I’ll never forget the unique dynamic of my very first counseling case. There I was, in my 20s, counseling a 45-year-old husband and father of three children. In many ways we shared more differences than we did similarities. Yet, there was one unifying aspect that transcended the variation in age, experience, and interest—namely, our shared love for Christ and desire to grow in Him. Having said that, those who have been designated as the biblical counselor of an older man or woman often face unique challenges. It is not uncommon for counselees to push back on biblical counsel by pulling out the “age card.” An advance in years is often equated with an advance in wisdom and can thereby be used as a mechanism to neglect biblical reproof. This type of behavior demonstrates that one’s life is being ruled by experience rather than the Word of God. The article below is intended to assist younger counselors who are tasked with shepherding older individuals that are resistant to biblical counsel because of age.
While there is much to discuss on this topic, the heart of the matter boils down to one question: “On what authority does a counselor stand?” What gives a 20-year-old, for example, the right to tell a 50-year-old to end his affair? In his youth, he could be charged with ignorance about the challenges of marriage. Yet, does this leave him powerless and unqualified to speak about the situation? The biblical answer is, “No.”
Sin issues that arise in counseling are moral issues and their solutions transcend human opinion and preference. If all we ever did was analyze morality on a horizontal axis, as secular psychologists do, then making objective claims would be impossible. However, God has spoken on matters pertaining to morality and He has done so with great clarity (2 Peter 1:3). If any counselor wishes to be equipped in dealing with the sins of others, it is imperative that his counsel be rooted in God’s authority and not their own. Stated differently, one’s counsel is to be followed by others in so far as it aligns with the Word of God. That is why Paul told the Thessalonians, “Test everything and hold fast to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). And while Paul’s apostolic ministry granted him immense wisdom and ranking, the Bereans were praised for carefully analyzing his words with the testimony of Scripture (Acts 17:11). Sound biblical counsel does not discriminate against age but is inextricably linked to the proper dispensing of God’s Word. For no man has any authority in and of himself. Therefore, one must counsel not “in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5).
Timothy, the young, up-and-coming pastor was told, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). According to Paul, Timothy’s effectiveness was rooted in his willingness to live godly and to teach soundly (v. 16). In that way, Timothy could proclaim with the Psalmist, “I have more understanding than the aged, for I keep Your precepts” (Psalm 119:100). You see, a young and faithful biblical counselor is not presenting wisdom from his own experience or from what he has deemed to be the best plan of action. Instead, he along with every other counselor is an instrument of grace, relaying God’s sufficient revelation onto real-life circumstances. Therefore, a young counselor is only safe when he or she is operating within the framework of Scripture, for that is where all authority lies. The man who is justifying his affair on the grounds of greater life experience fails to see that it is God who has something to say on the matter, not the human counselor. In fact, that is precisely what a young counselor must often remind his or her reluctant counselee. The question is never, “What do I think about your affair;” rather, the question is, “What does God think and what is He asking of you?”
With that, young men and women who fear the Lord (Proverbs 1:7) are valuable assets in administering wisdom. Consider Job’s friend, Elihu, who was initially hesitant to speak up because of his age (Job 32:6). Yet, it was Elihu who actually presented the most accurate counsel and whose speech served as a prelude for Yahweh’s objective assessment. Rather than letting “many years teach wisdom,” Elihu came to believe that it was “the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand” (vv. 7–8). Although he was operating without divine revelation, he was correct that biblical instruction is a matter of divine insight, not human intuition. Elihu reminds us that “age is no guarantee of wisdom, nor youth of ignorance” (v. 9).1Robert L. Alden, Job, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H, 1993), 318. Wisdom belongs to those who set out to speak for the Lord.
So then, the “age card” cannot stand against the authoritative Word of God. Those that trample underfoot the sound biblical counsel of another are not only sinning against that person but also against the Lord Himself. His moral commands reflect His holy nature which means an unwillingness to submit to His law is an unwillingness to submit to Him. Young counselors may rest well at night knowing that they have directed people toward the living God, regardless of their response.
For those who have faced this unique challenge, may I remind you that your faithfulness has not gone unnoticed by our Lord. Setting out to represent Him accurately and fulfill your duty to use the Word for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness is what enables you to continue counseling with a clear conscience (2 Timothy 3:16). Moreover, it allows you to make objective statements on moral matters that are binding on every individual, regardless of age. Therefore, continue allowing God’s Word to breathe into your sessions, remembering that God’s law applies equally to people in every stage of life. Some will stand before the Lord at age 25, others at 95, but each will give an account of their willingness to submit His Word. In the end, “Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice” (Ecclesiastes 4:13).
In closing, here are several action steps for a younger counselor who is experiencing backlash from an older counselee:
- Pray. Increase your prayers for your counselee that his or her heart would soften and that the Spirit would bring conviction, as only He can. Do not be discouraged but direct your appeal to the Wonderful Counselor Himself.
- Seek wise counsel. Speak with other counselors and the elders within your church. “Where there is no guidance, a person falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14).
- Increase your boldness with love and concern. Address these issues head-on and remind your counselee that you will continue to elevate the Word as the only and final authority in your time together. They are not responsible to you but to God.
- If you are dealing with an ongoing and unrepentant sin issue in the life of your counselee, regardless of their age, move ahead with church discipline (Matthew 18:15-19; 1 Corinthians 5). This will also work to bring others into your counseling case.
- As a last resort, you may consider offering your counselee the opportunity to be counseled by someone else in the church, depending on the issue at hand.
Exercise discernment in this decision as it is common for counselees to make age the issue when it is their unwillingness to obey God’s clear directives. Nevertheless, if this is the decided route, be sure to have the next counselor lined up before releasing your counselee from your care.
- Above all, continue to “let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16).