Acts 20: Preaching the Whole Counsel of God

Donald Townsley
Shepherdsville, Kentucky

The apostle Paul, returning from his third preaching journey, stopped at Miletus and sent for the elders of the church at Ephesus. He gave a review of his work among them, saying they knew his manner of life from the first day he came into Asia - his humility, his tears and his trials (v. 19). As far as his preaching was concerned, he said he "kept back nothing that was profitable" to them (v. 20), thus he was "pure from the blood of all men" (v. 26) because he had "not shunned to declare . . . the whole counsel of God" (v. 27, NKJV). He faced the afflictions which awaited him in Jerusalem with unflinching courage (vv. 22-24), and was moved by nothing because of his unselfish devotion to the "gospel of the grace of God" (v. 24). He admonished the Ephesian elders to watch their personal conduct and to shepherd the church that was purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ (v. 28). He reminded them of the dangers they faced from false teachers - from without and within (vv. 29-30), and to keep the church free from error they would have to watch night and day (v. 31). He commended them to God and his word which was able to build them up (v. 32) and encourage them to unselfishness by recalling his own personal example while among them (vv. 33-35). We then have the touching parting scene as Paul made his departure (vv. 36-38).

Just as the Apostle Paul preached the whole counsel of God while he was at Ephesus (and wherever he went), so must every gospel preacher do the same today if he is to be pleasing in the sight of God. It makes me sad to say that much of the preaching today is not the kind of preaching that Paul did.

There is the trend toward neutrality in preaching today. The preacher knows the truth, but he also knows if he takes a stand and preaches it "right down the line" he will lose his popularity, his friends, his meetings, and he may have to move: so, many preachers fail to deal with issues and popular sins of the day. They stay away from such subjects as marriage, divorce and remarriage (only for the cause of fornication -Matt. 19:9); social drinking; dancing; gambling; lascivious dress; worldliness; the "social gospel"; materialism; church discipline; attendance, giving, etc. They fail to deal with issues such as the "Kenotic theory" (which teaches that Christ emptied himself of his divine attributes when he became flesh, and denies his deity - the very foundation of our faith, Matt. 16:16-18); Charles Holt's doctrine of "individualism" (which denies that there is a local church); the "grace-fellowship" theory and the "continuous cleansing" theory (which minimizes sin and doctrinal error and advocates fellowship with those in error), and the "positive thinking" philosophy in preaching.

Many congregations are open for all kinds of error because these things are not being dealt with from the pulpit. Jesus said a man cannot be neutral in service to him: "He that is not with me is against me, and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad" (Matt. 12:30). The neutral preacher is on the side of error whether he realizes it or not. The church faces problems that can only be met by men who love the truth and who have the attitude toward preaching that the apostle Paul had (see Acts 20:20,26-27; Gal. 2:5 and Phil. 1:17). We need men who will preach the truth and urge the principles of truth regardless of the consequences - men like Paul and Stephen. We need men whose preaching of the gospel will mold sentiment and arouse convictions in the hearts of men. "Men of God" down through the ages have never been men of neutrality - men like Noah (2 Pet. 2:5); Jeremiah (Jer. 1-9-10); John the Baptist (Lk. 1:17; Matt. 3:1-3; 14:3-4), and the apostle Paul (Gal. 2:5; Phil. 1:17).

There is also the trend toward compromising the truth in the church today. Many churches want to feed upon "softism." They want to hear a positive, indistinctive, ambiguous message: one that does not deal with sin as it is in reality, but glossed over so that it doesn't sound so bad. The preaching the majority of these churches want does not emphasize and underscore the distinctive characteristics that separate the church from denominationalism and the world: they want no preaching on immodest dress; marriage, divorce and remarriage for unscriptural reasons; the social gospel, church discipline; mixed swimming; petting, dancing or denominationalism. Preachers who fail to preach on any biblical subject that is needed are compromising the truth of God.

I am sad to say that there is a trend toward "professional preaching" in the church today. Professional preachers are much like professional politicians: they don't lead, they follow the crowd. They listen to find out what the people want, then give them what they want to hear (2 Tim. 4:3,4). A professional preacher is not going to rise up with courage, persistence and fearlessness and try to change things that are wrong and sinful! He is not interested in doing the most good that he can do; he is interested in making the most money. He feels toward his work as a lawyer or a doctor would feel toward his profession: that he must promote his own welfare and position from the standpoint of influence, popularity, demand and money. The professional preacher is a "hireling," paid "so much" to do what the brethren want done. He will make sure he "guards his influence and usefulness" - he will never be found involved in controversy. When he "sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them" (Jn. 10:12, NKJV).

On the other hand, the God-fearing preacher who preaches the gospel because he loves God, the church and lost men will preach the gospel regardless of circumstances or the consequences. He has the attitude of the Apostle Paul, "woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!" (1 Cor. 9:16)

The Preacher Who Preaches the Whole Counsel of God Will: Deal With Sin As a Reality

Preachers of the gospel must show from the Scriptures that sin exists as a fact in the lives of men and women because "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23; 1 Jn. 1:8). When a person sins it brings spiritual death (Rom. 6:23; Isa. 59:1-2; Ezek. 18:4). The only way for mankind to have forgiveness of sins was for the Son of God to die - to shed his blood - on the cross of Calvary (Jn. 3:16; Matt. 1:21; 26:28; 1 Pet. 3:18), and the only way this blood can be appropriated to the lives of sinful men is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ (Heb. 5:9).

Deal With Sin in Particular - Be Specific

Peter was specific on Pentecost when he said to the Jews in his audience: "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain" (Acts 2:23). John the baptist was specific when he said to Herod, concerning his brother Philip's wife whom he had married: "It is not lawful for thee to have her" (Matt. 14:4). Herod was living in adultery with his brother's wife and John was specific in telling him about his sin (Lk. 3:19). John lost his head by specifically dealing with their sin of adultery (Mk. 6:25) but he was courageous enough to preach the truth regardless of the consequences, and it pleased God for him to do so. It is pleasing to God today for preachers to deal specifically with the sin of adulterous marriages, telling men and women about their unlawful relationships. In fact, if they want to please God, they must be specific in pointing out the sins of the people to whom they preach, regardless of the consequences.

The preacher who preaches the whole counsel of God will rebuke the sins that many "wink at" and overlook - sins such as holding malice in the heart and evil-speaking (1 Pet. 2:1); "evil thinking" - looking and lusting (Matt. 5:28); the sin of hating one's brother (1 Jn. 3:15; Matt. 5:43-44); gambling (Eph. 5:5); carnality, envy, strife and division (1 Cor. 3:3); lascivious behavior - short-wearing, mixed swimming, petting, dresses cut too low and too short, and watching movies and TV that is not fit for anyone to watch (1 Tim. 2:9-10; Gal. 5:19; 1 Thess. 5:22). The preacher who preaches the whole counsel of God will not hesitate to deal with these sins that many people overlook and count unimportant.

Rebuke and Condemn The Doctrines and Commandments of Men

Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees: "But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matt. 15:9). Paul said to the brethren at Colosse: "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit after the traditions of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ" (Col. 2:8).

Preachers who preach the whole counsel of God will rebuke and condemn the man-made doctrines of today denominationalism; institutionalism; instrumental music; the Protestant influence on religious thought in the church today; the "Boston movement"; Charles Holt's individualism and the "Kenotic theory." All of these manmade doctrines must be exposed by faithful men of God.

We need men in pulpits today who have great faith in God and in the word of God: men who will preach the whole counsel of God. When there is a lack of faith in the pulpit and the whole counsel of God is not preached, it is disastrous to the cause of Christ. A lack of faith caused Peter to sink into the water (Matt. 14:30); a lack of faith caused Demas to forsake the Lord and Paul (2 Tim. 4: 10), and a lack of faith caused the church at Laodicea to wax indifferent and become lukewarm (Rev. 3:14-19). Many churches today are losing their love and zeal for the Lord and his work because the whole counsel of God is not being preached.

When the pulpits of churches of Christ are filled with men who are courageous enough to preach the whole counsel of God, without fear or favor, we will see many of our doctrinal problems solved and sinners will be converted to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Brother preacher, let us get back to preaching the whole counsel of God. Our eternal destiny depends on it!

Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 3, pp. 87-88
February 6, 1992