In his farewell speech to the Ephesian elders, Paul said, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Paul was referring to his teaching and preaching ministry (Acts 20:20-21), but I believe this is also a profound guide for us as we consider our entire worship services.
Are we indeed declaring the whole counsel of God? This matters because all of us (individuals, churches, denominations) have our own points of emphasis. But my own perspective and my own emphases will tend to leave out some biblical points of emphasis.
For example, gospel songs tend to emphasize the personal experience of salvation and aspiration to holy living. These are clearly essential to Christian living, but they do not encompass all of the Christian experience. God also calls us out of our own experience, off a self-focus. If our sermons, songs, and prayers are aimed primarily on our own experience, we miss a significant swath of Scripture in which we are called to focus in adoration on God himself, and on building his kingdom.
To proclaim the whole counsel of God, we will need to consider carefully the whole of Scripture, including the parts that leave us uncertain or uncomfortable. The Psalms — often quoted in the New Testament, much used by the early church — also provide an authoritative pattern for us. They address the vast world of God and man, and can teach us how we should pray and sing in our worship. Here are just a few areas that are frequent points of emphasis in the Psalms:
- God is Creator. “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host” (Ps. 33:6, see Ps. 104).
- We are sinful, and must respond to God with confession. “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity” (Ps 32:5a).
- When we confess, God forgives. “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord, and you forgave the iniquity of my sin” (Ps. 32:5b).
- God has worked powerfully throughout history to save his people (Ps. 105).
- Throughout history, God’s people have often been rebellious (Ps. 106).
- God is a righteous judge who hates evil (Ps 7:11). He judges individuals: “If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword” (Ps 7:12). He judges the nations: “But the Lord sits enthroned forever … and he judges the world with righteousness” (Ps 9:7-8).
- Eventually God will put everything right: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you” (Ps 22:27).
These are only a few of many themes that are expressed throughout the Psalms. May God help us in our sermons, songs, and prayers, to declare the whole counsel of God.