Three Types of Words Our Counselees Need

Three Types of Words Our Counselees Need

God ordained that people would be saved by words and by faith (Rom. 10:17). It is by words—such as the ones recorded in John 3:16—and by believing in God through words that people experience the new birth and enter into the kingdom of God. What do you ask your words to do in counseling? You have in your toolbox words that reveal, words that descend, and words that transform. May you use your words well as you care for others.

Counseling occurs within conversation, and conversations include different types of words. Some words can be illustrative or explanatory or directive. While a counseling conversation may appear to be a passive exercise, words are always at work, doing the heavy lifting of counseling. If you are a pastor or counselor, what types of words do your counselees hear from you? If you are meeting with someone for discipleship, what are you asking your words to do?

In John 3, Jesus has an eternally memorable conversation with someone who knew a lot about words. Nicodemus had committed his life to studying and memorizing the words God gave to Israel. He was a teacher. He lived in the realm of words—they were his tools. But, in a matter of minutes, Jesus used words to transform the overconfident Pharisee into a baffled and confused student, who would eventually come to follow Jesus.

Jesus uses three different types of words in John 3 in His conversation with Nicodemus. He also shows us three types of words that our counselees need to hear from us in our counseling.

Words that Reveal

Jesus had just disrupted the status quo in Jerusalem by cleansing the temple (John 2:12-22). And His demonstration must have left enough of an impression for Nicodemus to seek Him out for a further conversation. Nicodemus starts out strong: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (v. 2).

Nicodemus’s opening statement is commendable. He honors Jesus, addressing Him as a Rabbi. Instead of taking the approach of the Pharisees and attributing His works to demons (Mark 3:20-30), Nicodemus even acknowledges that Jesus has come from God. Implicitly, he is trying to communicate that, from his perspective, he sees and knows something about Jesus’s ministry and mission.

Jesus, on the other hand, knowing what is within man (John 2:25), does not accept Nicodemus’s olive branch. He responds, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (v. 3). Although Nicodemus thinks he sees and understands Jesus’ works, Jesus knows that true spiritual sight requires spiritual birth, something that Nicodemus hasn’t experienced yet. This direct response from Jesus redirects the conversation as Nicodemus asks a disoriented question about entering the womb again. Jesus continues to talk about the kingdom of God, the Spirit’s work, and the necessity of spiritual rebirth.

Biblical counselors can glean instruction from Jesus’ use of words with Nicodemus. Nicodemus began by explaining the world and Jesus’ ministry as he saw it. Jesus used words to reveal to Nicodemus the spiritual realities underneath the surface of Nicodemus’s perception and intuitions.

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