Christian Counseling

Lessons for Counselors from the Pauline Epistles

April 12, 2024
5 minute read
Lessons for Counselors from the Pauline Epistles

When we first meet Saul (later Paul), he is zealous against the Christian church – hunting down Christians and killing them. He (mistakenly) thought Christianity was an affront to Jewish beliefs. Do you see counselees who are zealous against the church? We can help them “renew their mind”! This is explained in the section titled “Paul’s Calling”.Because new believers are not firm in their understanding of Christianity and the Christian life, Christ expects new believers to be discipled and built up in their faith. They should come to “Know What They Believe and Why”. Leaders in the church should be soundly grounded in the faith. Paul, and other leaders, went through a time of preparation before being given leadership roles. Do you see counselees who need further grounding in “Knowing What They Believe and Why”? Learn more about this in the section titled “Paul’s Preparation”.If we are to be discipling believers (counseling could be considered “intensive discipling”), the question becomes – what should we be teaching them? Paul’s messages in Acts and his letters in the Pauline Epistles instruct us on living the Christian Life. You will find a few of these subjects in the section titled “Paul’s Teaching”. There is a reference to a book given in that section that identifies 134 topics that could be taught. What we see is that Paul taught the same topics to different audiences – so we understand these are common topics for all of us for all time.As we listen to people in our early sessions, occasionally we will find that they do not understand who Christ is, why it is important to follow Him, or even how to be saved. Others sometimes are not sure of their salvation. In either case, it is important for them to make sure they are saved – that their faith and trust is in Jesus Christ. That they know for sure – 1 John 5:13.For those who are sure, we must answer the question “What does Christ expect from a Christian?”.I’ve put suggestions to answer these two situations at the bottom to help think through the questions that might arise. These two sections are titled “Take Away for those unsaved or not confident of their salvation” and “Take Away for those confident of their assurance of salvation (1 John 5:13)”

Paul’s Calling1

Consider the following questions:Who is the most unlikely person you know who might ever be saved? Why?How would you react if this person were to be saved?Of all the Bible characters, who is the most unlikely person to ever be saved? Why?What was different about Saul’s calling and ours?What was unusual about Saul’s response to Jesus? (See Acts 9:5)Why did Ananias resist the Lord’s command? (See Acts 9:13)Let’s look at Saul’s conversion experience.

Paul and the Road to Damascus

On the road to Damascus, God called a hater of Christians to become an apostle of Jesus Christ. What happened to Paul is important for all Christians.The first time we meet Saul of Tarsus (who was later called Paul), he was part of the group who was killing Stephen for preaching about Jesus (Acts 7:57-60).Not only did Paul think this faithful man deserved to die, he thought everyone who followed the way of Jesus Christ should be arrested and possibly face the death penalty as well.

Persecuting the Church

Paul then “made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison” (Acts 8:3). Members of the Church in Jerusalem fled to other areas to try to escape from Paul.But he got permission to chase after them, even to Damascus! Paul would be able to arrest Christians there and drag them the long 140 miles back to Jerusalem.Paul was the enemy of the Christians. He was probably the one they feared the most.But then came a miraculous event that drastically changed the course of Paul’s life.

On the road to Damascus

“As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’“And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ (Acts 9:5)“Then the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads’” (Acts 9:3-5). A goad was a sharp stick used to prod cattle to move, so Jesus was telling him it was foolish to resist—that he was being like a stubborn ox in continuing to persecute Jesus’ followers despite the misgivings he must have been feeling.In an instant, Paul’s whole point of view changed. He now knew that Jesus had come back to life and was his Master. Even though Paul was blinded by the light, for the first time he could really see. He had been blind spiritually, but God was beginning to open his eyes.

Paul’s response

“So he, trembling and astonished, said, ‘Lord, what do You want me to do?’“Then the Lord said to him, ‘Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do’” (verse 6). Paul’s companions, who had seen the light but hadn’t heard the words he heard (Acts 22:9), had to lead Paul by the hand. For three days he couldn’t see, and he didn’t eat or drink.Meanwhile, God broke the surprising news to a Christian named Ananias. God told Ananias to go to find “Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision, he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight” (verses 11-12).

Ananias response

Ananias was stunned! Had he heard correctly?“Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name” (verses 13-14).Paul repented, was baptized, received the gift of God’s Holy Spirit and accepted the mission God gave him. He made a complete U-turn in his life. But God reassured Ananias that this was really part of His plan. He had an important mission for Paul. However, Paul, who had caused many people to suffer, would also have to suffer many things for the sake of Christ’s name.Paul repented, was baptized, received the gift of God’s Holy Spirit and accepted the mission God gave him. He made a complete U-turn in his life.

Paul’s ministry

“Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God” (verse 20). He began teaching the things that he would have killed others for saying just a few days before! No wonder “all who heard were amazed” (verse 21).Paul’s calling on the road to Damascus became an important part of his story. The Bible records him telling it in detail to an angry crowd in Jerusalem (Acts 22:1-21). He told it again when defending himself before King Agrippa and the Roman governor Festus (Acts 26:1-23)Paul also wrote often about the importance of God’s calling for every Christian. Each follower of Christ has a unique story of God’s calling, but essentially Christians have the same calling. As Paul wrote, God “has saved us and called us with a holy calling” (2 Timothy 1:9).

Paul’s Preparation2

When considering people God calls, we see that He equips them for their service. In listing the qualifications for pastors and deacons (and those aspiring to those positions) the Bible says in 1 Timothy 3:6 (NASB) “and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.” Leaders should have some spiritual maturity in their life. We see this, by experience, as we look at the lives of other leaders in the Bible.Consider the following men, used by God, who went through a period of training. What do we know about the preparation for ministry of the following men?

  1. Moses – 40 years on Mount Sinai
  2. Jesus – 40 days in the desert
  3. The Disciples – 3 years with Jesus daily
  4. Paul – 3 years training with Jesus (the Word) – just like other Disciples

“I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus” (Galatians 1:11–24, esp. vv. 16–17).Paul begins Galatians by saying that he was sent by Christ and the Father, and that the other church leaders agreed with him. In Galatians 1:11–2:10, he expands on these two points.He begins in verses 11 and 12 by saying that the Gospel he preached was not devised by human wisdom, nor had he received it from the other apostles; rather, he was taught it directly by Jesus Christ Himself. He continues by reminding them that he had been trained in and was fanatically devoted to the erroneous traditions of Judaism. When God called Paul on the Damascus road, he was commissioned to preach the Gospel of Christ.Paul said that when Christ called him, he did not go to Jerusalem to receive instruction from the apostles. Rather, he retired into Arabia for a time and not until three years later did he go to Jerusalem. Even then, the only apostle he met was Peter, and the only other leader he met was James, the presiding elder of the Jerusalem church. It has often been remarked that Paul clearly implied that he spent three years being taught by Jesus Himself (1:12), either directly or (perhaps more likely) through the study of the Word. Thus, like the other apostles, Paul studied with Christ for three years before beginning his ministry (compare Acts 1:21).Thus, Paul established for the Galatians that he received the Gospel by the same means as the other apostles —directly from Jesus. Fourteen years after his conversion, he had occasion to go to Jerusalem and there he met privately with the leaders, including the apostles Peter and John (2:1–10). He reports to the Galatians that they compared notes and found that there was absolutely no difference between what he had been teaching for eleven years in Antioch and what the apostles had been teaching in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. There never had been a problem, nor was there one currently, between Paul’s message and the teaching of the Jerusalem church.The point Paul is making to the Galatians is that there has never been any question about the content of the Gospel. The same Christ taught Peter and Paul, and both men were in complete agreement.

Paul’s Teaching

As we begin to look at Paul’s teaching in the Pauline Epistles, let us consider these questions:How much of the New Testament did Paul record?Do you suppose Paul wrote about similar topics in each of his letters?How many different topics do you guess Paul wrote about?Paul taught verbally in Acts, and then wrote 12 or 13 (depending on your view of the author of Hebrews4) books to the believers and churches in Rome and Asia Minor. One might expect that he taught the same thing to different churches or individuals. In fact, Daniel Zacharias and Rick Brennan identified 134 different topics that Paul wrote about in their book “Parallel Passages in the Pauline Letters”3. Today we are going to look at a few of these. From this I believe we will see that Paul did write the same subject to different groups. Remember, however, that no passage should be read entirely out of its context.Let’s look at a few of these topics that are repeated in multiple places in the Bible. Recall that the topics Paul wrote to believers in his day also apply to us believers today. So, let’s think about how these apply to us.

  1. Gospel Proclamation. Paul describes succinctly the content and proclamation of the Gospel.References: Romans 1:1-6; 1 Corinthians 1:18-24; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; 2 Corinthians 3:14-16; 2 Corinthians 4:1-6; 2 Corinthians 5:11; Colossians 1:24-29; 2 Timothy 2:8-10
  2. Encouragement. Paul delights in the positive reports and encouragement received from believers.References: Romans 1:8; Philippians 1:3-8; Philippians 4:10; Colossians 1:3-8; 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20; 1 Thessalonians 3:6-13; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4
  3. Thanksgiving. Paul offers thanks to God for the receivers of the letter.References: Romans 1:8-10; 1 Corinthians 1:4-9; Philippians 1:3-11; Colossians 1:3-8; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-6; Philemon 4-7
  4. Concern for Believers. Paul expresses his affection and concern for the believers receiving the letter.References: Romans 1:11-14; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 1 Corinthians 4:14-21; 2 Corinthians 1:17; 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-6
  5. Standing Strong. Paul discusses the afflictions that believers undergo and the striving and training for proclaiming the Gospel, even in the midst of opposition.References: Acts 14:22; Acts 20:26-27; Acts 21:13: Romans 1:13-15; Romans 8:33-39; Romans 15:30-31; 1 Corinthians 15:32; 2 Corinthians 1:8-11; 2 Corinthians 4:8-11; 2 Corinthians 4:15-18; Philippians 1:18-26; 1 Timothy 4:6-10; 2 Timothy 2:1-7; 2 Timothy 3:10-17; 2 Timothy 4:16-18
  6. Joy in Repentance. Paul discusses the support of the community, expressing both appreciation and desire for any necessary repentance.References: Romans 5:3-5; 2 Corinthians 6:11-12; 2 Corinthians 7:2-16; Philippians 1:3-8; Philippians 4:10-14; 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:5; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-6; Philemon 4-7
  7. Spiritual Warfare. Paul discusses spiritual powers and spiritual warfare and how believers should understand and respond.References: Romans 8:9–11; Romans 8:26–27; Romans 8:38–39; 2 Corinthians 4:3–4; 2 Corinthians 6:6–7; 2 Corinthians 10:3–5; Ephesians 1:19–21; Ephesians 2:1–3; Ephesians 2:1–3; Colossians 2:18–20; Ephesians 6:10–20; Colossians 1:10–13; Colossians 1:10–13; Colossians 2:14–15;1 Thessalonians 5:8–11; 2 Timothy 2:19–21
  8. God’s Election. Paul explains God’s choice of the elect to salvation.References: Romans 8:28-30; Romans 9:6-29; Romans 10:19-21; Romans 11:28-36; Ephesians 1:3-14; Ephesians 2:1-10; Colossians 1:26-28; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14
  9. The Love Commandment. The law is summed up in the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” From this commandment, Paul urges believers to root all their actions in love.References: Romans 12:9-10; Romans 13:8-10; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; 1 Corinthians 16:13-14; Gal 5:6, Gal 5:12-15, Gal 5.22; Ephesians 5:2; Colossians 3:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12; 1 Timothy 1:5
  10. Do Not Judge. Because judgment belongs to God, believers should abstain from judging one another. Ultimately every person will give an account before God.References: Romans 14:1-13; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; 2 Corinthians 5:10-16; Colossians 2:16-19
  11. Accepting One Another. Believers are charged to accept one another, bear one another’s burdens, and strive for unity in Christ.References: Romans 15:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:10-16; 1 Corinthians 6:1-11; Ephesians 4:1-6; Philippians 2:1-4; Philippians 4:2-3; Colossians 3:12-15
  12. Commendation of Individuals. Paul commends an individual to the readers, or in the case of 2 Timothy 1 he praises Timothy directly.References: Romans 16:1-2; 1 Corinthians 16:10-12; 2 Corinthians 3:1-3; 2 Corinthians 8:16-23; Philippians 2:19-30; 1 Timothy 1:18-19; 2 Timothy 1:3-5; 2 Timothy 1:16-18; Philemon 8-20
  13. Commendation. Paul discusses his own commendation and commends other workers of the Gospel.References: Romans 16:1-2; 1 Corinthians 4:6-7; 2 Corinthians 3:1-6; Philippians 2:19-24; Philippians 3:4-8
  14. Unity. Paul commends his fellow workers and appeals for unity.References: Romans 16:1-3; 2 Corinthians 8:23; Philippians 1:27-30; Philippians 2:2; Philippians 4:1-3;
  15. Standing Firm. Encouragement for the believers to stand firm, particularly in the teaching received.References: 1 Corinthians 15:58; Galatians 5:1; Ephesians 4:14-15; Ephesians 6:10; Philippians 1:27-30; Philippians 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 2 15-17

Take Away for those confident of their assurance of salvation (1 John 5:13)

  1. Jesus thought these (and other) principles were important and taught them to the Disciples and to Paul. Paul thought these principles were important and taught them to the churches he started in Asia Minor. If these principles are important to Jesus, they should be important to us. Are they important to you?
  2. If our goal in life is to be pleasing to God (and it should be), and if what God expects of his believing family is obedience (and He does); then our applying these principles to our life is pleasing God. Are we trying our best to please God?
  3. Once saved, our journey on earth is to be growing to be more like Christ (progressive sanctification). Are you consciously working on change and growth in an area of your life? If not, pick one of these 15 areas and work on growing more like Christ in that area of your life.

Take Away for those unsaved or not confident of their salvation

  1. It is extremely important that you know for sure you have been saved from sin and united with Christ. If there is any doubt, then reaffirm your faith now. Know for sure. We see a strong warning in Matthew 7:21-23 where Jesus says, "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'
  2. Today is the day for your salvation, do not delay, now is the right time (2 Corinthians 6:2; Isiah 49:8). There are no assurances of tomorrow. We do not know. There is a day coming when Jesus returns and the opportunity for salvation will become harder. Why wait? Would you want to be the person who waited one day too long?
  3. Turn to the one true God, for there is no other god who save. (Isiah 45:22)
  4. There is a time coming when every knee will bow to God. At that time there will be a great division among humanity. Those who do not know God will go to hell. (Isiah 45:23, Romans 14:1, Philippians 2:10, Revelation 4-22)
  5. Be very confident of your salvation. If you have doubts, why not make sure now? (1 John 5:13)
  6. If, after reading this section you are not sure or are unsaved; now is the time for your salvation. Please read and follow the thinking through these following verses:Romans 3:10 - none righteousb. Romans 3:23 - all sinners – yes, even the author of this article!5c. Romans 6:23a – consequence of sin – eternal death (separation from God)d. Romans 6:23b – but the free gift – grace – gives eternal lifee. Romans 5:8,9 – God’s love for sinners, saved from wrath - Each person must decidef. Romans 10:9,10 – Confess / Believe -> Savedg. Romans 10:13 – Confess/ Believe – Resultsh. Romans 5:1 – Peace with Godi. Romans 8:1 – No more condemnationj. Romans 8:38,39 – Nothing can separate usk. Romans 11:36 – to Him be the glory forever
  7. If you have confessed with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you ARE SAVED. Read the section above for believers now.
  8. If you have not confessed and/or do not believe, what is hindering you? There are many reasons (excuses?) people will try to use but know that in the end – at the time of accountability – those excuses will not count for anything. Frequently people will believe (wrongly) that living a good clean life will get them into heaven. As we see above – none of salvation is dependent upon good works. It all depends on the grace offered for free by God (though His Son Jesus Christ paid the supreme price by becoming our sacrifice on the cross – giving His life for ours).

----------------------1 adapted from: Mike Bennett, “Paul and the Road to Damascus”, accessed at on April 3,20182 adapted from: Ligonier Ministries, “The Preparation of Paul”, accessed at on April 3, 20183 Source: H. Daniel Zacharias, Rick Brannan, “Parallel Passages in the Pauline Letters”, Lexham Press, 20164 There is some controversy over the authorship of Hebrews. The book itself does not identify the author. Some believe it might be Paul based on the content and writing style in the book.5 the author is a sinner (as the Bible says), now saved by the free gift of grace given to me by the one who is able – Jesus Christ (as the Bible says – a step of faith). I received it as a free gift, not that I deserved it in any manner. The ramifications of that decision would be at least one more article.

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