Because souls are at stake, the work of an evangelist requires boldness, compassion, love, and accuracy. The gospel message is precious and must be protected, but it must also be declared accurately. Paul’s final admonition to the Elders of Ephesus included some powerful truths worthy of our consideration. If we desire to see souls won to Christ, it is imperative we labor to consider the fullness of God’s counsel.
Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. – Acts 20:26-27
Though simple, this statement is important to dissect and digest. A gospel preacher has an incredible responsibility. Is Paul suggesting that he would be guilty if he did NOT declare the whole counsel of God? Is he saying that everyone that heard him preach (“all”), whether they come to Christ or not, and in this case, not, has received a message that is accurate enough to save their souls?
Commenting on this verse, Calvin says:
“I do not doubt but that he had respect unto the place of Ezekiel, where God denounceth that his prophet shall be guilty of the blood of the wicked unless he exhort them unto repentance (Ezekiel 3:18, 20).”
These are hard words, not only from Calvin but first and foremost from Ezekiel, and certainly should serve as a warning to those that go out to preach and teach on the streets, college campuses, abortion clinics, jails or downtowns.
If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. – Ezekiel 3:18-19
We have before us two issues. One is the warning to the unbeliever or the wicked. They are called upon to turn from their wicked ways. It is straight-forward enough. Secondly, however, and the focus of this article is the call to the preacher. Our job is to warn. Our job is to tell our hearers what will happen if they heed not the message.
One of the important elements of gospel preaching is to preach the full counsel of God. This includes the hard news. According to Ezekiel, warning people releases the gospel minister from the guilt of the hearer’s unbelief. As Paul said about himself, he is “innocent of the blood of all” because he was truthful in his gospel proclamation. He did not hold back. He warned. He declared the whole counsel.
In our day of compromise, we readily see evangelism and missions ministries with slogans that focus on the love, mercy, kindness, and compassion of God. This is true enough, but such a one-sided message is lost on sin-hardened culture like the contemporary West. Unbelievers will simply twist such a message to make it seem as though God was accepting of their rebellion. We must preach Christ and preach Him accurately, calling the lost to repentance of their sin. We must warn them of the eternal danger such a life leads to. We must warn them of hell and the judgment to come, should they reject so great a message.
This is not to say that gospel preachers should only warn. We must also point to the love and beauty of Christ. There must be a balance. There must be a pointing to the cross in all our preaching. Matthew Henry illustrates the well-rounded preacher of the gospel with clarity and force.
The elders knew that Paul was no designing, self-seeking man. Those who would in any office serve the Lord acceptably, and profitably to others, must do it with humility. He was a plain preacher, one that spoke his message so as to be understood. He was a powerful preacher; he preached the gospel as a testimony to them if they received it; but as a testimony against them if they rejected it. He was a profitable preacher; one that aimed to inform their judgments, and reform their hearts and lives. He was a painful preacher, very industrious in his work. He was a faithful preacher; he did not keep back reproofs when necessary, nor keep back the preaching of the cross.
The whole counsel of God includes God’s holiness, man’s sinfulness and impending doom, and the blood and resurrection of Christ that can save their souls from hell. It includes counting the cost. It includes hard truths. It also includes reconciliation with God and joy that surpasses all understanding. We must deliver the entirety gospel truth. It will rarely be popular. It will typically bring persecution. But for those with ears to hear, it will well up springs of eternal water. It is our joy as gospel ministers to walk away knowing we did not shrink back from declaring the whole truth, trusting in the Lord to save souls.