"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.
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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.