August 4/5, 2018
Brian Liechty | Ephesians 4:11-16
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 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.—Ephesians 4:11–16
The local church is a counseling ministry. The question is not, “Should Christians counsel each other?” because they already are. Most Christians are ministering to one another on a personal basis. So the question is, “What kind of counseling is being offered? How effective is this ministry? Do people believe that the word of God has answers to everyday life problems?”
[Bill Goode, quoted from Robert Kelleman’s Equipping Counselors for Your Church: The 4E Ministry Training Strategy, p. 39]
That quote is from a pastor by the name of Bill Goode. And based on what he said, he seems to believe some pretty radical things. I don’t know if you caught it, but Bill seems to believe that all of us are involved in this thing called counseling. I think he would say that every time someone shares a struggle with us, and we respond with some form of guidance, we’re counseling that person. Not only that, Bill seems to believe that we in the church should be counseling one another—as if we’re called to counsel one another. As if that’s somehow part of God’s design for the church. And then at the end of the quote, he seems to imply that we should depend on God’s word for our counseling. So Bill seems to believe the Bible has authority in our counseling —that it can drive our theory and our practice. He even seems to believe it has relevance in our counseling—that it can effectively address the sin and suffering we face.
It may surprise you that Bill isn’t the only one who believes those things. I believe those things. Our elders believe those things. Our church believes those things. In fact, those beliefs are part of the reason that Bethlehem is a Biblical Counseling church.
And for those of you who are new to biblical counseling, there are a couple things that are helpful to know.
First of all, it’s helpful to know that biblical counseling is known by various labels. Some people just call it biblical counseling. Others call it “soul care.” Others prefer terms like “one-another ministry” or “side-by-side discipleship” or “helping relationships.” Whatever you call it, it all refers to the interpersonal ministry of the Word. So when we comfort one another by sharing the comfort we’ve been given, that’s biblical counseling. When we exhort one another so that we’re not hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, that’s biblical counseling. Essentially, whenever one person takes the truth of Scripture and applies it to another person’s life in a conversational, interpersonal context—that’s biblical counseling.
Second, it’s helpful to know that biblical counseling is often misunderstood. And sadly, some of that is because Biblical Counseling isn’t always done very biblically. In fact, there’s probably some of you here who’ve received “Biblical Counseling” where the Bible was used harshly or where you were told it’s wrong to pursue medical intervention or where the focus was always on your sin and never on your suffering.
If that’s been your experience, I am so sorry. That’s not the way it should be! As David Powlison says, “If the counseling done in the name of being Biblical Counseling is harsh, it’s not biblical is it?—[because] Christ is not harsh. If it’s graceless and moralistic, it’s not biblical— because Christ is not graceless and moralistic. If it’s insensitive and bumbling, it’s not biblical.” [David Powlison, “Counseling Is the Church” sermon at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary 2/3/2005]
In fact, in an effort to clarify what we believe Biblical Counseling should look like, the elders at Bethlehem have adopted a document called a Guiding Philosophy of Counseling. So if you have had a bad experience with Biblical Counseling or are confused about what it is or isn’t, I would highly encourage you to go to our website and read that document. It talks about how the goal of our counseling is the glory of God and the joy of others. It talks about how we as humans are body and soul, and why it’s important to take the whole person seriously. It talks about how we are absolutely dependent on the Holy Spirit for any lasting change to take place.
But there’s something else that our Guiding Philosophy of Counseling talks about that’s important for our time today. It talks about how our counseling aims to be embedded in the church. In fact, it says, “We believe that the church is the ideal context for, and should be the center of, Jesus-focused, gospel-centered counseling.” And then just a few sentences later it adds, “The primary and fullest expression of counseling ministry is meant to occur in local church communities.”
Now does that mean that good, helpful counseling only happens in the church? No, it doesn’t. Does that mean it’s wrong for the church to ever refer and partner with those outside the church? No, it’s not. But it does mean that biblical, Christ-centered counseling should be happening in the church. And it should be happening in the church because God has called us to counsel one another. In other words, the church can and should be a community of counseling. After all, it’s what we see in the Bible. In fact, that’s what we see right here in our passage today.
And so, what I want to do for the rest of our time is look closely at one particular verse in our passage and focus on Ephesians 4:15. I want to unpack this verse by asking three questions: What? How? and Who? So if you’re taking notes today, that’s the outline: What? How? and Who?
The first question we want look at is “What?” In other words, what is God calling us to here in Ephesians 4:15? What is he focusing on? What does he want for us as believers? To put it simply, God wants us to grow up! He wants us to grow and develop and mature. That’s why throughout this passage the apostle Paul uses the analogy of a child becoming a man. Like a child who grows until he reaches maturity, we as the church are to grow until we reach maturity.
Now Paul could have described the church’s spiritual growth as becoming more holy or growing in godliness. But he doesn’t do that. Instead, Paul describes our spiritual growth in a different way. He says, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” So what does maturity look like for the church? What does transformation and change and look like? Ultimately it looks like a Person. It looks like Jesus. He is the One we are to grow into. And this makes good sense given what Paul has already shared.
Back in Ephesians 1, Paul talked about how God has predestined us for adoption as sons. So even though we were once God’s enemies—even though we deserved to be apart from him— God graciously brought us into his family. And as adopted children, he wants us to look like our elder brother. He wants all of his sons and daughters to look like his eternal Son. As Paul says, we’ve been chosen before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless.
And then of course we see this same emphasis here in Ephesians 4. In verse 11 Paul explained that Jesus gifted the church with people. He gave apostles and prophets and evangelists and shepherds and teachers. And Jesus did that so that the entire church could be equipped for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body. And the church is to grow as a body until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. So there you have it again. Our growth is focused on a Person. We are growing into Jesus. We’re maturing into the fullness of his stature.
And notice that verse 15 says we are to grow up “in every way” into Christ. Quite often, when we think about becoming like Jesus or being conformed into his likeness, we think about it solely in terms of behavior. So we think in categories such as obeying like Jesus or acting like Jesus. But I think Christlikeness is much more comprehensive. Rather than just trying to be like Jesus, we should seek to have a heart like Jesus. Rather than just trying to image Christ on the outside, we should seek to image him in the inside.
So part of what it means to grow up in every way into Christ is that we think like Jesus and trust like Jesus and desire like Jesus. So for instance, when I’m counseling a couple who’s facing a lot of conflict in their marriage, it can be helpful to share some communication techniques. But more than that, I want to help them understand why they yell at each other and get so defensive and struggle to forgive. In other words, I want them to understand what’s going on in their hearts. I want them to pursue change with the Lord at the level of their desires and beliefs. After all, Jesus says it’s out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
Brothers and sisters, this is what God wants for all of us. He wants us to be transformed from the inside out. He wants us to grow up in every way into Christ. That’s God’s agenda for us. That’s what he’s calling us to.
So we know the “what” of Ephesians 4:15, don’t we? We know that God is calling us to grow up in every way into Christ. But how? How exactly is this supposed to happen?
I think if we looked across the Bible we would see a lot of ways we can grow up into Christ. We can grow by reading God’s word and praying to him. We can grow through suffering or service or sharing our faith. And of course, we can grow on days like today—when we gather to worship the Lord and hear his word preached. But we can also grow in the context of relationships and conversations. And that’s what Paul focuses on in Ephesians 4:15. He says, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”
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, conversational context. We’re speaking to someone. And we’re speaking the truth to them. And we’re speaking that truth in love. Let’s look at each of these.
To begin with, biblical counseling involves speaking.
And there are a lot of ways we can speak when we give biblical counsel. We can teach or encourage or comfort or admonish just to name a few. And really, what we do depends on what’s needed in the moment. It depends on what will benefit that person. That’s why in 1 Thessalonians 5:14 Paul says we are to “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, and be patient with them all.”
And I’ll be the first to admit, I need to grow in this. There have been times when my boys were discouraged and fainthearted and I wrongly challenged or admonished them. And there have been times when they were idle or even rebellious, and I haven’t challenged or admonished them like I should. So one of the first questions I need to ask and we need to ask before giving biblical counsel is, what type of speech is needed? We need to slow down and discern what kind of speech will help that person grow in Christ. As Paul says later in chapter 4, we should “let no corrupting talk come out of our mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion” (v. 29).
In addition to speaking, biblical counseling involves speaking the truth.
The word “truth” in verse 15 seems to be set in contrast to the deception and errors that were being promoted by false teachers. It’s this truth prevents us from being “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine.” And of course, the truth of Christianity, the truth that promotes right doctrine and brings stability for our lives, is found in God’s word. So if we’re going to speak the truth to one another, we need to know God’s word. Not only that, we need to be able to apply it to each other’s lives.
Here’s where I see the challenge in that. I think most of us know that Scripture has something to say about salvation and loving our enemies and forgiving one another. But we often wonder if Scripture has anything to say about things like depression or chronic pain or PTSD. In fact, if we can’t quickly find a verse in Scripture that talks about those things, we think God must not have anything to say.
But I want to encourage you that God does have something to say about those things. After all, the Bible talks about who God is and who we are and why things are broken. It talks about where hope is found and how we can change and what the future holds. So even though there isn’t a particular verse addressing every single problem we face, Scripture does provide a framework, a lens of sorts, that can help us to navigate life’s struggles. And that’s what biblical counseling seeks to do. It considers how the whole counsel of God speaks into someone’s situation. It looks at how the theology and the story and the worldview of Scripture maps onto our struggles.
For instance, if I’m counseling someone who is depressed, we might start by considering biblical themes such as suffering or despair or losing heart. Or we might engage a book like Ecclesiastes and wrestle the notion that everything is meaningless. Or we might spend time in Psalm 42 where David asks, “Why are you downcast, O my soul?” And whatever direction we take, we’re going to end up focusing on Jesus, because that’s what Scripture does.
So again, biblical counseling involves speaking the truth. Biblical counseling connects Scripture to life. It helps us to see that God knows our struggles, and he cares about our struggles, and he has something to say about them in his word.
So biblical counseling involves speaking and it involves speaking the truth. But Biblical Counseling also involves speaking the truth in love.
And speaking the truth in love typically requires two things. To begin with, speaking the truth in love requires personal investment. So rather than just lobbing truth grenades on someone randomly, we want to actually spend time with the person we’re ministering to. We want to enter his or her world. We want to build a relationship. After all, as the saying goes, people don’t typically care what you know until they know that you care.
In many ways, this idea of personal investment is captured in Galatians 6 where Paul says we are to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (v. 2). Paul is saying we should be willing to invest in others and be inconvenienced for their sake. We should be willing to get messy and be affected by their lives. After all, that’s what Jesus did for us, right? He took on flesh for us. He went to the cross for us. He willingly got messy and bore our burdens to invest in us personally.
In addition to personal investment, speaking the truth in love also requires compassionate understanding. Let’s say one of my coworkers was out of the office for an entire week with a horrible case of the flu. I’m talking in bed, curtains drawn, all-out quarantine. How do you think he would feel if I asked how he was doing and then immediately started complaining about my seasonal allergies? And then on top of that I started to lecture about the benefits of essential oils and neti pots?
Sadly, that is sometimes what our biblical counseling looks like—we are quick to speak and talk about how we feel. But instead of being quick to speak, we should be quick to listen. So we should take the posture of a student who is coming to learn. We should patiently consider people’s stories and seek to understand them. We should take the time to ask good questions and draw them out. As Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.”
Likewise, rather than immediately sharing how we feel, we should focus primarily on how they feel. That means sympathizing with them. That means acknowledging their pain and suffering. That means being moved by what moves them. And again, we have a Savior who models these things for us. He is acquainted with our story. He knows our hearts. He sympathizes with our weaknesses.
So if we want to speak the truth in love to someone—if we want to give biblical counsel that is truly biblical, that is marked by Christlike love—it’s going to require personal investment and compassionate understanding.
At this point we’ve looked at the “What” and the “How” of Ephesians 4:15. And we’ve discovered that God wants us to grow up in every way into Christ by speaking the truth in love. So let’s look at the “Who.” In other words, who is supposed to do this? Who is responsible for speaking the truth in love?
It is professionals and experts? Is it pastors and leaders? Is it those who have taken counseling classes? Well no, not according to verse 15. Paul says, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” And 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 emphasizes 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 are all called to speak the truth in love and counsel one another.
But, what does that look like? How exactly are we supposed to be a community of counseling? After all, isn’t counseling what happens when you go to an office and spend 50 minutes with a complete stranger who charges you $100? Well, not necessarily. I believe counseling can happen in your small group when one of the guys admits that he’s overwhelmed by the stressors at work. I believe counseling can happen on the phone when your friend shares that she lost a loved one. I believe counseling can happen at home when your child starts to isolate himself or becomes withdrawn. Counseling can happen in our everyday relationships. It can happen informally. In fact, that’s what I believe we are all called to as the church. We are all called to give and receive biblical counsel at that informal level.
That said, I do believe there are times where biblical counseling needs to transition from being informal to formal. In other words, there are times where biblical counseling needs to be more intensive and happen more often and utilize more structures. So for instance, if that friend of yours who lost a loved one is continually plagued with a sense of guilt and regret, it’s probably time for formal biblical counseling. Or if that guy in your small group who was overwhelmed starts losing sleep and feels increasingly anxious, it’s probably time for formal biblical counseling. And I believe God has gifted and graced some of you to help with that. In other words, while I believe that God has called all of us to counsel informally, I also believe God has called some of us to counsel formally.
This about it this way. As Christians, we are all called to give and share out faith, right? And yet, Scripture is clear that there are some in the body of Christ who are especially gifted in those areas. I believe the same is true for counseling. We are all called to speak the truth in love to one another, but some are especially gifted to do so.
And brothers and sisters, the fact that God has called all of us to counsel informally and some of us to counsel formally is an amazing privilege. Just consider what we’re saying in light of God’s mission. According to Scripture, God is on a mission to glorify himself. So there is nothing more important than God’s glory and supremacy being put on display. And the primary way God glorifies himself is by rescuing people from every tribe and tongue and nation. But God’s mission doesn’t stop there. God wants those people that he rescues to be transformed into the image of Christ. He wants them to know him and enjoy him more and more and more.
And brothers and sisters, we, the church, get to be a part of that! In other words, we get to be part of God’s mission! We get to be part of God’s redemptive work!! And we get to be change agents in each other’s lives!!! That’s the amazing privilege that Ephesians 4:15 points us to!!! As Paul Tripp says, “Your life is so much bigger than a good job, an understanding spouse, and non-delinquent kids. It is bigger than beautiful gardens, nice vacations, and fashionable clothes. In reality, you are part of something immense, something that began before you were born and will continue after you die. God is rescuing fallen humanity, transporting them into his kingdom, and progressively shaping them into his likeness—and you get to be part of it.” [Paul Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, p. 20]
So, let’s finish our time by talking about how you get to be a part of it—how you get to participate in this community of counseling. I want to encourage you to participate in three ways.
First, participate by receiving counsel in this church.
I know this this is hard for us because it means we have to open ourselves up to one another. It means we have to become vulnerable and admit our weaknesses. And part of that is recognizing that we’re no different from each other. We’re all broken people in need of help. And that includes me and that includes all of your pastors. We’re all in need of biblical counsel, and we need it often!
So brothers and sisters, please don’t let fear or pride or your past or anything else keep you from asking for help and receiving counsel.
Additionally, I think we need to be careful in thinking that it’s automatically better to look for someone anonymous when we need help or find a professional outside the church when we need counseling. If we believe the church is God’s “Plan A” for our transformation—if we believe the church is designed by God as the ideal place for gospel-centered counseling, then we should begin by looking to the church before we look anywhere else.
And if you’re in need of help, know that we’re here for you. All you have to do is go to our website and click on Get Help, and reach out to the person listed under counseling. It will look a little different on each campus, but based on your needs, we’ll help you find a small group or a mentor or a pastor or a trained lay counselor who can walk with you and provide biblical counsel. If you contact us and we don’t have someone in our community who is skilled and experienced to help with your particular struggle, we’ll be honest about that. In fact, we’ll do our best to help you find a trusted counselor outside the church with the hope of partnering with them in your care.
In addition to receiving counsel in this church, participate by giving counsel in this church.
I think one of the best ways to get started in this is to look at the relationships God has already put in your life. Who has he connected you with here at Bethlehem? Who do you keep running into? Who have you gotten to know and begun to pray with? To my knowledge, God has never done anything on accident. So if he has brought these relationships into your life, they are probably some of the people God is calling you to speak the truth in love to. And if for some reason you’ve had a difficult time forming relationships, or maybe you’re new to Bethlehem, let us help you get connected with a Sunday School class or a small group. We would love to help you with that.
And finally, participate by being equipped to counsel in this church.
By God’s grace, many of you have already begun to grow in this area. Maybe you’ve read a book like Paul Tripp’s Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands. Or maybe you’ve attended some of the conferences Bethlehem’s hosted like the recent Grief conference. Or maybe you’re taking some of the CCEF classes that are happening at the Downtown Campus.
My prayer is that every believer at Bethlehem would be equipped to counsel one other—that every single one of you would get the tools you need to minister informally, whether that’s in your small groups or in your friendships or in your family. Not only that, I’m praying that God would stir some of you to be equipped to counsel in a more formal capacity and that you would pursue training to be a lay counselor in this church.
In many ways, those prayers are part of an even bigger prayer. I’m praying for the day when it’s normal and routine for people to have conversations in the hallways with their small groups and in the counseling room and then walk away thinking, “Wow … that was so helpful. They listened to and understood me! And then they took God’s word and applied it to my life! And they did it in such a way that I trusted in Christ more—I treasured him more!” That’s what we want to see happen here at Bethlehem. We want to see a vibrant, welcoming, gospel-centered community of counseling where we’re all equipped to speak the truth in love—so that together we can grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. Amen? Let’s pray.