What is the one thing that every counseling conversation must be fixed upon?
Counseling Mandates One Proclamation: CHRIST!
Paul writes in Colossians 1:28-29, “Him (Christ) we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”
In contrast to those proclaiming a works-based, man-centered, distorted spirituality that undermined the sufficiency of the gospel, Paul had but one proclamation: CHRIST! Paul starts out Colossians by putting forth the excellencies and fullness of Christ, thereby exposing the arrogance and emptiness of false teaching. As Christ is the sum and substance of the Christian life, Christ is to be front and center in all of life. Paul proclaims the superiority, the supremacy, and the sufficiency of Christ so that those in Christ might hold fast to Christ and be conformed to Him rather than the pattern of this world.
If you were to ask those struggling in life what would make them truly happy, content, and fulfilled, what might you hear? Likely the answers would include a change of circumstances, better relationships, improved health, better finances, and so on. If the answer is anything but Christ, our calling is to guide them towards the words of Paul in Philippians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ.”
Counseling Involves a Process: WARNING & TEACHING
Colossians 1:28 says, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom.” Paul’s process of proclaiming Christ meant that sometimes he “warned” or cautioned others. In Romans 15:14, Paul says that the responsibility to warn others falls upon… every believer!
In Colossians, Paul exalts the supremacy of Christ while warning them in Colossians 2:4 not to be “deluded by plausible arguments.” Often those we counsel have already done much self-counseling out of the selfish desires of their hearts as informed by the pattern of this world, rather than submitting themselves to God’s authoritative and sufficient Word. When this is the case, we are to loving warn them of those things that are detrimental to them and contrary to the Gospel. Such a warning, according to Colossians 1:28, is to be accompanied by teaching.
How might a bank train employees to recognize a counterfeit bill? They teach them to compare an authentic bill to the bill in question. The better you know what is authentic, the easier it is to recognize what is counterfeit. The better our counselees know God and His Word, the less likely they are to be deceived and the more clearly they can see to walk in the footsteps of Christ.
Thus every believer, according to Colossians 3:16, is to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing (warning – the same Greek word used in Colossians 1:28) one another in all wisdom.” With what does Paul warn and teach? Colossians 1:28 says “with all wisdom.” This wisdom (as used in Colossians 1:9, 2:3, 23; 3:16; 4:5) refers to the content of the proclamation. The content being the word of God, according to v. 25. Paul knew that it is through the Word of God that the Spirit of God makes known the Son of God—and His Supremacy over all things (1 Corinthians 1:24). Through warning and teaching in using the Word of God, Paul is proclaiming the exalted Christ and what it means to be in Christ and to follow Christ. As we counsel others, may it be said of our every meeting that God’s Word was opened and Christ was exalted.
Counseling is for Particular People: EVERYONE!
Note the threefold emphasis related to Paul’s audience: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” As with Paul, we must yearn for everyone not just to know about Christ, but to know Christ is such a way that Christ is their all in all (Colossians 3:11).
Commenting on Hebrews 12:2, Sinclair Ferguson wrote (in his book Maturity): “Jesus Christ is both the author of our faith and the one who matures and perfects it. He died to bring us to maturity. He lives to accomplish that goal. It is the reason why he gave us the ministry of his word, which, when exercised faithfully, nourishes all the other spiritual gifts in the church. If maturity was the great goal of the apostles’ ministry, then it ought to be the goal in our own lives too, and the deep desire of our hearts.”¹ Counseling provides a unique opportunity in that we get to guide everyone from every issue of life to Christ as the author and abundant provider of life.
Counseling Has a Clear Purpose: MATURITY.
Colossians 1:28 says Christ is proclaimed “that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” What does such maturity look like? It looks exactly like Christ Himself, who was without sin and always did the Father’s will. Maturity is depicted also for believers through Paul and his teaching as he starts off Colossians with a prayer that reveals the characteristics that we want to exemplify as well as teach to our counselees.
A. Maturity Involves Constant PRAYER (Colossians 1:9, 2:1, 4:2-3, 12)
Paul writes in Colossians 1:9, “we have not ceased to pray for you…” Paul prays without ceasing as he sought to present everyone mature in Christ. Likewise, Colossians 4:12 says Epaphras was “always struggling on your behalf in his prayers…” As we counsel others, we likewise must “continue steadfastly in prayer” for them even as we counsel them to do the same (Colossians 4:2).
B. Comprehensive KNOWLEDGE of God and His Will (Colossians 1:9, 10; 2:2-3)
In Colossians 1:9-10, Paul says he prays for them “… asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,… and increasing in the knowledge of God.” In Ephesians 4:12-15, Paul wrote that we are to build up the body of Christ to “mature manhood” by “speaking the truth in love” that we might “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”
What our counselees talk about the most is usually what most consumes them. It is our calling to see them consumed with Christ, that they “might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Corinthians 5:15). Therefore, we must impart the Word of God to them, praying the Spirit of God would grant them understanding and Christ-exalting application.
C. Christ-like CONDUCT (1:10; 2:6; 3:12-4:6)
According to Colossians 1:10 and 3:17a, the knowledge of Christ and maturity in Christ leads us “to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work… And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus…” Note these comprehensive words: “fully pleasing,” “whatever you do,” “do everything.” One who is mature in Christ longs to see Christ as all in all of life, as exemplified in the home, church, and community (Colossians 3:18-4:6). As counselors, our aim is to exemplify Christ-likeness as we help others understand how to follow Christ themselves.
D. Continuous THANKFULNESS (1:3, 12-14; 2:7; 3:16, 17)
Maturity is also characterized by gospel-compelled thankfulness. Paul prays in Colossians 1:12-14, “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” When rightly understood and embraced, the gospel displaces all degrees of grumbling with gratitude. We must warn those who often complain even as we teach them to daily be grateful for all that has been provided and promised to them in Christ (2 Peter 1:3-4).
E. Contemplating ETERNITY (1:5, 27; 3:1-4)
Counseling others towards maturity means that we help them gain an eternal perspective. Colossians 3:1-4 says, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” To that end, Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Let the future sanctify the present to highest uses. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the hope of Heaven is the most potent force for the production of virtue! It is a fountain of joyous effort–it is the cornerstone of cheerful holiness. The man who has this hope in Jesus goes about his work with vigor, for the joy of the Lord is his strength.”
For anyone thinking, “This is way to intimidating! I don’t feel adequate to present everyone much less anyone mature in Christ!” Such an understanding is good and leads then to a great paradox found in the very next verse.
Counseling Involves a Promised Power: DIVINE
Having stated the aim of proclaiming and presenting everyone mature in Christ, Paul immediately follows up in Colossians 1:29 with these words, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”
To toil and struggle is language of intentional, intense striving that describes the effort put forth by an olympic athlete who is fixed on winning the gold medal. Paul knew that apart from Christ, He could do nothing. Yet Paul also knew that he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him. Paul knew that his strength and wisdom were limited at best, yet God’s power and provisions were divine and infinite. Paul’s striving was by the divine power of God at work within him.
If you struggling with discouragement in seeking to present others mature in Christ, look again unto Christ for yourself. If He has called you, will He not supply all that you need in His service? For ourselves and for our counselees, let us “proclaim Christ” as all in all as encouraged by Charles Spurgeon:
“If you have left out Christ, there is no manna from heaven, no water from the rock, no refuge from the storm, no healing for the sick, no life for the dead. If you leave out Christ, you have left the sun out of the day, and the moon out of the night, you have left the waters out of the sea, and the floods out of the river, you have left the harvest out of the year, the soul out of the body, you have left joy out of heaven, yea, you have robbed all of its all. There is no gospel worth thinking of, much less worth proclaiming in Jehovah’s name, if Jesus be forgotten. We must have Jesus, then, as Alpha and Omega in all [ministries].”²
- Sinclair Ferguson, Maturity: Growing Up and Going On in the Christian Life, 18.
- Brian Hedges, Christ All Sufficient: An Exposition of Colossians, 75.