In Acts 20, Paul encourages and warns the elders (pastors) of the church in Ephesus, reminding them that while he was among them he “did not shrink from declaring to [them] the whole counsel of God.” I’ve thought a great deal about what that means: “the whole counsel of God.”
I’ve concluded that it’s quite simple. First, God is to be the source of my preaching. I cannot say what I want to say on any given Sunday. I don’t get to build my own soapbox and then stand upon it week after week. I have to say what God has said, which means that I have to preach from the Bible. Now, that may seem like pointing out the obvious, until we realize that far too many sermons consist of the preacher reading a portion of Scripture and then proceeding to say whatever he feels like saying that morning, whether it has any real attachment to the text or not. That will not do. The task of a preacher is to read the Scriptures, explain the Scriptures, apply the Scriptures, and then sit down and go home. We call that expository preaching. It’s the hallmark of all good churches.
But it is possible for me to be an expositional preacher without giving the people all of God’s counsel from his Word. Many times a preachers’ soap box can legitimately be found in Scripture, and so he may read, explain, and apply the Scriptures on a week-by-week basis yet fail to imitate Paul in declaring the whole counsel of God, because he only covers those texts that speak to his favorite issues.
The Bible, however, speaks to issues that we find interesting, to issues that we’ve never really thought much about and, quite frankly, to issues that we sometimes aren’t interested in at all. But all of God’s Word is breathed out by him and profitable for his people. And like Paul, I want to be able to say that I have proclaimed the whole counsel of God. Now, there are a few ways that a preacher can protect himself from his own interests, but I have found that preaching through books of the Bible is the most effective way for me to do so. I preach “verse-by-verse,” (expository preaching) and “book-by-book” because I want to insure that I preach “the whole counsel of God.”
Three years in to Church at the Cross it’s working, but there weak spots. I’ve preached 157 sermons in the past three-plus years. We’ve walked through the Gospel of Mark, First Peter, Jude, Genesis 1-11, and we have just arrived at chapter five of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Along the way I’ve preached eight sermons from the book of Psalms, at least one from all four Gospels, and few from other places in the New Testament. In all, only twenty-eight have been from the Old Testament, so I’m eager to finish Genesis and plunge in to the prophets.
My goal, whether the Lord allows me to live and serve his people through preaching for five more years or thirty-five more years, is to be able to say that I have done all that I can to declare the whole counsel of God to the people of God. God has spoken in his Word. He has spoken through the written record of Israel’s history, through the Psalms of David and others, through the words of the Prophets and Apostles and through the record of Christ’s words and deeds found in the Gospels. Who am I to ignore what he has spoken or to deny his people a healthy, balanced diet from every part of his Word?