“And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.
(Acts 20:25-27, ESV)
Those are the words of the Apostle Paul that were part of his final address to the Elders of the church at Ephesus, that he summoned to the city of Miletus during his 3rd missionary journey that started in Antioch and then through Asia, Macedonia, Greece, Achaia, and finally to Jerusalem.
Paul traveled to Ephesus during the first half of his missionary trip, remained there for 3 years, then crossed the Aegean Sea to Macedonia, south to Greece and Achaia, then north again to Philippi. From Philippi he again crossed the Aegean Sea and traveled south to Miletus, where he gave his final address to the Ephesian Elders before heading to Jerusalem by way of the Mediterranean Sea, landing at Tyre and taking a land route south to Jerusalem, where his 3rd missionary journey ended. The entire journey is described in Acts, chapters 18 – 21.
Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian Elders is recorded in Acts 20:18-38. In that address Paul:
- presented his life and ministry as an example for the Elders to follow (Acts 20:18-21),
- declared his total dedication to the gospel mission (Acts 20:22-24),
- relinquished his responsibility as their teacher and leader, (Acts 20:25-27), and
- charged the Ephesian Elders to guard the church from wolves (Acts 20:28-29)
After Paul presented his own life and ministry as an example to follow as leaders in the church at Ephesus, he told them that he (Paul) “did not shrink from declaring to you (the Ephesian Elders) the whole counsel of God”, a clear signal that the Elders from Ephesus should also declare to the Ephesian believers the whole counsel of God.
The question that immediately comes to mind is: What did Paul mean by “the whole counsel of God”?
Pastor and teacher John MacArthur defines it as:
“The entire plan and purpose of God for man’s salvation in all its fullness: divine truths of creation, election, redemption, justification, adoption, conversion, sanctification, holy living, and glorification.”
18th Century theologian John Gill defines it as:
“All that God has determined and revealed concerning the salvation of man – the whole doctrine of Christ crucified, with repentance towards God, and faith in Jesus as the Messiah and great atoning Priest.”
The other commentaries I consulted all echoed John MacArthur and John Gill.
Simply put, Paul was about the gospel, the whole gospel, and nothing but the gospel. He left nothing out – NOTHING – none of the ‘hard bits’. He had given them the whole truth about God’s salvation. He had spoken of the immeasurable blessings of salvation (Ephesians 1:3), being made alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:4-6), and the mystery of salvation also being offered to the Gentiles.
He had also spoken of the state of all unbelievers, who are dead in sin and deserving of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:1–3) . He let them know that no amount of works could save them (Ephesians 2:8-9) and that salvation was a matter of repentance and faith.. Based on the opposition that Paul faced during his three years in Ephesus, the Ephesian Elders also knew that they would also face persecution.
Paul also presented a similar challenge to young Pastor Timothy:
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:1-2, ESV).
So what is Paul’s message to us today?
First, like the Ephesian Elders, we should also follow Paul’s example and preach the whole counsel of God. We must preach it in its entirety, leaving nothing out, and leave it up to the Holy Spirit to use His sword as He sees fit (Ephesians 6:17). It is our solemn responsibility to share the complete gospel – the good parts and the ‘hard bits’, “with complete patience and teaching”, and leave the saving of lost souls to God. “He (Jesus) WILL save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21).
Secondly, I draw your attention to Paul’s reason for not neglecting to preach the whole counsel of God – that he would be found innocent if any of the Ephesian to whom he was sent chose to turn away from Christ. He had delivered the complete gospel and had been faithful to God in his ministry.
Lastly, I am prompted to ask myself “Dan, are you being faithful in sharing the whole counsel of God in personal evangelism?
I’ll leave it right there……….
Encouraging for me to be faithful to delivering the Whole Counsel