Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed. Alleluia!]
Paul was nearing the end of his life. He had spent years as a leader of the Jews, persecuting Jesus by attempting to destroy the church. But now, for many years, He had served as a missionary, no longer persecuting Jesus, but proclaiming Him, going from town to town, city to city preaching Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. This was the tail end of his last missionary journey. He was making his way back to Jerusalem to drop off the money he had raised along the way. In Jerusalem, he would be arrested, snuck out of the city, and held prisoner for years without a trial. He would appeal his case to Caesar and head to Rome, dealing with months of storms and even a shipwreck along the way. As the book of Acts leaves off in just a few chapters, he’s in Rome under house arrest, waiting for his trial.
But now, it’s time to start saying his goodbyes. So, as he’s making his trip back to Jerusalem, he stops about forty miles south of the city of Ephesus. He had a special connection with Ephesus and the church there. In all his travels, he spent the most time here, three years working tirelessly to proclaim the Gospel in this city, facing riots and plots against his life. But all the while, the Word of the Lord continued to grow and expand. The Holy Spirit called people by the Gospel, enlightened them with His gifts, sanctified and kept them in the true faith.
So even though it’s a multi-day trip, the church leaders at Ephesus make their way to visit Paul one last time. What we have in today’s reading from the book of Acts is Paul’s farewell address to these friends and co-workers in the ministry. They are words that apply, yes, to me as your pastor, but also to each one of you as you continue to grow and develop in the faith. While Paul has a lot to say in these verses, hitting on topics of finances, how your works line up with your faith, and false doctrine, the very center of his speech is his main point, the highlight of all he says. This is what he called the Ephesian Elders—miles, and days away—to hear. “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” Paul says that He told the everything. The simple stuff and the difficult stuff, the stuff they agreed with and the stuff they didn’t want to hear. They heard it all. “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”
On the one hand, this is Paul simply reminding the Ephesians what he did among them. It’s a historic reality. On the other hand, he’s telling this to them for a reason. He’s recounting history, but he’s not just recounting history. He’s encouraging us to do the same. Learn and proclaim the whole counsel of God.
Sadly, this is not how most ministry is done in the American church. So often, instead of proclaiming the whole counsel of God, many churches will look to the culture to see what to talk about or avoid. In many churches today, you’ll hear much less about Christ and Him crucified and much more of environmentalism, sexuality in its various forms, and issues of human life.
While these things are good and necessary to talk about and we definitely need to address them as they relate to Scripture, there’s much more to the faith than just today’s hot-button issues. To reduce Christianity, to reduce Jesus to supporting today’s cause is to lose the Gospel altogether. Explore the whole counsel of God
Sadly, this is not how much of the Christian industry works, be it books, movies, music, or general merchandise. Many of the books labeled as “Christian” today are at best fluff, and at worst, dangerous heresy disguised as a well- designed book. So-called Christian movies reduce people to stereotypes and reduce Scripture to trite aphorisms. The music industry works to manufacture emotions rather than to express the faith. And if you slap any old Bible verse ripped out of context on a piece of scrap wood, you can name your own price.
While it’s good to read Christian books and listen to Christian music and watch Christian movie and buy Christian artwork for your home, there’s much more to the faith than the, at best, surface-level nonsense that floats around. To reduce Christianity, to reduce Jesus to an emotion, a pithy saying, or an out-of-context Bible verse is to lose the Gospel altogether. Explore the whole counsel of God.
Sadly, that’s not how much of us read our Bibles. We like the Gospels, since they directly show us Jesus. We like the epistles, since they tell us directly about Jesus. And maybe, if we’re really stretching it, we’ll take Psalms and Proverbs too, since the psalms have the emotions we want to express and the proverbs have the wisdom we want. But when was the last time you read the book of Amos? What about 2 Chronicles? Jude? I won’t even ask about the book of Leviticus. We claim that all Scripture is breathed out by God. All of it, Old Testament and New Testament alike, are good and necessary and they all point us to Jesus. But in practice, our Scriptural understanding is far, far too limited.
While the Gospels, Epistles, Psalms and Proverbs are good and we should know them well, they are only a part of the whole Bible. When we neglect or cut out chunks of the Bible because we don’t like them, think they’re too difficult, or think they’re not as important, we’re neglecting or cutting out information about God and how He deals with His people. There’s so much more to the faith than our favorite books of the Bible, favorite chapters, or favorite verses. To reduce Christianity, to reduce Jesus to a fraction of His self-revelation is to lose the Gospel altogether. Explore the whole counsel of God.
Learning the whole counsel of God won’t happen overnight. In fact, it will be an eternal task, digging into the mind of God, fully living out our relationship with Him, diving into the pools of His wisdom and love. But that eternal task begins now. Learning the whole counsel of God protects and defends you against all sorts of issues that come up in life. When tomorrow’s moral crisis hits, you’ll be ready for it, having a solid foundation from which to think about and address it. When the next big book, album, or movie comes out, you’ll be able to save your money, avoiding the plentiful false teachings these things promote. When that popular pastor embraces heresy or commits a major sin, you’ll be prepared, founded not on a person, not on a small fraction of Scripture, but on the whole counsel of God. When the rest of the world, even parts of the church, are being tossed around like they’re in a big storm on the sea, you’ll be safe, hidden in the Rock of Ages, built on the Chief Cornerstone, defended in the Mighty Fortress.
Take every opportunity you can to learn the whole counsel of God. Come to church every Sunday. Go to Bible Study every week. Read your Bible every day. Live out your faith every moment of your life, not making any decision without thinking through the theology behind it. And on my part, I will not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. There is always more to learn. There is always more to grow. There is always more to explore and discover in our God. It is our eternal joy and privilege to learn and to live the whole counsel of God. Amen.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed. Alleluia!]
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Lobe den Herrn
B. A. Woell