The Pauline Model for Biblical Marriage and Family Counseling

A Model for Biblical Counseling

As I was considering material for this project, I was rereading the book of First Corinthians. In the process, it occurred to me that we observe Paul counseling the family and the church within this book. Therefore, we may find useful material for marriage counseling by watching his process.

In the first four chapters of First Corinthians, the Apostle Paul lays out the Biblical Model for dealing with family problems. Yes, he is dealing with the church family, but the principles laid out to give us the model. Because of time necessary, I must touch these thoughts lightly. They deserve a book chapter or more for each one.

The Nature of the Christian Family Necessitates Biblical Counseling

1. Christians are called saints

They are set apart unto God (1 Corinthians 1:2-3). This is a significant fact. They are no longer pagans and must therefore address issues as believers. A young woman of my acquaintance discovered this recently. Several of her bride’s maids were friends with whom she grew up. In her sophomore year in college, she became a Christian. Her approach to life changed dramatically. These non-Christian friends were hateful because they did not understand why she did not live like them. She was not living with my grandson before marriage irritated them. When she explained that they chose to live differently because they were believers, the church-going pagans treated her views with disdain. As we read through First Corinthians, it becomes evident that Paul approaches issues of sexual behavior and marital relationships regarding their new position as saints. So, it was with her and my grandson.

2. Christians are declared righteous

Christians now find themselves in a new position (1:4-9). While he does not discuss justification here, he certainly implies it when he says that Christ will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (v 8).

3. Christians are equipped with a gospel receptor (1:5, 7, 24)

Christians have been equipped–God has made them alive and able to profit from the gospel.

4. Christians can experience abundant life in Christ

Christians have abundant life because Christ has given them the wisdom of God. (1:26-30). They now have righteousness (justification), sanctification (subjectively being changed), and redemption (bought out of the slave market of sin) (1:30).

The fact of the matter is that Paul is arguing that these problems he will address must be addressed from God’s perspective. It is the only logical means to reason with these converted pagans. Pagan ways are utterly insufficient.

Paul Lays Out the Nature of Biblical Counseling

In chapter two, the Apostle Paul lays out the nature of biblical counseling. The list of problems brought by the letter to Paul’s attention in this church could very well form the list often found in the brochure of a Biblical Counseling Center:

  • Theoretical (Perspective) Diversities (4:1-21)
  • Sexual Perversion (5:1-13)
  • Conflict Resolutions Issues (6:1-11)
  • Irresponsible Personal Liberty (6:12-21)
  • Personal Management of Sexual Relations (7:1-40)
  • Personal Liberty Issues (8 & 10)
  • An appropriate response to authority (9)
  • Conduct during worship–
  • Communion (11)
  • Personality differences (12)
  • Relationship issues (13)
  • Exercise of gifts (14)

Biblical Counseling Has a Substantive Nature

Paul’s foundation in chapter two is very instructive for today’s biblical counseling community. We have perfected this foundation in our cultural milieu through three generations, but we are perpetually in danger of compromising what we have achieved. We must be ever vigilant to retain what the Apostle articulated, yet we must be alert and adapt to our ever-changing cultural environment. Our expression and application of this truth “once delivered” must be formulated in a manner that is understandable to those with whom we communicate without compromising the integrity of the “true truth,” the term Francis Schaeffer coined to set apart God’s truth. So, let us take a fresh look at the principle expressed by Paul: biblical counseling, including marriage and family counseling, has a substantive nature.

1. Biblical counseling is founded on the cross (2:1-2)

The core of Paul’s counsel is the person of Christ and the work of Christ. We find him in Athens interacting with the thinking and literature of his day and yet doing so in a manner that enabled him to focus on Christ.

2. Biblical counseling is not theory (2:3-4)

Paul contrasts man’s wisdom (theory), which he refused to integrate, with Spirit wisdom, which unleashes God’s power to deal with the personal, interpersonal, and marital/family problems that he will address with them.

3. Biblical counseling is the use of wisdom from above (2:6-9)

As if to be redundant to ensure that he could not be misunderstood, Paul reiterates this contrast between human wisdom (theories) and Godly wisdom.

4. Biblical counseling is Holy-Spirit-mediated (2:10-13)

Only God can know man’s heart and only see God’s heart. Hence, Paul declares the necessity of his (and our) dependence upon the Holy Spirit through the Word of God to uncover human motivations and discern Christ’s mind.

5. Biblical counseling will not be appreciated by all (2:14-16)

Paul touches on the idea that all will not appreciate biblical counseling; he develops several other places in his writings.

The Process of Biblical Counseling

In chapter three, the Apostle lays out the principles of biblical counseling. In secular marriage and family systems theory, various ideas emanate from the reality that no single theory accounts for the diversity found in marriages and families. A significant issue that haunts these theories is: Is the family entity the client, or is the individual the client? Do we treat the family, or do we treat the individuals? In addressing the issues around communion, Paul presents a biblical model (11:19-22) to address the entity, the corporate church, and follows this by addressing individual thinking, motivation, and behavior (11:27-30).

1. Realize the reason for the problem is spiritual ineptness (3:1-3)

Paul clearly states that he could not speak to them as spiritual people. They were not ready to hear the application of the Word to their motivations or behaviors because they were functioning out of their previous pagan thinking.

2. Realize the nature of the solution to problems (3:4-15)

Paul states that the nature of the solution to problems is the extrapolation of the spiritual application consistent with the spiritual foundation already laid in Christ. As we build gold, silver, and precious stones, spiritual (biblical) values as laid out in the Word of God, will we contribute to people solving life problems and, in the process, glorifying God and realizing eternal reward?

3. Realize the reasons why we seek these solutions to life problems (3:16-22)

a. Our bodies are God’s temple (3:16-17)

b. To do otherwise is foolish (3:8-21)

c. We are Christ’s (3:22)

This latter reality opens the entire vista of Jesus’ teaching so beautifully summarized in what we call the Beatitudes, the blessed life.

The Source of the Model of Biblical Counseling

Paul draws upon his personal experience for illustration and application in chapter four. He is an Apostle. He is a master biblical counselor. He is compassionate but also conscience in his commitment to the Word of God as the source of his counseling model. When dealing with issues like family abuse, transgender confusion, and chronic functional sexual disabilities, the combination of compassion, empathy, and conscience application of biblical principles is sometimes very complex.

1. What God has written is our parameters (4:6)

Theories of man puff up. Earlier, I mentioned several pioneers in family therapy. While there was a genuine desire among those writers to help individuals, couples, and families, these leaders manifested arrogance. Paul bids us to avoid such arrogance. Stay within the parameters of the Word and recognize what we have we have received from God.

2. What is modeled is our example (4:14-17)

Boldly Paul invites us to imitate him both in life and in the use of Scripture in addressing human problems.

3. What God does by his power (4:20-21)

There is much discussion in the academic discipline of counseling and hundreds of books on marriage and family counseling. Paul indicates in his model that talk is cheap. It is the power of God that is powerful! Biblical marriage and family counseling are all about applying the power of God to sexual deviation, sexual relations in marriage, and the parameters of marriage covenant/contracts. Paul sets a model for us. He articulates matters in a manner that teaches us how to draw out principles and deal with the seemingly endless ways people execute sin.

Today’s culture is probably more like the first century than America has ever seen. If you pick up a college sociology book and turn the discussion of the nature of family, you will find disturbing definitions. One book I use for a graduate class says, “Family is any group of two or more people who commit to living with one another. That definition can cover any configuration of human beings you desire.”

It is increasingly incumbent upon those of us who would call ourselves Biblical Counselors to figure out how to be compassionate and conspicuous in applying the Biblical model to our ever-increasingly pagan society. I urge you to study these first four chapters of First Corinthians as a model for marriage and family counseling and the entire book, along with Second Corinthians, to learn how Paul extrapolates his model in counseling the Corinthian church.

Conclusion and Implementation

We can characterize other passages of Scripture as presenting a biblical model of marriage counseling. For example, in Revelation, chapter two, in the letter of Jesus to the Ephesian church, lays out what can be used to help a couple consider how to recover from a lost love. Jesus calls to the attention of this church that they have lost their first love. He then tells them to do three things. First, remember what you had. Second, repent for losing what they had. Third, to revive what they had.

In some cases, the book of Hosea provides a valuable model. Though it says nothing about marriage, Psalm seventy-three certainly paints a picture of comfort for the hurting spouse whose thoughts can be characterized as depressed, disgruntled, and complaining about a disgruntled and offending spouse and a disappointing marriage. Here this mate can find solace, encouragement, and resolution in righting their relationship with God and seeing the mate through the lens of this Psalm that presents their God as a caring shepherd.

Dig into the Word. It is rich in relationship balm!

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