Today on his blog, CJ Mahaney posts an audio excerpt of an interview he did several months ago with author and counsellor David Powlison. In this portion of the interview, CJ asks Mr. Powlison to elaborate on the following quote:
Don’t ever degenerate into giving advice unconnected to the good news of Jesus crucified, alive, present, at work, and returning. —Seeing with New Eyes (P&R, 2003), p. 43.
As I listened Mr. Powlison explain those words, his thoughts were so good and so helpful that I wanted to pass them along to you, the members of Sovereign Grace Church. So below, I have put David Powlison’s explanation of that quote in written form [lightly edited to make for easier reading]. To listen to the audio, you can go to CJ’s blog.
What’s in mind here? If a husband and a wife are at odds and there’s been irritation, backs are up, there’s that huffy feeling, disappointment, and overall just a grumbling darkness over the relationship, well there’s a lot of good advice that can be given, good biblical advice in terms of “lets clarify what we meant,” “lets slow it down,” “lets ask forgiveness for bad attitudes,” “lets make a commitment to listen to one another and not just be defensive.” That’s all good advice. However, the Scriptures themselves never give that kind of advice unhinged from the fact that if I am self-righteous and irritable and God-defensive, that’s not just something happening between me and my wife, there is something happening between me and the Lord God of heaven. Something’s gone astray there that’s leading me to then treat my wife with dishonor. The classic passage on this would be the end of James 3 and the first dozen verses of James 4. In those verses, James is dealing with conflict. He asks, “What causes wars and fightings”–interpersonal conflict and distress and unhappiness and all this? And in reply, you’ll notice that James does not just give you a bunch of tips. I think the tips are implicit, and at the end of chapter 3, it talks about being peaceable and impartial and there’s a lot of things that you can unpack into tips and strategies, but James is after a much bigger game and so the entire passage there from 3:14 to 4:12 is this relentless exposure of the kind of heart defection from God that would lead to wars and fightings. So I can’t in good conscience as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ give people a set of strategies for better interpersonal relationships and not help them see that their bad interpersonal relationships arise from a bad interpersonal relationship with God. And that’s why James is so different from the self-help books in Barnes and Noble or even a well-intended Christian giving good advice in that he is so centered on repentance and faith and humbling yourself before God as the context then for becoming a peaceable, peacemaking, constructive person. So, we aren’t against the good advice by any means. Good advice is how we love each other, reconcile to each other, learn to be a peaceable people, bear a harvest of peace, but God wants a peaceful heart, a peace-filled heart that has found the peace of God through Christ as the basis out of which horizontal peace will be created.