us comfort. So he encourages us and strengthens us and gives us fresh resolve. And as a result, we’re now equipped and ready and in a position to comfort others. So what do we do? We take that very comfort that we received and share it with others. We go from being comforted to being comforters!
And again, this work of counseling one another during times of suffering isn’t just relegated to pastors or those who somehow “specialize” in giving comfort. It involves all of us. After all, as believers we all know what it is like to be comforted by God in our suffering. Just think about some of the ways God has worked in your life. Some of you here have faced significant trauma in your past. And there was a time where it shook your identity to the core. But now you are resting in the reality that Jesus Christ defines you, that what he says about you is what’s true. That’s a comfort that you can pass on. Others of you have battled with severe anxiety. So when trouble comes, your instinct is toward fight or flight or freeze. But by God’s grace, you’ve found some ways to cry out to God and ask for his help. And you’re beginning to experience him as your refuge. That’s a comfort that you can pass on. Still others of you are a facing a serious illness like chronic pain or MS or cancer. And it’s hard because there are things you used to be able to do that you can’t do anymore. And yet, you find that your faith is being strengthened and your hope is being deepened and your joy is being nourished. You’ve come to know firsthand what it means when Paul says “though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). That’s a comfort you can pass on.
Again, brothers and sisters, God is working in every single one of our lives. And he promises to comfort us. But he doesn’t want his work to end there. God comforts us so that we can comfort others. He comforts us because we as the church are called to counsel one another during times of suffering.
Application and Conclusion
How do we respond to this reality that we as the church are called to counsel one another during times of sin and suffering?
As elders and staff, this is something we’ve talked about quite a bit. And as we talked, we realized this isn’t something we want to tackle through just one sermon. We want to embrace and pursue this calling over the long haul. We want to see counseling one another become part of our culture. And so God put it on our hearts to make “Counseling One Another” an emphasis at the North Campus this coming ministry year. So, similar to last year’s Befriending initiative, this year we’re launching a Counseling One Another initiative. Our prayer is that every single one of you would get involved. We encourage you to do two things:
First, we want to encourage you to develop meaningful relationships with each other.
By meaningful relationships, we’re talking about the kind of relationships where you feel comfortable admitting your struggles and sharing what’s on your heart. We’re talking about the kind of relationships where there’s mutual care for one another and loving counsel is exchanged. We recognize those relationships can be hard to find, especially in a church our size, but there are ways to find them. You can find meaningful relationships through a Sunday School class or Titus 2 mentoring. You can find meaningful relationships by going on a short-term ministry trip or joining a service team. You can also find meaningful relationships by participating in a small group. In fact, on Sunday, August 25, after second service, we will have Small Group Connect where you can meet with small group leaders and find a group that fits you and your location & schedule.
And this Fall, as part of our Counseling One Another initiative, our small groups will be studying a book by Ed Welch entitled Side by Side, a short, practical, helpful book all about developing meaningful relationships. We believe it’s so helpful that we’re going to provide everyone in small groups with a free copy of the book and a free study guide. So if you’re not part of a small group, now is a great time to get plugged in and take the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships.
Second, we encourage you to get equipped to counsel one another.
Several years ago, God called me to be a father. And once that happened, I started reading books, and I met with older men and did everything I could to get equipped for that role. A few years later, God called me to be a pastor. And once that happened, I went to seminary, and I took classes and did everything I could to get equipped for that role. In the same way, because we’ve been called to counsel one another, we want to pursue ways to be equipped for that role.
So to help you with that, we’ll be offering five “Counseling One Another” seminars throughout the 2019–20 ministry year. We’ll have seminars that focus on areas such as “Getting to the Heart” and “Dealing With Difficult Emotions” and “Ministering to the Sexually Broken.” These seminars were designed with every member in mind. So, whether you’re just getting started in relational ministry or you’re looking for some more tools, we believe these seminars will be helpful to you. We’ve also tried to make the seminars as accessible as possible. So you don’t have to go offsite or shell out hundreds of dollars. You can just come right here on a Saturday, 8am–4pm. We’ll get into the Word. We’ll interact in small groups. We’ll even enjoy Chick-Fil-A for lunch. And most importantly, we’ll learn how to counsel one another. All the details for these seminars can be found on the bulletin insert that you received when you came in today. I would encourage you to check that out and go to the website where you can register or get more information. If you’re not sure where to start, come to the Core Seminars you see listed. These will give you a foundation, not just for counseling, but for all personal ministry.
Well, brothers and sisters, I’m really grateful for our time together, and I’m really excited to see how God will work through our Counseling One Another initiative. So let’s pray and ask the Lord for his help in the days ahead.