I was having a conversation with my 7 year old recently about toys. In my unbiased opinion he was showing a great deal of wisdom and self-control regarding finances and his primary idol. He would ask how much the various objects of his affection cost. We would look up the best available price (on my favorite “toy” – my smart phone) and he would tell me whether he thought it was a good deal.
I was impressed with his ability to gauge the value of toys. He was able to recognize overpriced plastic junk and once its value-to-cost ratio was revealed his affection for it subsided. Having him do chores to pay for extra “I wanna’s” and reading him Dave Ramsey bedtime stories (I’m not making that up) was really paying off. I was proud of him and I told him so.
Later that day he tried to apply his financial wisdom to an area of lesser experience – vehicles. We were driving and he said, “Papa, I know why Mama likes her van so much – it was cheap.” At that point I tried to describe the difference between something being “a good value” and it being “cheap.” He replied, “Yes, and Mama’s van was cheap.”
No matter how I tried to explain that a four year old, low mileage vehicle after a model change was “a good value,” all he could understand was that the van was cheap. When he got outside his sphere of experience he instantly transformed from a very wise 7 year old to an ill-informed car buyer (luckily we’ve got nine more years to work on that one).
Things that are obvious with children are often easy to overlook in adults or ourselves. Having a firm grasp and ability to apply a wise principle in one situation does not make one wise in all situations, or even in all situations of a similar nature (in this case, about finances).
I think, as Christians, we can often miss this. (Non-Christians also have their versions of this.) There can be a tendency to think that a timeless biblical principle is applicable to every situation within its subject matter. With this belief, we confidently make a biblical assertion and can’t hear reasons against it. We wind up sounding like my son talking about buying vehicles.
For example, consider conflict between two people. Many Christians will automatically say you should “take the log out of your eye before you take the speck of out the other person’s eye (Matt 7:3-5).” This is a wise and good biblical principle that applies to conflict.
But Scripture also says that “it is to a man’s glory to overlook an offense (Prov 19:11, similar to Matt 7:1-2),” calls us to cease engaging with those who are unwilling to healthily engage in conflict (Matt 7:6 and Prov 26:4), and instructs us to admonish those who are in sin (Col 3:16). Similar examples could be given to various sins, forms of suffering, and relational dynamics.
What is needed to rightly apply these various biblical principles that apply to conflict? The ability to assess which directive best fits a given conflict; which comes through experience. Newlywed couples spend their first months and years trying to figure out how significant their differences are so they know with biblical principles to apply. Those in unhealthy friendships get caught trying to discern which of these applies.
What we see from this is that the sufficiency of Scripture is the foundation, but not the exclusive criteria, for the competency of the counselor. There are also the ability to assess the most relevant variables in a situation and the severity of a given struggle in order to apply the relevant portions of God’s Word.
This does not diminish the relevance or power of God’s Word, but it does highlight one of the key variables involved in “rightly handling the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15).” It reveals the necessity of being able accurately understand/assess/interpret a person and situation as well as you can a biblical text.
As we counsel (offer hope and direction) from the Bible, let us be sure to assess how well we understand the person and situation to be sure that our application of Scripture is wise and doesn’t cause us to sound wise in circumstances we know well and like my 7 year old discussing vehicles in areas we lack experience.