The Importance of the Public Reading of Scripture

“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13).

I had never really thought about what Paul meant as he wrote to young Timothy (based on what we know in Scripture, Timothy would be between 34-39 years old at this point. See William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, 157). He encouraged Timothy to do three things: exhort, teach, and read Scripture publicly.

During one of my sermons Sunday, I noticed the congregation following the public reading  of Scripture with an unusual devotion and attention. They were into what God was saying through Holy Scripture. I made a quick mental note of this (one of my humorous sayings is that you can’t preach and think at the same time!) to consider what had happened.

I believe we have made much too little of the “public reading of Scripture.”

This says something to the preacher. It’s easy to dismiss the public reading of Scripture as something prefatory to the sermon, but Paul makes exhorting, teaching, and the public reading of Scripture equally important. All three are essential to worship and to the life of the believer.

What should we make of this? The preacher should give attention to his public reading. It should be practiced aloud a number of times before entering to preach. Reading aloud helps us get the sense of the Scripture as well as preparing us for the reading. Reading and practicing allows us to catch the nuance of Scripture and understand where particular emphasis should be placed.

What I noticed Sunday was that the power is in Scripture. The people listened and they took it to heart.

I want to encourage pastors to not take Scripture reading nonchalantly. This is what Paul meant for Timothy. Exhort, teach, and read. These are important and must not be neglected. What Paul encouraged mirrored Synagogue worship where a reading from the Law and the Prophets occurred each Sabbath. For Timothy, this would now possibly include passages from our New Testament.

This also says something to the hearer. When we are in worship, we must listen carefully and attentively to the reading of the Word. Worship should be an intense time–a time when we hear the words and hear the Spirit. We must listen for the words of Scripture and for the voice of God as He speaks through Holy Scripture.

As you lead worship, read Scripture well and with the authority of God’s Word. As you listen to Scripture read, hear the public reading as God’s explicit Word read for you.

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