Preaching ”the whole counsel of God”

”For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.” (Acts. 20:27)

Those who normally criticize preachers that focus on the grace of God and the New Covenant, often accuse us of not sharing “the whole counsel of God”. What they really mean is that we should not only emphasize New Covenant truths about God’s goodness and grace, but also preach about other aspects, like God’s harshness and wrath. In practice, they argue that we should not only preach God’s grace and the New Covenant; we must also balance the message with the law and the Old Covenant.

The expression “the whole counsel of God” is found in Acts chapter 20, where Paul says that he has not backed away from sharing the whole counsel of God with the church in Ephesus. However, if we read the context, we see that Paul, both in the verses before and directly after, stresses that it is the gospel of grace – and nothing else – that we should hold on to:

”But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”(Acts. 20:24)

”So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”(Acts. 20:32) 

In direct connection to that Paul emphasizes that he has not held anything back from the believers in Ephesus when it comes to sharing the whole counsel of God, he says that he is willing to lay down his life for the sake of the Gospel of grace. He also says that it is the word of grace (i.e. not the word of the law), that is able to build us up so that we can mature in our faith and receive our inheritance in Christ.

Thus, we can conclude that Paul by the expression “the whole counsel of God” did not mean that we should mix grace with the law, or balance New Covenant truths with truths from the Old Covenant. The emphasis, on the contrary, is that the Gospel of grace is the center point of the whole counsel of God, a secret and mystery that has been hidden from previous generations, but “now has been revealed to His saints” (Col. 1:26).

The Apostle Peter says the same thing as Paul, regarding the gospel of grace:

10 Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, 11 searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12 To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but tous they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into. (1 Pet. 1:10-12)

The Prophets of the Old Covenant did not have knowledge of the whole counsel of God like we do. They looked forward toward the glory that would follow as a result of the cross and resurrection. Even angles desire to look into the repercussions of the finished work of Jesus that have been revealed and made available to us!

In the following two Scriptures, Paul sums up what will be the ultimate end result of God’s eternal counsel:

23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. 24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. 27 For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. 28 Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all(1 Cor. 15:23-28)

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:9-11)

“The whole counsel of God” is not about us mixing the Old and the New Covenants. It is that the lordship of God over His creation will spread to all nations, through the preaching of the Gospel of grace, until every tongue – in heaven, on earth, and under the earth – has confessed Jesus as Lord. When everything has been placed under the feet of Jesus, He will hand over all power and authority to the Father, so that God may be all in all.

The whole counsel of God is glorious indeed.


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