For many years assemblies of believers gathered to the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ have conducted what is commonly know as a Bible reading. Most of the Lord’s people have found this meeting to be a great spiritual benefit. Yet it does us good at times to step back and review why we are doing what we are doing in any aspect of our Christian life.
Someone might start by legitimately asking, “Why the name, ‘Bible reading’?” Some choose to refer to this occasion of teaching as a Bible study which in itself is surely valid. In some measure, both labels fall short of expressing the total idea. Following the example of the Lord Jesus cannot be bettered. In Luke 4:16 we read, “He … stood up for to read.” So to start out, a brother should stand up and speak up while reading the passage. Next, it is self-evident that we are studying the Word of God as we progress through a portion. Yet ultimately being able to turn to, and then read, a portion of God’s Word in reference to any question or suggestion is the ideal means of teaching the truth of God. If someone unfamiliar with the proceedings visited this meeting, would the name “Bible reading” seem relevant to them? Or when the meeting had concluded, would they leave thinking that they had heard a number of individuals speaking their opinion of the meaning of the Scriptures?
Reading the Word of God has always been practiced by God’s people in a teaching session. Whether in the days of restoring Jerusalem (Neh 8:8-9), in the days of Christ already noted, in the early church era (Acts 15:31), or in the building up of established assemblies (Col 4:16). So the name Bible reading may not be so strange after all.
The next question is, “Who teaches?” The principle of headship must be considered in this matter. Both 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:11 make distinct statements regarding the silence of the women in the church. And then the prohibiting of the women to teach is emphatically added in 1 Timothy 2:12. Verses 13 and 14 tell us that this is due to the order in both formation and deception. Adam was created first, introducing the principle of headship; but Eve was deceived and first partook of the fruit. So the silence of the women in the assembly relative to teaching is God’s means of giving testimony not only to the order of creation, but to the order of the fall of man into sin. But can any man teach? Are there guidelines as to those men who should teach?
First, we need to be clear that someone not in assembly fellowship, and visiting the assembly to learn about its function and distinction, is not to teach. The example illustrated in 1 Corinthians 14:23-25 gives us a pattern to follow based on the principle of fellowship. The visiting person is there, not to participate, but to investigate. He needs to know if this is a dwelling place of God. Not only that but the elders of the assembly need to have a measure of knowledge of the man that gives them confidence in the man. “Know them which labor among you” (1 Thes 5:12). As elders are to be spiritually mature, “Not a novice …” (1 Tim 3:6), and have a readiness to teach what they know, “apt to teach,” (v 2), so the deacons (servants) in the assembly gain a “good degree [foundation] … and great boldness” (v 13) in their service due to past faithful experience. Teaching and preaching the Word of God is deacon work in the assembly. Maturity through experience is a requisite for teaching in the assembly. Another dimension is added later in that epistle that makes a distinction even among elders.”Those who labor in the Word and doctrine [teaching]” (5:17). Preparation is needed in the form of hard work at the desk with the Word of God in the presence of God so that the teaching will be relevant and timely for the saints. So we see that only men are to teach and such as have gained the confidence of the overseers through spiritual growth and diligent study of the truth of God.
“What is to be taught?” The answer to that seems rather obvious doesn’t it? The Word of God! Yet there needs to be a prayerful exercise regarding what portions to consider in the Bible reading at any given time. An assembly does well to vary the books of the Bible being studied (Col 4:16). It seems only right to consistently keep church truth in the mix for the preservation of the assembly in its distinct calling of God. Consider that the first assembly in Jerusalem “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). The New Testament epistles are a good steady diet. But we do well to study the gospels and Old Testament portions that will not prove too tedious for a weekly progressive effort. We need to be reminded that the teaching should be systematic (methodical if you will), progressive (building on each successive meeting), expositional (exposing the truth for all to understand), but above all, practical. We need to know what the passage means to us in our daily living. Does it affect my behavior? Does it stir my devotion to Christ? Does it create a growing sense of both responsibility to God and to others?
What about questions that arise in the minds of those being taught? We know that the women are to ask their questions to the men “at home” or outside of the meeting of the assembly (1 Cor 14:35). Yet the implication is that men can ask questions in the meeting and such questions that are for learning, not with the intention of stumping the teachers but rather stimulating further interest. A good question has often been the means of producing an encouraging and edifying reading. It is most beneficial when more than one brother in the assembly is ready to give answers. The interaction of the various brethren in an orderly manner, (1 Cor 14:29, 40), proves engaging to the minds of those listening. Not every believer learns from any one man or in the same way. The multiplicity of teachers is God’s way of meeting the divergent needs of the saints. It also gives the opportunity for younger men growing in the faith to participate with, not only a question, but suggestions and thoughts regarding the passage considered. This ultimately proves to be a means of training gifted younger men so that they will not only be able to help extensively in the reading, but also in individual ministry of God’s Word. And in the end, one thing should never be lost sight of: the teaching is to be always with the intention of the edification of the saints, not the elevation of the teacher. And in so doing, “God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 4:11).