Reading Scripture

I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally.  My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.  For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.

  • Colossians 2:1-5

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured.  Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.  In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

  • 2 Timothy 3:10-17

“Because the Scripture is a corpus, a living whole, the so – called lectio continua, or consecutive reading, will above all be worth considering for the Scripture reading of the house church. Historical books, the Prophets, Gospels, Epistles, and Revelation are read and heard as God’s Word in their context. They put the listening congregation in the midst of the wonderful revelatory world of the people of Israel with their prophets, judges, kings, and priests, with their wars, festivals, sacrifices, and sufferings. The community of believers is drawn into the Christmas story, the baptism, the miracles and discourses, the suffering, dying, and rising of Jesus Christ. It participates in the events that once occurred on this earth for the salvation of the whole world. In so doing, it receives salvation in Jesus Christ here and in all these events. For those who want to hear, reading the biblical books in a sequential order forces them to go, and to allow themselves to be found, where God has acted once and for all for the salvation of human beings. The historical books of the Holy Scriptures come alive for us in a whole new way precisely when they are read during worship services. We receive a part of that which once took place for our salvation. Forgetting and losing ourselves, we too pass through the Red Sea, through the desert, across the Jordan into the promised land. With Israel we fall into doubt and unbelief and through punishment and repentance experience again God’s help and faithfulness. All this is not mere reverie, but holy, divine reality.  We are uprooted from our own existence and are taken back to the holy history of God on earth. There God has dealt with us, and there God still deals with us today, with our needs and our sins, by means of the divine wrath and grace. What is important is not that God is a spectator and participant in our life today, but that we are attentive listeners and participants in God’s action in the sacred story, the story of Christ on earth. God is with us today only as long as we are there. A complete reversal occurs here. It is not that God’s help and presence must still be proved in our life; rather God’s presence and help have been demonstrated for us in the life of Jesus Christ. It is in fact more important for us to know what God did to Israel, in God’s son Jesus Christ, than to discover what God intends for us today. The fact that Jesus Christ died is more important than the fact that I will die. And the fact that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead is the sole ground of my hope that I, too, will be raised on the day of judgment. Our salvation is ‘from outside ourselves’ (extra nos). I find salvation not in my life story, but only in the story of Jesus Christ. Only those who allow themselves to be found in Jesus Christ—in the incarnation, cross, and resurrection—are with God and God with them.”

  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Bonhoeffer speaks of daily worship within the community (family, Sunday school class, small group, church, or neighborhood), starting the day off right with prayer, singing, Scripture reading and worship, but his discussion on reading Scripture works whether for a group or an individual.  It should not be forced, but it can be a daily habit and process.  But there should be enjoyment in the reading.

To the untrained eye, it seems that Bonhoeffer switches subjects in the paragraph above.  We are to read the Bible, then we are to be in God’s presence.  But they are the same thing if we read the Bible properly – the primary purpose of reading the Scriptures is to be in God’s presence by reading His Holy Word and calling upon the Holy Spirit for guidance.  First, the Holy Spirit must be within us to interpret the Scriptures and guide us in our reading.  Second, we must read, or in these modern times, play a recording of someone else reading it.  If you listen, I suggest that you read along also.  I have listened while driving and then wondered where that beautiful bit of Scripture was located when I had a chance to write it down.  But you more than double the retention level when you combine reading and listening.  Understanding is again part of the Holy Spirit’s job.  When we have grown in faith, the Holy Spirit will guide us deeper into the Scriptures.  The same Scripture read again, just a deeper meaning.

Before this paragraph, Bonhoeffer wrote about how Scripture reading is “too long,” especially in the oral tradition of a worship service.  He does not suggest shortening how much you read in a group setting, but how you read it.  Are you reading it to simply speak the words, or silently to yourself, visualize the words?  Or are you finding what the Israelites did improperly and learn from it?  Are you finding a characteristic of Jesus and trying to emulate Him?  Are you praising and worshipping God?  Or simply reading words?  If you simply read words, it is “too long” of a passage of Scripture, even if the passage is very short.  We must have a heart for worship when we read Scripture.

I want to follow this book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer with another on worshipping God.  The other book is The Purpose of Man by A. W. Tozer.  They say a lot of the same things.  Being in the right mindset, according to Tozer allows you to worship God all day, regardless of your activity, but in our churches today, far too many people do not have the right mindset when they sit in the pew.

May we worship God in Spirit and in Truth.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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