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The Whole Counsel of God

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Paul warns about the dangers of wolves that sneak into the church and try to destroy it from the inside.

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If you have your Bible, go ahead and grab it. We’re going to be in Acts 20:17-38 tonight and I started to mention last week where we would be heading tonight. We have a lot to get through tonight and if we don’t get through all of it, we’ll finish it up next week. In this chapter, Paul is beginning his return trip to Jerusalem. At this point in his life, Paul has a longing to return to Jerusalem after spending several years away and he is trying to get there quickly in order to be there on the day of Pentecost. As he’s returning home, there is this sense among Paul’s group that Paul’s life will be in danger if he returns and this is echoed more fully in chapter 21 but it is mentioned in what we are going to read tonight. As Paul is returning to Jerusalem, he sends a messenger to the city of Ephesus and calls the elders of that church to come meet him in Miletus, a coastal city that was roughly 50 miles away from Ephesus. Why does he do this? First off, it’s because he loves the church of Ephesus. You might remember last week that I said that Paul spent over 2 years in Ephesus which is the longest recorded stay of Paul in any one city. Usually Paul would travel and plant churches and stay there for a few months, maybe a year but Ephesus was different. 2-3 years he spends there so this church is obviously very near and dear to his heart. The second reason is that Paul is concerned about the future of this church. He is concerned about false teaching and false teachers springing up and he is worried about those teachers infiltrating the church so he is warning these leaders ahead of time. What we are going to see tonight is more than just the heart of a man that loves his church. We are going to see the heart and drive of the pastor that seeks the good of the flock above all earthly things. We are going to see the great need in Paul’s day and our day for Biblical preaching and Godly leaders in the church. I have 2 great desires for all of you as you go through your middle and high school years with us. The first is that you would be saved and that you would grow in your faith. The second great desire is that when you leave here, that you find yourself a church that is not afraid to preach the Bible, that you find a church that isn’t swayed by what is popular and edgy but that you would fall madly in love with Scripture proclaimed from the pulpit. I want to ask you guys, why do you think the responsibility of the pastor is? Ultimately the responsibility of the pastor is to teach the Word, shepherd the flock, to pursue their sanctification, we are to rebuke and correct where necessary, and we are to do all that we can so that God might be glorified amongst the people that he has entrusted to us. This is no easy calling and James says in James 3:1 “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” I know that the day is going to come where every word that I have ever uttered from this pulpit and every sermon that I have ever preached will be laid bare before the throne of God and I will be held accountable for all that I have taught you so I need to make it my mission in life to teach you what Paul refers to as, “the whole counsel of God” and we will discover what that is in just a moment. My purpose tonight is really to prepare you partially for the here and now but predominantly for when you leave this place so you know what to look for in a pastor and in a church home. It is so important for you all when you graduate to get connected to a local church, I can’t stress that enough. Let me go ahead and tell you where we will be going this evening, we have 3 main points and those are the duty and conduct of the pastor, the whole counsel of God, and the dangers of false teachers. Let’s pray and then we will look at Acts 20:17-38
Acts 20:17–38 ESV
Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 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. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.

The Duty of the Pastor

We’ll briefly talk about the duty and work of the pastor because I know that you guys are teenagers and you aren’t necessarily in the business of grading pastors and may not even care to be honest but I want to focus on this for a little bit just so you know what to look for in a pastor and to a certtain extent, what to look for in a church as you grow up and as you move on with your lives. I understand that for many of you, you aren’t looking for a pastor that is rich in theology and dives deep into Scripture. You’re looking for someone that’s entertaining, funny, doesn’t preach for too long, and appeals to your interests and I totally understand that because that’s how I was when I was your age. When I first started preaching, I focused on trying to be mostly funny and sprinkle in some Bible but looking back on that, I see what a mistake that was. But a time comes where those things need to take a back seat. What should a pastor be like then? Richard Baxter, a great Puritan preacher wrote, “When men are inflamed with the love of God, and live by a lively, working faith, and set light by the profits and honours of the world, and love one another with a pure heart fervently, and can bear and heartily forgive a wrong and suffer joyfully for the cause of Christ, and study to do good, and walk inoffensively and harmlessly in the world, as ready to be servants of all men for their good, becoming all things to all men to win them, and yet abstaining from the appearances of evil, and seasoning all their actions with a sweet mixture of prudence, humility, zeal, and heavenly spirituality; O what an honour are such to their profession! What ornaments to the church; and how excellently serviceable to God and man! Men would sooner believe that the Gospel is indeed a word of truth and power, if they could see more such effects of it upon the hearts and lives of men. The world is better able to read the nature of Religion in a man’s life than in the Bible. They that obey not the word, may be won by the conversation of such. It is therefore a necessary part of our work, to labour more in polishing and perfecting of the saints, that they may be strong in the Lord, and fitted for their Master’s use.” There needs to be a time in your life as a Christian where you need to prioritize what is necessary not for your entertainment level but for your growing in Christlikeness. You have heard me say before, I’m not here to entertain you. I’m not that funny and if all you want is social time or something like that, go somewhere else. Or if you think that there is a youth ministry out there where you can grow deeper in your faith and understanding of the Bible, go there because that is what you need in your life. I understand that I am not like a lot of youth pastors and that that reality might not appeal to people. The leadership at my old church didn’t like my style, I got yelled at for preaching through Exodus! For better or for worse, I am not like A-Wall, I’m not Pastor Wayne, I’m not some other youth pastor from another church you’ve been too, I’m me and that isn’t changing. I truly believe that God has called me to preach the Gospel to you exactly how I am doing it. Now this doesn’t mean that I’m hitting home runs every Wednesday night or that I’m the only person in the world who knows what he’s doing or how to do this. I’ve been preaching for 10 years and I have yet to preach a perfect sermon. What it does mean is that I am not going to change my approach to how badly I believe you need Scripture. You heard me share a couple weeks ago that I get tired of answering the question of, “How are you going to make the Bible relevant to teenagers.” I can’t make it what it already is. Every jot and tittle in this book, every letter and word is for our good and for our growth in Christ. What then are the duties of the pastor? I think that we see many in verses 18-27. Quickly, I want to go through just a few of these verses and point out to you some key elements.
The Pastor as Servant (Verse 19)
One of the first duties of the pastor is that he is a servant. In verse 19, Paul begins with saying that his ministry was done in service to the Lord. Paul is not in the business of making himself known but in making his Lord known. Paul recognizes his place. The pastor is not the star. This is not our church, this is God’s church. The moment that a church starts to wonder how a church could survive without one specific pastor is when the pastor has stayed too long. The pastor is a servant of the Lord, a beacon that points to Him first. Paul recognizes his nothingness without Christ. The pastor is nothing without the God he serves. The pastor recognizes that it is a tremendous honor to be placed in this position. There is no greater calling in the world than to be called to be a minister of Jesus Christ. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, “The work of preaching is the highest and greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called.” It is an honor to serve the King of Kings and any preacher worth anything recognizes that he is only a servant in the hand of His God. The pastor also recognizes that all he does is in service to God first and man second. It is the goal of the pastor to please his commanding officer. Paul said in Galatians 1:10 “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” We have enough man-pleasers in the world and we have far too many standing at the pulpit. We exist to serve God first.
The Pastor is Humble (Verse 19)
Not only does the pastor serve the Lord, he serves the church. A pastor is to brightly shine as an example of a humble person and Paul emphasizes this in the middle of verse 19. He serves the congregation as he leads them. He does not commandeer the church and he is not the head of the church. He has a position of authority but he does not use that authority as a means of domineering and the pastor is not to be a dictator.
The Pastor is Loving (Verse 19)
Next in verse 19 we see that the pastor needs to love his people. The pastor should be willing to walk through fire if he has to for the good of the church. Paul said in verse 19 that he served the Lord with tears and with trials but this did not cause him to shrink back from declaring to the church anything that was profitable for the church. Pastors need to love their people. We are to be like a shepherd to the church. Keep in mind, a shepherd is not an easy undertaking especially when you take into context what it would be like for a shepherd at the time of Paul. It was a 24 hour job of constant protecting, constant guidance, constant love and care, feeding and watering, for a creature that was totally helpless on its own and that is what pastoring is like. This isn’t to say that you all are dumb as sheep but this is really to stress the level of care that the pastor is to have.
The Pastor is a Preacher (Verses 20-21)
Next Paul emphasizes that the pastor is a preacher. Back in the day, when a pastor would come into a city, if someone were to ask who that was, people would often say, “that’s the preacher” and this is because that was the primary duty of the pastor. Pastors are to be expositors of the Word. They are to study, pray over, and speak only what the Bible teaches. They are to emphasize God, repentance, and faith in Christ. They don’t add to the Bible but they explain the Bible. Remember that while there are many applications of Scripture, there is ultimately only one interpretation of Scripture. The Bible is God’s Word to His People. We don’t create the meaning, we simply preach what’s already there and this means that we don’t technically preach anything new. We don’t create doctrines out of nothing. We preach what the text proclaims. For time’s sake, we’ll look at just one more element of the pastor’s work and duty. We don’t have the time to look at everything just in this chapter, let alone what the entire Bible says about pastoring.
The Pastor’s Set Course (Verse 24)
The final thing that I will say on this is that the pastor is where he is for a set purpose. His goal is to fulfill the ministry that the Lord has given to him. That was Paul’s desire as we see in verse 24. We aren’t here to be superstars, we’re here to do the work and proclaim the Kingdom and to finish the course that God has laid before us. The greatest preachers in the world are the ones that we have never heard of. The greatest pastors are the ones that day in and day out, for better and worse, for decades go into their small churches and love and serve and faithfully preach the Word. We leave our legacy in the hands of God and we are to preach the Gospel, die, and be forgotten. We as pastors are to hold nothing back that is useful for you and we are not to sugarcoat anything or alter the Bible in any way to where we remove it’s teeth and this is where we get to Paul’s message on declaring the whole counsel of God.

The Whole Counsel of God

To preach the whole counsel of God means that we as pastors are not to hold anything back that is profitable for you. We are to preach a whole Bible and a whole Gospel. We aren’t to take anything out or add anything in. We are to preach everything that is easy and hard to swallow. We aren’t to take out the doctrines that might appear offensive to people. We can’t preach all love. To know God is to know His wrath, His judgement, His vengeance and stance towards sin and sinners. We need to preach a whole Christ. There needs to be a balance in our preaching. Pastors shouldn’t be a broken record. We don’t sing to one tune. We cover the spread and we do it faithfully. This is why it is so important for you guys to find preachers who take you verse by verse through the Bible because when a preacher goes verse by verse, they aren’t skipping the hard to swallow or hard to understand parts. They have to come face to face with the whole counsel of God. They can’t take the good and leave the bad. They can’t take just the easy parts and leave the hard for someone else or just hope that it isn’t important. We also aren’t to be pursuaded by man’s opinion. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was once asked to tone down his sermons to make them more approachable and Lloyd-Jones said, “When I was a medical doctor, I never let the patient write the prescription. I’m not going to start doing so now.” We don’t preach to please the desires and opinions of the world. We preach Christ crucified and raised from the dead. Charles Spurgeon said, “The Word of God is the anvil on which the opinions of men are smashed.” Preachers aren’t to hold anything back. I sometimes think of the day when I stand before the Lord and I think what will I say if the Lord were to ask me, “Brady, what did you hold back? What about me did you not make clear?” I want to apply to my life and my ministry what Paul says in Colossians 1:28-29
Colossians 1:28–29 (ESV)
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
That is the goal of the pastor. To present everyone mature in Christ and to do this, we have to teach the whole counsel of God, from the pulpit and in private. It is our duty to rebuke, to correct, to train in righteousness and we can’t do this while cherry picking Scriptures. Finally, as we preach the whole counsel of God, we are preparing the church to be on the lookout for false teachers. Let’s look at verses 28-32 again.

The Dangers of False Teachers

Acts 20:28–32 ESV
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
The greatest danger to the church comes from the inside. Notice that Paul says that the elders are to pay close attention to themselves and to the church because he knows that after Paul is gone, fierce wolves will come in from within the church that will seek to push people away. This is a reminder that just because you attend a church does not mean that you are a part of the Church. Just because your name is in the church records does not automatically equate you with salvation. The greatest threat to the church is not the world, it’s false teachers that stir up trouble from within the church. That is why it is so important for pastors to faithfully preach the Word and guide the flock. I’ve mentioned this before but on my desk in front of my computer I have a little plaque that has a quote from John Calvin and it reads: “The pastor ought to have two voices: one, for gathering the sheep; and another, for warding off and driving away wolves and thieves. The Scripture supplies him with the means of doing both.” I see this quote every day and every day it inspires me to do all I can to teach you what the Bible teaches and every day it gives me a great desire to point you to strong Biblical teaching. This is part of the reason why I quote so many other pastors. It’s because I want you to surround yourself with Biblical truth so that when the day comes, not if, when the day comes when false teaching makes its way to your church, you’ll be able to stand. You might think, “Not my church!” If the church of Ephesus can fall with teachers like Paul, Timothy, and John, who are we to say that our church is untouchable. A firm standing in Biblical truth will always protect against false teaching and this is something that we are going to dive into more deeply next month as we dive into 1-2 Thessalonians. What can we do then? We can know our Bible. We can know our Savior and we can know the things that He teaches. We don’t believe because a loud voice says it in a church, we believe something because we find the truth that is proclaimed in Scripture. Where the Bible speaks; God speaks. We need to be like the believers in Berea in Acts 17 where when we hear teaching, we immediately cross-reference that teaching with Scripture. In fact, I strongly encourage that you check what I am saying with Scripture because I want to be right. Not out of a desire to make myself great but out of a desire to lead you in spirit and in truth. And again, we don’t believe every little thing that someone says because the name of Jesus is attached to it. John warns us of this and writes in 1 John 4:1-3
1 John 4:1–3 (ESV)
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
We need to consider not only how we listen but what we listen to. We don’t fall at the feet of anyone that claims to be religious or spiritual but we run headlong to the Word of God. Are you on the lookout for the wolves? Are you keeping an eye out for false teaching? Do you desire the greater things of God and a greater understanding of His Word and His person? I pray that you do and I pray that as we leave here today and as we worship together that our eyes are set to whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. And hoepfully what you have learned and received and heard and seein in me and the other pastors in your life, you will be able to put into practice. Surround yourselves with Christians and with pastors that desire to you sanctified and instill in you the truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
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