A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with a good friend that I had not seen in a long time. During that conversation, she shared with me about a struggle she had about whether or not she should pursue a romantic relationship with a non-Christian. I have had some time to reflect on that conversation and during this time, God has revealed a tendency I have in counseling and advising people.
When counseling someone, it is important to both love the person you’re counseling and to guard the truth as found in scripture, to speak truth in a loving manner. You really can’t be faithful in your counsel if you don’t hold tightly to both truth and love (another post for another day). I can say with a clear conscience that everything I said to her was in love for her and in fear of God and His perfect Word. In a lot more elaborate and elongated fashion, I simply said, that in scripture, God clearly calls believers to marry believers (Mal 2:10; 2 Cor. 2:14).
The issue was not what I said to her but how I said it.
In the Bible, God makes covenant with Israel in the Old Testament. These covenants had a particular structure. Within that structure, there is a portion known as the sanctions. This portion of the covenant is where the blessings and curses are laid out. It outlines the good things that come with obedience and the bad things that come with disobedience (Deuteronomy 28 is a perfect example of the sanction portion of a covenant).
My friend has one of two choices. Obey God and enjoy the blessings of being in a lifelong committed relationship with a fellow believer or disobey God and deal with the curses and consequences of being unequally yoked.
I too have one of two choices.
The first is that I can encourage her to obey God because she is a daughter to a good, loving, perfect, caring God who wants her life to be happy and holy in Him. I can tell her that she can be beautifully led by a God fearing man, who will love her as Christ loves the Church, who will joyfully and willingly give up his pleasures to see his bride happy and holy, to lovingly lead, discipline, instruct, and encourage their children, to live generously and open-handedly with their resources, and to be single-minded in sharpening each other and loving their children and to beautifully display the glories of Christ through their marriage. There is so much good that God wants for his children and God calls us to obedience because it is the most joyful, life-giving, content, and happy place to be! I can encourage her with all the blessings that come with obedience.
The other is to talk about all the tough times ahead if she decides to pursue a relationship with a non-believer. I can tell her that her husband although able to lead in many ways will not be able to lead her in her most crucial place of need – her spiritual health, that she is uniting with a man who has no understanding of true sacrifice because he has not tasted nor experienced the true and real sacrifice of Christ, that this man will lead their children with the virtues of this world which are selfish and sinful, which have no anchor in scripture, that her children will be confused as to why daddy doesn’t pray with them during the meal or never joins them for family worship, that giving generously to the work of the local church will be handcuffed because he doesn’t want to give his hard earned money to something he doesn’t believe in. In short, I can scare her into obedience.
As I reflected upon this conversation, I realized that I usually counsel by way of the second route. Instead of encouraging one to joyful obedience, I scare people into curse avoidance. Sometimes the second approach is necessary. God puts them clearly in His covenant with Israel. Often times, firm and harsh words are necessary. However, there is the reality that our good God has good intentions for his people but my tendency is not to remind people of that reality. Barnabas is referred in Acts 4 as “the son of encouragement.” If I were in the bible, I’d be “the troll of fear tactics” (actually, it would probably be much worse).
As I’ve prayed through this, I’ve asked God to reveal to me the beauty of His love, His perfect character, His affirmation of His children, His good intent for them, His ear to ear smile that He shines down on His saints and that I’d remind people that this is the kind of God we serve and it is a joy to obey him.
During my time as XPA, I’ve been affirmed that I have a particular relational gift. I hope to steward this gift well. I’m thankful that the Holy Spirit reveals to me ways in which I can better use the gifts that God has given me.
If you are one of those who counsel those around you, I’d encourage you to think about your approach when you counsel someone.