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Welcome back to week 28. We hope the past week has been a blessed one for you. Last week we briefly considered data gathering and its importance in a counseling / discipleship context. This week we will briefly consider homework and its importance in the counseling / discipleship process. Why is homework needed and what kind is needed?

Homework, in general, is important because it takes more than one hour of a counseling session to effect change in a person. Homework is needed so that the counselee can put the biblical solutions learned during the session into practice throughout their week. This week-long effort speeds up the counseling process. 

More importantly, if the counselee just learns data from the session, but is not held accountable to apply that data then he has only intellectualized the data. This is dangerous for the counselee. We should recall this exact issue happening between the best Counselor of all, Jesus, and the rich young ruler (Matt. 19:16-22; Mk. 10:17-27; Lk.18:18-27). 

Here, Jesus gets right to the heart of the young ruler’s problem; his self-righteous idolatry. The young ruler thought he was keeping the law. He thought he was good enough to get into heaven (Matt. 19:20). Jesus exposed that wrong thinking. He told the rich young ruler that he lacked one thing. He needed to go sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow Christ. It was at this request the young ruler went away grieving. Matthew 19:22b says he did this because, “he had much property.” The problem was the young ruler’s idolatry of stuff. He did not see the real issue, but the Counselor helped him see it. The homework was to put repentance of that idolatry into practice, but the young ruler would not do it. If we facilitate that (i.e., giving information without homework), our counselees / disciplees we will have been allowed to become more informed sinners who will be judged more harshly by the Lord (Matt. 10:14-15; 11:21-25; Lk. 10:11-15; James 4:16-17).

At the same time, we can, and should, draw another lesson from this encounter between Jesus and the rich young ruler. Jesus did everything perfect in this scenario. He counseled perfectly, He uncovered the core issue perfectly, He gave the perfect homework, and yet, the young ruler did not do it. He was unwilling. That was not Jesus’ fault. It was the fault of the young ruler. He chose his stuff over an eternity with the Savior. He willingly chose possessions with the cost of eternal punishment. Jesus already knew the man’s heart, but for us, homework helps us further evaluate the counselee’s desire for change. If someone is unwilling to do the homework it’s a clear sign they do not want to change, biblically. The encounter between Jesus and the rich young ruler teaches us that, among many other truths. 

Additionally, homework is needed to uncover more data about the counselee and how he thinks. Homework can help a counselee learn to biblically examine his life. Homework at the beginning of a counseling relationship sets the standard for the relationship. It sets in the counselee’s mind that change is expected by the counselor and can be expected by the counselee if he endures the process. Change is what the counselee wants (although he may be confused about what kind of change), and having a sense that change is possible gives hope.

The kind of homework given should be specific. Homework should be suited to the specific counseling issues at hand. Homework assignments and their specificity should be thought of as a patient sniper whose biblically trained scope is fixed dead-center on the counselee’s sin target. It should not be like a grenade blindly lobbed into an open field.[1] The counselee may miss points in the counseling session due to their emotionality. Clear and specific homework will help keep the counselee on track throughout the week with what is being taught. Specific and clear homework can also be used as a benchmark so that the counselor and counselee can examine the progress (or lack thereof) made throughout each session. Scripture is clear. Homework based on it should be too.   

We hope our short time considering homework and its importance was helpful. Clear and specific homework helps us and the counselee better evaluate his or her heart. Lord willing, next week we will think about the topic of guilt. How does one deal with guilt in the context of counseling? What is “false guilt,” and does it play a part in the counseling picture? Until then may our Lord bless you and keep you.

[1] The Apostle Paul agrees that one should be patience and precise when instructing another in God’s Word (cf. 2 Tim. 4:1-2).

Foundations of Biblical Counseling: Data Gathering Foundations of Biblical Counseling: Guilt