T.M. Moore is the editor of the Worldview Church and serves both as a writer and a theological conultant for the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.
“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.
In his brief farewell address to the elders of the churches in Ephesus, Paul summarized his ministry of the Word. He insisted that he did not fail to proclaim “the whole counsel of God” even though that probably does not mean he taught through every book of the extant Scriptures of his day. Rather, as we have seen, his preaching and teaching were firmly grounded in the worldview of the Gospel of grace, and focused on urging the people of God to seek the Kingdom and righteousness of Jesus Christ. The worldview of the Gospel and the presence, power, and promise of the Kingdom would have provided an ample canvas on which to draw from the whole palette of Scripture in painting out the calling to follow Jesus Christ.
But Paul’s claim to have taught the whole counsel of God was not limited to the content of his ministry of the Word. Faithfulness in ministry requires the use of all of Scripture, but it requires more than this, as we shall see. He was also careful in speaking to the kinds of outcomes God intended by giving His Word to His people (Is. 55:11).
Paul insisted that he was “innocent of the blood” of all the people in Ephesus because, in addition to painting with a broad content brush, he was also careful to speak to the needs, the discipleship outcomes, of those entrusted to his care. He taught the Word to them in ways that were profitable, sanctifying, and relevant. Let’s examine each of these ideas a bit further.
While Paul does not use the same word for “profitable” here as in 2 Timothy 3:15, the idea is the same. He taught the saints of God in such a way as that they might “profit” from his teachings for their lives and callings in Christ. Whatever else this may have entailed, Paul’s ministry of the Word must have included details and instructions specific to two aspects of the life of discipleship, two particular kinds of outcomes which each believer is expected to pursue.
First, Paul would have been careful to spell out for them the specific good works of love which are the hallmark of the life of faith (1 Cor. 13:13). Paul understood that believers had been redeemed by Jesus Christ “unto good works” (Eph. 2:10), and he would doubtless have exhorted the Ephesians, as he did the people in Galatia and Crete, to be zealous for good works and not to grow weary in them (Titus 3:8, 14; Gal. 6:9, 10). Paul was not preaching a Gospel of good works, but unto them. He would have been careful to explain that the Law of God is the starting point for thinking about good works (Rom. 7:7, 12), but its application must be tempered by the grace of the Spirit, rather than conformed to the strict letter of the Law (2 Cor. 3:6). He would have urged them to engage the mind of the Spirit, so that they understood the Law and its application to their calling to good works (Rom. 8:1-11). He would have nurtured affections designed to promote love issuing in good works (1 Cor. 13:4-7, 13). And he would have reinforced in the hearts and consciences of the people of Ephesus the role of the Law of God in preparing us to love God and our neighbors as we ought (Rom. 2:14, 15; Matt. 22:34-40).
Second, Paul would have taught whatever was profitable for people to lay hold on the gifts of God’s Spirit in order to minister His grace to one another (1 Cor. 12:7-11; Eph. 4:11, 12). He would have instructed them in how to use their tongues for edification, comfort, and instruction. He surely equipped them to speak the truth in love, whether to believers or unbelievers. He urged them to share of their possessions in meeting the needs of others, to raise their children unto the Lord, and to serve their employers as they would the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (Eph. 4, 5, 6).
Paul knew that the church makes progress in unity and maturity as the saints of God do good works of loving service to others (Eph. 4:11-16), by word and deed, and he would not have failed to teach them anything that was profitable to enable them to fulfill their callings in Christ.
For Paul good works of ministry are not something we patch on to the life of faith as mere external accretions. Rather, these must flow from within, where the Word of Christ dwells richly and is accomplishing its sanctifying and transforming work by the power of God’s Spirit (Col. 3:16; 2 Cor. 3:12-18).
Thus, Paul knew that unless those to whom he ministered the Word were diligent in seeking the holiness of the Lord, they would not be able to sustain the outward practices that characterize the life of a follower of Jesus Christ. He would have urged the Ephesians to work out their salvation in fear and trembling and to bring holiness to completion in the fear of God (Phil. 2:12; 2 Cor. 7:1). He urged them to put aside all the ways of thinking, feeling, valuing, and living that characterized their lives before Christ, and to be clothed in Jesus unto His righteousness (Eph. 4:17-24). He would have instructed them in the fundamentals of spiritual growth – feeding on the Word of God, prayer without ceasing, worship in ways pleasing to God, how to recognize and resist temptation, to cultivate a clear and compelling vision of unseen things (Eph. 1:15-23), and all the rest, so that they could truly walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh (Gal. 5:16-23).
And he would have been careful to instruct them to submit to the shepherding love of their pastors and elders, so that they could realize their full potential as the people of God (1 Cor. 16:15, 16; 1 Thess. 5:12, 13).
Most of all he would have taught them about the Spirit of God and His work in their lives, so that they could gain the mind of the Spirit and of Christ (Rom. 8:1-11; 1 Cor. 2:16), realize more of His fruit and power (Gal. 5:22, 23), and walk more consistently in Him in unity with other believers (Gal. 5:16-21; Eph. 4:3).
Paul taught to the souls of those he served, to make of their souls a dwelling agreeable to the Holy Spirit and a factory of sanctification from which the good works of the Spirit would flow like rivers of living water (Jn. 7:37-39).
Finally, Paul would have taught the whole counsel of God to the people of Ephesus in ways that were relevant to their unique cultural and social needs. Whether they were Jews or Greeks, parents or children, employers or employees, Paul would have been careful to instruct them in the application of God’s truth to their specific callings and circumstances, and in listening to the Spirit’s teaching as He drew from all the counsel of God to guide them in their daily walk (1 Cor. 2:12, 13).
In the corpus of Paul’s letters we find specific instruction relevant to the social and cultural circumstances of a wide variety of people. He taught parents how to raise their children and rulers how to govern. He instructed church officers in their duties and taught and showed the people of God how to bear witness to people from different cultures. He applied the teaching of Scripture to the question of how one ought to relate to idolatrous neighbors, do his work as unto the Lord, engage the culture of unbelief in order to discern the work of God and bear witness, and how believers ought to use their wealth, possessions, and homes for the progress of the Kingdom.
The Gospel of grace brings the redeeming power of Christ to all of life. The call to follow Jesus is a call to make all things new. And the Kingdom of God is real spiritual power (1 Cor. 4:20) by which Jesus Christ, through His people, is reconciling the world to God. Paul would not have failed, in teaching the whole counsel of God to the people of Ephesus, to speak to its specific application in ways relevant to all of life and culture.
Thus, not only with respect to the content of his preaching and teaching, but concerning the kinds of outcomes such a ministry of the Word should strive to realize, Paul was faithful in ministering the whole counsel of God to the people at Ephesus, so that they might, by lives of repentance and obedient faith, continue to increase in the Lord Jesus Christ and His Kingdom.
We are being faithful in ministry when our own preaching and teaching reflects this kind of comprehensive focus on the outcomes God seeks from the going-forth of His Word.
Next steps: What is your approach to applying your preaching and teaching to the people of God? How do you help them think about the callings, their sanctification, and their everyday lives? Talk with some church leaders about these questions. Do they have any suggestions that might help you become more effective in this area of your ministry of the Word?
For a good overview of the work of pastoral ministry, order a copy of The Christian Ministry, by Charles Bridges, a classic in the field of pastoral studies. You can order it from our online by clicking here. You might also read the article, “Watch Yourself: The Discipline of the Self-watch,” by T. M. Moore.