Over the 40 years, I have been in ministry, I have heard a lot of catchphrases that people use without really understanding what they mean. Preaching or teaching the “whole counsel of God” is one of those phrases.
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So I decided I would take a few moments to go over not only what the Apostle Paul meant by the phrase found in Acts 20:27 but then dive into some of the ways it is being used today that are not what Paul was talking about.
Where Do You Find The Scripture Talking About The “Whole Counsel Of God”?
The “whole counsel of God” scripture is found in Acts 20:27. Paul is about to embark on a journey that he knows will lead him to a Roman prison cell. He is giving final instructions to the Elders at Ephesus. He is telling them that he has given them all that he knows. He has given them the “whole counsel of God.”
Let’s take a look at Acts 20:27 in a few different translations.
For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.
For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.
for I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know.
For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.
For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.
for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.
Paul was not ashamed of the gospel (Rom. 1:16) that he preached. He did so in demonstration of the power of the Spirit of God confirming his word with signs following. (Mark 16:20) He started out in Ephesus meeting a group of disciples that had only heard of the gospel of repentance. He immediately shared with them the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49), and the church in Ephesus was born. He later spent a period of 3 years training and raising up leaders teaching them what he called “the mystery of His will.” (Eph. 1:9)
We know because of Paul’s book to the Ephesians that we are…
- We are chosen. (Eph 1:4)
- We are adopted (Eph. 1:5)
- We are accepted (Eph. 1:6)
He goes on to show that every man is an equal sinner. (Eph. 2:1-3) There are not big sinners and little sinners. Just sinners. And all of us are in that category. But God did not leave us that way. He provided us a way to become right with Him. And this is where Paul starts taking heat for preaching the whole counsel of God.
What Did Paul Mean In Using The Term “Whole Counsel Of God”?
The Greek word for counsel is Boule. It means counsel/advice or purpose. When Paul said that he had not shunned proclaiming the whole counsel of God he was saying that He had not shrunk back from proclaiming to them the whole purpose of God in His affairs with mankind. Paul had looked from Genesis to the present moment in Acts and had proclaimed to them God’s will and purpose in the world.
That purpose was the redemption of mankind. Man was a sinner. He needed a Savior for he could not save himself no matter how hard he tried. God sent Jesus to be that savior and Jesus paid the price for man’s sin. He redeemed man. The only thing that man needs to do is believe/trust in Jesus for that salvation and redemption.
To Paul, the whole purpose of God was to redeem man and Paul saw that it was done by the grace of God and not through works. (Eph 2:8-9) All man had to do was receive it by faith. Jesus said that man is condemned because of unbelief. (John 3:18)
So the whole counsel of God is the revelation that God’s purpose in this world is to redeem man by grace through faith, and not through any type of religious works or sacrifice. This revelation caused Paul to take a lot of heat for this message. Every religion and religious person in his world was against this message. Their God or gods demanded sacrifice as payment for any blessing. Paul taught contrary to the common religious message of the day.
What Do Some People Mean When They Use The Phrase “Whole Counsel Of God”?
In the 40+ years, I have been in ministry I have found it common for people to use this passage to justify their own message. It usually falls into two categories.
Law Vs. Grace
There are those that do not understand that the purpose of the law was to lead us to Christ. It was our tutor. (Gal. 3:24-25) It taught us we are all equally sinners. Yet many people try to use the law for a purpose that it is not designed to accomplish. They use it to try to sanctify or clean people up. They try to use it to combat sin and motivate people to live holy.
Because of this, they will say that they are proclaiming the “whole counsel of God” because the law is part of the Bible. However, it is not a complete viewpoint since it is focused on works.
Sin Vs. Licentiousness
There are others that will use the term whole counsel of God when they are focused on the sins of others. They will point out that the Bible is very clear about what is sin and what is not. They believe that if they are hard on sin then they are coming against licentiousness or the idea that we can do whatever we want and sin up a storm.
This also is not what Paul was talking about. Once again they are not looking at the entire revelation that God gave Paul. They are only using one portion. It is in fact, not the whole counsel of the word of God because the whole purpose of God is to lead people to faith in Christ and redemption by the grace of God.
How Do We Make Sure We Preach The Whole Counsel Of God
In order to understand the whole counsel of the word of God, you need to understand God’s purpose. You need to not only understand the “what” but you need to understand the “why.” Why was the law given? Why is sin a sin? Why did Jesus come? Why does the cross of Christ change everything? Why does God give grace to sinners? Why does God make salvation by faith and not by works? When you can answer these questions then you will know you are preaching the whole counsel of God.