Is Your Local Church a Discipleship Hospital?

The longer I am a Christian the more I marvel at the genius of the local church. The longer I am a pastor the more I marvel that God’s grace would be sufficient enough to save, call, and equip a sinner like me to make even a lame attempt to shepherd even a microscopic portion of His sheep. And the longer I am a biblical counselor the more I marvel at the kind of risk-taking love that God calls us to display toward one another in the local church family, as sinners ministering to sinners—together—in a fallen world.

One of the characteristics of this risk-taking love is initiative, daring to come alongside a brother or sister in Christ for the purpose of helping him or her take a step of obedience to God’s Word or incorporate specific biblical truths into the framework of one’s thinking processes. Galatians 6:1 makes it clear that this personal, counseling ministry is a family matter. Paul addresses “brethren.” Counseling is a ministry of discipleship within the family of God. In fact, that is what the church is—a visible family of the invisible God. The New Testament most commonly refers to believers in familial terms such as “brethren,” “brother,” or “sister,” which occur some 250 times. The church is the original “brotherhood” (1 Peter 2:17). This analogy has numerous implications. For example, it obligates us to “Be devoted to one another” (Rom. 12:10), to care for one another’s needs (Acts 2:44–45; 4:32; 11:29–30; 1 John 3:17–18; 1 Tim. 5:1–16), and to pray for one another (James 5:13–16). However, the familial commitment of the brotherhood also requires us to exhort, and if necessary, discipline family members who are in sin. The Bible’s plan for restoration is carried out by brethren for brethren.

The phrase “… if a man is caught in any trespass” indicates that something has happened that effects another’s walk with God in a negative manner. Now it is time for personal restorative ministry to begin. It is the picture of the man or woman who has been overtaken by surprise, “before one can escape.” This spiritual defeat is caused by a “trespass,” that is, “a false step, a blunder,” which reminds us of the nature of sin to deceive and ensnare. Thomas Watson’s book is appropriately entitled The Mischief of Sin. In it he reminds us,

Sin first tempts and then damns. It is first a fox and then a lion. Sin does to a man as Jael did to Sisera. She gave him milk, but then she brought him low. Judges 5:26–27, “She put her hand to the nail, and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head; when she had pierced and stricken through his temples, at her feet he bowed.” Sin first brings us pleasures which delight and charm the senses, and then comes with its nail and hammer. Sin does to the sinner as Absalom did to Amnon. When his heart was merry with wine, then he killed him, 2 Samuel 13:28. Sin’s last act is always tragic.

When fellow believers give in to sin’s power and step aside from God’s path, they need our loving help to get back into fellowship with Him and with others they may have sinned against, before destruction occurs. Biblical counseling may often be the emergency room and the intensive care unit of the discipleship hospital. When a part of the body has been hurt by sinful choices, that member needs to be taken aside into more personalized care for the purpose of “heart surgery” and “rehabilitation.” In this discipleship hospital there is a sufficient supply of God’s grace, equally needed by both the “doctors” and the “patients.” Glory be to God, the Genius behind the local church!

[The theological foundations for this loving care are fully explained in Counseling One Another: A Theology of Inter-Personal Discipleship.]

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