In speaking with the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:27, Paul said, “For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.” The Greek words here reflect that Paul had not “backed off”, or “retreated”, from telling them the “entirety” or the “complete or resolved” plan of God, including both the Lord’s design for our physical life on earth and also His eternal purpose for men.
The whole teaching of God includes both the good and the bad. Of course, we all like to hear good news, don’t we? In fact, Romans 10:15 says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace,who bring glad tidings of good things!” That is, of course, a reference to the good news of the gospel, God’s power of salvation (Romans 1:16). Yet, we also like to hear good news about everything else. We like to hear good news about our family or about our friends. We like it when we hear ‘feel good’ stories on the news. Good news cheers us up and puts a spring in our step. Everyone loves good news!
Focusing only on things that make us feel good is something that some in the religious world have tapped into. There are many so called “mega churches” around the country that host thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, in their services each week and the preachers there dish up a great big helping of good news: ‘God just wants you to be happy.’ ‘God will make you healthy and wealthy.’ ‘I’m okay and you’re okay because God loves us all and will bring us all to heaven no matter what.’ People leave these services happy. They buy the books that these preachers write and feel good about themselves.
But they never, ever hear the whole counsel of God.
Even the church that Jesus built once fell into this trap. From 1900 until 1970, the church of Christ was the fastest growing church in the United States. One of the primary reasons for this was that, like Paul, we preached the whole counsel of God, including the one truth that no one ever wants to hear: God will indeed send the wicked and disobedient to burn forever in the eternal fires of hell. Inspired by what they used to call “hellfire and brimstone” messages that made it crystal clear what happens to those who don’t obey God, Christians made sharing the gospel with family, friends and neighbors a priority in their lives. When people heard the truth of these warnings, they often obeyed the gospel and the Lord’s church thrived.
However, by the end of the 1960’s, we started listening to those who said we were too judgmental, legalistic and just plain out of touch with a world that was embracing the “if it feels good, do it” sentiment of that period. So gradually we stopped preaching the whole counsel of God and, wouldn’t you know it, we stopped growing. What a surprise! And when we stopped preaching about the eternal consequences of sin, it didn’t take long, in fact only a generation or so, before Christians lost any real fear of hell because they never heard anything about except for an occasional vague reference. Seriously, stop and think about it: When was the last time you heard a sermon about hell, damnation and eternal punishment?
The whole counsel of God includes preaching on the matchless and wonderful grace of God that saves the worst of sinners. We desperately need to preach that. But we also need to preach about those who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power when they don’t obey the gospel of Jesus (2 Thessalonians 1:8,9). How can we love the lost if we don’t plead with them to accept grace and avoid hell? The truth is that preaching about hell should make us all desire to go to heaven even more and isn’t that what preaching the entirety of God’s Word is all about?