In Colossians 1:28, the Apostle Paul states, “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” The goal of Biblical preaching is to bring every man to bear fully the image of God in Christ. Thus, we should preach in such a way that every sinner is called to the justifying work of Christ, every saint is urged onward in their sanctification in Christ, and every person desires and is being prepared to meet Christ in glory. The Spirit-filled preaching of God’s Word from the pulpit is the primary means the Lord has for accomplishing this lofty task. As the Westminster Larger Catechism asks and answers:
Q. 155. How is the Word made effectual to salvation?
A. The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners; of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ; of conforming them to his image, and subduing them to his will; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions; of building them up in grace, and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.
With this understanding of preaching, we can then understand better its relationship to counseling. Though the personal counseling of a pastor with a congregant has its place and can aid in the work of redeeming sinners, the public proclamation of God’s Word should be the ultimate means the pastor relies upon for bringing counsel to the people of God.
Indeed, in his address to the elders of Ephesus in shepherding the church, the Apostle Paul uses the word counsel to describe the necessity of preaching the entirety of God’s Word to his people when he said, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27-27). God’s preached Word is to counsel the congregation, as Paul told the Thessalonians, “Now we ask you, brothers, to recognize those who labor among you, and manage you in the Lord, and admonish you” (I Thessalonians 5:12).
In using the word counseling, we refer to the broader sense found in the Scriptures as summarized in II Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” Counseling is understood to be teaching God’s people the fullness of His Word generally, offering reproof when they stray, giving them correctives for returning to God’s ways, and providing them with further training in walking on the paths of righteousness. As Psalm 73:24 states, “God guides us with his counsel.”
Here then are several distinguishing characteristics in what I would see as the proper relationship between preaching and counseling.
The Pastor Should Begin by Counseling Himself before He Reaches the Pulpit
Matthew 7:1-6 says:
Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”
Our preaching counsel should first be to our own hearts. Baxter says in The Reformed Pastor, “Oh, what aggravated misery this is, to perish in the midst of plenty – to famish with the bread of life in our hands, while we offer it to others, and urge it on them! That those ordinances of God should be the occasion of our delusion, which are instituted to be the means of our conviction and salvation” (55). He goes on to add, “See that the work of saving grace be thoroughly wrought in your own souls…lest you famish yourselves while you prepare food for them…It is a fearful thing to be an unsanctified professor, but much more to be an unsanctified preacher…be also careful that your graces are kept in vigorous and lively exercises, and that you preach to yourselves the sermons which you study, before you preach them to others” (73).
The Pastor Should Make His Preaching both Doctrinal and Experiential
Lloyd-Jones says preaching is “theology on fire.” It should bring life to the people of God, and apply directly to the individual, family, corporate, and community needs of the congregation. Preaching without application, a directing of souls toward obedience, is simply not preaching. Thus, the minister of the Word should see the Lord using his weekly preaching as a means to lead God’s people forward in holiness and service. Shepherding the flock through the preached word means he must speak directly to the issues confronting people and call them to faithfulness before God.
Such preaching should include regular examination before the Law (Matthew 6:11-13; Psalm 65:3; Hebrews 4:12; Romans 7:7); encouraging the acceptance of insight and correction from others, especially those older (Proverbs 17:10; 27:5-6; Galatians 6:1-2); seeking sanctification each Lord’s Day as the people worship (Exodus 20:8; Hebrews 10:19-25); deeper periodic examination before the Lord’s Table (I Corinthians 11:27-32); and continual reception of the grace of God offered in the gospel of Jesus (Acts 20:31; I Corinthians 15:10). Dying to sin and living to Christ should be a regular emphasis in messages.
The Pastor Should Help the Congregation Develop a Reliance on the Trinity
John Owen in Communion with God encourages such a reliance on and pursuit of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that a pastor’s preaching should result in the congregation’s faith being “increased, strengthened, and confirmed against temptations and oppositions of Satan, and men of corrupt minds; and that we may be distinctly directed unto, and encouraged in, the obedience unto, and worship of God, that are required of us” (378). If we comprehend in preaching that we are preparing the bride for Christ (Ephesians 5:25-27), for an eternity of dwelling with the Triune God in the world of their love as Edwards says, then we will be deliberately helping them see the Trinity at work in their lives – the Father electing them, the Son redeeming them, the Spirit cleansing them. Helping them through preaching to see and hear the Counselor that God has sent to them in Christ (John 14:14-21; 16:7-11), that they are not orphaned but adopted by God and sealed by his Spirit, will aid them in a multitude of internal, unseen ways that no amount of human counsel can give.
The Pastor Should Teach the Church How to Counsel Themselves and One Another
In his book Spiritual Depression, Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones describes a vital concept when he says that Christians need to learn to “preach to themselves.” Lloyd-Jones points out that we are either listening to ourselves or talking to ourselves. The heart or soul produces a constant stream of thoughts, desires, and feelings. Often a depressed person is listening to what those feelings are telling him rather than speaking to them. He points to the psalms to show examples of how to talk to ourselves. For instance, in Psalm 103:1-2 we hear: “Bless the LORD, my soul; my whole heart ever bless His holy name. Bless the LORD, my soul; forget not all His mercies to proclaim.” The familiar Psalm 23 demonstrates this as well:
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.
Thus, the pastor must train his congregation to become self-counselors and also mutual counselors. For God’s people need not only to preach to themselves, but need to learn to take the Word of God that they are hearing and encourage others as well with it (Ephesians 4:11-16; 5:19; Colossians 3:16).
All of this will work together to lead a congregation to having more healthy, joyful souls.