Take a “horizontal” look around you and consider, “How should I speak to my fellow Christians?” That’s an important question, but admittedly an abstract one, so let’s zoom closer from 30,000 feet to Main Street where you actually live, move, and speak to very specific Christians in very specific moments:


· To your spouse during dinner on Tuesday evening

· To your teenager riding shotgun as you run errands on Saturday morning

· To that person in your small group who opens up to you over coffee at Starbucks


Let’s begin to answer the “horizontal” question by taking a “vertical” look above us and consider, “How does God speak to me and to my fellow Christians?” From Scripture we find the answer, and one of my counseling professors, Dr. Mike Emlet, helpfully sums up its teaching this way: “Scripture reveals that God ministers to his people as:


· Saints who need confirmation of their identity in Christ,

· Sufferers who need comfort in the midst of their affliction, and

· Sinners who need challenge to their sin in light of God’s redemptive mercies.”*


If God sees us from this threefold perspective and moves toward us to speak to this threefold need, then we should do likewise in our conversations with one another. Imagine the church coming into her own, progressively imaging God as each of us learns to speak a Bible-shaped Word (“truth”) in a Bible-shaped way (“love”) toward these Bible-shaped ends (“grow”). It’s what the church should be, can be, and will be by the grace that Jesus gives: “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him” (Ephesians 4:15).


But let me focus your reflections on your everyday conversations still more. As you consider this triad of biblical categories—“saint, sufferer, and sinner”—which of these lenses tends to control the way you see and speak to God’s people around you? Each of these perspectives on our Christian experience is obviously important, but my sense is that—dare I say it?—our conversations with one another often suffer from a grave imbalance: “sinner” gets the most airtime, “sufferer” runs a distant second, and “saint” gets little to no mention at all.


Note carefully: In a post like this, I can’t say everything whenever I try to say something, so please don’t misunderstand and shout me down as minimizing our deepest struggle with sin and our painful struggle with suffering. Here, I simply want to highlight a ministry priority that can get overlooked and neglected in the mix.


In my experience, most of the Christians I counsel formally and converse with informally need little convincing that they are “sinners”; they see “the bad” flowing from them, and they grieve it. They also need little reminding that they are “sufferers”; they see “the hard” coming at them, and they are close to sinking under it. What these Christians struggle to see and believe is “the good” that has taken root and is bearing fruit in them, so they need the reassurance that they are “saints” in Christ Jesus in whom the Holy Spirit is actually living and progressively working to transform them into the likeness of Jesus.


Have you noticed how confident and expectant the Apostle Paul is when he ponders this work of the Spirit? “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). And have you noticed how relentlessly he looks for and affirms “the good” that he sees in God’s people—even in those Corinthian believers whom he knows to be up to their ears in shameful sins? Before he confronts “the bad” that he sees, he most often affirms “the good” that he sees (e.g., 1 Corinthians 1:2-9).


I likewise love to look for and affirm “the good” that I see in those Christians I counsel formally and converse with informally. It kindles a person’s “vertical” hope in God and “horizontal” trust in me—two essential ingredients for a helping, caring relationship. Some even find it startling, because they’ve been repeatedly pounded with proofs of their sins, without someone ever spotting and voicing signs of their growth in grace. I also find that Christians are more willing to open up and discuss “the hard” in their sufferings and “the bad” in their sins when they know I also see and celebrate “the good” that God is working in and through them.


No wonder God would have us mimic his wise and loving method! Would you join me? This week, make it your priority to catch that Christian in front of you doing something good. And when you see it, take time to enjoy it, and make sure you speak it!



* Michael R. Emlet, “Loving Others as Saints, Sufferers, and Sinners (Part 1),” Journal of Biblical Counseling 32, no. 1 (2018): 35.


Book Recommendations

Saints, Sufferers, and Sinners: Loving Others as God Loves Us by Michael R. Emlet

Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love by Edward T. Welch

Biblical counselors and CCEF colleagues Mike Emlet and Ed Welch, each in a book of their own, unpack still more what it looks like to walk alongside “saints, sufferers, and sinners” in wise love. Must reads!