As David Powlison wrote, “Wise counseling [or any form of gospel care] is essentially a way of loving another person well. It is a way of speaking what is true and constructive into this person’s life right now. Good [personal ministry] is essentially wise love in action.” (David Powlison, Speaking the Truth in Love, 5-6).
I love that phrase “wise love in action.” I’m not sure there’s a more concise or accurate description of gospel care. And as we see from these proverbs, wise love is love that seeks and acquires knowledge. Wise love begins with knowing a person.
It must also be said that knowing a person is different from knowing about a person or about their problem. We’re often content to learn some basic facts about a person or about their situation without taking the time to truly know the person as a unique, image-bearing individual. This is a clear indication that we’re more captivated by the problem than we are by the person.
And while that might be all right if you were the person’s mechanic or physician, it falls far short of what you are called to as their friend. Love seeks to know the person.
We see this kind of knowledge-based love modeled repeatedly in the life of Jesus. While people came to him with all sorts of different attitudes, situations, and problems, he was never content to take them at face value. He was always after something deeper.
A Samaritan woman was seeking water when she met Jesus at a well, but he spoke to her out of a deep knowledge of her past and her greatest needs (John 4: 1– 26). A rich young man came to Jesus to justify himself in light of his seemingly godly life, but Jesus confronted him out of a knowledge of the deepest desires of his heart (Matt. 19: 16– 22). A paralytic was brought to Jesus in order that his most obvious problem might be addressed, but Jesus first forgave him out of a knowledge of his most fundamental problem (Matt. 9: 1– 7).
Now, even though Jesus possessed this deep knowledge more easily (and supernaturally) as one who was both fully God and fully man, we are still called to follow his example. For us, this deep personal knowledge is gained through listening patiently, asking good questions, interpreting what we’re told in light of a biblical worldview, and then considering what the person needs most.
Excerpted from Loving Messy People: The Messy Art of Helping One Another Become More Like Jesus by Scott Mehl. Now available for pre-order.