Pursuing Wisdom (p. 3)

This is part three of a four-part study in the early chapters of Proverbs. Each post has study and discussion questions for personal or group use. Since the early chapters of proverbs are words from a father to a son, these lessons are especially helpful for parents who desire to lead their children in the way of wisdom. The study will be based on four main points.

3. Abstain from Sexual temptation

In Proverbs 2:16-19, Solomon introduced his son to another voice of temptation — the voice of the adulteress or wayward wife. Her words are not overtly perverse like those of the wicked men.  Instead, she uses “seductive words” and “flatters with her words.” Three chapters are devoted to this warning (Proverbs 5,6,7).

In Proverbs 2:16, the primary concern is the “adulteress” (NIV); or “strange woman” (NASB).  Some translations refer to her as a “foreigner” or “loose woman” (loose meaning outside the family).  In Proverbs 5:3, again concerns the “adulteress”.  Proverbs 6:24-32 uses a variety of identifications:

      • “the immoral woman”
      • “the wayward wife”
      • “seductress”
      • “the prostitute”
      • “the adulteress”

Proverbs 6:29 and 32 refer to the man who “sleeps with another man’s wife” and who “commits adultery.” 

Summarizing the various terms, the woman is “strange” or “foreign” — not necessarily in the sense that she is from a strange land and different ethnic group than Israel.  Instead, she appears to be an Israelite woman: “who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God” (Proverbs 2:17).

Reference to the “covenant she made before God” implies an Israelite woman.  Therefore, her “strangeness” or “foreignness” which the terms clearly imply has more to do with her deliberate act of violating the covenant and standards of her people. She has cut herself off and distanced herself through her immorality. 

Along these same lines, one commentator suggested that, “By betraying her covenant of marriage, this woman looses herself from the covenant community and turn her back on the covenant of God.” 

We should assume that Solomon is very concerned about the danger she presents since he devotes a significant amount of space to the warning about her to the warning about her. Next to wisdom, no other theme is given more attention than warnings about sexual temptation (See: 2:6-19; 5:1-23; 6:20-35; 7:1-27; 9:8-18). 

There is a tone of urgency and deep concern in Solomon’s warnings.  “Now then, my sons, listen to me; do not turn aside from what I say.  Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your best strength to others and your years to one who is cruel” (Proverbs 5:7-9). 

Think about it

The intent of these passages is to communicate that, “nothing in life so clouds our judgment and makes stupid fools out of the wisest of us as succumbing to illicit passion. All our useful energies are drained off to defend or conceal that behavior.  The colossal compromise of adultery colors all our other value judgments and causes us to stagger along life’s road half tipsy.  To the teachers it was worth every possible effort to prevent their young people from falling into this bottle-dungeon of perverted sexuality whose walls sloped inward to the top and make escape only a fantasy “ (David A. Hubbard, p. 88, C. C. Proverbs). 

 The larger area of concern here is the reality of sexual temptation— which is not limited to any one culture or period of history. Therefore, as we consider the context of this text, we need to be careful to relate the larger concern of sexual temptation to other scriptures and to our lives.

We face an even greater challenge when addressing this subject — the challenge of living in a culture that has lost its connection with any clear sense of standards for sexual conduct.  More than that, as Tim Stafford has written,

“The old consensus about how we should live sexually has shattered, and we have not yet arrived at whatever will replace it.  We have only arrived at chaos, and with it great pain and confusion.  Families shatter. Children grow up with a series of unfamiliar men.  They move from home to home, experiencing dizzyingly different level of poverty and affluence.  The old ways of courtship, marriage and family are shaky.  We didn’t go looking for chaos.  On the contrary, chaos is the end result of an unprecedented push for pleasure.  Americans have never known so much about their sexuality, talked so much about their sexuality or tried so hard for happiness in the sexual realm.  Magazines and books and TV shows endlessly discuss how to find sexual delight.  But the results have been disastrous on every level . . . we have come perilously close to embracing lust as a fundamental human characteristic — if not a right.” 

A word from God

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality: that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him.  The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you.  For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.  Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit” (I Thess. 4:3-8). 

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How would you describe your handling of with sexual temptation?

Victorious, struggling, defeated, overwhelmed, good days and bad days, ____________________.

2. Identify your primary sources of struggle with sexual temptation: TV, internet, movies, magazines, books, relationships, etc…

3.  How does the following teaching of Jesus relate?

Matthew 5:27-30 - “You have heard that it was said, `Do not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”

John Stott explains: “If your eye causes you to sin because temptation comes to you through your eyes (objects you see), then pluck out your eyes. That is, don’t look!  Behave as if you had actually plucked out your eyes and flung them away, and were now blind and so could not see the objects which previously caused you to sin. Again, if your hand or foot causes you to sin, because temptation comes to you through your hands (things you do) or your feet (places you visit), then cut them off. That is: don’t do it! Don’t go! Behave as if you had actually cut off your hands and feet and flung them away, and were now crippled and so could not do the things or visit the places which previously caused you to sin” (Sermon on the Mount, p. 89).

  4.   What do I find most helpful for overcoming sexual temptation? (Recommendation: Memorize all the serves on the previous page)

  5.   Read and discuss the following

“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov 16:18).  What level of pride is required to believe that sexual sin could overtake Lot, Samson, David (“a man after God’s own heart”), Solomon, the Corinthians and a host of modern Christian leaders, but not me?  Paul’s warnings deserve a prominent place on our dashboards, desks and computers: “But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Gal 6:1); “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”  (1 Corinthians 10:12).

 God does not want us to be presumptuous, but nor does He want us to be paranoid.  We do not have to live each day teetering on the edge of immorality or paralyzed by the fear of sudden fall. In the specific context of seeking to be sexually pure and resisting sexual temptation, the wise man says this to his son:

“My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck.  Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble; when you lie down you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.  Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being snared” (Pr. 3:21-26).

If we walk daily with Christ, being alert to what’s happening in our minds and implementing steps of  righteousness and wisdom, then we can go our way “in safety” and “not be afraid.” (From: Sexual Temptation: How Christian Workers Can Win the Battle,  Randy C. Alcorn )

6. Relate I Corinthians 7:2-5 to the concern of sexual temptation.

“But because there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband. The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife. Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (I Corinthians 7:2-5, NLT)

Scripture dealing with sexual temptation: 

    • Ephesians 5:3-5 “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person–such a man is an idolater–has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”
    • 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body n in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; …”
    • Hebrews 13:4 “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”
    • Proverbs 6:32 “But a man who commits adultery lacks judgment; whoever does so destroys himself.”
    • Proverbs 28:13,14 “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy. Blessed is the man who always fears the LORD, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble.”
    • Psalm 32:1-2,5  “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.  Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’– and you forgave the guilt of my sin”
    • 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
    • Romans 13:14 “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”
    • 1 Peter 2:11-12  “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

Steve Cornell

When your past revisits you

Is it possible to carry deep resentment without being aware of the power it holds over you?

Consider the story of a woman who learned the power of suppressed resentment. Fifteen years after a tragic accident, she came to terms with the anger she held and the hold it had on her.  The woman currently resides in California but was raised in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (our home town).

One evening, fifteen years ago, she stopped her car along the road to assist a broken down motorist and on her way to the car, she was violently struck by a drunk driver. For an entire year after the accident, this otherwise athletic young lady was unable to walk without assistance. Shortly after the accident, the drunk driver wrote a letter to her but she refused to open it.

Many years later, another tragedy occured in Lancaster, Pennsylvania that caused her to revisit her past. It also prompted her to finally open the letter from the drunk driver. Ironically all of this happened as she was writing a book on forgiveness based on an Amish family. I say ironic because the tragic event that caused her to revisit her past was the Nickel Mine murders at an Amish School house in Lancaster. On that fateful day, the gunman, Charles Roberts IV shot ten girls (aged 6–13), killing five, before committing suicide.

As the story unfolded on national news, the woman found herself unable to continue to write her book. She was so deeply moved by the love the Amish showed toward the Roberts family (the family of the murderer). Their love and forgiveness forced her to face a flood of pent-up emotions. Her anger toward the drunk driver who forever changed her life had never been fully resolved. She knew she had to come to terms with the power it held over her and the resentment that consumed her soul.  

For many years, in her anger she chose to deny the very existence of the drunk driver. But gripped by the power of the Amish example of forgiveness, she recognized a need to humanize the man who hurt her and acknowledge the possibility that he had struggles of his own.  She had saved his unopened letter in a file and decided it was time to open it. The information she learned about the man helped her come to resolutions and release years of suppressed anger.

When asked what changes she experienced with forgiveness, she spoke of a new freedom from a strong gravitational pull toward a cynical and sarcastic outlook on life. This is a common shield people use to protect themselves and to hide their deep hurts and anger. Cynical and sarcastic people are usually covering up deeper issues.

When her novel on forgiveness was completed, as a powerful demonstration of her freedom from bitterness, she dedicated it to the drunk driver.  

Resentment is an emotion that enslaves us to the past. It gives whatever hurt us power over us. Resentment gives extended life to the damage or hurt we experienced. Resentment is based on a way of thinking that implies that I have been treated wrongly and I deserved better. It says, “I’ve been wronged; I deserved better.” When significant losses or hurts control us we can easily slip into cycles that move from expectation to  disappointment to despair to  more resentment.

Anger, bitterness …… idolatry

The spiritual consequences of withholding forgiveness are significant. We must not gloss over the urgent warning from our Lord where He said,

“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).

Lack of forgiveness is one of the primary reasons why many followers of Christ are not experiencing the joy and fulness of life in Christ. A little root of bitterness is both personally troubling and poisonously infectious. When hurt by others, we become vulnerable to anger. Angry people are vulnerable to bitterness.

God pictured anger as a vicious animal looking to pounce its’ prey (Genesis 4:6-7). When anger turns into bitterness it comes with new levels of control and bondage. Bitter people are particularly difficult to help.  We must deal with our anger before it becomes bitterness (see: Hebrews 12:15; Ephesians 4:26-27).

Bitterness for many people has become a form of idolatry that rules their hearts in place of God. If we desire freedom, we must see bitterness as a protective mechanism we use to guard our cherished resentments. As hard as it might be, we must confess bitterness as idolatry.

A bad attitude toward God?

Sometimes the resentments we hold trace a subtle line to God. We think about how God could have changed things and become resentful that He let us get hurt. I’ve met people who stay connected with Christian community while concealing their attitude toward God behind a veneer of expected Christian happiness. When I travel and teach about forgiveness, I am typically approached with general questions about “why God would allow…?” As I probe, more than once I’ve discovered that their questions are connected to deeply personal stories of pain.

We must not take lightly the dangers of allowing our hearts to become resentful toward God. The father in the book of Proverbs warned his son about allowing a bad attitude toward God. ”My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves” (Proverbs 3:11-12).

The father wisely offered advanced notice to his son that life will not always turn out the way you think it should. After instructing his son to trust God with all of his heart and acknowledge God in all of his ways (proverbs 3:5-6), he warns him that when trials and hardships come, temptation will be there to grow resentful toward God. Many centuries later, a writer in the New Testament treated this father’s advice as God’s enduring word to first century believers (see Hebrews 12:1-15). They too stood in danger of misunderstanding their hardships (i. e. hostile treatment from sinful men (Hebrews 12:7) and becoming resentful and bitter toward God.

Questions for discussion

  1. Do you carry any unresolved resentments?
  2. Who do you resent?  Any names come to mind?
  3. What do you resent?  Circumstances: past or present?

Finish these sentences:

  • I really resent the fact that ______________________
  • I struggle with resentment toward _________________
  • I guess I will never or always_____________________” (missed opportunity/altered circumstances)

For deeper reflection

Two of the most common obstacles to spiritual growth (and often to receiving God’s gift of salvation) are resentment and anger. But how can we be free from resentment, anger and an unforgiving spirit? The ultimate way out of unforgiveness, resentment and anger is to meditate deeply and often on the greatness of God’s forgiveness of your sins— on the gospel of grace.

Please consider the following resources:

 Steve Cornell

Their sense of need is not so deep as it ought to be


I’ve been thinking a lot about the way J. C. Ryle explained the lack of fervency in prayer. I believe what he wrote applies more widely to the whole life of the follower of Jesus Christ.

“How is it that many true believers often pray so coldly? What is the reason that their prayers are so feeble, wandering and lukewarm, as they frequently are? The answer is very plain: their sense of need is not so deep as it ought to be. They are not truly alive to their own weakness and helplessness, and so they do not cry fervently for mercy and grace. Let us remember these things. Let us seek to have a constant and abiding sense of our real necessities. If saints could only see their souls as the ten afflicted lepers saw their bodies, they would pray far better than they do.” ~ J.C. Ryle Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke volume 2 , [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1986], 232. 

This is the core problem in our overall lack of spiritual focus and love for God. We need “a constant and abiding sense of our real necessities.”  Our “sense of need is not so deep as it ought to be.” We are not “truly alive to our own weakness and helplessness.” Why is it that we do not “cry fervently for mercy and grace”? 

Why is it that circumstances must often become the tool to remind us of what should be self-evident? Why do we forget how desperate we are without God’s sustaining grace and interventions of mercy? Why do we tend to focus mostly on the things which are seen and lose sight of the things which are not seen? Why do we seem to so easily to set our affections on things on earth and not things in heaven?

How would Ryle’s recommendation be a cure for these tendencies?

Steve Cornell


A Chief Repenter — in the making

I recently read an interview of a leader who stated that his job description included a requirement to be the Chief Repenter of the organization. I am about to take a stab at this by doing a little repenting of my own. Stay with me as I explain.

Those of you who follow this blog notice that I haven’t written anything for about a week. There’s a reason (excuse?) for this and a lesson I learned in the process.

I just returned home from 10 days in Florida. The weather was amazing and we enjoyed special time with family members who live in the Sunshine State. We ended our time there with four days and five nights at Disney World! I am sure we walked about 50 miles racing through the four theme parks and a few other places. 

I must say that Disney does an outstanding job attending to detail. They’ve got that place down to a mind dazzling system and they strive for excellence on every level. They also aim for the best customer service in all they do! Well, almost all. The hotel we stayed at (one well-chosen by my wife — affectionately known as Bargain Becky), did not have wireless internet and I even had to stand by the window to get a clear connection on my iphone (I hear the violins).

“Surely this can’t be!” I thought (and said). I went down to the information desk to explain the problem and they apologized, assuring me that wireless will be coming in the near future. (Like tomorrow? I thought) “Perhaps by next year,” they said. Noticing my perplexity, they offered me half off the 10 dollar PER DAY charge for Ethernet connection. They didn’t even have wireless in the lobby (or, so they said). They told me that their Hotel was last among the Disney Resorts to get wireless connection (And how long has wireless been around?).

In our room, there was a bag with a cord to plug into a telephone line, my lap top and iPad had no provision for it. If I had my lap top from 10 years ago, I could have connected! I really couldn’t believe it. Disney, of all places!

The man said, “I shouldn’t really tell you this but you could sit in the lobby of one of the other hotels and connect wirelessly.” Then he kindly reminded me that old man Walt Disney didn’t even want televisions in the rooms because he wanted to encourage family fun time at the theme parks. When I asked to see the old guy — no, I didn’t do that! Very well, I thought, “let the family fun time at the Parks begin!” Are you sensing a bad attitude in the works? I told myself that a bit of a break from technology (except for some iphone time while waiting in line for rides) would do me some good! Did I mention the 50 miles we walked? 

Don’t misunderstand, it really wasn’t that hard to break from the technology but all together, I allowed myself to get a little bit of a bad attitude (OK, it was more than a little bit!) I didn’t show it to the Disney staff (after all, I am a pastor) but I let someone more important get a front row seat – my thoughtful wife who worked hard to plan our time. 

Wait! Did I say, “I allowed myself to get a little bit of a bad attitude”? What a lame way to acknowledge my sin! Call me the Lame Repenter if I go this route. It’s so easy to use language of distance when it comes to talking about my own sins.

Surely I didn’t choose to be in a bad mood, did I? Yes, I did. But have you ever noticed how it works? Little things start to bother you. There I go again! Let me rephrase this. “I chose to allow little things to bother me.” Then my bad mood became a grid through which I assess things and people. Before you know it, I became miserable company to be with — because of how I was choosing to see things. Or, I chose to be miserable company.

As I said, my wife worked hard to plan our time and understandably began to feel that I was upset with her arrangements. As my mood gained momentum, (as I chose to be in a bad mood), it wasn’t just the internet issue. The hotel we stayed in was really clean and comfortable with more than one needs for a nice stay. But it was the most kid friendly place you could imagine – perfectly designed for young families. I, however, was on vacation with my wife — not with kids. The pools (there were a number of them) didn’t even have hot tubs! Imagine that! Of course, kids can’t be in hot tubs. We have two grand children on the way and (yes, I said it): “This would make a great place to take them someday.”

To make matters worse, on one of our outings, we passed through the Grand Floridian Hotel – Disney’s best. “Ah,” I said, “Now this is the kind of place I could stay in!” Well, as you might imagine, my comment wasn’t well-timed. After suggesting that I must have been switched at birth, I was told that I might have to get another job if I wanted to afford a place like the Floridian. “Another job?” I thought. “I resent that — but maybe she’s right! Maybe I don’t make enough money.” I am sure you know that this thought process was not going in a good direction! Nor was our couple time.

And if you’re thinking, “What a big baby you were being!” You’re right! I wave my white flag and confess that I was very wrong on many levels. Where was the attitude of gratitude that brings joy into all of life? I knew what Scripture taught but I kept collecting my excuses (but perhaps, at the time, I preferred to call them “reasons”).

Why is it that I can easily identify the excuses others use for their sins but comfortably rationalize my own?

I thought of biblical statements about people being “without excuse” (Romans 1:20-21). Romans 2:1 says, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”

The greek for “no excuse” is  ναπολόγητος (anapologētos). The old translations render it: “Inexcuseable.” This word is also related to the word we use for apologetics — πολογία, “speaking in defense.”

Have you ever noticed how easily we build a case or a defense to justify how we feel when we allow a bad mood. And it’s a little scary (and embarrassing too) how much we can gather into our defense. 

But the important thing is refusing to stay in a crabby mood and naming it as sin. Gratefully, it was out of the norm for me to allow such a cloud to stay over my head. But this time it was strangely difficult because it took me longer than usual to shake it.

During times like these we learn and grow. I know I did and it led to some deep and important conversations between us as a couple. In fact, although we’ve been married for almost 30 years, we learned things about each other in ways we didn’t previously understand. It proved to be a very helpful and encouraging time for us.

On a personal level, I realize that part of my job involves being strong for others in many circumstances. I walk with people through the highest joys of life and through the deepest sorrows. This means that I must allow emotional margin for myself. It’s all too easy for ministry leaders to take on a Messiah complex. But there is only one Messiah. Only Jesus Christ is “the Shepherd and Overseer” of our souls (I Peter 2:25).

We ended up having a very nice time in Florida (but did I say that I liked the Grand Floridian?). I am continuously amazed at God’s grace and how patiently He teaches us to follow Him in all things. I am also deeply grateful for a wife who has been sacrificial in her support of me and who so often put her own feelings aside for others. We’ve shared an amazing and challenging journey of 27 years of planting and pastoring one Church and raising four great kids.

A Chief Repenter in the making,

Steve Cornell

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (I Timothy 1:15).

To young leaders and Christian counselors (pt 2)

Five examples of counseling from real-life cases

I ended my first post to young leaders by emphasizing that Christian counselors have a unique advantage of being holistically honest in dealing with human problems. We know that God has made us physical, social, psychological and spiritual beings. We also recognize important connections between three dimensions of personhood: emotion, intellect and volition (will).

In counseling others, we don’t have to discount any part or dimension of humanity and this protects us from simplistic reductions of behavior to one-dimensional sources and solutions. 

We also know (from Scripture and pervasive empirical evidence) that the most corrupting and alienating force in the world (sin) has affected each dimension of life. As a result, we know that any one of these dimensions can profoundly affect the others and that each one should be considered in resolving the problems of life in a fallen world. The Christian counselor should use the widest lens for understanding human behavior.

Yet my concern in this series of posts is a tendency among young Christian leaders (and some approaches to Christian counseling) to reduce life to the spiritual dimension by applying overly simplistic spiritual formulas to more complicated, multi-dimensional issues.

My personal journey

Most of my early training in counseling fit a model sometimes called behaviorism. This theory tends to reduce people’s problems to behavioral choices. On this view, life is about the human will. People must make better choices. They must choose to obey God. When faced with decisions about right and wrong, they simply must do what is right and best.

My Type A personality fit well with this model. No excuses! No blame games! Get with it and do the right thing! This also seemed to be the only way to sincerely take God at His word. “Why” I asked, “would God command certain things if it wasn’t possible for some people to do them?” It’s all quite simple and straight-forward! Right? 

Not exactly. Through many years of experience, both as a pastor and as a parent (faced with special challenges), I’ve learned that life isn’t always easily reduced to simple formulas. In fact, ironically (as I will later develop), my superficial understanding of the Bible supported my simplistic notions about life were behind my misdirected thinking.

Five Examples:

Allow me to use five counseling cases as examples of this approach. Each case represents issues I’ve repeatedly counseled. I’ll present each problem as described by a counselee and then present the kind of pastoral responses that illustrate the potential dangers of overly simplistic reduction of life issues.

At first glance (for many readers), the pastoral responses might sound appropriate — even faithful to Scripture. But, as I will demonstrate later, the responses (although using applicable Scriptures), risk oversimplification of life by dealing with people as if they were one dimensional.

Please be patient as I develop my concerns. In presenting each counseling case, I am not trying to take away the appropriate use and application of the Bible to life. Instead, I am advocating a more thorough and accurate application of Scripture based on the multidimensional way God created us.

Let’s look at each scenario:

1. The anxious counselee – “Lately I can’t find a way to control my anxiety. Unexpected waves of anxiety come over me for what seems like no reason at all! Sometimes it is so debilitating that I can’t even do the normal things of the day. Fear and worry seem to control my life.”

Pastoral response: “The fact is that you’re feeling the way you do because you’re choosing to feel that way. The solution is to choose to feel differently by obeying God when he says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). If you want to experience His peace, you must follow this formula. Obey God! You must stop trying to be in control of your life. This is a matter of Lordship. Who will be in charge — you or the Lord?” 

What does the old hymn say? “O what peace we often forfeit all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer!” Have you been praying faithfully about this? Make sure you’re really trusting God to do what He says because Scripture says, “when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:6-7). Remember the command and promise in I Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Are you really doing that and trusting Him?

2. The depressed counselee - “I am not sure why I feel so discouraged. I feel like a dark cloud just follows me wherever I go.” Sometimes I find it hard to even do the basic things of life because I feel too depressed.”  

Pastoral response: “You’re feeling the way you do because you’re choosing to feel that way and the solution is to choose to feel differently by obeying God when he says, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). God even tells us to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds…” (James 1:2).

Counselee: “The thing is, pastor, I know all of those verses and I try really hard to apply them, but the dark cloud won’t go away. Then I just add guilt to my depression for not obeying Scripture. I don’t know what to do.”

Pastoral response: “Are you sure you’re not just using your ‘dark cloud’ as an excuse? Surely God didn’t mean, “Count it all joy unless you have a dark cloud that won’t go away!” You need to search your heart about your motives. You know, ‘the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart’ (Hebrews 4:12).”

3. The confused counselee -Our son just won’t obey us. We discipline him diligently and he just returns to the same behavior. It’s driving us crazy and discouraging him. Someone recommended that he might have ADHD or something. He does seem to have way too much energy. We don’t know what to do.”

Pastoral response: “Remember that Scripture says, ‘Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him’ (Proverbs 22:15). Our sin nature shows itself in rebellion. You have to deal firmly with rebellion. And watch out for people who blame sin on things like ADHD. We should probably change ADD to BAD. Let’s put responsibility where it belongs. The blame it on the brain psychobabble of the world contradicts the Word of God. Parenting is hard work. You have to keep with it and trust God for the results. You didn’t think it was supposed to be easy did you?”

4. The angry counselee – “Pastor, my husband has a severe anger problem. He can go a week or two without blowing up but then he explodes and sometimes it scares me.” “She’s telling the truth” the husband admits. “Sometimes,” he says, “I am blindsided by my own anger. I want to control it but is seems to take over my life and control me.” 

 Pastoral response: “Well the first step to overcoming sin is admitting you have it in your life. The Bible clearly teaches that, ‘human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires’ (James 1:20). In fact, it says, ‘In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold’ (Ephesians 4:26-27). By letting anger control your life, you’re giving the devil and opportunity to ruin your relationships. You have a choice to make here. Will you listen to your anger or listen to God?”

Counselee: “You’re right, pastor, I know that I just have to tray harder. But to be honest, sometimes, I think there’s something wrong with me at some deeper level. I feel like I can’t get control of my life. I just need to see it as sin and try harder.”

Pastor: “Yes, you do need to name your anger as sin. The Bible says, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness’ (I John 1:9). It doesn’t say, ‘If we make excuses…’ does it? But it’s not all about you being in control. You must admit that you don’t have the strength and ask God for the strength. The Bible says to ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding’ (Proverbs 3:5). You can’t please God in the strength of your flesh. Only the Holy Spirit can give you the strength you need. When you begin to feel angry pray for strength at that moment to overcome it. God will help you. I’ll pray for you too.”

5. The betrayed counselee -Pastor, when my wife and I met, neither one of us were walking with God. Our relationship was very physical when we were dating. In fact, my wife was very aggressive in this area. But that didn’t last long into marriage. In fact, she seems to have no interest in sex. I almost feel betrayed. It feels like she used sex to get me to marry her, but now that we’re married, she isn’t interested in sex. I’ve told her how I feel but she doesn’t say much. It’s almost like there’s some deeper issue going on in her life.”

“I admit,” the wife responded, “I thought sex was how you got men to be interested in you. But that whole area of life is messed up for me. I really don’t like to talk about it.”

Pastoral response: “When you get married, you have a responsibility to meet each other’s physical needs for affection and fulfillment of sexual desires. Men and women approach sex differently but that can’t be used as an excuse for not meeting each other’s needs. The Bible is very clear about this and attaches a strong warning for those who fail, ‘The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control’ (I Corinthians 7:3-5).”

“Do you want to give Satan an opportunity to tempt your husband? You need to see this as a matter of obedience to God. If your husband is not putting unreasonable demands on you, you need to think about his needs in this area. Scripture says, ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others’ (Philippians 2:3-4). Your husband is responsible to love you as Christ loved the Church and you must see to it that you respect your husband. By withholding sex from him, you are disrespecting him and failing to meet your marital obligations according to God’s word.”


On the surface, the pastoral responses might appear to be appropriate. Certainly all of the Scriptures have some application to the issues. But, in my next post, I will explain why the pastoral responses are potentially superficial, inadequate and possibly even harmful.

Steve Cornell 

See Part 3


The attack against your mind:

Pay close attention when the same New Testament author uses that same word to address the same subject in the same book. This is the case in II Corinthians in the connection between the mind (νοηματα) and spiritual conflict. First notice the use of the word in the context of spiritual warfare in II Corinthians 10:4-5. The next three appearances use the word with specific mention of the activity of Satan. The battle is for the mind. Satan targets the mind but God by his Spirit renews the mind.

II Corinthians 10:4-5 Spiritual Warfare described:

“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments (λογισμους) and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought (νοημα) to make it obedient to Christ.”

II Corinthians 2:11

In order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes (νοηματα).

II Corinthians 4:3-4

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds (νοηματα) of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel…”  (Cf. II Cor. 3:14-16)

II Corinthians 11:3

But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds (νοηματα) may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. (see also: Romans 12:3 with I Timothy 3:6)

Transformation of the mind:

Romans 12:2a

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (νοος).

Ephesians 2:23

You were taught, …..to be made new in the attitude of your minds (νοος).

Romans 13:14

“Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about (προνοιαν) how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” Πρόνοιαν (pronoian) — provisionary way of thinking. “make no provision for the flesh” (NASB) “don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires” (NLT)

Too often we apply these verses narrowly to sexual temptation. But the works of the flesh include other evils. Consider:

Galatians 5:19-21-

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.

8 acts of the sinful nature on this list are relationship sins!

How does one make pro-visionary thinking for hatred or jealousy or envy? What mind-set or perspective allows for these sins? To overcome sinful attitudes, actions and emotions, one must see things differently. One must “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” How does an appropriation of Christ to one’s life offer a different way of thinking? How does it provide a gospel-based construal that counter veils the way of wrong way of thinking? All of this relates to both the assault against the mind by Satan and the renewal of the mind by God.

Connecting heart and mind:

The heart as a storage bin

“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”
(Luke 6:45, NIV)

“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23, NLT).

How things get into the heart

1. Upbringing – your 18 year factor:

2. Specific trials or ongoing challenges

3. Physical sources or limitations

4. Sinful and selfish condition of our hearts (Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9-10)

5. Stuff we put there: the eye is a gate to the heart. The Bible emphasizes the eye as a primary source of temptation  (Gen. 3:6;Josh. 7:20-21;II Sam. 11; Matt. 5:28; Eph. 1:18-21)

The Mind and the heart:

The mind reinforces or challenges the things stored in our hearts. To change behaviors, attitudes and emotions, we must change ways of thinking—perspective, construls. Allow God to transform you by changing the way you think. (Scripture transforms our thinking).

Steve Cornell


“Human life is fundamentally a life of the mind. The posture of the mind determines so much about the character of an individual’s life” (Robert C. Roberts, Spirituality and Human Emotion, p. 26).

“Because emotions are construals, and construals always require some ‘terms,’ — to succeed in dispelling an emotion, I must somehow get myself to cease to see the situation in one set of terms, and probably must get myself to see it in different terms.” (R. Roberts)