We, at least here in North America, live in what is becoming an increasingly neo-pagan culture. The heart sin of idolatry, the worship of self, is becoming increasingly pervasive. Related to that is the promotion of ethical immorality, nor just as an option to be tolerated and accepted, but something that one is required to embrace. With what has God equipped the church? The seal of the seminary I attended includes a drawing of a pulpit with an open Bible with a sword lying across it. Above it are five Greek words, which translate into our text (Acts 20:27), “The whole will of God.” That was crucial, not only for the elders of the church at Ephesus, but for both officers and members of the church today.
Learn the whole will of God. Pay attention, because God is the author of his word. Paul’s expectation that this would be the last time he would see these men (verse 25) gave additional weight to them. The will of God here refers to God’s revealed will. Behind Paul’s words, behind the passages of Scripture he had proclaimed at Ephesus, lies the work of the Holy Spirit. All Scripture is God-breathed. God holds you accountable for your response to his word. Paul, verse 26, like the prophet, Ezekiel 33:1–9, had faithfully proclaimed God’s word. The church today has a similar responsibility. Your elders are called to proclaim the warnings of the Word—and you and I are responsible to obey. God’s Word is always effective, as Isaiah points out. It never returns to him empty or void.
Pay attention to the whole of God’s revelation. This is not God’s secret, all encompassing plan, but his revealed will, see Deuteronomy 29:29. The whole will does not mean an exhaustive knowledge of God’s word. There are depths in God’s revelation that we will still be growing in appreciating in the depths of eternity. Gregory the Great wrote, as he studied the Book of Job, “Scripture is like a river again, broad and deep, shallow enough here for the lamb to go wading, but deep enough there for the elephant to swim.” This does mean that the Bible is God’s complete, sufficient, final revelation. It does not need to be supplemented by the tradition of the church or by contemporary revelations. Paul is also telling you that the entire Scriptures are God’s revelation. Don’t use just half a Bible! The Bible is a coherent whole, not just random stories or moral exhortations. If it is that, read it! Spend time in it.
“Sometimes we are tempted to stand for things which the counsel of God does not warrant. But we may not succumb. The whole counsel of God and nothing more! The whole counsel of God and nothing less! We must not presume to tone up this counsel and be better than God. We must not tone it down and prove unfaithful to our commission.” (“Greeting to Entering Students, 1966,” Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. 1, pp. 111-112)
As Christ’s church, proclaim the whole will of God. Proclaim what is helpful. “The whole will of God” in Acts 20:27 gives substance to “anything that was helpful,” verse 20. While Paul is speaking about his own preaching and teaching while he was at Ephesus (both in public and from house to house), this is an example for the Ephesian elders. It also gives you what the content of the church’s message today ought to be. That includes not only the preaching from the pulpit, but also your encouraging of one another in your Christian walk, as well as reaching out to unbelieving neighbors. There is not a “mini-gospel” for evangelism with deep truth reserved for the initiated. Rather, the same truth, presented one way, can be milk for spiritual infants, and presented another way, solid meat for those capable of chewing.
“By God’s grace we believe there is a system of truth in Scripture, that this system is one, and we believe it to be of God as the truth is revealed to us for our faith and prescribing for us the way of life.”(John Murray).
Your commitment to the whole will of God is the purpose of our existence as a church. The message of what is helpful focuses on the call to repent and trust in Christ, verse 21. Appreciate the centrality of Christ in the word. Even in Isaiah 55 we find the prophet pointing to God’s mercies in the line that he promised to David.
“We know of no antithesis between Christ as the Word, as the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of his being, as the image of God, on the one hand, and the plenary inspiration, authority, perfection, and finality of the Scripture, on the other. It is just because of what Christ supremely and astoundingly is that Scripture possesses its authority and finality.” (John Murray).
Be faithful to the whole revelation of God. Don’t narrow the focus of Scripture to one aspect of obedience or one facet of God’s grace. Your goal has to be the glory of God in all that you do. Examine each area of your life and submit it to God’s word. Grasp the richness of the life that flows out of appreciating the whole will of God. It includes guarding the flock against those who would destroy it, whether by doctrinal error or by turning believers against one another. It includes the compassionate service of one another and a diaconal concern that reflects the attitude of Jesus (in verse 35 Paul quotes a saying of Jesus that is not recorded in the Gospels). That’s challenging, but the same word is the word of God’s grace that can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified, verse 32.
The whole will of God. Let that mark your life as a Christian and the life of this congregation. Unfold the riches of God’s word in your mind and heart and submit every inch of your life to the kingship of Jesus Christ.