“Boring,” says one. “Irrelevant,” opines another. “Men who hardly know English, arguing about tenses and Greek words!” These criticisms, coupled with the sluggish pace of perhaps 2-3 verses a night, raise the concern that too often Bible readings are counter-productive. Young believers who are only beginning to appreciate their Bibles sit with quizzical stares. Sisters sigh with deep regret over the wasted time spent in needless disagreements. Meetings adjourn with the memory of dispute and not the meaning of doctrine filling every mind. Is this what God intended? Is this what the Spirit of God desires and blesses?
Do we have Scriptural warrant for Bible readings? How should a reading be conducted? Who should take part? How do we prepare and participate? What can a young believer do to help a Bible reading without appearing to challenge his older brethren whom he respects? These and other questions will be addressed in a series which this article inaugurates. Able brethren, many responsible for leading Bible readings in their home assemblies, will contribute to this series.
This initial article, however, addresses the value of an assembly Bible reading. Acts 15, while a gathering of brethren to discuss a problem, does establish a precedent. The Word of God was discussed and its application to an existing situation made. This guided the brethren and elders in decision-making. In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul instructs Timothy in the teaching of successive generations, in order that the truth of God might be maintained. An Old Testament picture, while not the basis for New Testament practice, is seen in the classic passage of Nehemiah 8. Ezra stood to read, and thirteen men and the Levites moved among the people. “And they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.” Though it says that Ezra stood to read, it appears that in light of the size of the audience, others moved amongst the people: “They read … and gave the sense … and caused them to understand.”
While experience is never a guide to the Scripturalness of a method, all who have participated in godly, controlled Bible readings can attest as well to the tremendous profit this experience has been. On a practical level, Bible readings serve many valuable services which are not as easily developed by other activities in the assembly. These include
A Consecutive Study of Scripture
In no other venue of the assembly is there a similar opportunity for a verse-by-verse, chapter-by-chapter, study of the Bible. To be able to study Scripture as it was given aids in the understanding of the “big picture” which is so often lost when verses, isolated from context, are linked with other distant verses because of sharing a similar word or expression.
The consecutive handling of Scripture carries another unappreciated benefit. There are issues which must be taught in a local assembly for truth to be preserved and appreciated. At times, if a brother rises to minister on them, such is their sensitive nature that some might feel that the speaker is taking aim at them. When the same teaching comes up in the regular sequence of a Bible reading, it must be addressed and no one can feel as though they are the personal target of a message. To fail to address it would actually draw attention to it and suggest that it was omitted because of the problem which exists.
A Contextual Study of Scripture
Closely allied to the consecutive study of Scripture is its contextual study. That means the study of each verse in the context in which it is found. Years ago, Mr. Clay Fite said to me, “Most questions people ask about a verse would be answered if they would simply take the time to read the previous five verses, and the following five verses.” He was not demeaning the value of honest inquiry, only extolling the value of studying the context. When the person who is leading a Bible reading is able to “give the sense” of the passage showing its setting and significance, it frequently establishes the main theme which enables other, more difficult verses, to be easily understood.
A Cultivation of Gift
When brethren are “forced” to study for a Bible reading, it is amazing how gift begins to blossom. The discipline of study, coupled with the demand for understanding a passage and being able to defend an interpretation, all enhance and contribute to the developing of gift. The same brother might well be given to a shy and less forward nature, such as Timothy, and would not put himself forward in ministry or teaching in other spheres. As a result, his gift might never have been developed for God. The Bible reading, entrusted to him at times, forces him to give himself to the Word of God and its understanding.
Sisters as well, who are exercised and study for a Bible reading to be able to extract maximal benefit from it, also grow in their appreciation of Christ and His Word, through the Bible reading.
A Check on Each Other
“Lone rangers” face a tremendous danger. When a man plows a lone path, having little contact with other brethren, he lacks the interchange which helps to hone thought and teaching. The result can, at times, be a man who is unbalanced in his teaching. His isolation may be of necessity as a result of being in a new area pioneering. It may be self-inflicted and by choice. In either instance, he must exercise great care to avoid the danger of isolated thinking. Those who have the privilege of interchanging thoughts and understanding of Scripture in a conversational Bible reading with other brethren have the privilege (although it may not seem it at the time), of being balanced by the views of other brethren. “Iron sharpens iron” (Pro 27:17), certainly applies to the interchange which occurs in an assembly Bible reading. Sparks may fly at times, but clarity in thinking and teaching is the goal.
How to choose a book for study, how to prepare and lead a reading, and how to participate intelligently are some of the subjects that succeeding articles will address.