Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Good Book

Another confession. I don’t open the Bible as often as I used to. That is, I don’t take it off the shelf and open it. I read it on my computer. I have a Bible program installed which I have configured to open 5 versions at once, three in English, two in Spanish. I also have three sets of study notes open under it. It’s a convenient way to study, plus I can easily copy and paste passages that I need to use (I do a 20-minute radio program five days a week and often need to copy fairly long sections of scripture).

This wouldn’t be so bad, except that I do encounter times of guilt. Guilt that my bound Bibles aren’t getting “well-worn” like they used to. Guilt about the dust build-up on the pages (I know… dust can be removed with a cloth). And it can be really embarrassing when I do what I’ve done several times lately — gone somewhere to preach and realized that I didn’t bring a Bible!

The Good Book. I’ve grown up surrounded by the idea that a black bound book is the proper presentation for the Word of God. Funny thing is, how long has anything like that been around? A few centuries at best. Paul would not have thought of the Bible as a book. So much of it would have been in separate scrolls. That could even be what Paul was talking about when he asked Timothy to bring him his scrolls and parchments (if so, we now have scriptural precedent for forgetting your Bible).

Besides interesting trivia, I think it might say something about the way God’s Word is to be taken in, the way it is to be heard, the way it was communicated. If you don’t have 66 books bound into one, if much of your “Bible study” must be done from memory, if you can’t flip back and forth and compare one passage with another, you study differently. You read differently.

A question to my co-chefs in this kitchen of half-baked thoughts: What implications does this fact have for Bible study? Our Bible study. If we were to study as Christians would have in the first few centuries, what would we do?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Hear the Word of the Lord

I have a bad habit. Well, I have several, but one of them happens a lot during Bible class or sermons. I find myself listening impatiently to the reading of a text, waiting to hear what the preacher or teacher has to say about it. “Yeah, yeah… I’ve read that text. What are you going to do with it?” Nasty habit, that one.

At the same time, I’ve developed a growing awareness that I’m not receiving God’s Word in the way it was intended. I read it. Even when someone is reading from the text, I have to open the book and read it, or I feel like I’m not really participating. But God’s Word was meant to be heard. The Bible continually talks about hearing the Word of God. “That’s a metaphor,” you say. (If you didn’t say it, say it now, just for the effect) I don’t think it’s just a metaphor. For the greater part of history, God’s people heard the Word read to them or quoted to them. Many of them couldn’t read. Of those that could, few owned a personal copy of the Scriptures. If they did, it was probably just a portion, like the Ethiopian eunuch owning a scroll of Isaiah. They had to hear God’s Word. And the books that make up the Bible were written to be read aloud. They were intended to be heard as much as read, or even more so.

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:19-21) I’ve often heard “quick to hear, slow to speak” quoted, but rarely has it been pointed out to me that the context is that of hearing the Word of God (if you don’t believe me, go to James 1 and continue reading). I’ve found the opposite is often true in our assemblies; we preachers are anxious to get the hearing done so we can start speaking!

“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” (1 Timothy 4:13) Somehow, when men added to the Bible by creating a list of “five acts of worship,” preaching replaced the public reading of Scripture. They are two separate activities, and if either of them has a stronger scriptural base behind it, it is the reading of Scripture.

“So what?” you say. (I hope you’re remembering your lines) Well, I think we need to get back to an emphasis on hearing God’s Word. Especially in our assemblies. We need to de-emphasize the human element and emphasize the Word of God. Here are some suggestions:

(1) Emphasize “stand alone” Bible reading. Not part of a sermon or a class. Not followed by commentary. Just a reading of God’s Word.

(2) Teach our people how to read out loud. It’s not hard, but it takes some thought and practice. Learn to read with feeling and sense, without inserting drama that overshadows the words themselves.

(3) Teach our people how to listen. More than teach, I guess it’s exhort them to do so. To make the effort to listen when God’s Word is read.

(4) Make use of modern technologies. It’s now easier than ever to listen to God’s Word, with it available on cassette, CD, mp3, etc.

Take time to hear the Word of the Lord.