For I did not keep from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Acts 20:27 (MEV)
The apostle Paul was giving his farewell speech in Ephesus. To say that Paul was concerned about what would happen in the church after his departure is not an overstatement. Paul had invested three years of his life and ministry with these people.
He told the Ephesian elders that he knew “that after my departure, dreadful wolves will enter among you, not sparing the flock.” (v. 29). This is the same Ephesian church that Christ himself later reprimanded: Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. Revelation 2:4–5 (NIV).
I can only imagine it was painful for Paul to speak so plainly about what was ahead for the Ephesian church. There would be threats from without and from within. He told them not what they wanted to hear but what they needed to hear. Speaking the truth does not make you popular. But those who are appointed as watchmen answer to God, not men.
Everything You Need to Hear
I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly or in your homes. Acts 20:20 (NLT)
Twice in the farewell address, Paul reminds the Ephesian church that he gave them everything that they needed to hear. Why did he repeat himself? What is the “whole counsel of God?”
Repetition indicates that it is critically important. When the Bible says something once, we should not ignore it, but we must pay even more attention when it is repeated. It should be apparent that a preacher or writer cannot convey everything necessary in one sermon or article. However, over the course of time, a well-rounded coverage of the gospel and biblical truth is vital.
The challenge comes because we all have inclinations to the things that interest us the most. Given a choice between kale and chocolate ice cream, you can guess what I want to eat. However, like parents, pastors need to ensure that those in their care receive a balanced diet. It is much easier to tell people what they want to hear than to tell them what they need to hear.
Don’t Shrink Back
A friend of mine was speaking this week, and he referred to Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” In this famous letter, Dr. King was critical of white pastors for their lack of support for the peaceful protests against injustice. When asked why these pastors were unsupportive, my friend said that it was because they were afraid of how their people would react.
Paul said that he did not “shrink back” or hesitate from speaking the bold message of the gospel. To not talk about the truth because we are afraid of how it will be received is spiritual malpractice. Most people want to be liked by others, and pastors are no different. God commissions us to be his representatives or his ambassadors. We must speak, and stand up for the whole gospel, the complete message, even if it is unpopular.
We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this. 2 Corinthians 4:2 (NLT)
When we attempt to decide which portions of the gospel are palatable and which are not, are we “shrinking back” to avoid unpleasant confrontation? We must not “edit” the truth to gain a following or a congregation.
The Whole Truth
“This is what the Lord says: Stand in the courtyard in front of the Temple of the Lord, and make an announcement to the people who have come there to worship from all over Judah. Give them my entire message; include every word. Jeremiah 26:2 (NLT)
If speaking the truth is essential, and we believe it is, we have a responsibility to deliver the whole truth. Spending extended periods of time expounding upon the book of Revelation, or the seventy weeks of Daniel, may be popular, but is it profitable?
When we focus on one doctrine or teaching, to the neglect of the whole truth, we are doing a disservice to God’s people. I do not come from a liturgical church background, but I see some value in preaching from the lectionary. Over a three-year cycle, a complete presentation of the gospel can be accomplished.
I know that we, as Pentecostals look to God to inspire our messages and teaching. We are not suggesting rigidity but rather attention to presenting “everything that our people need to hear.” We propose a review of our statement of faith periodically. Are we regularly covering the things that we believe?
“Editing” what we teach and preach is dangerous. Remember the Lord told Jeremiah, “Give them my entire message; include every word.” Dare we suggest that before preaching or teaching, we place our hand on the Bible and declare, “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God?”