“They just use the Bible.” I have heard people say that about biblical counseling. I wouldn’t think about the comment except for two things. One, this is not a pat on the back; the word just gives that away. If I heard “they use the Bible,” I would be encouraged and keep at it, but that is not the intent. Two, the question raises a larger question about Scripture’s reach. Is Scripture sufficient? And what does that even mean?
Specifics can help. Since my wife and I just celebrated our thirty-ninth anniversary, I will use marriage, or the growth of an important relationship, as a way to provoke our thoughts on biblical sufficiency.
So, has Scripture been sufficient for the prospering of my marriage?
On the day I married, Scripture said a lot to me. (“A lot” moves us into the orbit of sufficiency.) Like many grooms, I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew something. Love was the order of the day. God’s Word told me that Sheri was mine and I was hers. No day dreaming of other women. I was to live as if all conversations with other women were transmitted back to my wife. Fine barriers, indeed.
Then, after a few days, Scripture seemed insufficient. We were frustrated with each other—over what I have no idea—and I felt stuck. The Spirit and the Word seemed to yield nothing. But, at some point, a little spark of light shone my way. Just a spark. It hardly had a name then, though it came to be named humility. I had heard of it before. I assumed that I had plenty of it, though I thought Sheri could benefit from a little more. It turned out that humility is a reliable guide who held benefits for me, too. Scripture was more sufficient than I thought.
Humility says most everything anyone needs to know about marriage. It is, in a very real way, sufficient. Humility aims to be under rather than over. It hopes to self-examine before it judges others. It listens and is willing to be taught. For me, marriage revealed that my selfish desires were more prominent than I ever knew. Humility taught me how to ask forgiveness: “I have been so wrong. Will you forgive me?” The foundation for this is “Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). Christ convicts us, forgives us, and frees us to walk in humility before others.
And the Spirit and the Word provided helps along the way. I attended church, heard good preaching, asked men to pray for me, took the Lord’s Supper, studied Scripture in a small group, witnessed hundreds of marriages and learned from them all, read dozens of books on marriage, watched my wife’s maturity in Christ, and picked up a few things from TV and movies. Through all these, I have gradually grown. I usually ask forgiveness more quickly, feel the weight of my sin even more than Sheri might feel the weight of my sin, and actually enjoy the process. I hope to be my wife’s servant, as Jesus Christ has served me. That image of love has taken its place in prominence, along with the old standbys of friend, lover, and partner-in-fun.
How does this inform the question of Scripture’s sufficiency in counseling? Sufficiency does not mean that Scripture provides a script for all occasions. That would oppose my dependence on Christ and essentially put me under an endless series of detailed laws. It also doesn’t mean that I keep my nose in Scripture and don’t get help from anywhere else. Instead, I hope to be a desperate learner who looks anywhere for ideas and help. Then I consider those ideas that illustrate true humility and love, and ideas that suit my marriage. Scripture reveals the ways of God and life within his Kingdom. I have tried to absorb those Kingdom ways. Then I improvise, get help, and try to creatively apply the ways of God’s house to my own.
So is Scripture sufficient to guide me into the details of living well, of marital growth, and of counseling wisely? I have entered the question through a particular marital illustration. If I were to enter through the experience of a friend’s schizophrenia, I would expect Scripture to guide me in other ways. But here is the short answer to that question: Scripture gives me all things that pertain to life and godliness in Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:3). It confronts me and comforts me, both at the same time. Scripture itself directs me to people, to careful observations, and even to the study of creation to further grow in faith working through love (Gal 5:6). When I have pursued these yet remained stuck, I have sometimes hoped that Scripture would demonstrate its sufficiency by giving me grand insights that would unlock the mysteries at hand. Scripture did, indeed, give clear direction, but it was not what I expected. It has usually taken me back to that vein of humility wherein there was an even deeper insight: being stuck is a good place to be. When else would I cry out for help and wisdom?