What is 'All The Counsel Of God?'
Paul says to the Ephesians that he declared to them all the counsel of God. What is the whole counsel of God? The answer to this question is found in the context. In verse 24 Paul says that he must finish his course, that he must fulfill the ministry given to him by Jesus Christ. He says “the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” The whole counsel of God is the gospel of the grace of God. It is the eternal purpose of God to glorify His Son in the redemption of chosen sinners by Jesus Christ, to enthrone Christ as God and man, with His people, over all things in heaven and earth, and to eradicate evil from the universe, all to the glory of God.
Where is it found in scripture?
We do not have to rely on the brief summary in Acts 20:24 alone. The word of God is replete with the answer to this question and is abundantly clear on this point. Jesus Christ and Him crucified is all the counsel of God. The eternal mystery that was hid from the foundation of the world is God's eternal purpose in Christ to redeem His people, the Church of God, the body of Christ, throughout time out of every nation, kindred, tribe and tongue; and to glorify His Son and enthrone Him with His Church over all things; to subdue and destroy and eradicate from the universe all things that oppose God and His people. Christ's person and work is not only what Paul told the Ephesians, but it is what he wrote to them as well. The whole counsel of God is found in such places as Ephesians 1:3-11;17-23; 3:3-11.
Do we limit our doctrine by preaching Christ alone?
Do we limit our doctrine by preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified alone? I want to be clear on this by stating it in the negative. Most of what passes for preaching today is not preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Most preaching and teaching focuses on how we ought to behave, how to raise our children, how to get along as man and wife, how to work. Much preaching and teaching today describes salvation as a method or a process, a recipe that we must follow, a will that we must exert, a decision that we must make. Today’s preaching and teaching focuses on what we must become to be saved and what we must become once we are saved. It focuses on how we are to act, think, feel, and practice. In short, most of what passes for teaching and preaching today is man-centered, introspective, subjective, and myopically concerned with what I am and what I do. But none of this is teaching and preaching Christ. Cults produce morally upright children. Deniers of the truth make converts by the thousands. Works-mongers turn men into humble self-denying “worshippers.” But it is only the preaching and teaching of Jesus Christ and Him crucified that God will use to save sinners and edify His saints (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 2:2). Jesus Christ and Him crucified is not merely “the milk of the word”; it is both milk for babes and meat for men (1 Peter 2:2). Why is this? Because in it, the person, offices and work of Jesus Christ are revealed. He is the sum and substance of God’s counsel. Let me elaborate...
What did Eve, Peter, Phillip and Thomas all have in common? They all had to learn that the whole counsel of God is Christ and Him crucified. The devil asked Eve, "Yea, hath God said?" And he added, "that you shall not eat of every tree of the garden?" He flatly contradicted God when he said, "thou shalt not surely die!" Eve forsook the single Truth, the “only-ness” of Christ, the singularity of Christ, as represented by the Tree of Life, and she traded it for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (2 Corinthians 11:3-4; Galatians 1:6-9). Peter proposed building one tabernacle for Moses, one for Elijah and one for Jesus. God the Father spoke from heaven to correct his error, "This is my beloved Son; Hear Him!" The meaning is clear: Hear Christ only. God only speaks by Him and concerning Him. Moses and Elijah only speak of Him. We know this is the correct understanding because when the cloud was lifted, the disciples found Jesus only (Luke 9:36). Philip thought there must be more to see and hear than his beloved Master, so he asked Jesus to “show us the Father and it sufficeth us.” Our Lord corrects him, "Have I been so long time with you Phillip, and yet hast thou not known me? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:8-9) When Thomas asked in perplexity, “How can we know the way [to the Father]?” (John 14:5) Our blessed Lord answered, "I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life; no man cometh to the Father but by me" (John 14:6). The Hebrew Christians thought they could hold to both the old and new covenants. But God makes it clear that “In these last days, God has spoken to us in His Son” (Hebrews 1:2).
If eating (hearing, believing) Christ and Him crucified is life (John 6:51), if seeing Christ is seeing the Father, if Christ is the Truth, then what counsel of God is not fully comprehended and revealed in Him alone?! He is the brightness of God's glory, the express image of His person (Hebrews 1:3). Is God in human flesh insufficient? All of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Him (Colossians 2:2-3). The fulness of the Godhead dwells in Him bodily (Colossians 2:9-10). He is the Word of God (John 1). And we have all things that pertain unto life and godliness through the knowledge of Him (2 Peter 1:3). Christ is all (Colossians 3:11). We, therefore must teach, preach, learn of, look to and worship God in Christ alone!
Grace & Truth in Christ Alone
Christ is the Truth. As God He is the author of it. As man, He is the Mediator of it. In His person, offices and work, He is the fulfillment and revelation of it. He is the preacher of it. He is the subject of it. He is Truth. There is no truth but what is found and discovered and seen in Him. Therefore, preaching Christ and Him crucified is the full comprehension of all that is God and His eternal will. Whatever is not comprehended by him, is false, it is error, it is a substitute, it is antichrist. Christ is full of grace and truth. Salvation is by grace alone, from beginning to end. Therefore we must preach and teach Him who is full of grace and truth.
Christ is All
He is all in creation. He made the worlds. All things were made by Him and for Him, and He is before all things (Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2). He is all in providence. “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him” (Ephesians 1:10). He is all in salvation, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). He is all in sanctification and glory, “He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). “If, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10).
In Christ and Him crucified we see every attribute of God fully displayed and glorified. He is the brightness of God's glory and the express image of His person (Hebrews 1:2-3). It is by His work of redemption that God is glorified in the highest possible manner in all of His perfections (John 1:14,18; John 17:1-4; John 12:28-32; Philippians 2:5-11). As one preacher said, "Calvary, and the broken body of Jesus, is the most God-like thing that God ever did." -- Geoffrey Thomas
Testimony of Scripture
The book of Matthew opens with these words, "the book of the generation of Jesus Christ." The Gospel of Mark is called “the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1). Luke 24:25-27 makes it clear that all of the Old Testament was written about Christ, His suffering and death, and His entrance to glory. John’s Gospel ends by noting that if everything Jesus did was written in books, the world itself could not contain them. But by the Spirit of God, John wrote what he wrote “that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that believing you might have life through his name” (John 20:31). In the book of Acts it is recorded that the apostles, “ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ,” Acts 5:42. The book of Romans was Paul’s gift to the Roman Christians; it is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:11,16). In 1 Corinthians 1:17-18, Paul says to the saints in Corinth that he was “not sent to baptize but to preach the gospel.” He further says that “the cross of Christ is the power of God to them that are saved.” Thus, Christ and Him crucified is not a message restricted for the conversion of unbelievers. That was the reason Paul determined not to know anything among the Corinthians save “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Who could deny that Galatians is given to the Church to explain the gospel of Jesus Christ in contrast to the common error of all false religion, that justification and sanctification are attained by our own works of obedience to the law (Galatians 2:16; 3:3)? Who would deny that Ephesians unfolds the mysteries of the gospel of Christ (Ephesians 1:3-11; 17-23; 3:3-11)? Who cannot see that the book of Hebrews connects all of the dots of the Old Testament to complete the picture of Christ and His fulfillment of the eternal will of God (Hebrews 10)? The book of Revelation is "The revelation of Jesus Christ" (Revelation 1:1).
Milk and Strong Meat
Hebrews talks of “milk” and “strong meat”. “Milk” is the first principles of the gospel. Babes can only digest first principles. We must go on in Christ. We must not depart from Him. “Strong meat” is for the mature. From the context, meat is all that the Hebrew writer lays out concerning Christ in the epistle: His Priestly, Prophetic and Mediatorial offices, His triumph as our Captain over the devil, His fulfillment of the covenant of grace as our Head, Him as our propitiation, Him who perfects us, our Forerunner, the Author and Finisher of our faith. The epistle to the Hebrews unfolds Jesus Christ is in His person and His accomplished work to fulfill the old covenant, to meet all conditions of the new, to perfect His people, to put an end to the law, and to bring His people into all of the blessings of the new covenant. He is the Great Shepherd of the sheep by whose blood the everlasting covenant of grace is fulfilled (Hebrews 13:20). These are not milk; they are meaty truths that full-grown men of faith live and thrive on (Hebrews 11).
The meat of the word of God is Christ and Him crucified. It's about His relations to God as Son of God and Son of Man, His person, His appointments, His offices, His work. It's about God's eternal purpose to redeem His people by His substitutionary, representative work as their Redeemer. It’s about His body, the Church, the Elect of God, gathered throughout time. It’s about how by these God glorifies His Son and Himself in Him. It’s about Christ enthroned over all things. It's about God subduing and destroying every evil that opposes His rule and people by Jesus Christ.
To go beyond Christ is to transgress
To teach or preach anything but Jesus Christ is to teach and preach error. It is to teach the traditions and doctrines of men and devils. Pharisees gloried in men. But Paul expressed the heart of every believer when he said that his only boast was Jesus Christ and Him crucified (Galatians 6:14; Philippians 3:3). If Christ is the Truth, then all preaching that is not about Him is error. If by seeing Christ we see the Father, then we need see none but Him. If He is the great I AM, then He is all. Christ and Him crucified is the whole counsel of God. In these last days God has spoken to us in and by His Son. Christ sent His apostles. If, therefore, we go outside of what He and they taught, to reveal the mysteries hidden from the foundation of the world, then we have fallen into Eve's error. To go beyond Him is to transgress (2 John 1:8-10). It is to disobey the very voice of God the Father from heaven to "Hear Him!"
Wrapping it all up
The word of God is about Christ and Him crucified, to fulfill the eternal purpose of God to glorify His Son in the salvation of His people across the world over and throughout time; to enthrone Christ as Lord over all, with His people; and to subdue and remove every trace of evil and the works of the devil from God's universe. The gospel is given “that you might believe,” not only when we first believe, but it is given to mature us in the faith of Christ and to walk in love to Him and His people (1 John 5:13). In short, the gospel is given to conform believers to Christ and to build up the Church. “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3). Christ and Him crucified is the whole counsel of God.