“Just preach the Gospel.”

This mantra is frequently used to suggest pastors should avoid addressing specific hot-button topics such as abortion, sexual ethics, social issues, or racism. It is generally used selectively of only the subject on which the speaker disagrees. We’re admonished to “keep focused and just preach the Gospel.”

This advice sounds right and seldom fails to draw rousing affirmations from well-meaning Christians, but is it Biblical? Is there a mandate or model in Scripture to “preach only the Gospel?” Should pastors stick solely to the message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus?

Paul seems to support this when he said, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” Yet we find this statement in a letter by which the Apostle addresses a wide range of issues within the church at Corinth. Further, the context of this limitation is the contrast between the wisdom of men and God’s power (1 Cor. 2:5). Paul’s statement cannot be taken to limit one’s preaching to the Gospel, excluding other topics.

Others point to the Great Commission, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel.” Yet Jesus doesn’t say “preach ONLY the Gospel,” and goes beyond this, “Teaching (making disciples of) them to observe ALL things whatsoever I have commanded you.” A disciple must first believe the Gospel message, but not stop at it.

The pattern of Biblical preaching indicates that there is much more to be addressed. John the Baptist preached that Herod shouldn’t have taken his brother’s wife. Jesus delineated the boundaries of marriage, proclaimed justice to the nations, and modeled breaking ethnic barriers. Paul’s challenge to Timothy was to preach the Word (all Scripture being profitable), and his faithful testimony as a pastor was, “I have not shunned to declare to you ALL the counsel of God.”

What is the counsel of God? It includes the full message of all aspects of redemption—justification before God, sanctification by God, and glorification with God. The whole counsel involves preaching the message of the Gospel to its fullest implications. The Word we are commissioned to preach surveys many issues, all viewed through a Gospel lens.

Because of this, I preach that the unbeliever needs to trust Christ AND how the believer should conduct themselves like Christ in their vocation, family, the church, and society.

I preach the impartiality of grace we have experienced AND the impartiality of grace we are to express.

I preach that we are saved by faith without good works AND that we are saved by faith unto good works.

I preach what the Bible says about any topic on which it has something to say.

I can’t preach from Romans 1 without mentioning sexual ethics. I can’t expound Ephesians 5 and not engage the family. I can’t work my way through James 2 and not address the sin of partiality. I preach love in 1 John, prayer in the Psalms, wisdom in Proverbs, the eternal state in Revelation, and many other topics that aren’t the Gospel itself.

Pastors should never neglect the Gospel, but our preaching cannot Biblically be exclusive to the Gospel. It is the sun in the solar system of the “whole counsel.” It is the first and most important message, it lights our understanding of our whole message, but it is not the only message. It must always be the center of our preaching, but never its boundary.

If our task is to preach the whole counsel of God, the Gospel alone is simply not enough.

4 comments
  1. I don’t think anyone is saying that we do not address other issues, however we do address them through the Gospel. It’s only when they understand the Gospel and are living in the Gospel that these other issues can be dealt with. Paul goes on to say that he did not persuade people with wisdom of men. If we are convincing others apart from the Gospel, then are we really teaching biblical concepts or personal thoughts? The Gospel is all we need, if we are truly affected by it. I think the issue is, have we truly been affected by the Gospel or by the persuasiveness of men?

    Tim Bass

    1. Tim, thanks for reading and engaging. My experience with this statement has been those who didn’t think a pastor should address these issues from the pulpit. How far they intended to take that, I can’t say for sure – maybe they didn’t truly mean “just the Gospel.” An example was several years ago when the radical re-definition of marriage was the topic du jour. I was told then that I should just preach the Gospel and leave social/political issues alone.

      While the Gospel is what an unbeliever needs, once they are a believer they need to be taught Biblical principles – in light of the Gospel, of course. Even if I have been affected by the Gospel, I can’t ignore the continuing work of sanctification in my understanding of these particular topics. This comes through the work of the Holy Spirit, often using pastoral instruction.

      Biblical exposition anchors a pastor in Biblical truth and protects from venturing into personal opinion. The beauty of “all the counsel” is that it avoids both extremes of one-note, hobby-horse preaching AND a buffet approach that conveniently avoids difficult passages or topics. In the words of one of my favorite authors, “Blessed are the balanced.”

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