Comfort Food for Mutual Ministry
Last fall I posted a review of Bob Kellemen’s new book, Equipping Counselors for Your Church. You can read that here. Today, I draw your attention to one of the best pages in the book, which calls us to the mutual ministry of comfort. Bob effectively argues for balance in two areas of biblical counseling: confrontation and comfort. Both, he rightly affirms, are Scriptural priorities we must grow in as we counsel one another. Here’s a lengthy quote that received a smiley face and a “Yes!” in the margin of my copy. In the context of this quote the author has just finished explaining the importance of noutheteo, warning, and now urges for the equally-important ministry of parakaleo, coming alongside in mutual ministry to comfort and strengthen one another.
Paul never intended Romans 15:14 to be the final or only word on the nature of biblical counseling. Nor did he use noutheteo as the only or even the primary concept to describe the personal ministry of the Word. For instance, in 1 Thessalonians 5:14, Paul uses five distinct words for biblical counseling. “And we urge [parakaleo] you, brothers, warn [noutheteo] those who are idle, encourage [paramutheomai] the timid, help [antechomai] the weak, be patient with [makrothumeo] everyone.”
Among the many New Testament words for spiritual care, parakaleo predominates. Whereas noutheteo occurs eleven times in the New Testament, parakaleo (comfort, encourage, console) appears 109 times. In 2 Corinthians 1:3–11, Paul informs us that we are competent to comfort (parakaleo) one another. Those who have humbly received God’s comfort, God equips to offer comfort to others.
The word parakaleo emphasizes personal presence (one called alongside to help) and suffering with another person. It seeks to turn desolation into consolation through hope in God. The duty of comfort in Old and New Testament thinking fell not upon professional helpers, but upon close relatives, neighbors, friends, and colleagues. Comforters come alongside to help struggling, suffering people through personal presence coupled with scriptural insight.
When Christ ascended, He sent the Holy Spirit to be our Parakletos—our Comforter and Advocate called alongside to encourage and help in times of suffering, trouble, grief, injustice, and hardship. The Spirit performs His ministry by being in us and by revealing truth to us (John 14:16–17). As the Spirit of truth, His ministry is the exact opposite of Satan, who is the father of lies (John 8:44). Satan’s name is “the accuser” (Rev. 12:10), and his core strategy is to speak lying words of condemnation to us. The Spirit’s name is “Encourager” and “Advocate,” and His strategy is to speak the truth in love about our justification and acceptance in Christ.
Think about what Paul is saying to you and your trainees. You don’t have to have a Ph.D. in counseling to be a competent counselor. You have the Resource planted within you—the Parakletos, the Holy Spirit. You also have the resources planted within you—the ability to be a competent parathetic (combining parakaleo and noutheteo) biblical counselor who provides:
• Soul Care through Parakaleo: Coming alongside hurting people in their suffering and grief, weeping with them while offering hope through your personal presence coupled with scriptural insight. Offering them tastes of Jesus’ empathetic care in the sustaining process so they know that it’s normal to hurt. Sharing with them biblical encouragement in the healing process so they know that it’s possible to hope.
• Spiritual Direction through Noutheteo: Entering the lives of people struggling to grow in their personal walk with Christ. Offering passionate, persistent, personal involvement in their lives as you assist them to see who they are in Christ and help them to live out their new life in Christ in communion with and conformity to Christ. Ministering to them in the reconciling process so they know that it’s horrible to sin, but wonderful to be forgiven. Sharing Scripture and soul with them in the guiding process so they know that it’s supernatural to mature.
Thanks, Bob, for reminding us of this essential balance in biblical counseling.