If you have ever watched any sport, you know that the players have to have certain characteristics if they are to play the sport well. All athletes are required to:
• Be in good physical health in order to play the sport.
• Understand the rules of the sport.
• Be able to skillfully play the sport.
The same characteristics are necessary for all biblical counselors. Biblical counselors need to be full of spiritual goodness, have a thorough knowledge of Scripture, and be able to instruct others skillfully with Scripture. This is the point the Apostle Paul makes in Romans 15:14, where he says, “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” Paul expresses how he is satisfied with the spiritual stability of the believers in Rome, and he provides three characteristics of their spiritual stability. These three characteristics are all essential to every biblical counselor, and these three cannot be separated.
Full of Goodness
The first essential characteristic of every biblical counselor is that the biblical counselor must be full of goodness. The word “goodness” can be viewed in a general moral sense. The verb is a present active verb, with the force of a continuous action. The idea here is that every biblical counselor needs to be living in a state of moral goodness. This phrase points to the essential spiritual maturity and holiness required of everyone who is filled with knowledge and able to instruct.
A biblical counselor who is not full of goodness may need to receive counseling or to step down from counseling for a time. Just as an athlete would not compete in any sport without being in good physical health, a biblical counselor should not counsel without being in good spiritual health. Biblical counselors need to walk in holiness just as they expect their counselees to walk in holiness. Certainly, Paul is not requiring moral perfection of those who instruct one another, but he is saying that those who teach others to be full of goodness should also be full of goodness themselves (see Romans 2:21-23).
Before moving on to the second characteristic of every biblical counselor, it is important to discuss the negative side of this point. What are some characteristics of a biblical counselor who is not full of goodness? Here are some of the symptoms:
• Believing you are wise in your own sight (Romans 12:16).
• Speaking the truth without an attitude of love (Ephesians 4:15).
• Assuming your knowledge is more important than love (1 Corinthians 13:2).
• Having absolute certainty that your knowledge is complete (1 Corinthians 8:2).
• Thinking you are something special (Galatians 6:3).
• Elevating your system of counseling or your opinions to the level of biblical truth (Mark 7:5-13; Hebrews 4:12).
• Claiming you know the heart motives of others with certainty, which only Jesus could do (1 Corinthians 4:3–8; Mark 2:8; John 2:24–25).
• Possessing a prideful, harsh, impatient, unloving attitude that does not promote unity or peace (Ephesians 4:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 5:14)
These are just a few symptoms of a biblical counselor that is not full of goodness. These can all become moral issues in the life of a biblical counselor, especially if our level of knowledge, training, college or seminary degree, or ministry position becomes a point of pride. We must keep watch over our own hearts, deal with our own pride, and pursue a godly life in Christ, manifesting moral and spiritual goodness in all that we say and do.
Filled with All Knowledge
This is the second essential characteristic of all biblical counselors. If we are going to be adequate biblical counselors, then we must be filled with knowledge of Scripture. The perfect participle is used here for the word “filled,” which is best translated in the sense of a past, completed action with results continuing into the present.
Christopher Ash states that, “The perfect tense may suggest this is a church hungry to go on growing in knowledge, rather than an index of church achievement in knowledge. It is not that they know everything (else why write to them?) but that what they know increases their appetite to go on knowing more.”1 The idea in Romans 15:14 is not that we have been filled with knowledge perfectly, but that we are continuing to be filled with knowledge after having been filled. To put it another way, the phrase “filled with all knowledge” includes both a past action (“having been filled”) and present continuous results (“being filled in the present”).
This point highlights the second essential characteristic. Every biblical counselor is one who has studied the Word of God, has been taught the Word of God, and is continuing to grow in knowledge of the Word of God. This certainly includes ongoing Bible study, memorization, and training in biblical counseling. Every biblical counselor must have their own daily time in Scripture for their own spiritual growth, but they must also pursue continued training in understanding and applying the Word of God.
We must have knowledge of the core truths of the Christian faith, as well as the practical doctrines related to living the Christian life. If we are going to instruct others in living the Christian life, then we must have knowledge of how to do so. However, none of us can fully understand the Word of God. Finite human beings are incapable of perfectly understanding an infinite God, and so we cannot perfectly understand the inerrant Word of God that originated from God. Therefore, we must continue to study the Word of God and be filled with all knowledge.
Able to Instruct
Finally, Paul gives us the third essential characteristic of all biblical counselors: We must be able to instruct one another. This third element also cannot be separated from goodness and knowledge. The ability to instruct is founded upon the notion that we are walking in holiness and have knowledge of the Word. Spiritual maturity and knowledge of Scripture should inevitably lead to biblical counseling in the church. Paul says that they are able to instruct one another in order to encourage them to do it! A church that is full of believers that are godly, mature, and filled with the knowledge of Scripture ought to be practicing biblical counseling in the church. Biblical counseling should not be viewed as a new movement or an additional ministry in the church. Rather, biblical counseling is a part of the very function and lifeblood of the church itself. Biblical counseling should be a one another ministry within the local church, and it is a responsibility of every member of the church (Ephesians 4:11-12). Those who are walking in the Spirit and understand how to help others ought to do so (Galatians 6:1-2). Instructing one another is intended to be a responsibility of every member in the local church to one degree or another.
This is Paul’s point in Romans 15:14. Every biblical counselor ought to be continually full of goodness, being filled with knowledge, and able to instruct other believers in the local church. Just as there are essential characteristics of every quality athlete, there are essential characteristics of every biblical counselor.
1 Christopher Ash, Teaching Romans, PT Resources 2015, pp. 241