Among scores of interviews I’ve conducted over the years, one simple statement from counselor Ed Welch may be the single most memorable.
Five years ago, I had a few moments with Ed to record an episode on biblical counseling for the podcast Theology Refresh. As no expert in counseling myself, or even modestly versed in the topic, I started the interview by asking a very basic question. I’m not sure I realized at the time how big a question it was, how potentially controversial, and how many respected counselors might find it difficult to answer.
“What is biblical counseling anyways?”
First, he characterized “biblical counseling” as taking sin seriously, and increasingly, he said, “we’re growing up and taking suffering seriously as well.” But then he went right to the heart: “Wherever you are, there is something you’re going to hear that is shockingly good.” The Bible, he said, always has something to say, into every kind of situation, that is good and pleasant and surprising. God’s words take us off our guard with their goodness. “If it doesn’t sound good, then we’re not really onto the ethos of Scripture.”
At its heart, that’s what it means to counsel from the very words of God: having listened well and asked insightful questions, we draw from the vast reservoir of what God has spoken and have something hopeful to say, even shockingly so. With plenty more to say, and a few disclaimers in place, that’s biblical counseling in a nutshell — and far more than just counseling.
Tell Me Something Good
What Ed captured that day in a couple short sentences carries implications beyond just pastoral counseling to every aspect of the Christian life. For one, our devotional lives. As we read God’s words for ourselves, we’re on the lookout not only for what’s true, but also what’s good, what delights the born-again heart. And in conversation with a brother or sister in Christ, we aim not only to communicate truth, but also to share something good, to speak the truth in such a way that it sparks joy in God.
Another place where Ed’s insight often comes into practical view is Christian teaching. On every subject, related to every doctrine — in teaching any text in the Bible — there is always something good to see, and something good to say. That doesn’t mean we only have things to say that sound and feel good. Indeed, in a world like ours, with sin-sick hearts like ours, we have many difficult, inconvenient, even offensive truths that love must speak. But Christianity always has more to offer than just the hard words. We always have something good to say.
Always Something Good
When Moses asked to see God’s glory, what did God put on display? “I will make all my goodness pass before you” (Exodus 33:19). Small children may sing, on repeat, the simple line, “God is so good,” but as adults, and as the most veteran of Christians, we dare not move beyond this basic and all-pervasive reality.
The message of Christianity is not only true at every point, but also good. We do, after all, call it “the good news.” And as Christians — and Christian counselors and Christian teachers — we have this shockingly good privilege: we always have something good to say. No matter how dark the day, no matter how deep the sin, no matter how devastating the consequences — and without minimizing or suppressing the pain and hurt — we always have something good to say. Christians are the best resourced people on the planet. It’s true in the counseling room, true in the classroom, true in community group, true in the pulpit, and true in personal conversation.
Teach What Is Good
The apostle Paul gives this clear and simple charge: “As for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). Truth is vital. But truth alone is not enough, and that’s evident from what he says just two verses later. Older women, he says,
are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. (Titus 2:3–5)
Some things never change. Apparently unbelievers in the first century were trying to sell young women on things not all that foreign to what our society is selling today. And Paul’s counsel to the older women is not to simply smash it on the anvil of what is right and true, but to teach what is good.
What Christianity offers is good, not restrictive — not mere duty, but delight. It is good to love husband and children. Self-control will reap greater joy in the end. There is deep satisfaction in attending to the home, great beauty in genuine kindness, sweet blessing in glad submission — all that God himself may be honored, not reviled, not only as true, but also as good.
Good News Rebukes
This word to older women gives us a glimpse into the calling and privilege of every Christian. When we are faithful to speak what accords with God’s own words, we say something good — and we should own it and act like it and aim to embody it. Christians do not lay heavy burdens on their hearers, but continually offer them God’s own goodness. Our hard words always serve a greater good. We rebuke, reprove, and correct, to offer something better. We warn and admonish, to keep loved ones on the path of joy.
When Titus 1:9 tells elders in the local church that they must “be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it,” we shouldn’t take that as a charge to split our energy and attention in half between instruction and rebuke. Teaching what is good comes first, and is ultimate. Correcting opponents serves the greater goal of offering something good. Christian teaching is asymmetrical. Attacking error is not the end, but a means to drawing others into the sight and enjoyment of truth.
What Good Do I Have to Share?
One of the great privileges and callings of being a Christian is that we’re always peddling hope. We always have something good to say — whether we’re walking into a hospital room, or spending another holiday with hostile family members, or scrolling through discouraging news about our nation, or sitting with a friend who has been running from God.
Whether by nature or nurture, some of us identify and explicitly hold out the good to our hearers more naturally than others. But whatever our tendencies, one habit any Christian can cultivate is to ask ourselves, What good is God calling me to speak into this context? In addition to the warnings, corrections, and hard truths, what good do I have to offer?
There will be times to say very little as we sit and weep with those who weep. But a time will come to speak. We don’t always have to say something good. But we do always have something good to say. Even in the darkest of days, even in the deepest of valleys, even to the most recalcitrant of sinners, we have hope to speak.
God’s words, faithfully represented, will prove soul-saving and life-giving to our hearers. They are good for us, and when we turn to extend them to others in a way fitting to the moment, we are doing them profound good. Especially when we let the goodness of his word pervade the flavor of ours. Stocked with Scripture, we always have something good to say, even shockingly good.