For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. Acts 20:27 (NKJ)
One of the things this nation is not short on is advice. If you turn on the television, every station has its personal brand of advice—The Real, The Talk, The View. And let’s not forget social media.
Life and spiritual coaches have been added to the deluge of resources ready to “create a better life for you”. Online counseling by Chat, Video or Phone. Get Help and Get Happy. Therapy Anytime, Anywhere. Each of these resources and programs are targeting different groups of viewers—boomers, millennials, Xers to influence their thoughts and actions. And the real question is influence for what?
If ever there was a need for reliable counsel, it is now!
Definition of Counsel
The noun “counsel” means advice, especially that given formally. Counsel is synonymous with guidance, direction and instruction. The Hebrew word that best communicates the concept of counsel is ‘esah, which adds purpose or plan to the definition. It is both used of God’s counsel and of human counsel.
Counsel Given—Counsel Received
The Old Testament portrays counsel as that which is usually given to kings (1 Chron. 13:1). Counsel may have come from trusted advisors but more frequently through God’s prophets (Deut. 18:14-21).
Proverbs suggests that one should seek counsel from many with the thought that human beings are limited and need contributors to be sure all alternatives are considered (Prov. 11:14; Prov. 20:18).
In the New Testament, especially in the church, though they were a close-knit fellowship, involved in one another’s lives, there is almost nothing about counsel or acting on the advice of others. The closest thing to “counsel” would have been that given to the early churches via apostolic letters.
Regardless of the counsel received, no advice or counsel frees the person’s responsibility for making his or her own choice. Such was the case in our text as Paul gives instructions to the Ephesian elders.
What constitutes “the whole” ?
What is the “whole counsel of God”? If you search different Bible versions for clarity, you may still be left asking, “What is it?” In our text, the different Bible versions read, “the whole counsel of God” (ESV) or “the whole will of God” (NIV) or “the whole purpose of God” (NASB).
The phrase the whole counsel of God was introduced by Paul in Acts 20:27 in his farewell speech to the elders of the Ephesian church. In this context, the whole counsel of God refers to the “gospel message”.
Paul spoke the complete gospel—the whole truth about God’s salvation including the “mystery” of God extending His plan of salvation to Gentiles as well as Jews (Ep. 3:9). Paul’s declaration of the “whole counsel of God” made him “innocent” of anyone’s decision to reject God’s truth as revealed, at that time.
The whole counsel of God, in summary, is God’s truth revealed in His purpose and His will. God communicates His whole counsel in two key ways—the Bible and the Holy Spirit.
Paul witnessed to the fact that, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16, NRS). The Bible is the “play book” which helps believers live in alignment with God’s will and in right relationship with one another.
Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit believers relate God’s truth to present situations—guiding them in actions they are to take. Although the Spirit may use any number of avenues to help believers sense His direction, He ultimately guides us to decisions that are in harmony with what God purposes for us (Jer. 10:23).
Living in 21st century, postmodern America, it is critical that we have access to good counsel. We need counsel that is sure and dependable; trustworthy and timeless. We need counsel to help us live out of the heart God created for us. We need the whole counsel of God.
We will continue next week with this series, “The Whole Counsel of God.”