The role of a biblical counselor is far different than that of a talking psychologist or self-help expert. While some helping professionals may stand at a distance from their clients, biblical counselors are, by nature of their ministry, driven to develop a more intimate level of involvement with counselees. The biblical counseling relationship is not a client/counselor relationship. It is more so a Christian/Christian relationship or perhaps a shepherd/sheep relationship. The biblical counselor is not someone who stands over and walks around his counselee. Instead, he stands by and walks with his struggling brother/sister. This kind of relationship requires a unique level of concern and care; one that is deeply involved in the lives of others.
One primary distinction about the biblical counseling relationship is the difference between empathy and involvement. Empathy entails a relationship of vicarious experience. The typical secular counselor may experience a kind of emphatic feeling or attitude in which he senses or “walks in the shoes of” his counselee’s troubles. Yet a biblical counselor engages the counselee in a far different and better way. The biblical counselor does not walk in his counselee’s shoes. He walks in his own shoes, side-by-side with the counselee. He does not vicariously experience his counselee’s world. He actually enters the counselee’s world as a fellow sinner and sufferer.
To illustrate the mutual ministry relationship inherent to biblical counseling, Paul Tripp provides a four-part paradigm. Love-Know-Speak-Do is a helpful grid through which to view the biblical counselor’s approach to entering the world of every counselee. First, the kind of love we have in mind for biblical counseling is a divine love. The book of Romans teaches us that in the Gospel, God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.1 The love that is within us as Christians is a divine love. In the words of Paul Tripp, this Christ-like love is a willing self-sacrifice for the redemptive good of another. To be involved in the life of another in this way involves a sacrifice that aims at a lasting spiritual change in the life of the counselee. Second, to Know a counselee in an intimate way is to know him beneath the surface; to know his beliefs and goals, hopes and dreams, values and desires. For this is the way that Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor, has known us. In the words of Hebrews, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”2 Because Jesus has entered our world and deeply known us, we can and must know our brethren in a similar way.
Third, Tripp raises the importance of counselors to Speak. Because of the gospel-centrality of the biblical counseling process, we are members of one another and are to speak truth to each other.3 In order for lasting change to take place, God has designed the sanctification process to involve biblical communication/counsel. To speak truth is to speak doctrine/theology/God’s wisdom. It must start with our own hearts. The process of discipleship never begins with another person. The process of reconciliation never begins with your offender. It always begins with you and your idolatrous heart. After all, how can you take the speck out of your brother’s eye if you have a beam in your own?
Finally, biblical counseling involves helping the counselee discern what she is to Do. Helping one another respond practically to the gospel is at the heart of the gospel. The gospel is about change. Tripp notes, “You must help your friend do something with what she learns. Insight alone is not change; it’s only the beginning.”4 In order to provide truly biblical counsel, encouragement is not enough. The design of God’s word is to teach, correct, reprove, and train in righteousness. Therefore, biblical involvement in the lives of others requires careful instruction from the Scriptures. God’s way of change is to come to Jesus, hear His words, and act on them.5
With these points in mind, it is clear that there is a significant difference between empathy and involvement in the lives of others. Empathy certainly carries a wonderful benefit to the counseling process. However, God’s involvement in the lives of Christians through the Gospel compels us to be intimately involved in the lives of one another.