Counsel or Confirmation?


As a pastor of a church, I do a fair bit of counseling. Not a lot, but enough. I have observed a bit of a pattern. Some who seek counsel from me are not are really seeking counsel. They are seeking something else. They are seeking confirmation.

In other words, people come to me with their plans all set. If I agree with them, then all is well. However, if I tell them something that they don’t want to hear, they easily ignore my counsel and go on with their own plans anyway. They may even seek out someone else who will tell them what they want to hear.

Now, it could be that I give bad counsel in these cases. Or, it could be that they have itching ears, wanting to hear what will “suit their own passions” (2 Timothy 4:3). The Lord knows.

Against this backdrop, it is very encouraging when those who are teachable come to me for counsel. When I can help them on their journey, it is very satisfying. I’m glad to help.

Pessimistic or Optimistic?

Christians have every reason to be pessimistic about the future. Christians have every reason to be optimistic about the future.

We have reason to be pessimistic, because we know of the wickedness of the human heart. We know the selfishness of our own hearts. We have seen the selfishness of others. And when you put all of those things together, it’s no wonder then that our world is like it is. In 2 Timothy 3, Paul warns of the difficult days to come, “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:1-5). If we are looking into the human heart to turn our society around, we will be looking a long time. Christians have reason to be pessimistic. We have promises in the Bible of the bad times to come.

However, we also have reason to be optimistic. Not because of our own abilities; not because of our trust in mankind; but because of the power of God. Believers across the world have seen what God has done in our own hearts to turn us from sin and despair toward Christ and joy. And as God has power over the king’s heart–to turn it like channels of water, wherever he wishes (Proverbs 21:1)–so He has power in a larger scope in our society as well. Historically, when God has poured forth His Spirit upon a society, massive changes have resulted. Study revival and you will know what I’m talking about. On top of that, we have promises in the Bible of wide-spread revival, “‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the LORD, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more'” (Jeremiah 31:33-34). Christians have reason to be optimistic. We have promises in the Bible of the good times to come.

The Toolbox

Most home-owners have a toolbox of some type in their home to help with all of the little maintenance projects that come with ownership. You never know when you need to hang a picture or tighten a screw or patch a wall. This toolbox is filled with many different tools to help accomplish these projects.

A pastor does many things in fulfilling his shepherding responsibilities. He prays. He preaches. He counsels. He leads. He encourages. He sympathizes. He comforts. He disciples. He confronts. He reproved. He rebukes. He exhorts. He teaches. He serves. And in all of this activity, he has one tool: the Bible. His shepherding skill comes in how he uses this one tool for the many circumstances that arise in the life of a church.

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Bring the Books

Near the end of his life, the apostle Paul found himself in prison, alone and in need of companionship.  He requested that Timothy come and visit him.  Adding to this request, he said, “When you come bring … the books, especially the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13).  Of these words, Charles Spurgeon wrote, …

Even an Apostle must read. … He is Inspired and yet he wants books! He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books! He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had been caught up into the third Heaven and had heard things which it was unlawful for a men to utter, yet he wants books! He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books!

The Apostle says to Timothy, and so he says to every preacher, “Give yourself unto reading.” The man who never reads will never be read. He who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains proves that he has no brains of his own. Brothers and Sisters, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read.

Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritan writers and expositions of the Bible. We are quite persuaded that the very best way for you to be spending your leisure is to be either reading or praying. You may get much instruction from books which afterward you may use as a true weapon in your Lord and Master’s service. Paul cries, “Bring the books”—join in the cry.

Fan the Flame; Fight the Fight

On Sunday I finished preaching through 2 Timothy. You can listen to (or read) my 14 messages messages here.

Paul wrote the letter to Timothy because of Timothy’s discouragement in the ministry. He was facing resistance from many in the church, who were pulling people away from the faith. Paul’s council to him was “to fan into flame the gift of God” (2 Timothy 1:6). That’s the only way that anyone will endure in ministry–if God burns brightly in your life.

Throughout the epistle is a call to persevere through the hardships. Consider the calls to suffer hardship:

– “Join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:8).
– “Suffer hardship with me” (2 Timothy 2:3).
– “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

So, when Paul said at the end of his life, “I have fought the good fight; I have finished the course; I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7), the call to Timothy was clear. He was to “Fight the Fight” as well. Thus, the big idea that I derived from the book of 2 Timothy is this: “Fan the Flame; Fight the Fight.”

A Good Epitaph

Near the end of his life, Paul wrote a letter to encourage Timothy, his son in the faith, to persevere in the ministry. Paul told him of his own testimony, of how he was able to endure until the end. Paul wrote, “I have fought the good fight; I have finished the course; I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). Paul’s hope is that Timothy would be able to follow in his steps.

What a good thing to be able to say at the end of your life. One of my favorite authors, J. C. Ryle, has this verse inscribed on his tombstone. Will you be able to put it on yours?