Sunday, February 19, 2012

At War? Contentious? Are you a miserable comforter?

Called to Counsel

None of us live in a vacuum. We interact daily with family, with friends, with strangers in real life or online. As Christians, each of us is an Ambassador for Christ, called to be the image of God to our neighbours. Whether we speak or type, what we say matters.

Wise Words, or Not

Are your words like "hot, bubbling wax on open sores"? When you open your mouth or sit at the keyboard to communicate with the world, or with your loved ones in your home, what is your motivation? Have you learned to come alongside the person you are counselling, entering their world and hungering to understand their lives, or are you shooting pat answers at them as you whiz by the galaxy on the way to your heavenly heights?

You only have to spend a little time reading the Book of Job to understand what a miserable comforter is.

Miserable comforters don't necessarily have bad theology.

There is a way of using theology and theological arguments that wounds rather than heals. This is not the fault of theology and theological arguments; it is the fault of the “miserable comforter” who fastens on an inappropriate fragment of truth, or whose timing is off, or whose attitude is condescending, or whose application is insensitive, or whose true theology is couched in such culture-laden clichés that they grate rather than comfort. In times of extraordinary stress and loss, I have sometimes received great encouragement and wisdom from other believers; I have also sometimes received extraordinary blows from them, without any recognition on their part that that was what they were delivering. Miserable comforters were they all. ~ Don Carson, "For The Love of God".

Competent to Counsel

One of the first things we eager students learned from the Great, Lean, Teaching Machine, Ron Harris, was that counselling of any sort must be INCARNATIONAL. Jesus entered our world and came alongside those to whom He was ministering (John 1:14), and loved them. He was patient and kind, protecting His sheep even as He corrected them.

The best way to impact another's life is with honest self-disclosure. Be willing to talk about your weakness, the temptations you face, the hardships, pressures, sufferings and failures you endure. Then the person you are comforting or mentoring will say, "That's it! You get it! You know what it is to live life under the curse, to be beaten up, thrown down, discarded and bruised!" (See 2 Cor. 1:3-11)

Comfort in Christ

When you get it, when you share with others and they know you understand their weaknesses, there is only one answer: Together, you and your listeners can flee to Christ!

Bold for Christ

You may think you just have to tell the truth, that you just have to point out sin, that you just have to set them straight, and you may even convince yourself that what you are doing glorifies God. It doesn't.

There is a pretended boldness for Christ that arises from no better principle than pride. A man may be forward to expose himself to the dislike of the world, and even to provoke their displeasure, out of pride. For it is the nature of spiritual pride to cause men to seek distinction and singularity; and so oftentimes to set themselves at war with those that they call carnal, that they may be more highly exalted among their party. ~ Don Carson.

If you are warring with others, ask yourself what is motivating the battle.  Are you growing in grace with others, deepening relationships with them as you both learn more of what it is to abide in Christ?  Or are you simply alienating yourself from others because you are right, and they are wrong?

Be at Peace

If what you are writing or saying is causing division, you must examine yourself.  If wars and contentions arise on a regular basis, is it possible that you are failing to rightly divide the Word of Truth?  Remember, Jesus is full of grace AND truth, and His followers must emulate Him.  Don Carson writes about his experience of being comforted miserably, and wisely counsels us to examine our own ways:

Such experiences, of course, drive me to wonder when I have wrongly handled the Word and caused similar pain. It is not that there is never a place for administering the kind of scriptural admonition that rightly induces pain: justified discipline is godly (Heb. 12:5-11). The tragic fact, however, is that when we cause pain by our application of theology to someone else, we naturally assume the pain owes everything to the obtuseness of the other party. It may, it may—but at the very least we ought to examine ourselves, our attitudes, and our arguments very closely lest we simultaneously delude ourselves and oppress others. ~ Don Carson

The Bottom Line

Offer what Christ does.  Model what Christ models.  Encourage the timid, help the weak, warn the idle.  Be patient with everyone.  Be kind.  


  1. Exactly. Our human sin nature is SO sneaky. We can convince ourselves we are following God, when in all actuality we are worshiping ourselves. So many people get caught up in the ""Speak the Truth" line, when in all actuality they are motivated by pride; wanting to show off their knowledge, to prove THEY are right and everyone else is wrong. To tear others down and build themselves up.

    Jesus spoke the Truth. Kindly. Gently. Lovingly. Full of Grace, and understanding.

    And that's what we should do.

    Excellent post.

    Carson's pretty smart, eh? ;p

  2. I do not agree with the last line, be patient with everyone. Was Jesus patient with the money changers in the temple, or the Pharisees?

    I agree, when we counsel one another often we fail. Sometimes pride gets the better of us, but that doesn't mean we should be silent.

    If the motives are to counsel another then gently coming along side and relating to that person on a shared personal level is ideal. Carson does a good job of showing how we must lovingly counsel.

    If the object is to refute or stop the biblical nonsense then a gentle and kind approach does not always work. Jesus was gentle with the apostles he was counseling, yet harsh with the pharisees he was rebuking.

    I like the sign Rachel posted the other day on Facebook, I am responsible for what I say, not what you understand. If you read someone's blog and get all bent out of shape, and start a heated dialogue, is the original author the contentious one? It would appear as though those who comment are trying to muzzle the words they don't want to hear.

    Carson makes a great point about being a comforter. I think you did a good job in bringing out the essence of what Carson was expressing. Unfortunately we do not always comfort, nor are we called to always comfort.

  3. Mike, the Word tells us to be patient.

    Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant -1 Corinthians 13:4

    And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.1 Thessalonians 5:14

    The reason I quoted 1 Thessalonians at the end of the post was that we are to change our method of counsel according to the need of the person we are counselling. Yes, we are to admonish the idle. And yes, we are to encourage the fainthearted, timid person. And yes, we are to help the weak... but all the while, we are to be patient with them as they learn and grow and change. God is in the business of changing people, and He uses others as instruments of grace in their lives.

    I don't know what you mean about someone trying to muzzle the words they don't want to hear. I can assume, but as you know, that's not a wise thing to do.

    Better is the end of a thing than its beginning,
    and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Ecclesiastes 7:8


Remember that you will give an account for every word. Respond with wisdom and grace, please.