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Devoted to preaching the full counsel of God

In our previous sermon on Acts, we heard the scriptural call to preach the “whole counsel of God”. This article1 delves deeper into why it is important for a church, offers some questions we can ask of our pulpit and suggests ways we can pray for our preachers. May God grant that his whole counsel is taught in Mt Hermon! ~ Ps Luwin Wong

One of the most counter-cultural things to do in a post-Christian culture is to preach the full counsel of God. Yet nothing is more important for the church today.

During the week, as I was preparing a sermon on preaching the whole counsel of God, a woman from the neighbourhood contacted me. She had questions: “Do you preach the Bible? I said, “I do.” She said, “Does that mean you don’t cherry-pick and avoid the hard truths of Scripture?” I said, “That is right, I don’t.”

Then she explained herself. “Too many churches I have attended recently just want to tell you what you want to hear, not what you need to hear.” I agreed with her and invited her to come on Sunday. She came. She is still coming, praise the Lord.

This raises the question: why is this still so important for the church? The Apostle Paul might say the following: without preaching the whole counsel of God, the eternal salvation of the hearer is at risk.

In fact, Paul defends his ministry in Acts 20:20–21 by saying, “You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.”

Paul knew what would be helpful for the well-being of the souls – the unalterable gospel message. Paul says more. He says in Act 20:27, “For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.” In short, he did not avoid, bracket, minimise, soften, explain away, reduce, or remove any of the (hard) doctrines of Scripture as he preached to those in Ephesus.

Paul continues on this theme in 2 Timothy 4:3. There he writes, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” Itching ears are carnal ears that do not want to hear the truth about one’s sin, ensuing judgment and self-control.

Felix in Acts 24 made this clear. Luke writes: “As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, ‘That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.’” It was never convenient. It is never convenient for a carnal man or woman to hear the truth.

But a thriving church must be unashamed to preach the full counsel of God. To illustrate this, my two younger sons (aged 10 and 13) started a lawn-cutting business. They used the family’s lawnmower and tools. More than once I reminded them to regularly check the oil and gas. It is something that is easily forgotten.

Similarly, in the church of Jesus Christ, our spiritual engine needs balanced maintenance. For example, if I preach God’s abundant grace for the broken sinner but fail to preach his wrath towards those who reject the free offer of salvation, I have failed the hearer to their peril. I have put in the gas but forgotten the oil.

If I preach repentance, I must also preach faith. If I preach faith, I must preach the fruit of faith which is works. That is, if I preach God’s sovereignty over our salvation, I can’t fail to include human responsibility in this divine-human relationship (c.f. Phil 2:12-13).

If I preach God’s beautiful, paradisal design for marriage between one man and one woman, I must also preach that every form of sexual intimacy outside of this design is sinful and grievous before God.

If I preach the sufficiency of Christ’s death on the cross for our salvation, then I must preach that any attempt to secure our own salvation outside of Christ is anathema (Gal 1:8).

If one is still unsure about what this looks like, consider a few questions that sermons should include:

  • Is God being exalted for who He is and what He has done?

  • Is his holiness esteemed and his unfailing love for lost sinners proclaimed?

  • Is the cross of Christ preached as the only means of salvation?

  • Is there a call to repentance and the free gift of salvation offered to all who believe?

  • Is there ample warning of the coming wrath of God for all those who do not believe?

This is a sine qua non of a thriving church of Jesus Christ. Confessionally, we believe it is a primary means of grace and one of the keys to the kingdom (Lord’s Day 30). Seekers and believers have every reason to ask if our church preaches the whole counsel of God. And if a church is not preaching the whole gospel, spiritual malaise will set in, a kind of spiritual sickness unto death.

As a final note let me encourage you to pray. Pray fervently for your pastor. Pray for the courage, passion and holy fervour that is needed for him to continue to preach the whole counsel of God.

Pray because preaching the whole will of God is unpopular today. Pray because, in this cultural moment, some churches are capitulating to the culture that is increasingly unmoored to the truth and drifting on the seas of rampant secularism. Pray, because the stakes are high.


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