By Ron Courter (Excerpt from Article originally printed January 28th, 1976)
We began the year with a cry for revival. It is a plea that we do not intend to quiet. We are fully convinced that no possible spiritual revival can begin or be sustained without Bible reading. Possibly you have not noticed how many times in the scriptures Jesus asks, “Have ye not read?” Jesus expected men to read and to know from their reading. When men asked questions about various subjects, Jesus often answered by saying, “have ye not read?” When they discussed eating on the Sabbath, the question of divorce, his messiah-ship, and the resurrection he spoke of what reading would have taught them. Jesus plainly states, “If you don’t read, you can not know.” A decline in bible reading is very evident from conversations on the Bible. Also, fewer and fewer people follow lessons in their Bible or note the scripture being used. This is another symptom of less open Bibles. (Read the following Matthew12: 3; 19:4; 21:16; 22:31; Mark 12: 10,26).
Why did the hand of God labor to see the words on the cross were written in three languages (John 19: 20)? He desired men to read and to know. The word “read” means to distinguish between, to recognize, to know accurately, or to acknowledge.
The scriptures are written to be understood. Paul had many problems with the church at Corinth. He makes clear that the meaning of what he taught and said was to be found in the words that he wrote unto them. They are not vague, confusing, or written to be deceitful. The brethren were to take the things he wrote in the common, literal sense (2 Corinthians 1:13). Certainly, we should so take the scriptures, for they are the words of Heaven (l Corinthians 2: 4,13). Peter affirmed that the words written by Paul that were hard to understand, could have been understood, if the heart of the reader was correct (2 Peter3: l6).
Reading and The People
The roots of reading for God’s people are found in the history of Israel as the people of God. Moses read to the people the covenant so that they knew what they were promising to obey (Exodus 24:7). The coming to appropriate the blood of Jesus through faith does not call for a perfect knowledge, but it does call for men to continue in learning the will of God. Moses told how the law should be read, so the children may hear, learn, and fear the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 31: 9-l3). How carefully Joshua read to the congregation of Israel, for it says, “There was not a word of all that Moses commanded which Joshua read not before all the congregation…(Joshua 8.34, 34)”
The Charge to Read In The New Testament
Reading in the synagogue in Jesus’ day was customary and very important when the people gathered. Arrangements of the scriptures were made, so the audience would receive a full hearing of the law for a given period of time. Jesus engaged in the practice of reading in the synagogue (Luke 4: 16). The reading of the scriptures in our public gatherings should be as important, as in the days of the synagogue. It is not. The writer has felt for years the mere reading of a text in our assemblies is inadequate. Heaven’s revelation is understood by reading it and hearing it read (Ephesians 3: 4). We overlook the fact that congregations were charged to read an epistle among them on various occasions (Colossians 4: 16; I Thessalonians 5:27).
Paul’s statement to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:13 is felt by most to be a reference to public reading of the scriptures. The lack of availability of the scriptures in that day would have underlined the necessity of public reading. Today, the evident need for whetting spiritual appetites to open the Bible calls for more public reading. Reading served as a springboard for the teaching of the doctrine of Christ and for the urging of certain distinct actions in the life of the Christian. The writer found it interesting that many of the churches in Africa had two speakers when they gathered on the Lord’s Day. The first speaker spoke to enlighten the people on a particular Bible subject, while the second speaker spoke more on urging the people to do a specific work for the Lord. This appears to fit well with the admonition, “to give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.”
The Power of Words
Words continue to be the most powerful instrument in the world to influence the course of man. This is true and will remain true, as long as words have distinctive meanings. Satan has labored most profusely in recent years to have our world use words so carelessly or self-centered that communication becomes an impossibility. He realizes the power of words and hopes to neutralize that power by making them have no distinctive meaning. Paul speaks of the key to meaningful speech, when speaking of every voice having signification (1 Corinthians 14: 7-10). The angel of God understood the power of speech when he said, “Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all they house shall be saved (Acts 11: 14).” The hearing of words read from the Bible or the hearing of the words of others can cause great changes in our behavior and our spiritual outlook. Notice the effect on some people in the Old Testament from the reading of words:
- Reading the words of others may disturb you. 2 Kings 5: 7
- Reading the words of others may cause prayer. 2 Kings 19: 14-19
- Reading the word of God may bring repentance and peace. 2 Kings 22: 11-20
- Reading the word of God will make men change things for the sake of righteousness. (What a great revival was wrought because an eight-teen year old heard the word of God). 2 Kings 23: 2-25
- Reading the word of God helps us learn of judgment. 2 Chronicles 34: 24
- Reading allows us to learn what happened in the past and therefore to correct things in the present. Ezra 4: 18-24
- Reading the word of God may cause us to help others, to put ourselves in the right place, and to assemble well. Nehemiah 8: 10,14,18
- Reading the word of God teaches us whom to company with and to be separated from. Nehemiah 13: 1-3
- Reading teaches us whom, to recognize among men. Esther 6:1
We could certainly place New Testament scriptures beside each of these thoughts to reveal that the word of God does all of this and more too. Reading from the word of God and, learning to read with distinction of meaning is so powerful, that it causeth us to rejoice (Acts 15: 31).
Reading to Others
We realize the mere reading of the word or giving the sense of the word may not produce faith, but this is because there is also the variable of the character of the soil where the seed is cast. Still, one of the most explicit verses on the manner of reading states, “So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading (Nehemiah 8:8).” The complementary passage is seen on numerous occasions in the New Testament and especially the book of Acts. Paul’s admonition to Timothy fulfills the idea of reading and giving the sense to the audience. The psalmist declared the need for meditation upon the word that giveth light. Meditation is a necessary prerequisite for giving the sense of the scriptures.
Listening to What is Read
We must be attentive to the reading or much slips by without any discernment (Nehemiah 8:3). We must listen with a mind of inquiry, searching out the understanding of what is being said in the reading. There must be willingness to seek out help, instead of acting all knowing (Acts 8: 28-35). We must listen regularly to the word and examine regularly (Acts 15: 21). The best kind of learning is done by spacing out our study rather than studying all at one time. It is very alarming to be conscious of the fact that we have few people who read the word of God regularly. The person in life that does the job day after day is the one who gets the job done. The same is true of spirituality.
How Not To Listen
We are not reading the word when we do not try to discern and examine what the writer was telling the people receiving his word (Acts 13: 27). Listening with no effort to reconsider the topic in light of all scriptures on the subject is not good listening (2 Corinthians 3: 15). Many continue to discard the word that has brought fear and life to others they are like Jehoiakim of old (Jeremiah 36: 23). May we never be of that spirit, which is unable to learn and read with distinction (Isaiah 29: 10-13). Note, these people did not stop talking of God and reverence, but their reverence toward God was founded upon the precept of man.
It Will Endure
The word of God will endure forever (1 Peter l: 25). Those words of the Bible are bound by heaven (Matthew16: 19). What the apostles bound or loosed in their preaching was already bound and loosed in heaven. How fearsome and impressive to think of the word that cannot be undone. Jeremiah so vividly illustrated the binding of the word when he had Seraiah bind the book with a stone to it and cast it into the river (Jeremiah 51: 60-64). Yea, so it was with Babylon and so it will be with all who hear and do not (Matthew 7: 24-29). READ FOR YOUR LIFE.