As a Christian psychologist it’s been important for me to look to the Lord Jesus Christ as the perfect psychologist. I look to him as my counselor. I study him and his ways to learn how to be a better counselor. I rely on his Spirit present in my counseling office as I care for people.
This article and Bible study on Jesus’ ministry as the Wonderful Counselor is for counselors of all types: psychotherapists, pastors, spiritual directors, life coaches, teachers, educational advisers, business consultants, doctors, nurses, 12-step sponsors, small group leaders, coaches, parents, and friends.
Did I leave anyone out? If you’re in relationship with other people then you need to learn to be a good counselor because all people have hurts and struggles!
Of course, the most important thing to say about Jesus is that he is the Son of God, the radiance of God’s glory, and is our Savior from sin who died on the cross for us and rose from the dead to bring us eternal life! We also see that the Lord Jesus has other important ministry roles like teacher, healer, and counselor.
Jesus is the True and Best Psychologist
Don’t think of psychology as beginning with Sigmund Freud who invented modern psychotherapy late in the 19th Century. There have been psychologists — doctors of the soul — throughout human history. Jesus is a true psychologist. Jesus is the best psychologist!
Jesus understands the human soul, or psyche — first as our co-creator with God the Father, second as the incarnate Son of God who experienced being a man and living on this earth, third as the Redeemer who never sinned and conquered sin and death and Satan by rising from the dead, and fourth as the ever-living and present Spirit of Christ with us now.
Imagine the best Christian therapist… Think of the most wise, caring, and helpful pastoral counselor… Jesus Christ infinitely surpasses these women and men!
We see the glory of Jesus’ counseling ministry in the Gospels and we experience it in his ministry today as the cosmic Christ. Our Lord and Savior Jesus “is the image of the invisible God… He is before all things and in him all things hold together… He is the head… In everything he [has] the supremacy… [In him] are hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 1:15, 17, 18; 2:3)
Christ Ministers Through Human Counselors
Some Christians say that since Jesus Christ is the Wonderful Counselor and the True Psychologist we don’t need human counselors. That’s not true! It’s a false belief that has brought great harm to many wounded, struggling Christians that I have talked to.
In the New Testament Christians are called “the Body of Christ” because we are to be as little Christ’s, loving one another as he loves us. (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:12, 27; Ephesians 4:4)
The essential point for therapists and clients, pastors and parishioners, is that in the counseling process we must put our full trust in the Spirit of the risen Christ in our midst! Of course, training and knowledge and skill are also essential, but they’re not enough. To the extent that any psychologist, pastor, or counselor is truly helpful to others it’s because of the grace and wisdom of Christ operating through them, whether by active faith or common grace. All people are created in God’s image and all truth is God’s truth. The doctrine of common grace teaches that God may flow to and through people who don’t even acknowledge Christ. But how much more effective it is if both the helper and helpee explicitly look to the Spirit of Jesus with them as their Wonderful Counselor!
A Bible Study on Jesus’ Ministry as the Wonderful Counselor
The Lord Jesus is our example for how to be a good counselor. More than that, as I’ve been saying, he is the Source of all loving and wise care. We can’t effectively imitate Christ except as we internalize him by putting our trust and confidence in him. So keep this in mind as you proceed with this Bible study.
Isaiah Called Jesus the Wonderful Counselor
It’s good to have a number of human counselors, but their is only one Wonderful Counselor! The best counselors know this.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light… For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.” (Isaiah 9:2, 6-7)
The Psalms Point to Jesus as the Lord Who Counsels Us
A good therapist is like the Psalms of the Bible. Here at the heart of our Bible God is our Therapist who listens with compassion to all our hurts, fears, complaints, and prayers. Here the Lord journeys with us through life’s ups and downs, without judgment or even impatience, and he leads us tenderly with grace and wisdom.
Jesus perfectly fulfills all the Psalms, their prophecies and the holy and wholesome human life they point to. For instance, the New Testament writers said that Jesus Christ fulfilled Psalm 16. It’s of Jesus that we say, “I will praise the LORD who counsels me, even at night my heart instructs me.” (Psalm 16:7)
The Spirit of Jesus is the Wise Man and Wise Woman of Proverbs
Good counselors are wise; they embody the Proverbs of the Bible, not by dispensing them as advice, but by coming alongside people in their journey and gently guiding them.
The writer of Proverbs is a spiritual father (Solomon) giving guidance to his son and the voice of wisdom throughout Proverbs is female. This is the eternal Spirit of Jesus. He is the “man of understanding” who delves into the deep waters of the human heart and draws out our plans in order to direct us in God’s good ways. (Proverbs 12:15)
Jesus Is a Soul Doctor
Trained and effective counselors are soul doctors.
The Lord Jesus is the Soul Doctor. Our Great Physician said that sadly he couldn’t help proud people who don’t think they needed anything from him. Instead, his mission was to care-fully doctor the sick and those struggling with sin. (Mark 2:17)
Doctor Jesus Says, “Call Me Jesus.”
It’s natural that professional counselors, doctors, educators, and pastors want to be called “Dr. So and So.” They’ve worked hard for their credential and status and their “Doctor” title is part of how they offer their services to the public. But this puts clients and students in a one down position.
Jesus says, “Don’t let people put you on a pedestal. You have one Teacher, one Lord, and one Father. Don’t make people your experts. Make God your authority and follow his lead. Don’t have people call you “Professor”, “Doctor”, or “Father”. Be a servant of the Lord and you’ll become truly great.” (Matthew 23:8-12, paraphrased)
Jesus himself, though he is the Son of God and Lord of all, didn’t go around boasting. He came as a servant to care for people on their level and he directed all glory and honor to his Father in the heavens.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd
Good counselors are like good shepherds; they’re like Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me — just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10-14-15) Jesus is the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls (1 Peter 2:25). The Psalm 23 Shepherd develops a close, personal relationship with his “sheep” to guide them into green pastures and still waters, be with them in dark valleys, protect them, and empower them.
Jesus’ Mission Is to Care for the Needy, Brokenhearted, Oppressed, and Imprisoned
Every caregiver, every Christian, is called to adopt Jesus’ mission statement.
Jesus took his personal mission from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19; from Isaiah 61:1-2)
Jesus is Available and Approachable
Professional counselors and pastors tend to wait for people in need to come to their office, attend their service, or participate in their program. We need to re-think this.
Jesus didn’t wait for people to come to him, he went out to them and made himself available. He helped people not just in the designated places for help, like the synagogue and temple, but also in the streets, at a wedding, at house parties, when he was walking by the lake, when he was relaxing in a friend’s house, in gardens, by a well, and out in the desert wilderness.
Jesus Engaged the Samaritan Woman At the Well In Personal Conversation
Counselors use active listening skills to draw people out, to help them share their concerns and hopes, to help them understand their true need and to connect them with God’s love.
This is the kind of counselor that Jesus is. Perhaps the best example of this is his ministry to the Samaritan woman at the well and then in her village. (John 4:1-42) Even though he was thirsty, he focused on her deeper thirst. He saw that she was beaten down by her sin and shame and by being abused and rejected and he surprised her by being gracious with her and engaging her in friendly conversation. He had powerful, life-changing insight to share, but he shared it gently so that she could receive it.
Jesus Didn’t Judge the Woman Caught in Adultery
When you’re hurting or struggling the last thing you want is to be judged! Yet, it’s so easy for people with knowledge to judge those who don’t have it. Soul shepherds must be nonjudgmental. They must be safe for people to share their weaknesses and hurts to.
Everyone in Jesus’ day judged adulterous women. The religious leaders wanted to stone her to death and threw her to the ground at Jesus’ feet. He put his body between them and her to shelter her. He got down on his knees in the dirt where she was. He confronted their mean-spirited arrogance and hypocrisy and they left her alone. Then he stood back up and said to her, “Look, your accusers are gone. I don’t condemn you. You’re free to go now and to leave behind your life of sin.” (John 8:10-11, paraphrased)
Jesus Wept (Jesus Empathizes)
Good therapists don’t just give sympathy — they give empathy.
The shortest Bible verse says so much: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). His tears for Mary and Martha as they were grieving the death of their dear brother Lazarus were not tears of sympathy. It’s not that their sadness triggered his and he spilled out. These were tears of compassion in which the Wonderful Counselor felt for them, cared for them, saw that they were missing God’s comfort and wanted this for them.
Jesus is a High Priest who sympathizes with us in that he knows our human weakness from the inside as a human being. He knows our pain and our temptations to sin. But he moves from sympathy to empathy — staying focused on feeling for us and providing for what we need — by giving us access to his throne of grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:15)
If a good counselor is anything they’re compassionate; they empathize deeply with people’s feelings and needs and demonstrate profound care for them.
On every page of the Gospels we can find the great compassion of Jesus. He saw that people were like sheep without a shepherd, aimless and unable to truly help themselves, and so he had compassion on them. (Mark 6:34). He had compassion for the sick and the healthy, the hungry and those who were feasting, the poor and the rich, his mother and strangers, the sinners and the religious. He had compassion on everyone.
Jesus Attracted People With a Joyful Spirit
Counselors need to be cheerful. People want to know if you’re glad to see them and if they can sense that it opens them to receive from you.
Jesus was so happy that the somber religious leaders were scandalized! They didn’t think that piety and happiness mixed so they called him a friend of sinners and drunkards (Matthew 11:19). But Jesus knew that God’s kingdom is joyful (Romans 14:17) and he wanted to woo people into it. That why he kept pronouncing blessings (beatitudes) over them.
Jesus’ Is Gracious
Counselors need to be huge grace-givers. Jesus came to us from God “full of grace” (John 1:14).
John contrasts him with Moses, saying, “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Jesus gave law-truth like Moses, but not in a way that the grace of God would be easily missed. Jesus is full of grace and truth, which he is also full of, comes wedded to grace. People flocked to Jesus because his words were so gracious, his ministry was so life-giving. In one village after another thousands of people at a time kept flocking around him to listen to his stories, share their needs with him, and to learn from him.
But the religious people envied his popularity and hated him for lavishing grace on outsiders and riffraff; they wanted God’s favor to be exclusively for them and they wanted a Messiah who would get rid of their enemies and so they tried to through Jesus off a cliff! (Luke 4:22, 28-29) Eventually they did kill him.
Jesus Offers Truth That Sets People Free
Good counselors have lots of truth to share, but they know that truth is a surgeon’s scalpel and they’re very careful with it. Said from the opposite direction, an effective counselor needs to be an effective teacher, but their methodology of teaching is through active listening, empathy, and gentle suggestions.
Our Wonderful Counselor says that the truth is what sets us free from our problems and hurts. But he says that the only way that truth delivers us from sin and distress is if we apprentice ourselves to him and holding to his teaching. (John 8:32) His Spirit is called the Spirit of Truth (John 14:17, 16:13).
Jesus Studied People Carefully to Really Know Them
Therapists, pastors, and other people helpers need to be students of the people they care for.
Our Lord “knew what was in each person” (John 2:25). He knew their thoughts and saw their faith in God or lack of it (Matthew 9:2-4). He saw the inmost emotions of people (Mark 12:15).
Jesus Delved Deep Into People’s Lives
The best counselors go deep with people. They help them to peel back the layers of the onion to get to the core.
Jesus was anything but superficial in his conversations with people. He certainly did not stay on the surface in small talk, but like a “depth psychologist” he delved deep into the heart and soul of people. A metaphor of this is when he called the fisherman disciples to follow him for the third time, after which they gave up their fishing business and normal life to travel everywhere with him in his ministry. He said to them, “Put our your nets into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4).
The Wonderful Counselor’s Yoke is Easy
Every counselor and every provider of care or wisdom needs to realize they’re putting a yoke on people. Whatever your philosophy for life is, whatever your values are, they’re a yoke or a teaching that people pick up from you. What is your yoke?
Jesus’ yoke is easy. He cares for those who are tired from carrying heavy burdens and invites them to join in his rhythms of grace as he walks in cadence with his Father in the heavens all around him. Jesus ministers deep soul rest that helps people learn to walk freely and lightly in life (Matthew 11:25-30, NIV and MSG)
Jesus’ Very Presence is Healing
The best wisdom and care that good counselors have is nonverbal — it’s in their eyes, face, way of listening, tone of voice. Their love and insight is in their bodies and you experience it by being with them
Jesus the Wonderful Counselor has his best affect on people simply by being with them. In the Gospels we see repeatedly that healing power comes from his body. Large crowds press in on his body wherever he is and wherever he goes, resting in a house or walking along the road.
Even while he’s teaching a crowd of people Luke records, “The people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.” (Luke 6:17) The famous example of this is the woman with the 12-year blood disease who spent all her money on doctors and only grew worse, but when she crawled through a crowd and touched the hem of Jesus’ garment she was healed immediately! (Mark 5:24-34)
Jesus Has the Right Diagnoses and Treatment Plan
Therapists and pastoral counselors need to accurately diagnose their clients’ main problem/need. All wise people helpers, even one friend to another, seek to discern and assess what the greatest need is of the person sharing with them. An essential part of loving people well is to know and understand them well.
As Jesus interacts with people he diagnoses their true need. A great example of this is his conversation with the Rich Young Ruler. This guy is really earnest about wanting to do what’s right and good and to be the person for God that he can be, but he doesn’t have peace. Jesus assess that his real problem is not that he’s falling short of obeying God’s commands, but that he’s holding onto his possessions and his status. Even his wanting to be good is largely for his own ego. Jesus looks him right in the eye and loves him deeply (Mark 10:21).
In effect Jesus says to the Rich Young Ruler, “I love you more than you know. I see that you have a wound in your heart and it’s causing you to hold on tight to your wealth, but that’s killing your soul. The best thing for you to is sell all your possessions and come follow me. I’ll show you how to hold onto the God who loves you forever!” (Luke 18:22)
Jesus Is An Optimistic Counselor
It’s easy for psychotherapists and other counselors to become negative because all day they’re dealing with people’s problems and pain, their sin and stress.
But Jesus was quite optimistic; he saw the divine possibilities in people. Remember he said, “With God all things are possible!” (Matthew 19:26) Jesus saw that Simon the vacillator could become Peter the Rock. He saw that John the angry Son of Thunder could become the Beloved Disciple.
Jesus’ Counseling Ministry Restores Fallen Leaders
Counselors have a lot of power because the people who come to them are vulnerable and often they’re broken or fallen. Good counselors are healers that seek to restore people.
When Peter denied Jesus and was in despair Jesus sought him out. He drew him into conversation around a campfire at the beat. He showed Peter that he loved him. And that even though Peter had failed so badly he still had so much good to offer. Jesus restored Peter’s self-esteem and re-instated him to ministry leadership. (John 21:15-23)
The Spirit of Jesus Is Called “The Counselor”
Good counselors are tender toward weakness and this facilitate a loving bond with people such that over time their spirit or attitude gets internalized. For therapy or other personal support to be maximally effective it has to be internalized so that the helpee carries the counselor’s compassion and wisdom in their heart.
Jesus told his Apostles that when he physically left the earth the Holy Spirit would carry on his ministry. He named God’s Spirit “Paracletos,” or the Counselor, Comforter, Helper, Advocate, Strengthener. Paracletos is the Spirit of Jesus and he comes to live inside of all belivers. He reminds of Jesus’ person and words and he gently guides us into life-giving truth (John 14:16-17, 26; 16:13)
As Paul taught, “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)
Jesus’ Rule For Counseling and For All of Life Is “Love Your Neighbor.”
Professional counselors have ethics that govern their practice. But sometimes a body of ethics is just used to “stay out of trouble.” A good system of ethics boils down to Jesus’ royal law of loving your neighbor as yourself.
Paul studied Jesus’ life and his counseling ministry in the gospels and realized that it was defined by his law to “Love your neighbor.” As the risen, cosmic Christ Jesus’ therapeutic ministry continues and Paul urged us join with his Spirit: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1-2)
Counselors as Christ’s Ambassadors of Comfort
The best counselors are experienced as Christ’s ambassadors, ministering friendship with God to people through their listening, caring, and praying. (2 Corinthians 5:20)
Jesus Christ himself came as an Ambassador for God. Paul said we know God is truly a caring Father to us who gushes forth with endless, abundant comfort and compassion for us in our distress and pain because he is the God of Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)