Friday, August 8, 2014

The Public Reading of Scripture

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. (1 Timothy 4:13 NIV)

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. (1 Thessalonians 2:13 NIV)
At Vespers the other day, I was particularly struck by 1 Thessalonians, where Paul gives thanks for the believers at Thessalonica that, “when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.” What particularly impressed upon me was that last bit, “The Word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.” This work is not cast in the aorist tense but as a present indicative. That is, it is not a completed action but an ongoing one. The Word we have received by faith is always at work in us, even now, and it is very powerful.

This is one reason I would like to see more Scripture readings in worship services — they seem to have declined in many congregations. The public reading of Scripture is very powerful because the Scriptures themselves are very powerful, and the Holy Spirit is able to work through it in a way that goes beyond what men and women of God can do through preaching and teaching.

I think of Paul, inspired by God and very articulate in all his letters and, no doubt, also in his preaching and teaching. Yet, in Ephesians 1:17, he prays that God would give believers the “spirit of wisdom and revelation” in knowing God intimately. I take this “spirit” here to be the Holy Spirit — who else could it be who brings divine wisdom and revelation?

As articulate and faithful to the gospel as Paul was, and as effective as he was, he realized that it simply would not be enough, and that what believers need is for the Holy Spirit to bring wisdom and revelation. Now, I certainly believe the Holy Spirit can — and does — work through the preaching of the Word, but as I have continued in ministry, I have come to realize that He can also work quite powerfully through a simple public reading of the Word. And I have learned to depend on it more and more, and even to crave it.

In 1 Timothy 4:13, Paul exhorts Timothy not only to preaching and teaching, but also to the “public reading of Scripture.” Though he lists it first in order, this reading is not merely a setup for the preacher. It is very powerful in its own right, as the Holy Spirit Himself illuminates it to the heart of the hearer. And when we receive this Word in our hearts, it is like a seed that is planted, always at work, growing and increasing in us, continually changing us and conforming us to the image and likeness of Christ.