Christian Living

Spiritual Life


IN THIS CHAPTER, you will discover:  

·    The importance of counsel in decisions.  

·    The authority relationship between parents and children.  

·    The ideal relationship between husband and wife.  

·    The fears that prevent good decisions.    

AS A RESULT, you will be able to:  

·    Find the most helpful counsel.  

·    Fulfill your role in the parent/child relationship.  

·    Share a partnership in your marriage.  

·    Overcome the misconception of perfect peace.      

Blest Be the Tie  

We share our mutual woes,

Our mutual burdens bear;

And often for each other flows

The sympathizing tear.  

- John Fawcett

Weighing the Counsel of Others

Key Scripture: "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed" (Prov. 15:22).  

God created humans as social creatures. They can only be complete when interrelating with their Creator and with others (Mark 12:30‑31). The early church, realizing this principle, saw the commitment to Christ and to fellow Christians as one and the same. As centuries passed, however, the church succumbed to the increasing isolation of its members. Today individualism pervades the average congregation. Fellowship in the church has deteriorated to gatherings of people who touch only the surface of each other's lives.  

People do not function well in isolation because they need the stimulation of others. Furthermore, verbalization is a healthy process. Since dialogue causes individuals to discover strengths and weaknesses in themselves, the counsel of others is indispensable. Counsel should play a key role in all our major decisions, for it inspires creative thinking and suggests new alternatives. The result of good counsel is a deeper understanding of the issues at stake. To obtain productive counsel, follow these general guidelines:  

  • Seek counsel when facing any major decision.  
  • Consult more people for the most important decisions.  
  • Seek counsel from a variety of persons, including those who do not always agree with you.  
  • Emphasize counseling from Christians over non‑Christians.  
  • Get counsel from those who know you particularly well.  
  • Consult pastors and spiritual leaders with whom you are in contact.  
  • Seek counsel from a psychologist or other specially trained person if your decision is causing emotional difficulty.  

There are times when a counselor's advice will not align with God's direction. Since no individual has the final insight, we should evaluate all counseling recommendations. We must check our motivation, abilities, and circumstances - weighing them in the light of the counsel. As we do, our direction will become clearer and we can march ahead confidently.  

Unfair Labeling

The road to the future, however, may present some roadblocks. One of the hardest to overcome is labeling - a prejudice that causes many Chris­tians to stumble. If not overcome, unfair labeling can change the course of our life.  

Wendy, who wanted to major in business management, was advised against it. Her counselor felt she would find accounting more fulfilling. His reason, which neither of them recognized at the time, was that Wendy's appearance reminded him of Brenda. Brenda was a former student who had done poorly in every management position she had held. Wendy, unlike Brenda, was gifted in business management. The counselor should have encouraged her to pursue this interest, but he had unfairly labeled Wendy because of her physical resemblance to Brenda.  

Throughout His earthly ministry Jesus looked past labels. He had perfect insight into the possibilities in people. John 4:4‑42 highlights one such incident. The woman of Samaria was regarded as morally loose. As a result, her self‑image was shattered. Although Jesus knew about her past, His judgment differed from human labeling in one vital aspect: He saw a positive future beyond her present condition.  

The insights of others are certainly important in our decisions. But we must always listen to such advice with an open mind. Although some may see our possibilities, others cannot see beyond the labels they have put on us. Tragically, we may believe those labels. Although Christ wants to renew our mind, we may find it hard to let go of old self‑perceptions. Therefore, we must pray for wisdom and the ability to listen constructively to counsel. The following guidelines will be helpful:  

Get second opinions. Professors, school counselors - even pastors - can be wrong. If the advice challenges God\'s leading or the clear teaching of the Bible, you do not have to accept it.  

Be assertive. If someone is judging you unfairly, tell them courteously. God may bring you both to a deeper point of understanding.  

Strengthen your faith in Christ. Take time to renew your mind; labeling intrudes into thoughts not centered on Christ.

Be involved in a Christian fellowship. The atmosphere of a loving church family will give you courage to ignore and overcome labels.  

God desires that you see His will without the hindrance of spiritual blind­ers. Cast them off! Ignore the labels placed on you - and avoid putting labels on others.    

A Light Unto My Path  

"He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm" (Prov. 13:20).  

"A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps" (Prov. 14:15).   “

Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed him as his counselor?" (Isa. 40:13).    

Life Application: Complete No. 1, For Personal Study, KGW, p. 209, which discusses the bad counsel given to Rehoboam.

Authority Relationships

Key Scripture: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right" (Eph. 6:1). 

"Is there another person who should have the final authority over my decisions because of their position? Is someone else better able to determine God's will for my life? Do I have any right to question author­ity?" These questions usually revolve around three relationship areas: (1) parents and their children; (2) husbands and wives; and (3) pastors, elders, spiritual leaders, and the people they shepherd. On these ques­tions Christians are divided in their answers. While many believe that the Bible teaches a hierarchy of authority, others adamantly disagree. Still others, while agreeing on a biblical hierarchy, differ over the degree of authority in a relationship.  

Parents and Children  

Without exception, Christians agree that there is a definite chain‑of-­command authority of parents over young children. In Ephesians 6:1‑4 and Colossians 3:20, Paul admonished children to obey their parents. Children should assume that their parents' wishes indicate the will of God. That, of course, does not include doing acts that are sinful. Some Chris­tians also believe that the Bible supports parental authority over children of all ages.  

Trey looked around the spacious office, imagining the walls closing in on him. He swiveled his chair around to look out the big window. The city lay before him - Frank Fitzgerald Simmons III - literally at his feet. Fresh out of college, he had assumed the vice‑presidency of his father's company. Now, three years later, he sat brooding.  

All his life Trey had been groomed for this position. His mother and father had made all his major decisions. They had deter­mined his college - and his major in business. It was understood that one day he would step into his father's position in the family's company. Trey's Christian parents had controlled his life.  

Trey's friend Chuck had Christian parents too. But they had encouraged Chuck to make major decisions for himself since adolescence. Interested in archaeology, Chuck chose two pos­sible colleges. After discussing both schools with his parents, guidance counselor, and youth director, Chuck had decided on one. "Now," Trey mumbled, "Chuck is living in Israel, digging in ancient ruins and having the time of his life!"  

Trey's parents had not understood the admonition to "train a child in the way he should go (Prov. 22:6). Although their decisions were undoubtedly good ones, they were not always right for Trey. Unknowingly, his parents had created an unhealthy dependence on themselves. And worse, they had planted seeds of rebellion end resentment in their son. By controlling Trey, they had unwittingly disobeyed the biblical injunction not to exasper­ate their son (Eph. 6:4).  

Adult children should listen very carefully to the counsel of their parents. Parents' intimate knowledge of their children often gives them unusual insight. They are usually the most important counselors a person will ever have. But there will be times when we honor our parents by not following their counsel. If the Holy Spirit leads us to oppose their decisions, we must make the responsible choice. Nevertheless, parents - Christians or other­wise - deserve our respect and honor.  

A Light Unto My Path  

"A wise son heeds his father's instruction" (Prov. 13:1).  

"Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it" (Prov. 22:6).  

"Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die" (Prov. 23:13).

Life Application: Bill Gothard in his seminar, "Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts," teaches that unmarried adult children should defer to the authority of their parents in the important decision of marriage. How do you feel about this subject?

Husband and Wife Relationships

Key Scripture: "However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband" (Eph. 5:33).  

Another important chain‑of‑command relationship is that of husband and wife. Christians and non‑Christians alike struggle over the status of a husband and wife within a marriage commitment.  

The traditional view of the husband/wife relationship has its roots in 1 Peter 3:1‑7. The husband seeks God's will in major decisions, which he passes down to his wife and children. The wife's role is to accept her husband's decision graciously and to follow wherever he leads. Tradition­alists interpret this view as timeless for believers in all cultures, while others interpret it within the culture of the first century exclusively.  

The weakness of the traditional view is that it ignores other scriptures concerning the husband/wife relationship. The most extensive teaching on this relationship is found in Ephesians 5:21‑33. It is important to note that Paul's teaching on submission begins in verse 21 - "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" - not in verse 22. According to this passage, there is no chain‑of‑command authority in a Christian partner­ship. Paul encouraged wives to submit to their husbands "as to the Lord" (v. 22). Furthermore, he encouraged husbands to love their wives sac­rificially "as Christ loved the church" (v. 25). Paul taught mutual submis­sion, which extended beyond the physical relationship to all other areas in the marriage.  

In a marriage partnership, the husband and wife should maintain respect for each other's judgment. Each has the right to influence his or her spouse's decision. Although they have the freedom to delegate authority in small decisions, both should be in agreement concerning major ones. If, for some reason, they cannot agree as to God's leading, then the husband's opinion should prevail. This, however, is the exception, for cooperative decisions are always preferable.  

Spiritual Leaders  

A controversial chain‑of‑command relationship is that of spiritual leaders and the people they shepherd. In recent years an unbalanced view has arisen in some Christian circles. Its proponents argue that pastors, elders, or other spiritual leaders have the final word on personal choices made by those under them. They believe that this chain‑of‑command is binding. However, there is no biblical evidence that a leader's counsel should be considered as more than advice in the major decisions of believers. The leaders in the New Testament church were respected regarding church life (1 Thess. 5:12‑13). But they were not regarded as special interpreters of God’'s will for others.  

Disappointment by Others

Perhaps your parents, spouse, or spiritual leaders have disappointed you. You can get beyond your hurt and anger by putting yourself in their shoes. You may discover that their behavior sprang from extenuating circum­stances or personal weaknesses. Even if someone purposely hurt you, God may eventually change their heart. Therefore, you need to appreci­ate His sovereignty - and His abiding concern for you. As your perspective changes, you can begin to forgive others.  

From the beginning, Scripture pictures God as the One who creates, heals, and directs human life through His spoken word. Jesus often inspired spiritual growth with only a few words. Through a brief conver­sation with a government official, Jesus raised him to a new height of faith (John 4:46‑54). As He healed the man's son, Jesus demonstrated the power of the word of God when spoken from a great distance. Under­standing this greatly deepens the sense of purpose in our everyday contacts. The insight or encouragement we need may come through a few words exchanged with an unlikely person.  

Most of our emphasis thus far has been on receiving good counsel. But the Lord requires us to be good counselors. He often uses us to convey His words to others in need. Because people at work and in our commu­nities already trust us, we have a special platform for sharing counsel. A professional counselor takes much longer to develop trust. The impor­tance of godly counsel was reiterated by Solomon: "How good is a timely word!" (Prov. 15:23).  

A Light Unto My Path

"Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is from the Lord" (Prov. 19:14).  

"Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Hus­bands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them" (Col. 3:18‑19).  

"If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?" (1 Tim. 3:5).  

Life Application: If you are married, which pattern does your relationship follow - the traditional view or the partnership view? How are decisions made with your spouse? List some major and minor decisions you have recently made. What was the process involved in making these deci­sions?

Finally Deciding

Key Scripture: "I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears" (Ps. 34:4).  

A fear of failure can dampen the spirits of believers and keep them from success. Ironically, some Christians are even afraid of success itself. But the most pervasive fear is the fear of change. Any change can be a cause for concern, especially an unwelcome one. But we often underestimate the unsettling emotions that surround a desired change.  

The fears and ambivalence surrounding a major change in life are quite deceptive. Divided feelings often occur, especially when people are seri­ously contemplating marriage. Sometimes the fear of change becomes coupled with a fear of commitment. Most couples, realizing that pre-­wedding jitters are perfectly normal, proceed with the wedding. Once they have married, the anxiety dissipates. But for some, the fear of commit­ment borders on a phobia. There are at least four levels of this fear.  

Jan desires an intimate relationship but balks at a binding com­mitment. She wants Sam to commit to her to boost her self ­esteem. But the moment Sam moves forward, she backs off.  

Walter and Freda have an on‑again, off‑again relationship. They have postponed their wedding five times in the past two years. Walter\'s fear of commitment is greater than his wish for Freda to be his wife.  

Melanie and David have been dating for three years. For the past two years David has assured Melanie that he loves her. He admits to a fear of commitment. But Melanie, while hoping that he will finally propose, is getting impatient.  

Samantha's desire for marriage has become greater than her fear of commitment. Assured that Miles is God's choice for her, she marries him in spite of her fear.  

Perfect Peace

One hindrance to overcoming the fear of change or commitment is the misconception of perfect peace. Many Christians believe that when God is speaking, we will have no fears or doubts - in other words, perfect peace. While Scripture promises the peace of Christ (Col. 3:15), it never assures peaceful feelings as we move forward. His peace is the grace that transcends our fears, allowing us to move ahead in spite of doubt. Emotional peace will not be experienced until after we step out in faith. Furthermore, waiting for absolute peace before making every major decision would be paralyzing. Taking the first step is vital to experiencing peace - and God's blessings. Biblical faith is the resolve to forge ahead, despite the fear of change.  

Unfortunately, many Christians are afraid to step out in faith - preferring to remain in familiar territory. When God spoke to Moses in the burning bush (Ex. 3:1‑6), He offered him an indescribable opportunity. The Lord called Moses to a vocation that other Israelites could only dream about. Yet Moses' response was one of caution and apprehension (Ex. 3:7‑14). He openly expressed his fear of failure - and quite possibly the fear of change itself. Moving out to answer God's call meant leaving a familiar comfort zone.  

Interestingly, as Moses responded, he experienced success and personal fulfillment. Despite the frustration and challenges, there were times of unparalleled intimacy with God. Moses experienced growth in his lead­ership skills, a capacity for delegation, and improvement in his long‑term physical vitality (Deut. 34:7).  

Challenging Changes  

Perhaps you are considering a major change, such as a career move or an educational pursuit. You may be contemplating a change in your church relationship or a new venture in using your gifts within the body of Christ. You believe that God is urging you to go ahead, but doubts, fears, and uneasiness have surfaced. If this describes your attitude, note these five critical points:  

  • 1. Second thoughts are normal. You may envy friends who leap into marriage or make major career changes with perfect confidence in God's leading. However, unknown to you - and perhaps to them - they may be repressing misgivings about the relationship or the new job that could appear later in damaging ways. Be thankful that you understand your feelings now and can recognize them for what they really are.  
  • 2. Take time to mourn what you are leaving behind. No matter how strongly you want a change, you are still leaving behind something cherished. Even the person who is most eager for marriage is forsak­ing the benefits of single life. It is normal to feel genuine grief over lost benefits. Allow time to work through your feelings, but don't let them hold you back from moving on to God's best.  
  • 3. Pray for strength. A most essential purpose of prayer is to gain God's strength for decision making. Pray for an eagerness to go in the direction of God's will.  
  • 4. Take control of your psyche. Your associates affect your perspec­tive significantly. Some may find it difficult to be positive about your proposed change, but others will encourage you to move ahead. Spend time with positive people, for their perspective is contagious. You have more control than you realize over mood swings that may arise during the change.  
  • 5. Accept the principle of trade‑offs. Although Scripture promises that Christ's blessings are considerable, it also teaches that trade­offs are necessary in receiving them. You may have to let go of one benefit to enjoy another. Understanding that perfection is not possible makes change less threatening.  

As you implement these suggestions in the decision‑making process, your trepidations will diminish. And change will become less threatening. You may even begin to welcome divine interruptions in your life as you experience the adventure of knowing God's will.  

A Light Unto My Path  

"A wise man's heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction" (Prov. 16:23).  

"Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man" (Eccl. 12:13).  

"I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving‑kindness" (Jer. 31:3).  

Life Application: Complete No. 1, For Personal Study, KGW, p. 218, which measures your growth in biblical principles of guidance.

Take the quiz

Quiz Instructions

Test your knowledge by taking this short quiz which covers what you just read. Select the correct response based on the lessons and concepts.

1. Individualism __________ greatly hindered the work of evangelical Christianity.


Has not

2. Verbalization with Christians and non-Christians is healthy.



3. We are not under obligation to regard all counsel as God's will by __________.



4. Counsel inspires people to think more creatively and to see new alternatives.



5. God may guide us through the wisdom of unbelievers.



6. Decisions may be delayed because of fear of __________.



7. In a __________ relationship, one person's counsel is taken without question to be God's will.



8. Children should obey only Christian parents.



9. The chain-of-command relationship exists between parents and children until the __________ years.



10. We must honor our parents for a lifetime.



11. Jesus set the example for husbands as a perfect leader and a perfect __________.



12. Paul recommended mutual submission in marriages.



13. Couples have freedom to delegate authority in __________ decisions.



14. In matters pertinent to the church, the leader's directions __________ be taken as God's will.


Should not

15. When we use the expression "obey your leader" today, obvious boundaries are implicit.



16. Following your natural aspirations is a/an __________ reason for a career choice.



17. When faced with a coincidental circumstance, it can be assumed that the Lord is guiding us.



18. God waits until we take __________ before He brings along the right opportunity.



19. A presumptuous spirit helps tremendously in finding God's will.



20. God works out His will in a seeking and an open heart.



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