Foundations of Christian Counseling: The Greatest Commandment

And he said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:36-40, ESV)

Introduction

I’ve said before that I consider myself to be Christian who happens to work as a counselor. Such a claim may appear to deemphasize either my being a counselor or a Christian while highlighting the other. That conclusion would be wrong. Reformed Orthodox Christianity forms my worldview, so it is part of everything I do, including my work as a counselor. If the statement deemphasizes anything, it’s the sacred/secular dichotomy. Individuals live and work within the framework of their worldview whether or not they are aware of it. I don’t think of Christian Counseling as a trade name or a brand. I seek by God’s grace to live out my worldview in everything I pursue.

What Christ called The Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:37) provides solid ground for a Christian worldview. I believe it is important for clients to know where I stand and what they might encounter by working with me as their counselor. The worldview by which we live is not something we can set aside at our convenience for a the purpose of expediency.

The Counselor’s Perspective

First of all this Commandment means much more to me than my role as a counselor. It informs the way I should approach all of life in every sphere of engagement. That means spiritually, morally, ethically, and mentally. It pertains to every sphere of life – relationships, work or career, individual pursuits, and setting of priorities. There’s no sacred/secular dichotomy here, no five o’clock world where I clock out on some things and then live another existence. There’s no compartmentalizing of life’s endeavors where my spiritual life is totally divorced from the work I do.

The Commandment calls on the believer to love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. Biblically, these terms are difficult to define in specific ways. The heart is usually thought of as the seat of understanding, as well as the seat of the emotions and will. The soul pertains to what some call the living powers. We are to offer our lives to God. The mind addresses the intellectual life and powers of an individual. Taken all together, the Commandment adjures us to love God with all our powers and faculties, that is with everything that makes us into who we are individually. After all, God created us, not as a mass collective, but as individuals. Hence, The Greatest Commandment calls on us to love God with all that we are.

All of this means that everything I do must be done with this Commandment in mind, including the work I do as a counselor. Although we all have our good and bad days, my hope and prayer is that what individual clients encounter in my office, me, is the person who lives out this Commandment. Because it informs how I engage all of life, it is a bed rock foundation for my worldview. And it means that I am to engage and treat all my clients the way in which God has engaged and treated me. Anything less is not sufficient.

The Client’s Experience

If The Greatest Commandment provides a foundation for the counselor’s worldview, then what does this mean for clients? Responding to the lawyer Christ added a second commandment that he said was like the first: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Seeking to test Jesus, the scribes and lawyers ask him: Who is my neighbor? Jesus then told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). From this parable we are to understand that anyone in need is our neighbor. When clients enter counseling with me, I’m called upon to fulfill this commandment. I am to consider my clients’ needs as important as my own.

This is something that I hope Christian clients, at least to some extent, already understand. A common ground exists between Christian clients and me as their counselor. This is no less true, moreover, for clients who are not believers in Christ. The thing lacking between me and non-Christian clients is that common ground I have with clients who are believers in Christ. I and non-Christian clients may have worldview clashes that play out in values conflicts. This is why it is important that all clients know my worldview before entering counseling with me. Nonetheless, believer or unbeliever, any client who enters my office is my neighbor whose needs I should consider as important as my own.

Conclusion

In his response to the lawyer’s question regarding The Greatest Commandment, Christ concluded: On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. The Greatest Commandment provides a rock solid foundation for a Christian worldview, informing all spheres of life. It is not a foundation merely for work as a counselor, but for all of life itself. A counselor who is a Christian lives and works within the framework of a worldview that he believes to be true – the Truth. As such, I’m to live and work as God has called me to do, and to love my neighbor as myself. Called to understand the agape love of God, I’m called to love my neighbor as God loves me. This I can only do by the power of the Holy Spirit strengthening my inner being. It is not merely a commandment that Christians somehow obey by their own powers and faculties. It calls us to a relationship with the Living God – to know him as Abba Father (Mark 14:36; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). A Christian’s approach to all of life is a spiritual one. The work of counseling, like any other part of life, is a spiritual endeavor.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/May 14th, 2021

PROFESSIONAL COUNSELING