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The Apostle Paul demonstrated how we can love God and others in our speech. He used words that could sting and rebuke as well as heal and comfort. His ministry was one of words—speaking God’s very own Word. His companion Luke painted a moving portrait that connected the importance of a minister’s words with his ministry and gives great insight on the preacher’s character.
Paul had ministered the word successfully in Ephesus and called for the finest fruit of that work, the elder preachers, to come and hear his final advice (Acts 20:17–38). Paul gave an account of his work in Ephesus from the first day of his significant three-year ministry there. From Paul’s standpoint, his ministry was dangerous (with plots), intense (with tears), and exhausting (night and day). His manner of conduct was to serve with all humility (v. 19); he coveted no one’s silver or gold (v. 33); and he worked hard to provide for himself (v. 34).
This text was not autobiography but was written about Paul from Luke’s perspective and guided by the Holy Spirit. Thus, we have one great minster’s commentary on another. Luke’s message was that Paul’s manner of life was important to the overall context of his ministry.
In Acts 20:20–25, Paul’s preaching included five parts: four regarding content and one regarding application. First, he preached that which was profitable; second, repentance toward God combined with faith in Christ; third, God’s grace; fourth was the “kingdom”; and, finally he admonished with tears (vv. 20–21, 24–25, 31), all of which was summarized in Paul’s powerful statement (v. 27): “For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole counsel of God.”
Luke employed the phrase “whole counsel” to denote the divine decree concerning redemption, (see Luke 7:30). In Acts 2:23, he connected the word to Jesus, who was “delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God.” Acts 4:28 tells us that Jesus was attacked to fulfill “whatever your hand and your purpose determined before to be done.”
There was continuity between Luke’s understanding of the whole counsel of God and Paul’s teaching. Ephesians 1:9–11 is a good synopsis of Paul’s thoughts on the content of the whole counsel, one that is particularly helpful for our purposes because he was addressing the Ephesian church in his letter.
God made known the mystery of His will, which was set forth in Christ. It was a plan to unite all things in Christ. The counsel of God’s will speaks of redemption in Christ and the unity that the church shares in Christ. It presents the eschatological accomplishment, in the fullness of time, in Christ. These are theologically comprehensive terms that describe the whole work of Christ, our redemption as both accomplished in Him and applied by His Spirit.
At Ephesians 1:11, Paul presents the eschatological (final or ultimate) direction of God’s plan. The list of benefits, including redemption, are part of the new economy that is being realized in Christ. When combined with what Paul said in Acts, the meaning concerns the preaching of God’s comprehensive eschatological fulfillment of all of His saving promises, focused in Christ. Stated more strongly, the “whole counsel of God” is the proclamation of the kingdom of God with the covenant as the kingdom’s administrative structure. The whole counsel of God consists in Christ as the fulfillment of the kingdom through God’s covenants.
Paul’s teaching to the Ephesians and Luke’s presentation of Paul’s words to the elders included a call to faith that is incomprehensible if torn from the context of the risen Christ’s mediatorial kingship—His lordship over the whole of life.
Now we can connect the content of Paul’s presentation with the lifestyle or context that went with it. Paul’s life was consumed with teaching, testifying, preaching, and shepherding—all wrapped up in tears—both his own and of those who loved him so much. The true context or lifestyle of the well trained preacher is well summarized in Acts 20:19 as “serving the Lord with all humility, with tears and with trials.”
This text admonishes preachers and theologians to deep personal piety. There is an undoubted connection between the person (in this case Paul) who has a message, and the message itself (the whole counsel of God). To paraphrase Paul’s teaching, the whole counsel of God must be proclaimed by men who are clothed in humility, bathed in tears, and who have endured through difficult trials. Paul did not separate the wonderful content of the gospel from the context of presentation. Theology and preaching are done in humility, which Paul defines in Colossians 3:12: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” Paul admonishes humility in Ephesians 4:2: “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” In Philippians 2:3, he commands, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” He turns us to Christ, who: “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (v. 8).
Paul was a living memorial of the truth that the mouth speaks out of the abundance of the heart. This is the model to which all preachers must aspire.