The assembly is, or ought to be, a place of learning. One of the best venues for such learning is a well-led Bible reading, but, sadly, many do not take advantage of this opportunity.
The Priority of Preparation
If we are to learn from a Bible reading, our priority ought to be personal preparation. Too often we hear believers mention that they find the assembly Bible reading either too difficult or too dreary, but in both cases additional personal preparation would be a tremendous help. In this busy age this needs to become a priority in the life of each believer. We need to be like Mary, who spent time at the feet of the Lord Jesus, hearing His word (Lk 10:39), and later brought that pure nard to anoint His feet (Jn 12:3). It is safe to say that the more time we spend in preparing for the reading, the more we will enjoy the reading, whether we are participating audibly or not.
Entreaty is Essential
The Holy Spirit is our Teacher, but the “natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14). If we have the desire to learn from a Bible reading we will need the help of the Spirit of God. When we are preparing for the weekly Bible reading we need to ask God to help us, through His Spirit, to discern spiritual truths.
Consciousness of the Context
There is a danger, as an assembly goes through a book of the Bible in their weekly readings, of losing sight of the context of the verses under consideration. If we go to the reading wanting to learn something from the Word of God, we need to have an understanding of the context.
There is the immediate context which involves the nearest verses to the ones we are considering. There is also a broader context which would include the tenor of the whole book. Let us not forget the parallel context which takes into account other passages that would deal with the same subject or theme. Paul wrote of this in 1 Corinthians 2:13, “…comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” Many of the sects that have arisen have used verses, taken completely out of their context, as their basis for existence.
Someone has wisely said: “A text taken out of context is only a pretext.” Let us make an effort, not only to read the verses under consideration, and study them, but also to read consistently the entire chapter, and perhaps the entire book, as we prepare at home. Use the cross references in your margin, or a concordance, and read the parallel passages to get another angle on the passage being dealt with in the reading.
Hindrances or Helps
We, as humans, are creatures of extremes. There are two dangers when it comes to using books when we are getting ready for a Bible reading. We can rely far too heavily on what someone else has written. This limits the work of the Spirit Who desires to teach us as we go through the passage ourselves with the Word of God open before us, thus making books a hindrance. The other danger is that we begin to think that these books cannot be of any help to me. The ideal, (and for this we have to return to our first point, The Priority of Preparation), is for us to entreat the Holy Spirit to help us understand the passage as we read it over and over again, and then to use outside helps in our further study.
I will not attempt to deal with the subject of translations, but do not limit yourself to only one as you prepare yourself for the Bible reading. While it is very true that not all translations are as valuable as others, help can be gained by comparing a few versions. No matter what book of the Bible you are studying, you will be able to find very helpful commentaries, ranging from single volumes covering the entire Old or New Testament, to multiple volumes covering only one book of the Bible. Young believers can be guided by wise believers in the assembly in the purchase of helps.
Besides translations and commentaries, you will also come prepared to learn if you have a good dictionary and concordance. Vine’s Expository Dictionary has become a “standard’’ on the shelves of many believers for many years and continues to be most helpful in our understanding of words. For those who are computer-savvy, there are many programs available, some at no cost, that are very helpful. Again, remember that we need to rely principally on the Holy Spirit to be our teacher, but He is able to use what He has taught others in years past to teach us today. Let us not despise the abundance of helps available, and let us not allow them to be hindrances as we seek to prepare to learn from a Bible reading.
Pen and Paper
Well, perhaps with today’s technology, the words would more appropriately be “keyboard and screen,” but the idea remains the same. Writing down, or typing out, our own thoughts on the passage, as well as questions we may have, is an excellent idea. Doing this will help us if we have questions that perhaps were not answered during the reading. We can go to a teaching brother and ask for his help, or we can do additional study on our own after hearing different viewpoints on the same verse. Relying on our memory, whether young or old, to retain what we hear in a reading, limits our learning.
Christ as the Center
When we learn from the Word of God, either in personal home study or in the assembly Bible reading, let us remember to look for Christ. It may be true that there are passages where that may be more difficult than in others, but Christ ought to be our object. Five words from Paul’s letter to the Philippians come to mind: “That I may know Him” (Phil 3:10). Putting into practice what we learn as we prepare for the Bible reading will produce more Christ-likeness in each one of us.