Association of Biblical Counselors


Association of Biblical Counselors

The Association of Biblical Counselors (ABC) exists to encourage, equip, and empower people everywhere to live and counsel the Word, applying the Gospel to the whole experience of life.

Encourage: ABC provides a fellowship of believers committed to life transformation through the Living Word.

Equip: ABC promotes training in biblical counseling and points to resources that deal biblically with all of the issues of life.

Empower: ABC provides excellent materials for growth in Christ and for use in effective biblical counseling.

To find out more, visit the Association of Biblical Counselors website.

Relationships: Can You Relate?

by Paul Tripp

Have you ever wondered if the people around you deal with the things you do in your relationships? Have you ever wondered if other marriages deal with petty differences, or with the collision of differing agendas? Have you ever wondered if other parents struggle with resistant children and the impatience that greets you when it happens? Have you ever wondered if other people get in trouble with their neighbors or fall out of favor with a friend?

Have you ever wondered if other people experience harmless conversations suddenly turning angry, or misunderstanding getting in the way of an otherwise productive friendship? Have you ever wondered if other people get as exhausted as you do with the mess of relationships? Have you ever wondered if other people say to themselves, "Christians, you can't live with them and you can't live without them?"

Well, you should find comfort as you read Scripture because the mess of relationships that we deal with everyday is on almost every page of the Bible. From Adam blaming Eve for his sin, to Cain murdering his brother out of jealousy. From Abram and Sarai colluding together for Abram to have sexual relations with the servant girl, to Rebekkah plotting with Jacob to deceive his father and get the blessing that his brother rightly deserved. From Saul's murderous jealousy of David, to David's murderous adultery with Bathsheba. From Delilah's seduction of Samson, to Eli's struggle with his wayward sons. From the inability of Solomon's sons to get along, to the grief of Hezekiah over his evil son Manasseh.

From the competitiveness of the disciples for a place of honor in the kingdom, to tension between Mary and Martha as to how to best serve Jesus. From the rejection of Christ on the cross by his own Father, to the divisions that wracked the New Testament churches. The Bible puts before you account after account of people just like you dealing with the same things you do as you live as a sinner, with sinners, in this fallen world.

Why do we have these gritty stories in the Bible? Because God wants you to know that you are not alone in what you experience. And not only are you not alone, God wants you to know that you are not left to your own wisdom and your own strength. The One who is your wisdom and strength subjected himself to the harsh realities of relationships in a broken world so that he would be a sympathetic and understanding Helper in your time of relational need.

But there is more. He was willing to face the ultimate in relational suffering, the rejection of his Father, so that you would not only have the hope of acceptance with God, but also the hope of real reconciled relationship with your neighbor. He purchased our peace with God and in so doing made peace between us possible as well.

What does all of this mean? It means you do not have to give way to discouragement, panic, or hopelessness. No matter how frequent or complicated the mess is, there is hope. Not because some day you will discover the key to perfect relationships or meet the perfect person. But because Jesus did what we could not do so that we would be able to experience what we could never experience if left to our own strength and wisdom.

So, don't passively accept the mess and don't run away when it comes. Determine to be an agent of hope, change, peace, and reconciliation. There is probably not a relationship in your life that could not be better in some way. Jesus makes that change and growth possible.

REFLECTION QUESTIONS

  1. What relational conflict are you going through right now?
  2. Do you tend to give way to discouragement, panic, or hopelessness in the midst of conflict? If not, what is your source of hope?
  3. What does the Bible have to say about your conflict? Search the Scriptures for verses and/or stories with similar themes, or ask a friend for help.
  4. How can you help others find help in the Word of God for their conflict?

It's Not Your Party

by Paul Tripp

Back in my early days of ministry, I was a kindergarten teacher at a Christian school. Those were the four longest years of my life... actually, that's not true. They were four great years, because I was finally with an age group that I could relate to!

During that period of time, one of the mothers came to me and asked if she could have a birthday party for her daughter. As long as you invite everyone in the class, I said, that's not a problem. The next day, Suzie's mom turned my room into birthday kingdom.

There was a long table going down the middle of the classroom, and at the end of the table was Suzie—birthday girl. She had an amazing pile of presents in front of her, stacked so high you could barely see her face. All her classmates sat around the table, admiring Suzie's stack of presents while looking at their own little sandwich bag of party favors.

One of the boys in the class wasn't pleased. He began to harrumph. As Johhny looked at his bag of favors—two tootsie rolls, a lollipop, and a plastic whistle—and compared it to Suzie's big pile of gifts, he got angrier and angrier. His harrumphing grew louder and louder. Finally, one mom helping out had enough.

She came to Johhny's seat at the table, knelt down to look him the eye and said, "Johnny, it's not your party."

It's a comical little scene, perhaps even "cute" at first, but the theology of those words obviously stuck with me throughout my life. As I think about my life and the glory of God, I need to remind myself that this life is not my party.

You and I have been born into a world that was created to celebrate God. This life is not our party. This life is bigger than your marriage. This life is bigger than your job. It's bigger than your kids and their accomplishments. It's bigger than your vacation or personal comfort. This life is bigger than you.

You see, the problem with Johnny is that he made that party all about himself. He wanted to be the center of attention. He wanted to receive all the gifts. He couldn't see past his own selfish heart to celebrate Suzie and her birthday, and that only caused conflict and discord for everyone around him.

You and I act like Johnny all too often, but thankfully God is loving and patient and kind. Not only does He forgive us, but He continually invites us back into the party. What amazes me most is that God didn't just write a Heavenly e-vite; He left Heaven to murder Himself so that we could be personally invited to an eternal party.

Jesus died and was raised to invite you to a party bigger than anything you could throw on your own. You'll never understand life, or find peace of heart, until you understand that this life is not your party.

God Bless

Paul David Tripp

Reflection Questions

  1. Why is it tempting to make life about you?
  2. How did you celebrate yourself this past week?
  3. What happens when others don't celebrate your party like you want?
  4. Why is God's party better than yours?
  5. How can you become more involved in God's party?

Depression and the Ministry: The Need for Wise Disclosure

by Jeremy Lelek

During the past year, I have had the privilege of working very closely with Paul Tripp in the development of the Center for Pastoral Life and Care. That experience has given me a deeper understanding of the particular stresses and temptations experienced by pastors in ministry, and will considerably inform the comments that follow as it regards the questions, “How much should you share about your depression with a congregation? How do you explain it?”

Given the diversity of church cultures represented in the body of Christ, offering a blanket statement on the appropriate quantity of information to share with a congregation would seem a bit myopic. Instead, I believe it to be more beneficial to consider several components that may serve to shape a wise decision as a pastor considers disclosing personal struggles with depression.

1. If married, have you shared this struggle with your spouse?

Men in general tend to wrestle with transparency when it comes to personal struggle. When depression is involved, fear of appearing weak or less spiritual might incline a husband toward silence and isolation. While the question posed involves the broader community of the church, it is imperative that a pastor be considerate of the most significant person in his community—his wife. This is a responsibility of an overseer in that he is called to “manage his own household well” (1 Timothy 3:4). Failure to manage this detail prior to confessing one’s depression to the entire church would lead to further stress on the family while exacerbating the emotional strain on both he and his wife.

2. Have you discussed your struggle with your board of elders or ruling authority?

The book of Proverbs says, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14). As a pastor, resist any temptations toward isolation. The concept of church government ordained in the Bible is not established exclusively for disciplinary purposes. Ideally, church government should exhibit a strong redemptive ethos in which a pastor is able to struggle openly with those in authority hoping to receive encouragement and wisdom from fellow brothers in the faith. This spirit is illustrated in 1 Timothy 5:17 where Paul instructs, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” When a person is spiritually weary, he is wise to pursue the safety found in the abundance of counselors so as to avoid destructive decisions that could ultimately be detrimental to the flock over which he presides.

3. Have you sought to foster a gospel-saturated culture within your church?

My pastor once stated in a sermon, “The gospel doesn’t make you free from struggle, but it makes you free to struggle.” This statement correlates well with Paul’s words in Romans 8:33-34, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?” Operating in the liberating freedom of the gospel of Jesus Christ frees believers (pastors included) from functioning under the yoke of legalistic slavery (Galatians 5:1). Have you sought to foster such a culture within your own church? Have you offered rich biblical understanding of the gospel as it pertains to sin and suffering so as to equip those in your congregation to expect you to be as human as they? Or, have you developed a persona as pastor that you and those in leadership should be immune to the effects of depravity in a fallen world? Answers to these questions will strongly inform how much you share as well as how you explain your current situation. 

4. Consider your motives for sharing.

Why do you want to share with your congregation? Is disclosure viewed as your pathway to relieve a heavy burden of guilt? Is it your means of finding an escape from the pressures of ministry? The depressed person longs for relief and will often utilize desperate measures to find it. Make sure, as you visit with your spouse, close friends, and elders that your chief aim of confessing and sharing is centered in a love for God and neighbor. There is profound redemptive value in wise transparency.

As you consider what and how to share with your congregation, be compelled to esteem the supremacy of Christ in your suffering. God is always working, and his agenda in all things is quite specific: conformity to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29). How might Jesus be glorified in your confessing a significant bout with depression? How might your own struggle serve as a means of encouraging others who are facing their own seasons of hardship? Seek to emulate the example of Paul as he shared his struggle with his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:1-10). Seek to esteem the sufficient grace of Christ as you expose your own vulnerability to a fallen world.

Strength Made Perfect in Weakness

While the list of considerations for pastors facing depression far exceeds what can be covered in a single article, those above may serve as a baseline. As to the “how” of explaining, many of the same ideas also apply. Sharing your struggle with others can no doubt present significant challenges (on top of the depression you are already experiencing). In these moments, remember your call, even in weakness. You are an ambassador of the gospel of Jesus Christ! Even your encounter with emotional darkness may serve as an opportunity to bear witness to this sacred message. Paul mentions his willingness to endure many hardships, afflictions, calamities, beatings, and sleepless nights in order to prevent any obstacles from hindering his followers from hearing his gospel-saturated message (2 Corinthians 6:1-10). May such courageous grace compel you to do likewise. May God lead you in wisdom on this matter so that you, like Paul, may be able to say in the end (without shame), “We have spoken freely to you... our heart is wide open” (2 Corinthians 6:11).


Christian Counseling and Apologetics

by Chandler Fozard

"4Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.  5Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes." Proverbs 26:4-5

Verse four basically instructs us not to let a fool tell us how to counsel him. Instead, show the fool how the wisdom of God is superior to his own foolishness in such a manner that he is able to realize his own foolishness. If we fail in this task, the Scripture says, the fool will just continue deceiving himself into believing he knows better than we (or, worse, than God). There's much at stake in the counseling relationship then. If handled correctly, a person may "come to their senses and escape the snare of the enemy." If done poorly, they will remain in their sins, thinking themselves to be wiser than God.  

For this reason, we must rely on the wisdom and power of God to reveal the foolishness of men. Counselors must know God's Word. We must be much in prayer and in dependence on the work of the Holy Spirit. And we must not let those we are counseling lead the way. I have seen biblical counseling that differs little from that old Rogerian devil. Someone comes in seeking counsel, and the so-called counselor really offers little in the way of solid, Biblical counsel. He simply parrots back what the counselee has said, throwing in the occasional Scripture and a few words of application. That's not Biblical counseling.

Biblical counseling seeks to walk the person through what led them to counseling in the first place. Rather than minimize the pain their feeling, it seeks to emphasize how it is foolishness--whether theirs or another's--that has brought them there. It offers wisdom from God regarding how to see the problem through the lenses of Scripture. Of course, as Paul said, we are not salespeople hoping against hope that some will buy what we're selling. We know that God, not persuasive words of wisdom, is the One who changes people.

One area in which this works out in counseling those incarcerated or recently released is with regard to the so-called problem of low self-esteem. According to Scripture, the problem of man is pride, not a negative self-image or low self-esteem. If men in prison seem to struggle with low self-esteem or a low self-image, rather than spending hours of time trying to figure out who or what caused it, we would be wiser helping them understand that the problem is within, not without. Walk them through their past only to demonstrate how their foolishness led them to where they are, which is why they must have the wisdom of God if they are to change.

"Joe, I see you're upset because you've lost your freedom and your family because of what you've done. Don't you see how God's way would have been better? The good news is that there's still hope for you. You can leave here freer on the inside than when you came. You can have a marriage that sings and raise kids that are the envy of other parents."

Counsel from the Word. Don't let those you are counseling run the show. You know what God's Word says; help them see that God's ways are better and wiser than theirs.


The Danger of Forgetfulness

by Paul Tripp

We all do it, probably every day. It has a huge impact on the way we view ourselves and the way we respond to others. It’s one of the main reasons we experience so much conflict in our relationships. The scary thing is: we barely recognize that we’re doing it.

What is this thing we all tend to do that causes so much harm? We forget the generosity of God.

In the busyness and self-centeredness of our lives, we sadly forget how much our lives have been blessed by and radically redirected by the generosity of God. The fact that he blesses us when we deserve nothing (except for wrath and punishment) fades from our memories like a song whose lyrics we once knew but now cannot recall.

Every morning, God’s generosity greets us in at least a dozen ways, but we barely recognize it as we frenetically prepare for our day. When we lay our exhausted heads down at the end of the day, we often fail to look back on the many gifts that dripped from God’s hands into our little lives.

We don’t often take time to sit and meditate on what our lives would have been like if the generosity of the Redeemer had not been written into our personal stories. Sadly, we all tend to be way too forgetful, and there are few things more dangerous in the Christian life than forgetfulness. 

Forgetfulness is dangerous, because it shapes the way you think about yourself and others. When you remember God’s generosity, you also remember that you simply did nothing whatsoever to earn his blessing. When you remember his generosity, you’re humble, thankful, and tender. When you remember his generosity, complaining gives way to gratitude and self-focused desire gives way to worship.

But when you forget God’s generosity, you proudly tell yourself that what you have is what you’ve achieved. When you forget his generosity, you take credit for what only his blessings could produce. When you forget his generosity, you name yourself as righteous and deserving, and you live an entitled and demanding life. 

When you forget God’s generosity and think you’re deserving, you find it very easy to withhold generosity from others. Proudly, you think that you’re getting what you deserve and that they are, too. Your proud heart is not tender, so it’s not easily moved by the sorry plight of others. You forget that you are more like than unlike your needy brother or sister, failing to acknowledge that neither of you stands before God as deserving.

...[W]ill you remember to remember the generosity of God? Remembrance produces upward worship, inward humility, and outward generosity. Give thanks, be humble, and be generous, because the blessings you receive from the Lord are not what you deserve.

God bless

Paul David Tripp

REFLECTION QUESTIONS

  1. How has God been generous to you [this year]? List at least 10 examples.
  2. Look at your list. Which of those 10 examples are you tempted to take personal credit for? Why does God deserve all the credit?
  3. How have you been arrogant and self-righteous about blessings when you should be humble and grateful?
  4. How have you failed to extend generosity to others [this year]?
  5. How can you be generous to others as an expression of your humble gratitude for the undeserved blessings you have received as a result of the generosity of God?

What Would You Say to Yourself at 16?

by Bob Kellemen

Yesterday in the car I was listening to a Christian radio station (Moody Radio out of Chicago) and they had an interesting call-in question: 

“What would you say to your 16-year-old self?” 

Whatever age you are now, if you had a chance to go back to the you of age 16, what would you tell yourself about life? What biblical counsel would you offer the younger you? 

How would you answer that question? 

My “Gut Response”

My first response, my “gut response,” kind of surprised me: 

“Life is hard, but God is good.” 

When I was 16, I had been a Christian for just over one year. At that age I falsely assumed that with God, since all things were possible, therefore life would be easy. 

Some 37 years later, I certainly would say that I’ve had a good life. God has graciously given me untold blessings: eternal salvation in Christ, a wonderful wife of 32 years, two young adult children I deeply love, a wonderful daughter-in-law and granddaughter, great ongoing relationships with my extended family and with friends, a great church where we worship and fellowship, a nice home perfect for entertaining, a life in ministry where I’ve been able to use my abilities and gifts, etc., etc., etc. 

So, why would my first thought be to tell my younger self, “Life will be hard”? 

Biblical Counsel: Sustaining—“Life Is Bad”

Well, Jesus promised us a hard life. “In this world you will have trouble(John 16:33).  

His promise has come true in my life. Along with all the blessings, I have found that life has a way of knocking me down. Life in this fallen world is filled with hurts, disappointments, confusion. I sin against others. Others sin against me.  

For example, as wonderful as ministry has been, like anyone who gives themselves to others, I have been hurt deeply by others (and I’ve hurt others deeply). In my 37 years since age 16, many times I have felt what the Apostle Paul felt. After telling the Corinthians about the hardships he had suffered, Paul admitted that the pressure felt like far more than he could endure. He confessed that in his heart he felt the sentence of death and despaired even of life. 

I’m not saying this to “whine.” I’m simply saying that my 16-year-old self would have been helped by a major change in expectations. Assuming that God will make life easy is not helpful! 

The historic biblical counseling approach that I follow and teach starts with sustaining, which empathizes with people by communicating, “Yes, life is bad. Yes, it’s normal to hurt.” I picture sustaining with the image of “climbing in the casket.” When someone like Paul feels the sentence of death, before we rush in with our “happiness all the time” mentality, we stop and experience their death-like, their casket-like hurt.  

With the hurting “me of age 16,” I would be tempted to rush in with 1 Corinthians 10:13 and explain that God never tempts anyone beyond what they can bear. Well, the same Apostle Paul who wrote that, a few years later also wrote that he was under great pressure far beyond his ability to endure.” Both truths are equally true. I’d want to communicate both to the younger me. 

Biblical Counsel: Healing—“God Is Good” 

The biblical counseling approach I teach and practice continues with historic biblical healing which says, “It’s possible to hope.” So, taken together, we say, “It’s normal to hurt, but it’s possible to hope.”  

I would say to the younger me: 

“Along with your casket experiences, expect many resurrection experiences. Life is filled with daily mini-caskets of separation, of the death of expectations, even the death of dreams and some relationships. But life will also be filled with many daily mini-resurrections.” 

That’s what Paul said when he spoke of himself and to himself. Right after saying that he “despaired even of life,” Paul continued: “But this happened so that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” 

What image of God did Paul highlight in his self-counsel? 

The dead-raising God. 

The God of daily resurrections. 

Yes, I would communicate to my younger self that “life will be hard. Life will sometimes feel like an inescapable coffin.” But I would never stop there. With my younger self, I would also say: 

“But God is good. He’s good all the time. It may not feel like that. But focus on your image of God. See Him as the God who sees you, who cares for you, and who uses the hard things of life to make you a more Christ-dependent person.” 

I’d want to communicate what Paul said to himself and the Corinthians.  

“Through all the struggles and temptations of life, God is faithful. You can count on Him to raise the dead things in your life. Now, sometimes some of those dead things won’t be raised until the next life, until eternity. Sometimes some things, perhaps many things, won’t make sense until the next life. But don’t only look at life from an earthly perspective. Also look at life from God’s eternal perspective. When people intend things for evil and harm and hurt, God weaves all things together for good. Hope in God.” 

“Hope in God.” That’s a good piece of counsel for my 16-year-old self. 

I’d also want to share with the younger me what Christ shared with His followers. 

“Yes, in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! Christ has overcome the world. Focus on your relationship to Christ. In Him you can have peace.” 

“Peace in Christ.” That’s a good piece of counsel for my 16-year-old self. 

Join the Conversation 

“What would you say to your 16-year-old self?”


How to Escape Depression’s Pull

by Margaret Ashmore

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.” – Exodus 14:15

All God’s revelations are sealed to us until they are opened to us by obedience. Immediately you obey – a flash of light comes. Obey God in the thing He is at present showing you, and instantly the next thing is opened up. The tiniest fragment of obedience, and heaven opens up and the profoundest truths of God are yours straight away. God will never reveal more truth about Himself till you obey what you know already.” – Oswald Chambers

Depression can be so weighty that it has its own gravitational pull, and one that has found me more than once dead center on the couch watching some mind-numbing television show. (Interesting isn’t it that the word a-muse means to “not think”?)

The choice of just getting up and sweeping the floor or writing a note to someone has always propelled me from its grip with escape velocity born from the spark of sheer obedience. The maximum weight of a Boeing 747 is approximately 900,000 pounds, yet “thrust and lift” can take it above the very clouds that had shrouded the sun.

Elisabeth Elliot’s signature quote regarding the soul’s malaise, which she says and very crisply, “Do the next thing.” She goes on to say with the same forthrightness, “Maybe you will have to get out of bed, get up from your chair, go outdoors and walk, sing a song out loud, bake a pie for somebody, or mow the lawn as an offering of praise.” I remember talking to a woman who when she was a little girl lost her father in a sudden accident with looming foreclosure of her family home. She said the most comforting sound she has ever heard was that of her mother washing dishes. She was doing the “next thing,” the practical thing and that which dispelled the depressing notion that “life is always going to be this way.”

But it is not always moving forward. Sometimes there is need to move backward in uncovering secret or long cherished sins in our lives. In the Joshua 7, we read of Israel’s defeat at Ai, which fell hard on the heels of over confidence and pride. Joshua fell on his face with a litany of questions and complaints. What was God’s response? Was it, “Joshua, let’s talk about this” or “how does that make you feel”? No, it was a resolute, no non-nonsense “Get up!” There was sin in the camp that had to be dealt with before there could be deliverance.

So “doing the next thing” might mean getting right with someone you’ve wronged, making restitution on outstanding payments, putting away once for all that website or magazine which feeds a monstrous, lustful appetite, taking back a purchase of self indulgence whose only outcome was more debt – you will have your own list. I certainly have mine. But be assured, this principle alone can take you from a shrugging Atlas with the weight of the world on your shoulders to that of renewed vigor and reviving refreshment. “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” Acts 3:19-20

The choices we make to obey despite our feelings or to give in to the downward pull of a fallen world filled with fallen people – mean everything.

Here is a list of a few other practical things that will help get traction in your life if you are stuck in depression:

Start with your devotional life. God’s Word is the means of grace whereby He imparts His peace and contentment to the depths of your soul. And prayer. After Hannah poured her heart out before God we read, “And her face was no longer sad.” John Piper says, “One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not for a lack of time.” Yes, you have time!

Join a gospel-centered church and get involved in the fellowship. (For the believer, there is no growth, or life, or possibility of change apart from the body of Christ.) Don’t wait for someone to ask you out for a visit. Ask them. Statistics show that people who have a friend to talk to over coffee often do much better than going to protracted and secular counseling.

Begin an exercise regime. (Make sure you start with a doctor’s approval.)

Write a note to a friend or someone who seems forgotten and alone. (Isaiah 58:7-8)

Listen to music that elevates the soul. (1 Samuel 16:23)

Get on a budget. Prayerfully save for a purchase instead of putting it on credit. Tithe. (Malachi 3:10)

Finish projects long put off. Simple but profoundly effective, like a woman with whom I was counseling for severe depression. One of her assignments was to tackle the mountains of ironing and to clean her house, both neglected for months. The decision to complete very elementary tasks uncloaked the fabrication that her life was “overwhelming.” She did “the next thing” and that momentum was her exodus to freedom.

Start a garden, make a gourmet meal, watch some re-runs of the Andy Griffith Show, go out with family or friends for some Rocky Road ice cream. And laugh. It’s good medicine.

Now, clear the runway!


Abused Wives: Called to Suffer?

by Leslie Vernick

This week one of my coaching clients shared that her counselor told her that her role as a godly wife was to submit to her husband’s abuse and quietly suffer for Jesus. She was told that setting boundaries was unbiblical and asking her spouse to change specific behaviors for her to feel safe or rebuild trust was demanding. Is that true?

Does scripture encourage a spouse to patiently and quietly endure harsh and abusive treatment within her or his marriage?

The passage that we usually turn to support this thinking is found in >1 Peter 2:13-3:22 where Peter writes to believers who face mistreatment for their faith. 

The entire book of 1 Peter has to do with suffering, but I want to focus on a few points from these verses to help us understand what Peter is teaching us about how we suffer in a godly way as well and when we should patiently endure suffering.

Peter anticipates that the new believers will be persecuted for their faith. Therefore instead of talking about the normal mutual household duty codes between slaves and their masters and husbands and wives that Paul already covered in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, Peter zeros in where the relationships are not mutual or reciprocal. Peter wants Christians to know how to respond when the government or a slave owner misuses his power or is abusive, or when a husband is a non-believer and isn’t following the mutual household duty codes that Paul spoke about, such as “husband’s love your wives as Christ loved the church.” To a non-believing husband those words would hold no weight. 

First, let’s look at how Peter tells us to handle ourselves in the presence of abusive people. Peter is clear that believers should be respectful of others regardless of how we are treated. Often in destructive marriages, a spouse who is regularly verbally battered or emotionally neglected or abused starts to lob some verbal bombs of her own. Instead of learning to handle such mistreatment in a way that honors God, she dishonors herself, her husband, and God by her building resentment as well as her explosive or negative reactions and responses to his abuse. 

It’s painful to keep quiet in these circumstances. In fact, the psalmist talks about his struggle with keeping quiet in Psalm 39 when he says, “I will watch what I do and not sin in what I say. I will hold my tongue when the ungodly are around me. But as I stood there in silence – not even speaking of good things – the turmoil within me grew worse. The more I thought about it, the hotter I got, igniting a fire of words.” (Psalm 39:1-3). Not using our words to hurt others once they have hurt us, may indeed cause some internal suffering. But when we choose this path, God is honored.

Second, Peter reminds us that God sees our mistreatment and is pleased with us when we bear it without retaliating with our words or actions. Peter encourages us not to pay back evil for evil by reminding us of Jesus, who, when reviled, did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who him who judges justly (>1 Peter 2:22, 23).

Next, Peter explains when we should endure abusive treatment. He writes, “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.”

The good Peter is talking about here is a moral good, a doing-the-right-thing kind of good. Although in this passage Peter specifically advises us to submit to authority, Peter himself was flogged after he refused to stop preaching about Christ even though he’d been ordered by those in authority to stop.  Peter refused to submit because in doing so, he would have to stop doing good (Acts 4:19; 5:17-42).

In the same way when a wife refuses to submit to her husband’s sinful behavior, or stands up for her children who are being mistreated, or refuses to sign a dishonest income tax report, or calls 911 when her husband is threatening to harm her or himself, she is doing good even if it doesn’t feel good to her spouse. Her behavior honors God, protects her children and does what is in the best interest of her spouse. (It is never in someone’s best interests to enable sin to flourish.).

A wife who does good in these ways will suffer because her husband will not view her actions as good. Instead he will get angry, defensive, and likely retaliate against her for what she’s done. That’s exactly the kind of suffering Peter is talking about. He’s speaking about suffering for doing good instead of being passive or fearful or doing the wrong thing or nothing at all. Peter is saying that when we do what is right and we get mistreated for it, God sees it and commends us.

Lastly, Peter reminds wives that their unbelieving husbands who refuse to obey God’s word can be won by their respectful and pure conduct. But we must keep in mind that a godly wife’s godly actions may include implementing tough consequences for repetitive and unrepentant sin in the hopes that those actions influence her husband to look at his destructive behaviors, repent, and come to Christ. God used that approach with hard hearted Israel when they repeatedly refused to heed his verbal warnings. Paul encourages us to do likewise (e.g., 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 13).

When a woman takes these brave steps she will suffer. She may suffer financially as her husband sits in jail because she called the police when he hit her. She may suffer the censure from her church when she separates from him because of his unrepentant use of pornography and verbal abuse. She may suffer with loneliness, retaliation from her spouse, disapproval from her friends and family for the stance she’s taken. 

When we counsel a wife that God calls her to provide all the benefits of a good marriage regardless of how her husband treats her, provides for her, or violates their marital vows, we’re asking her to lie and pretend. This is not good for her or her marriage. This counsel also reinforces the abusive person’s delusions that he can do as he please with no consequences. Marriage does not give someone a “get out of jail free” card that entitles one to lie, mistreat, ignore, be cruel, or crush his spouse’s spirit with no consequences. To believe otherwise is to not know the heart or wisdom of God.

If Peter meant that a wife should stay passive and quiet and do nothing to help her spouse see the damage he is causing his family, her behavior would not be doing him good. It would enable him to stay blind to his sin and colludes with his destructive ways, which is not good for him, for her, or for their family. That kind of passivity does not honor God. 

Peter concludes his teaching about suffering with these words. “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (>1 Peter 4:19 ESV).  

Let’s encourage suffering spouses do good rather than pretend or stay passive. There is a huge difference between the two.


Remembering Our Place When Wronged

by John Henderson

Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God's place?” (Genesis 50:18-19)

We find in Joseph a kind of humble grace that deserves our thought and appreciation. His brothers had wronged him severely. They had sold him into slavery and death. Years later, as second in power to Pharaoh in Egypt, Joseph is given an opportunity for retribution. It would be easy to assume that God was providing a chance for him to even the score. What would you do if you were in Joseph’s place?

I am amazed by how he responded. The posture Joseph takes is contrary to our sinful nature and wholly divine. Clearly the Spirit of God abides in him. Mankind tends not to act in this way. None of us tend to act this way. When hurt and abused, we tend to be quicker to punish and revile. We need help. We need God abiding in us. We need to believe and practice what Joseph believed and practiced.

Remember the place of God – to assume the seat of judge upon the souls of others is to forget the Lord has already filled the seat. It is like a pardoned convict demanding the judge step aside so that he may evaluate and sentence a fellow criminal. The Father has given the position of Judge to His Son.[1] Not one of us can bear the burden, nor would we exercise the chair with wisdom that is fitting. We can take comfort, however, that God is Judge enough. He dispenses mercy and wrath in perfect seasons and proportions.

Remember the place of Self – a recipient of grace. Perhaps we are offended in the present situation, but we have often assumed the other spot. Whether we recall the incidents or not, the Lord remembers countless moments when His grace was extended to us, undeserved. Our grit and savvy did not secure our pardon, but God’s grace in Jesus Christ. “Who can say, ‘I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin’?”[2]

Remember the ways of God – they are righteous and pure. They have always been righteous and pure. “For I proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He. ”[3] We can trust our God. We can trust His works. Since the foundation of the world, He has proved Himself holy beyond measure. His law is perfect. His wrath upon sinners is perfect. His wrath was so perfect that the sacrifice of His Son was necessary to satisfy it. Indeed, His grace is perfect too.

Remember the ways of Self – they are prideful and distorted. Whatever true justice we perceive and dispense is a gift from God anyway. It is not of us or from us. If we had our way, then true grace and mercy wouldn’t happen. Justice wouldn’t either. We cannot trust ourselves. We cannot trust our works. It is not our instinct to redeem, or absorb transgression, or overlook a fault in love. The Spirit must train our hearts to believe and apply the gospel in these forms.

Next time we are offended, as those who counsel the word of God to life, let us pray for the Lord to bring these verses and truths to our minds. Let us pray to give the same mercy we have received. Then we will better understand what it means to be children of God. “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. ”[4]

[1]John 5:22

[2]Proverbs 20:9

[3]Deuteronomy 32:3-4

[4]Matthew 5:44-45


Reflections on Broken Hearts and Closed Ears

by Brad Hambrick

Exodus 6:9

Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.

We might ask ourselves why this note of commentary is included in the Exodus narrative. By this point in the book of Exodus, it has already been mentioned several times that Israel was suffering immensely at the harsh hand of Pharaoh.

To answer our question, we would have to consider when the book of Exodus was written. Most likely it was written well after the actual events along with the other books of the Torah (Genesis, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) either during the 40 years of wilderness wandering or close to the time when Israel was going to enter the Promise Land (finally).

In order to understand this particular verse, we need to understand the purpose of the Torah as a whole. Moses was writing to re-establish a national identity as God’s chosen people for a nation that had been in slavery for 400 years. They were trying to learn who they were and what it meant to be a free people under God’s reign.

Just before verse 9, God had appealed to His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 6:8). Israel needed to be reminded of their heritage and (more importantly) of God’s faithfulness. However, that is the whole point of verse 9; they needed to hear these things, but their hearts were too broken to embrace the message their ears received.

This passage is revelation of the understanding of God and the pastoral heart of Moses. Israel received this text long after the actual events transpired. Their current need was not to have hope in the midst of Pharaoh’s oppression (that season of their life was over), but, rather, to be prepared to trust God the next time their spirit was broken (and that would be many more times).

How you remember your story is important. Taking time to see God’s faithfulness is encouraging. However, it can be equally edifying to reflect on the times when (because of our frailty or doubt) we were unable to rest in God’s faithfulness. When we see (retrospectively) God’s faithfulness in the moments of our greatest fear and hurt, we come to realize that God will truly never leave us or forsake us (despite what our heart may say in the present or about the future).

End Note: When you read the Torah remember that it is not just a narrative with lots of laws and sermons at the end; it is also a pastoral work. Moses is writing the history of a people learning to be free after generations of oppression. Moses is walking Israel through the process of remembering who they have always been and the implications of trusting God during this monumental transition. I believe this will help you in making application of books that we too often view as “just history.”


Resolving Conflict in Relationships Biblically

by Biblical Soul Care Harvest Bible Chapel

When it comes to conflict in relationships, Ken Sande says there are really only three kinds of people: peace-fakers, peace-breakers, and peace-makers.

Peace-breakers are prideful and power up. If they don’t get their way, they blow up, escalating conflict like gas on a flickering flame.

Peace-fakers avoid conflict or clam up trying to shove conflict under the rug out of fear.

Neither way is glorifying or healthy.

Peace-makers see conflict as an assignment, not an accident. They approach the problem with humility, reasonableness, and seeking wisdom from God (James 3:17-18). They do not intimidate, but they also do not hide. They expect conflict, embrace the opportunity to resolve things biblically, and have an urgency to keep unity in the midst of hard times.

Recently, I considered the relational landscape of my life. I have not ignored the conflict in my life, but am I doing everything, as far as it has to do with me, to keep the peace with others (Romans 12:9-21)? What would it look like to be a peace-maker in those situations and relationships?

Is there anyone in your life you are bitter toward or someone you have offended deeply? I want to challenge you to get your eyes off another’s sin and turn your focus inward with a vertical orientation (Psalm 139:23-24).

But the Bible never treats the symptoms alone… we have all tried to control our anger or appease someone else’s with a moment of kindness—but it goes deeper. Sometimes the only way to heal what is sick or broken is to get to the source, to seek true healing, to go vertical.

The Source of Conflict

Don’t you love it when God answers our most profound questions?! Hey, why do we fight anyway? Why can’t we just get along? Consider this passage from James 4:1-12, which gets to the heart of the problem.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?…

What Can We Learn about Conflict from This Passage?

The Word of God presents some very clear reasons why we can’t seem to lay down our agendas or get along well with others who differ from us.

  • The enemy is within us: We see early in this passage that conflict is internally motivated before externally manifested (your selfish passions are what you fight about most… even good desires have a way of morphing into demands!)
  • It’s not just what we want, its how much we want it: where are you coveting?

Fill in the blank: "If I only had ___________, I would be happy?" That is the beginning of constructing an idol. So, think about these four escalating steps of selfish desires:

I. I want it too much – it could be a good desire or an evil desire (not always sinful… God may still be in the picture, but kingdoms begin to collide).

II. I need it now – it now owns you (leads to sin because looking to someone or something to fulfill only what Christ can… God can’t meet this need or won’t… so I will).

III. I deserve it – it now controls you (sinful entitlement creates murderous thoughts and feelings if desire is blocked… God wants me to be happy or is an afterthought at best).

IV. You will give it to me or I will punish you – it now betrays you (even hurt those you love if your demands are not met… is God even in the picture at this point?).

Here are three more truths from this passage:

  1. We need to get our eyes on our own sin! (where are you trying to change someone else?) If she only would…. if he quit….
  2. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble: Godly humility makes a world of difference (where do you need to repent, mourn, and stop contributing to the fight?)
  3. Keep walking in repentance not judgment (where has resentment or bitterness crept in… and made you a judge not a keeper of the law?)

That sets up the problem well, but there is more grace! The second half of the chapter teaches us to truly repent and turn to the Lord so we can be a peace-maker in the situation. Consider verses 7-10 as the way out of your side of the conflict and into the graces of God.

Seven Steps out of this selfish cycle of personal conflict:

1. Submit to God – what are you holding away from Him?

2. Resist the devil – what are you giving over to Him?

3. Draw near to God – where are you hiding or running from Him?

4. Cleanse your hands – what outward behavior needs to stop?

5. Purify your heart – what inward attitude needs to change?

6. Be wretched mourn and weep – where do people need to see godly sorrow?

7. Humble yourself – where do you need to admit you’re wrong and ask forgiveness?

Remember, those who are in Christ are called to be peace-makers. That requires for us to be intentional with how we deal with conflict.


5 Indicators of an Evil and Wicked Heart

by Leslie Vernick

As Christian counselors, pastors and people helpers we often have a hard time discerning between an evil heart and an ordinary sinner who messes up, who isn’t perfect, and full of weakness and sin.

I think one of the reasons we don’t “see” evil is because we find it so difficult to believe that evil individuals actually exist. We can’t imagine someone deceiving us with no conscience, hurting others with no remorse, spinning outrageous fabrications to ruin someone’s reputation, or pretending he or she is spiritually committed yet has no fear of God before his or her eyes.

The Bible clearly tells us that among God’s people there are wolves that wear sheep’s clothing (Jeremiah 23:14; Titus 1:10; Revelations 2:2). It’s true that every human heart is inclined toward sin (Romans 3:23), and that includes evil (Genesis 8:21; James 1:4). We all miss God’ mark of moral perfection. However, most ordinary sinners do not happily indulge evil urges, nor do we feel good about having them. We feel ashamed and guilty, rightly so (Romans 7:19–21). These things are not true of the evil heart.

Below are five indicators that you may be dealing with an evil heart rather than an ordinary sinful heart.  If so, it requires a radically different treatment approach.

1. Evil hearts are experts at creating confusion and contention.

They twist the facts, mislead, lie, avoid taking responsibility, deny reality, make up stories, and withhold information. (Psalms 5:8; 10:7; 58:3; 109:2–5; 140:2; Proverbs 6:13,14; 6:18,19; 12:13; 16:20; 16:27, 28; 30:14; Job 15:35; Jeremiah 18:18; Nehemiah 6:8; Micah 2:1; Matthew 12:34,35; Acts 6:11–13; 2 Peter 3:16)

2. Evil hearts are experts at fooling others with their smooth speech and flattering words.

But if you look at the fruit of their lives or the follow through of their words, you will find no real evidence of godly growth or change. It’s all smoke and mirrors. (Psalms 50:19; 52:2,3; 57:4; 59:7; 101:7; Proverbs 12:5; 26:23–26; 26:28; Job 20:12; Jeremiah 12:6; Matthew 26:59; Acts 6:11–13; Romans 16:17,18; 2 Corinthians 11:13,14; 2 Timothy 3:2–5; 3:13; Titus 1:10,16).

3. Evil hearts crave and demand control, and their highest authority is their own self-reference.

They reject feedback, real accountability, and make up their own rules to live by. They use Scripture to their own advantage but ignore and reject passages that might require self-correction and repentance. (Romans 2:8; Psalms 10; 36:1–4; 50:16–22; 54:5,6; 73:6–9; Proverbs 21:24; Jude 1:8–16).

4. Evil hearts play on the sympathies of good-willed people, often trumping the grace card.

They demand mercy but give none themselves. They demand warmth, forgiveness, and intimacy from those they have harmed with no empathy for the pain they have caused and no real intention of making amends or working hard to rebuild broken trust. (Proverbs 21:10; 1 Peter 2:16; Jude 1:4).

5. Evil hearts have no conscience, no remorse.

They do not struggle against sin or evil—they delight in it—all the while masquerading as someone of noble character. (Proverbs 2:14–15; 10:23; 12:10; 21:27,29; Isaiah 32:6; Romans 1:30; 2 Corinthians 11:13–15)

If you are working with someone who exhibits these characteristics, it’s important that you confront them head on. You must name evil for what it is. The longer you try to reason with them or show mercy towards them, the more you, as the Christian counselor, will become a pawn in his or her game.

They want you to believe that:

1. Their horrible actions should have no serious or painful consequences.

When they say “I’m sorry,” they look to you as the pastor or Christian counselor to be their advocate for amnesty with the person he or she has harmed. They believe grace means they are immediately granted immunity from the relational fallout of their serious sin. They believe forgiveness entitles them to full reconciliation and will pressure you and their victim to comply.

The Bible warns us saying, “But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the Lord (Isaiah 26:10). 

The Bible tells us that talking doesn’t wake up evil people, but painful consequences might. Jesus didn’t wake up the Pharisee’s with his talk nor did God’s counsel impact Cain (Genesis 4). In addition, the Bible shows us that when someone is truly sorry for the pain they have caused, he or she is eager to make amends to those they have harmed by their sin (see Zacchaeus’ response when he repented of his greed in Luke 19). 

Tim Keller writes, “If you have been the victim of a heinous crime. If you have suffered violence, and the perpetrator (or even the judge) says, ‘Sorry, can’t we just let it go?’ You would say, ‘No, that would be an injustice.’ Your refusal would rightly have nothing to do with bitterness or vengeance. If you have been badly wronged, you know that saying sorry is never enough. Something else is required—some kind of costly payment must be made to put things right.”1

As Biblical counselors let’s not collude with the evil one by turning our attention to the victim, requiring her to forgive, to forget, to trust again when there has been no evidence of inner change. Proverbs says, “Trusting in a treacherous man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth or a foot that slips” (Proverbs. 25:19). It’s foolishness.

The evil person will also try to get you to believe

2. That if I talk like a gospel-believing Christian I am one, even if my actions don’t line up with my talk.

Remember, Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:13–15). He knows more true doctrine than you or I will ever know, but his heart is wicked. Why? Because although he knows the truth, he does not believe it or live it.

The Bible has some strong words for those whose actions do not match their talk (1 John 3:17,18; Jeremiah 7:8,10; James 1:22, 26). John the Baptist said it best when he admonished the religious leaders, “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God” (Luke 3:8).

If week after week you hear the talk but there is no change in the walk, you have every reason to question someone’s relationship with God.

Part of our maturity as spiritual leaders is that we have been trained to discern between good and evil. Why is that so important? It’s important because evil usually pretends to be good, and without discernment we can be easily fooled (Hebrews 5:14).

When you confront evil, chances are good that the evil heart will stop counseling with you because the darkness hates the light (John 3:20) and the foolish and evil heart reject correction (Proverbs 9:7,8). But that outcome is far better than allowing the evil heart to believe you are on his or her side, or that “he’s not that bad” or “that he’s really sorry” or “that he’s changing” when, in fact, he is not.

Daniel says, “[T]he wicked will continue to be wicked” (Daniel 12:10), which begs the question, do you think an evil person can really change?

[1] Tim Keller, Jesus the King, page 172