​The Reading of Scripture in the Assembly of the Saints

The Reading of Scripture in the Assembly of the Saints

“Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.”
– 1 Timothy 4:13

“So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”

– Isaiah 55:11

It happens every Sunday – someone opens the Bible and reads it to the congregation. When this happens, the voice of God Himself is heard in the congregation. The weightiness of the moment calls those who read scripture publicly to be deliberate and prepared. It is perhaps one of the most important parts of our corporate gatherings. The Bible makes this very clear.

Not an inferior element

The reading of Scripture is not inferior to the preaching and singing.  It should be given emphasis and it should be engaged with great passion.  It should be done with careful preparation.  It should be conducted with the care of one who is handling treasure – “fine gold” (Psalm 19:10). As we read Scripture, we beautify the Bride of Christ, for the church is beautified to the extent that we bathe her in the precious promises and principles through the reading of the Word of God.

Preparation of Heart and Body

For the person reading Scripture, a time like this requires careful preparation both of the heart and the body.

First, let’s take the preparation of the heart.  The heart is moved only by what is in the mind. Thus, your mind must be properly instructed so that your heart can be instructed and in sync with what God is communicating through the text you are reading. To get there will take many slow readings. My recommendation is that the passage is prayerfully read no less than 10 times, both silently and out in loud in front of your family.

Our technique will improve with passion that is only built through familiarity and delight.  When Ezra read the law to the people the narrative says, “So they read distinctly from the book” (Nehemiah 8:8).  This is a description of careful reading that should form a pattern for us as we read scripture publicly.

Then there is the preparation of the body.  By this I mean that you understand the meter and tone, and have a sense for how it should be read. This means you should practice it out loud to get the right inflections and timing, so that it is read with great passion and clarity.

Twelve Keys to Scripture Reading:

1.  Understanding
In order to read accurately, you need to discern: the attitude and tone of the author, the genre of literature you are reading, and the intent of the author.

2.  Delight
When we delight in the law of the Lord (Ps. 1:2) and His testimonies (Ps. 119:24), then we are useful for the Master’s use to exult in the glory of the words of God with a pure and honest heart.

3.  Confidence
Remember the power of the Word of God – it will not return void. “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).

4. Practice
We suggest that you memorize the passage before you have your time in front of the church.  If you have not memorized it, practice it in the following manner: First, read the passage silently, until you have a good working knowledge of the nuances of the passage; then gather your family around and recite it 2 times, and ask for their suggestions. A key objective is for it to sound like the author is saying it, not like you are reading it.

5. Relationship
Look into people’s eyes when you can, and be aware of the personal nature of the blessing you are bestowing upon the people.

6.  Pace
Slow down and remember that nervousness tends to make us rush. Be aware of the pace and keep it reasonable. Listen to the people who are reciting and if you are getting ahead of them, slow down your pace so that they stay with you.

7. Rhythm
Follow the flow of the sentence structure by paying attention to punctuation marks.

8.  Personal involvement
Internalize what you are reading and feel the impact of the words in your own heart.

9.  Precision
Treat every word carefully by clearly by pronouncing the words distinctly.

10.  Completeness
Finish the sentence completely, and don’t throw away the last words by trailing off at the end of the sentence.

11.  Volume
Keep your volume up and proclaim boldly.

12.  Humility
Be aware of the fear of man. Many people are afraid to get in front of a group and read or recite because they care too much about themselves and how they come off, and not enough about the glory of God and the equipping of the saints. They are too concerned about personal embarrassment. It would be a tragedy for any of us to decline to read, and thereby to withhold love and blessing from the congregation, for the sake of our fears.

A Holy and Happy Occasion for the People of God

Remember, the reading of Scripture is not entertainment or a performance. It is a holy activity through which God desires to equip and beautify His church. 

Deuteronomy 31:10-13 makes it clear that long readings of Scripture were common in Israel.  When Moses was aging (120 years old) and getting ready to pass the baton to Joshua, he issued a command to gather everyone together every seven years and read the entire law.  This most likely means that they would read the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. 

There was a fourfold purpose for Moses’ command: First, to hear the law of God; second, to learn to fear the Lord; third, to help the people carefully observe all the words of the law; and finally, for children to hear it.

Approximately 800 years later, Nehemiah 8:1-12 records an event in obedience to Moses command: the reading of the Pentateuch to all of the people, from the youngest to the oldest.  Here is an actual account of how this was done in the days of Nehemiah after the Babylonian captivity. During the captivity, the people did not seem to carry on the practice of reading the law every seven years at the Feast of Tabernacles. 

I would like to bring out six observations of this event:

  1. The Word of God was given honor and prominence (8:1).
  2. It was a diverse crowd with men, women, and children of all ages (8:2).
  3. There was a significant amount of time spent reading the Law of God (8:3).
  4. They stood up to respect the Law of God (8:5). 
  5. They were strengthened by the joy that resulted from the reading (8:10-12). 
  6. The result was repentance and refreshment.

We pray this kind of response will be the result of our readings of Scripture in the meetings of the church.