I am one of those New Calvinists, I guess, which means I am part of a crowd that values preaching, and expository preaching in particular. Of course I was an Old Calvinist before I was a New one and was raised in a tradition that valued preaching just as highly. For my whole life I’ve been around preachers and preaching.
I spent a good bit of time last week pondering the nature of God’s Word and thinking specifically about Paul’s mandate to Timothy: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” That’s a passage about preaching, but it’s also a passage about just plain reading the Bible out loud. It intrigued me.
I travel a fair bit these days and often enjoy worshipping in other churches, and here is something I’ve noticed: We tend to be far more committed to the second part of that command than to the first. We love our preaching, but what about the public reading of Scripture? Most churches I visit will read the Bible immediately prior to the sermon, and some will read a text in sections during the sermon, but few just dedicate themselves to reading the Bible aloud. Conferences, too, are known for their preaching, but not necessarily for their emphasis on reading the Bible. Last week I found myself wondering why this is. I wonder if our emphasis on preaching has inadvertently nudged it out.
Paul’s command to Timothy that he devote himself to the public reading of Scripture can be better understood by looking to 2 Timothy 3 where Paul speaks about the nature of God’s Word. When we understand what God’s Word is and does, we better understand why we ought to read it. Paul tells Timothy that the Scriptures are “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Paul isn’t talking about the Scriptures as they are preached here—not yet—but the Scriptures as they are, as they are read, as they are understood, as they are absorbed by the Christian.
Paul uses two groups of two words to explain how the Bible functions and what it accomplishes. The Bible is profitable for teaching and reproof. These are words related to doctrine, to the positive teaching of truth and to the correcting of falsehood. The Bible teaches us truth and it convicts us of error. The Bible is also profitable for correction and for training in righteousness. These are words related to living, to the correction of unrighteous ways of living and instruction in godliness. The Bible teaches us how to live and convicts us of sinful habits and patterns.
And because it does all of these things it completes us, it grows us in Christian maturity and prepares us to do those good things—those good works—that God means for us to do. It prepares us to do good things that are done not to make us look great, but to make ourselves diminish so that God can increase all the more.
Once more, the Bible does not need to be preached in order to do this. It just needs to be read. God’s Word alone has the power to do this because those words have been breathed out by God; in that way it has a supernatural power no other words can have. Preaching has a role, to be sure, but preaching only does what it does because the Bible is what it is. God allows us to preach and even tells us to preach, but he does not need preaching in order to change us and mature us. The Bible alone can do this. The Bible is its own preacher, its own counselor, its own teacher, its own evangelist. If we have de-emphasized the public reading of the Bible because of our love for preaching, the solution is not to diminish preaching, but to re-emphasize the reading.
So here’s the question: Do you commit yourself to the public reading of Scripture? Do you read it in your church, even if you cannot explain it at the time? Do you read it in your home, with your family, even if you do not have a lot of opportunity to explain and apply it? If the Bible is so powerful, and if the Bible accomplishes so much, it would be ridiculous not to read it, not to read it faithfully and consistently and expectantly.
And here’s another question: What do you expect when someone reads the Bible to you? Do you expect that it will teach and train you? Do you expect that it will admonish and correct you? Do you expect that as the Bible is read, God himself will speak to you and convict you of sin and unrighteousness and teach you about himself and how to live in a way that honors him? You should expect nothing less.