"The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly."-The Baptist Confession of Faith (LBCF 1689) 1.9
How often in life, on greeting cards, on marquee signs and in church hallway conversations, verses of Scripture are used in a way that misrepresent the truth of those Scriptures. In Christian counseling circles, this is no less the case. Counseling involves the Word applied to hurts, sin and struggle, and is a useful enterprise. However, it must be undertaken with great care. In one sense, every Christian is a counselor. We all speak the Word (or we should) to those with whom we are in community. In another sense, counseling often is done regularly by counselors and/or pastors--and those counselors should consider how they use Scripture. Of course, many Christian counselors do not use Scriptural texts or Scriptural principle, but so many Christian counselors do, and often the heart intent is good, but the result is counterproductive. We must be careful how we use specific verses when we speak about God, ourselves, His people and His plan.
Scripture interpreting Scripture is such a necessary truth to consider in counseling. Do we randomly quote a verse as justification for something, or as comfort in something, when we have not considered what the entirety of the Bible says on that "something"? The confessional passage above speaks to challenging passages needing to be interpreted throughout the rest of Scripture. However, by way of implication, another lesson is taught: all passages of Scripture are included in this. Jabez's prayer is not a singular verse to give a man considering an affair. One verse out of Jesus' mouth on divorce and the "except for marital unfaithfulness" clause is not a full treatment of the biblical counsel we should give when counseling someone considering whether to reconcile with an unfaithful spouse. Quoting verses out of context, or quoting verses in context without considering how that verse fits with larger systematic theology may be dangerous. Quoting "God is love" from 1 John 4:8 without considering the context of brotherly love from the very same verse is incomplete. Systematic theology alongside good exegetical theology can aid us in our practical theology, particularly when we have an informed understanding of historical theology.
A few practical thoughts:
1). Counselors, let us grow in hermeneutics. Let our understanding of interpreting the Scripture be maturing. If your counseling training did not involve training in hermeneutics, consider making that your next continuing education focus.
2). Counselors, let us know systematic theology. We speak Words about God to hurting people...but are they the Words He speaks of Himself...? Here is where being confessional as counselors is so helpful. While not the Bible, the Confessions of Faith of the Reformation such as the London Baptist Confession of Faith help us to develop a systematic and more comprehensive way of thinking about God, man, the world, the church and the human condition.
3). Counselors, let us be growing in our reading and saturation in the Scriptures. A handful of verses in our quote arsenal is not enough...Let us develop a fuller understanding of what the bible teaches about marriage, sex, sin, salvation, the body of Christ, temptation, lust....let us not throw crumbs at the hungry, but invite them to the banquet...but we'll need to know what is on the menu ourselves in order to do so...
4). Counselors, refresh your own counseling ministry with the ordinary means of grace the Lord is using in your life. Let the Word preached, prayer, and the ordinances feed you as you seek to help others.