Public Reading is Good Work
Reading out loud is work. It's much easier to let the pastor, priest
or rabbi do the work of preparing a nice message and finding all the
references for us. Then we blend his message in with all of our other
entertainment options. Reading out loud takes patience, longsuffering,
humility, faithfulness and goodness. We have to labor to show ourselves
approved. In short, it allows us a chance to show and produce more of
all the fruit of the Spirit.
We have to be humble because maybe we don't read very well. Or we
worry over how to pronounce words, or we think we will look bad if we
don't pronounce them correctly. As an aside comment to this, let me just
say that I don't think any of us really know how the words were
originally pronounced or even spelled for that matter. So we shouldn't
be so picky or proud that we forsake the many benefits of public reading
of the Word just because we might fumble a bit. Besides, if we keep
reading out loud we will all learn to pronounce as well as anybody.
Building a Foundation
Any group led by me is going to get a good foundation from reading
the first five books of the Bible out loud. Adding the first five of the
New Testament connects both sections and a bunch of His teachings
together. It emphasizes that the Word is one faith delivered to one body
by one God and Savior (Ephesians 4:4-6). We cannot begin to understand
what the apostles teach until we share their foundation. So many
sections of the Torah (the first five) are quoted by the apostles that
in my view if we do not have the foundation we are bound to
misinterpret. And the church really does misinterpret all the time.
We need the foundation to stay on track. Every prophet, good priest
and every godly king of Israel used the Torah to keep their lives in
line with God's will and taught others to do the same. They did this in
part by proclaiming the Word publicly. The people of the time of the
Judges did badly because they didn't keep reading the Torah and doing
what it said. Ultimately Israel was kicked out of the land because they
didn't read the Torah and did not do what it said. The religious leaders
of Israel read the Torah but didn't do what it said, so they killed the
Lord of Glory and persecuted His remnant. The church does not read the
Torah or do what it says, in some ways proudly, while going so far off
track they too are at risk of judgment.
Without the foundation of the
Torah, we wouldn't know the Promise (Genesis 3:15) and how it relates to
the actions of Jesus. We wouldn't know why the writer of Hebrews (4:2)
calls the Law the gospel or good news. There would be no knowledge of
the New Covenant or why it was needed. Without the foundation of the Old
Testament Jesus would have been regarded as just another itinerant
preacher. Every book written after the first five was based on the
Torah, referred often to the Torah, and expected that people were to
live according to its precepts.
Building a Framework
Once we have the foundation, the Spirit can build a framework with us
for living out the Word in all its power and life. Reading alone does
this too, of course, but reading out loud is one more tool God uses to
make the house strong. Maybe we can humorously think of it as another
whack with the hammer. Seriously, though, understanding how the parts
fit in the big picture only comes from fitting them on a frame built on
the foundation, and the better the framework, the better the house. As
long as the foundation is on the rock, the building will stand up to
even the strongest storms.
Reading large sections corporately gives us context not only for the
section we happen to be reading but also for the entire Bible. It's like
hearing testimony in court. All writers of Bible books after the Torah
quote from, teach, reinforce, and preach from the Torah. So it behooves
us to know the subject matter from which they get their material.
Without the Torah the Bible doesn't make any sense. If we just read a
few verses here and there we have no context or proper understanding of
events and other teachings. Jesus made it a point to say that He did not
come to abolish the Law but to fill it up full of the Spirit and love as
it originally was intended to have. He surely didn't mean that He didn't
come to abolish but to abolish. He obviously meant that He didn't come
to abolish but to establish. He also tells us that if we don't believe
Moses we won't believe Him (John 5:46). The message of Jesus, John the
Baptist, and the apostles was to repent. Repentance means to turn or
return, but what would the people turn to? The answer is the Torah. Read
what God says and do it.
Public Reading a Model for Others
Our behavior in public assemblies will also be a model for others to
follow at home. If we believe the Bible is important and should be read
regularly, then it should be read regularly in our assemblies. Reading
out loud encourages reading at home both personally and silently as well
as out loud with the family. Public reading of large amounts of
Scripture speaks volumes about what we think is important. Music and
singing is nice and desirable; some explanation from the pastor is a
good thing; and we need to hear some announcements about upcoming
events. But the most prominent place and the most time should be given
over to the most important activity.
Visitors or new converts in our assemblies are often confused with
the language we speak. Church-goers tend to use terms and phrases
specific to the faith that are hard for the uninitiated to understand
and often called Christianese. This language may be based on Scripture,
but it takes time to learn and in the meantime our visitors are lost in
translation. Reading the Word out loud, especially focusing on the
beginning books of the Bible, makes plain the meanings of many words and
concepts. It is an excellent introduction to difficult ideas such as
atonement, faith, and the promise. God speaks plainly and simply and
even the most uneducated can understand and receive His Word this way.
Reading out loud also opens the door to questions which can be explained
in the meeting or privately later. We would rather speak five words with
our minds in order to instruct others than ten thousand words in a
tongue (1 Corinthians 14:19).
Teach Your Children
Reading large portions of the Word out loud is one of the tools
believing parents can use to teach our children. They see us dedicating
ourselves to public reading, so they will do it too. Kids can
participate in our services in a constructive way. When we do it in our
assembly, many of the kids will jump at the chance to read sections.
They learn to love reading, and reading the Word of God. If it is
important to the parents, it will be important to the children. From
even very young ages and before a child even learns to read the Word is
going into them and helping to inform their worldview. It encourages
questions and gives God's opinion on all the important issues. We teach
our children by how we act when the Word is read publicly. Repetition
Teach Each Other
We learn from each other when large sections of the Word are read
publicly. The meaning of phrases can be discussed, words are introduced
with suggestions for pronunciation, and we get different perspectives
through different eyes. Patience is foremost when reading publicly
because some people may struggle a little with unfamiliar words or
cultural differences. It isn't a contest for the best reader, it is a
community effort to share in the service and teach the fruit of the
Spirit. It builds confidence in members who are shy while inducing
humility in those who may be tempted toward pride in their reading
abilities. Correction without judgment can occur because everyone is
trying to learn and grow.
Eat Big, Healthy Meals
Believers hunger and thirst for the Word of God. Reading out loud
publicly helps fill us with large meals of the only thing that can
satisfy. Substitutes such as passionate preaching, endlessly repeating
songs, tearful testimonies and multimedia presentations charge up the
emotions, but they do nothing (and I mean nothing) for getting the Word
out to people like reading His Words. The other stuff may contain some
of the Word, and in that much it helps a little, but believers don't
want to snack on the Word. Appetizers are not enough - we need hearty
meals full of nutrition.
As the writer of Hebrews says,
"Therefore let us leave the elementary
doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the
foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of
instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of
the dead, and eternal judgment." (Hebrew 6:1, 2 ESV).
So much of church teaching and activities are geared around
elementary doctrines of Christ that they don't have room for the meat of
the Word. The Hebrews writer again gives us the picture.
"For by this time you ought to be teachers,
you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles
of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is
unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid
food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment
trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil."
(Hebrews 5:12-14 ESV).
We get solid food from the Word of God, read regularly and obeyed
always. We don't get enough satisfaction from the constant milk of
emotional presentations from a few verses in vain repetition.
Spiritual people need solid food, while those people of the flesh
demand milk. This is why most every church meeting only delivers milk at
the present time. I know much of this article will not penetrate the
hard hearts of many out there. We have reached that stage spoken of by
Paul in 2 Timothy 4:3 where "For the time is coming when people will not
endure sound teaching; but having itching ears they will accumulate for
themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from
listening to the truth and wander off into myths." People of the flesh
try to avoid reading more than just a few dribbles squeezed out of the
Bible by some speaker. Spiritual people, however, consume all of the
Word as if starving and aren't afraid to read large sections out loud.
We don't flinch away from the words of life.
Wise and Understanding People
Reading the Word, which includes reading it out loud, gives us wisdom
and understanding. Hearing the Word spoken helps us learn new things
because we see them reflected in the eyes and behavior of the one
reading. God says, "Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom
and your understanding in the sight of all people, who, when they hear
all these statutes, will say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and
understanding people'" (Deuteronomy 4:6). As we hear the Word read out
loud we share in the experience with other body members, agreeing with
the testimony and proclaiming it to angels.
In discussion after reading out loud in our meetings, we can go anywhere
else in the Word the Spirit leads. We hear connections to other parts of
the Word, and through this we not only preach the unity and continuity
of it but we see it for ourselves. We reinforce the fact that the Word
is one message to one body from one God and Savior. As the framework is
filled in for us, we understand how all the parts fit together. In
addition, we see how we all fit together into one body. God introduces
all of the subjects; we just follow where He takes us.
Reading, and reading out loud, is a test to see if Torah is really
present and practiced. In love we participate with other members in the
flow of the Spirit as the words are read. Our patience is tested as we
work through sections that seem to be boring but later we find they are
crucial to some other concept in the Word. It is a test of our
faithfulness because as we continue in it all the benefits we've
discussed are given and shared, and generations after us pick up and
carry the task through their lives. In times of trial we reaffirm our
love of God and vocalize His promises.
You may not want to hear this, but reading the Word out loud also tests
whether people really want to learn the Word of God. Of course this test
would also include behavior in keeping with the sound doctrine spoken of
in the reading. Agents of darkness or hard-hearted people cannot stand
to hear large portions of the Word read out loud. That's not to say that
hard-hearted people couldn't stick around in a group, because obviously
that happened with synagogues at the time Jesus was in the flesh. Large
portions of those unbelievers were instrumental in the persecution that
arose after the time of Pentecost. But that's what I mean. When The Word
(Jesus) was introduced, there was immediate reaction both positive and
negative. There were many congregation splits as the Word was introduced
by the apostles and others. That's why I think we have to include the
New Testament in our reading schedules - reading large parts of the
first five books of each section (OT and NT) is a sure fire way to
filter out those who do not really want to follow God but just want to
dip themselves in whitewash.
On the one hand, reading the Torah filters out those pretenders who
claim a Jesus that is a touchy-feely social justice warrior, but isn't
God in the flesh who also demands a holy standard. On the other hand,
reading the gospels and Acts filters out those who only see a distant,
disconnected and judgmental God of anger and fury. Reading large parts
of both sections every meeting does an excellent of scaring away both
those who don't want to obey, and also those who think a bunch of rules
is the way to righteousness and the Kingdom.
Training in Righteousness
Reading the Word publicly trains us in self-control, godliness, patience
and good works. We all hear the instruction, so we can all work to
conform to it and help each other conform. If one of us falters others
can carry through on the admonition to bear one another's burdens and
encourage each other in love. We all hear the instructions to do so.
Reading the Word out loud trains us in unity to respond in love to build
one another up.
Another reason to read the Word out loud is because we don't want to.
Our flesh is easily distracted by more entertaining baubles. The fruit
of the Spirit doesn't just pop out because we raise our hands and go
forward to be "saved." Reading the Word is part of the sanctification
process, and our natural man doesn't respond too well. That's one of the
reasons I think Paul says our old man was crucified (Galatians 5:24) and
that we have to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling"
(Philippians 2:12 ESV).
We claim that reading the Word in public (or even just reading it) is
hard, but it is not hard to read. What is hard is the heart. Obey has
always been a four-letter word to the natural man. In our flesh we don't
want to conform. We want to do things "our way" and not God's way. Like
Cain, we hope that our self-seeking sacrifice will be accepted instead
of offering the sacrifice of obedience as did Abel. The flesh resists
whenever the reigns of the Word are applied. However, if we submit to
His Words which we can all hear in public, then the Spirit will come and
aid us in our fight against the flesh. Reading the Word publicly is
another tool that conditions our hearts to resist the natural man and
keep him in the grave where he belongs.
Better Fellowship and Fun
Reading out loud with anyone able and willing to participate encourages
and enhances fellowship. Public reading unites us together with each
other and other congregations in a symphony of reading that reaches into
heavenly realms. It praises God and gives Him glory in front of
witnesses, including angels. It's better than emotional singing or even
the most passionate preaching.
Everyone who reads gets to participate in a meeting instead of sitting
there like bumps on a log listening to entertainment. We find out where
there may be weaknesses in learning and gently fill in the gaps. We
learn together how to pronounce words, including children. Reading out
loud brings the members of the body together in a harmony of unity and
diverse voices all centered on our Father and Savior.
Finally, reading out loud is fun. We are surprised with connections we
didn't see before no matter how many times we've read it ourselves.
There is warmth and comradery that is missing from conventional church
meetings. Using a schedule, we all know where we are at and can join
right in even if we've missed a meeting or two. We know what to expect
and can have questions or observations ready. We have a common framework
built by the Spirit from which to work and share. So grab hold of His
Word by reading it, reading it in public, and doing what He says.