Virtues of Counselors (II)—Be Filled With the Love of God
Based on a lecture series by Vuthy Nol-Mantia—Dallas, Texas, USA
Christian counseling is very different from secular counseling because it requires us to see things from God’s perspective. In the preceding issue, we considered two virtues required of a Christian counselor, namely having the image and the likeness of Christ and having a close relationship with Christ. In addition, we deliberated on the weapons available to us in this spiritual battle—the Word and the Spirit of God. In this issue, we continue to explore the virtues of a counselor. We will consider how counselors for Christ ought to be filled with the love of God.
We may have heard of people who had been counseled by the best counselors but were still unable to receive the help they required. Deeper probing will usually reveal that these people were unable to benefit from the counselling because they could not change themselves. Even our Lord Jesus Christ had such cases. Jesus was the best counselor ever, but there were still moments where His counsel did not convince everyone to follow Him.
A case in point was the young rich ruler who asked Jesus what he ought to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ response to him was clear: “You must follow the Commandments… Do not steal, do not defraud, do not deceive; honor your mother and your father.” Our Lord Jesus then concluded by instructing him, “You must sell everything that you have and give it to the poor, and then follow me” (cf. Mt 19:16–18). But the young man who wanted to enter the heavenly kingdom was short-sighted. He only saw the tangible — his wealth and possessions—which he was unwilling to leave in order to follow Christ (cf. Mt 19:21–22).
Similarly, although we earnestly counsel our brothers and sisters and they themselves recognize God’s will for them, they may still make a wrong decision in the end. Regardless of our counselees’ response, we should still be there for them and give them our best in their moment of need.
BE FILLED WITH THE LOVE OF GOD
We can only provide the most optimal spiritual counseling if Christ lives in us. Hence, counselors must be filled with the word of God, the Spirit of God, and the love of God. Persevering in the journey of counseling will be difficult if we are not filled with the love of God. Conversely, if we are filled with God’s love, which is stronger than death, we will be able to continue loving and helping our brethren.
The Necessity of Godly Love
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Cor 13:1–2)
In contrast, we may have seen brothers and sisters who know nothing about formal counseling techniques encouraging one another. Although these brethren may not speak with the tongues of angels, they are able to motivate others because of their sincere and godly love. For this reason, and in order to perpetuate godly love within the church, those who desire to be good counselors must truly manifest the love of God.
Personal Sacrifice Possible Because of Love
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. (1 Cor 13:3)
Counseling work can be challenging. There will be times when we feel as if we have given our bodies to be burnt as spiritual sacrifices. However, love enables us to make—and continue to make—personal sacrifices.
For example, being a good counselor requires us to provide an ever ready ear for our brethren. But playing this role can be both tiring and demanding. Sometimes, counselees may call us and ask to talk when we are in the middle of something. Or they may need to speak on the phone for a long time to work through their problems. Unlike career counselors, we cannot tell our brethren to “call back during office hours” or “make an appointment”! So if we did not have love, we would simply not answer the phone.
However, if we are compelled by the love of God to understand that the counselee is calling us because he or she is in great distress and needs someone to talk to, we would answer that call even though we did not know how long that conversation might last. We can do this because we want to emulate our Lord Jesus who had such a punishing work schedule but was moved with compassion to help those in clear physical distress and who cried out for His help.
Paul makes a very strong, yet true proclamation:
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures
all things. Love never fails….
(1 Cor 13:7–8a)
Indeed, a person who is filled with love is able to bear all things through love. A counselor with such love is able to believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things. This love that comes from Christ never fails and enables us to make personal sacrifices. Hence, if we want to be counselors who can help our brothers and sisters, it is imperative for us to be filled with Christ’s love.
Love Will Cause Growth
But, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ — from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Eph 4:15–16)
The power of love is captured in the verse above. Essentially, love causes growth. We counselors must speak the truth with love to enable the brethren to experience growth. However, we must also be aware that it is important to help our counselees mature in Christ. It is crucial then, to make a distinction between secular and spiritual growth.
The counselor’s role is to facilitate spiritual growth in the brethren according to God’s will. For instance, it would be much easier for the counselor to just provide a sympathetic ear and politely agree with the counselee’s view of his or her situation. But that may not be the best way to help this counselee, especially if the latter has many erroneous or negative thoughts.
We thus need the wisdom and love from above to be able to speak the truth and edify (cf. Prov 25:11). We must be especially careful not to lead them to grow in their pride, selfishness, or anger, as these negative emotions do not edify and are displeasing to God. What a counselor should aim for is godly growth in biblical virtues, according to the fruit of the Spirit (cf. Gal 5:22–23).
Ultimately, when Christians are filled with God’s love, it is a win-win situation for the counselor and the counselee, as Paul declares. Everyone will grow up in all things into Him who is the head. This means that the whole body—the church—will be joined and knit together, bringing edification to both the counselee and the counselor; and the church as a whole community will be built up to the glory of God.
God’s Love Will Cover a Multitude of Sins
And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” (1 Pet 4:8)
In a practical sense, counselors with fervent love for their brethren will find that God’s love works both ways. There will be moments in a counselor’s work where we are faced with situations of conflict or personal struggle. A true understanding of God’s love will enable us to safely navigate through these conflicts.
Firstly, godly love does not mean condoning sin. It would be a mistake if we knew of a brother or sister who has committed sin but did not make an effort to point out their error and chastise them. It would be wrong to tell a brother or sister who has committed sin, “It doesn’t matter. Don’t worry. God loves you and I love you too. Don’t worry about it.” This is not the correct manifestation of godly love. Instead, godly love demands that the counselor be courageous and point out the error with the pure love of God.
Secondly, godly love does not mean condescension. Counselors with godly love do not put themselves on a pedestal. We must not think of ourselves as people without weaknesses; we should never counsel others with a judgmental and merciless attitude. In fact, God gives us counseling opportunities so that we can reflect on ourselves and our own weaknesses and realize first of all that God has been gracious to us.
In particular, we ought to recognize that it is God’s compassion that motivates us; and the love of God which gives us the opportunity to grow. Hence, that particular counseling session that we are involved in is in fact an opportunity for us to manifest the very love that God has shown us and, in turn, shower it upon our counselees. With such a mindset, we will always be careful not to judge our brethren harshly. This is the kind of love that Peter talked about, a love that would cover a multitude of sins, both for the counselor and the counselee.
The Love of God Gives Us Strength to Continue
God will surely give counselors the strength and power to continue their ministry, because love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things (1 Cor 13:7).
If we consider the prophets in the Bible, we will notice that these workers of God could unremittingly persevere in doing the work of God because God’s love motivated them. There was Moses who loved his brethren so deeply he could not bear the thought of them being forbidden to enter the Promised Land. His love enabled him to successfully lead Israel to Canaan despite an arduous forty-year journey. Then there was Nehemiah who was able to lift up the hearts of the chosen people, encouraging them, and stirring them up to rebuild the walls of their beloved city Jerusalem. He was unflagging in his encouragement even though it took a long fifty-two days before his effort bore fruit.
AN INDISPENSABLE VIRTUE
In conclusion, godly love is an indispensable virtue for counselors because it can motivate us in many ways. Love fuels us to continue our counseling work, even when times are trying and the work is tiring. Love is necessary because without it, we would not be able to serve God sincerely, much less for long. Love is important because it enables growth in our brothers and sisters and will cover a multitude of sins. Being a good Christian counselor, therefore, requires us to have the image and likeness of Christ and to manifest His godly love that is cultivated through a close relationship with God.
Next on: BE ABLE TO BUILD RELATIONSHIPS.