Note: We’re enjoying a mini-series on The Resume of a Spiritual Friend as we ask, “If you want to help your struggling friend, what qualities do you need to develop in order to care like Christ?” In Post 1 we saw the “4Cs” of Romans 15:14 (character, content, competence, and community). In Post 2 we learned that to care like Christ we need to become like Christ. Today we learn about the “C” of biblical content.
“Complete in Knowledge”
When the Apostle Paul talks about loving character, is he implying that the best spiritual friend is the “touchy-feely” person who never dedicates himself or herself to serious study of the Scripture? Not at all. Remember that God calls us to love Him with our minds, with our brains. That’s why Paul lists “complete in knowledge” as the second qualification on the spiritual friend’s résumé.
“Complete” does not mean that we’re walking biblical encyclopedias with absolute knowledge of all theological truth. Only God has encyclopedic knowledge of all things actual and possible. Instead, by “complete” Paul means that we’re so filled with God’s Word that it claims our entire being and stamps our whole life, conduct, attitude, and relationships. We’re captured by God’s truth.
What sort of knowledge does Paul emphasize? He could have chosen any of several words that highlight content or factual knowledge alone. However, Paul chooses a word for knowledge that highlights the combination of fact and implication. Paul’s word focuses upon insight and wisdom—the wisdom to relate truth to relationships.
Powerful spiritual friends apply God’s Word first to their own relationships. They also have the insight to see how God’s Word relates to their friend’s relationships. Additionally, they have the biblical vision to see how God is relating to their friend. They have discernment to see life from God’s perspective.
The Spiritual Friend’s Prayer
In Philippians 1:9-11, Paul develops his philosophy of gospel ministry. It is the spiritual friend’s prayer.
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Notice Paul’s coupling of truth and love. For him, ministry is never either/or—either we are loving, touchy-feely, heart people, or we are scholarly, academic, head people. Rather, ministry is both/and—we unite head and heart, love and truth in our personal ministry of the Word. Truth and love kiss.
When our love abounds more and more in knowledge, the result is insight—the ability to help our spiritual friends to discern not simply what is good, but what is best in their situation. This kissing of love and truth flows through us when we are people of character, and it develops deepened Christlike character in those to whom we minister.
In Signs, Mel Gibson plays a minister, Graham Hess, who has lost his faith. As the movie unfolds, we slowly learn why. His wife was killed while taking a late-night stroll along a country road near their farm. Called to the scene, the police chief informs Graham that his wife has only minutes to live. Leaning close to her mangled body that’s trapped between a truck and a tree, he hears her whisper final words—words about both their children, about him, and about his brother, Merrill. Concerning Merrill she utters the cryptic phrase, “Tell him to swing away.”
Turning from church and God, Graham tells Merrill, “‘Swing away’ was nothing more than the chance collision of random synapses bringing to mind a stored memory of your failed baseball career.” Graham’s cynicism only worsens as the plot thickens. Signs—crop circles—mysteriously appear on his farm. Inexplicably they begin to appear all around the world.
When foreboding ships hover over major cities across the globe, Merrill asks Graham for words of consolation and hope. The best Graham can do, at this point, is explain two possible ways to view life. “You can look at any sign either as some plan laid out and purposed by God, finding hope in the mysterious, seeing what others cannot see, trusting that God is active. Or, you can see signs simply as the hand that fate dealt you, deal with it, run from it, whatever. But it is nothing but chance.”
In the fitting finale, aliens invade Graham’s home. No weapon in sight, Graham remembers the prophecy given by his wife, “Tell Merrill to swing away.” Looking just beyond Merrill’s shoulder, Graham sees Merrill’s baseball bat, a trophy from his batting championship. “Swing away, Merrill. Swing away!” Graham yells. Merrill does. The alien falls. Water—water from cups left by Graham’s daughter who was afraid of contamination—spills on the creature, killing it, contaminated by life-giving water. Yet another sign shared by Graham’s wife.
Biblical counselors read the signs—not cryptic signs from a movie, but God’s perspective from inspired Scripture. They discern the activity of God in their spiritual friend’s life. They understand something of God’s behind-the-scenes activity. They are able to relate the mystery of Christ’s gospel of grace to the minutia of daily life.
Spiritual friends read the signs because they read the Scriptures. They are filled with the conviction that God knows what he’s talking about. They’re convinced that God’s Word is sufficient for human needs. They’re filled with biblical content about people, problems, and solutions—from God’s perspective.
This aspect of spiritual friendship is so vital, so foundational, that I devoted an entire book—Soul Physicians—to a detailed exploration and explanation of God’s truth about life. Spiritual Friends builds upon the groundwork laid in Soul Physicians.
The Rest of the Story
As we grow in our Christlikeness (character) and in our personal knowledge of God’s Word (content), then we are ready to be equipped to minister (competence)—the focus of our next post.
Join the Conversation
How would your life and ministry change if you prayed the spiritual friend’s prayer (Phil. 1:9) every day?
Note: Excerpted from Spiritual Friends.