Liturgy – Read the Word

Liturgy – Title Slide

Thank you for joining us as we continue to examine our time of worship together in light of the Word of God. We began last week in looking to Scripture as the basis of our worship – namely our singing and encouraging one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Again, we shouldn’t consider worship and music synonymous, but one of the first expressions we see of gratitude and praise to God is through music or singing. And we concluded last week with the truth that having a right understanding of God leads to genuine and authentic worship by believers.

This morning we shift our focus to the reading of God’s Word:

  13 Until I come, give your attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching.

1 Timothy 4:13

Sometimes it is easy to dismiss the public reading of Scripture as something prefatory or as an introduction to the sermon, but Paul makes exhorting, teaching, and the public reading of Scripture equally important. All three are essential to the worship and to the life of the believer.

That should say something to anyone who stands in a pulpit, and any preacher should give their attention to their public reading of Scripture. There truly is a power in reading God’s Word out loud. In fact, whenever I’m sharing the Gospel with someone, I make an effort to have them read Scripture verses out loud themselves rather than me rattling it off to them. I do this because reading the passage out loud forces them to at least consider and give thought to the words that they’re vocalizing. The thought center of the brain is being activated, but even greater still is the inherent power that the Bible has on its own accord.

  11 so My word that comes from My mouth
will not return to Me empty,
but it will accomplish what I please
and will prosper in what I send it to do.”

Isaiah 55:11

So not only is the mind having to comprehend what is being read and said by the reader, but the Holy Spirit is now entering the picture, speaking through the truth of God’s Word into the life of the one reading it.

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

A few years ago, the senior managing editor of Christianity Today, Mark Galli, shared these words in an essay entitled, “Yawning at the Word:”

  When I preach, I often quote the Bible to drive home my point. I think it more persuasive to show that what I’m saying is not merely my opinion but a consistent theme of Scripture. And to avoid the impression that I’m proof-texting or lifting verses out of context, I quote longer passages – anywhere from 2 to 6 verses.   When I did this at one church, a staff member whom I’d asked for feedback between services told me to cut down on the Scripture quotations. “You’ll lose people,” he said.   I understood the reality he was addressing, and so I scratched out the biblical references for the next sermon. But lately I’m beginning to question that move, and wondering, why have we become so impatient and bored with the Word of God? I ask this not in a scolding tone, but in wonderment, not to point fingers, for I would wonder at myself as well…  

Mark Galli | Yawning at the Word

It is so unfortunate that there is very little reading of the Bible during worship within the church today. Sermons are typically marked by attention to the congregation’s concerns, not by attention to the biblical text. The exposition or explanation of the Bible has given way to the concerns, whether real or perceived, of the listeners. The authority of the Bible is swallowed up in the supposed authority of the concerns of the congregation.

Mark Galli goes on to note:

  It has been said to the point of boredom that we live in a narcissistic age, where we are wont to fixate on our needs, our wants, our wishes, and our hopes – at the expense of others and certainly at the expense of God. We do not like it when a teacher uses up the whole class time presenting her material, even if it is material from the word of God. We want to be able to ask our questions about our concerns, otherwise we feel talked down to, or we feel the class is not relevant to our lives.   It is well and good for the preacher to base his sermon on the Bible, but he better get to something relevant pretty quickly, or we start to mentally check out. Don’t spend a lot of time in the Bible, we tell our preachers, but be sure to get to personal illustrations, examples from daily life, and most importantly, an application we can use.  

Mark Galli | Yawning at the Word

Galli has the situation clearly in his sights when he says that many congregations expect the preacher to start from some text in the Bible, but then quickly move on “to things that really interest us.” Like… ourselves?

One of the earliest examples of what we would call the preaching of the Bible comes in Nehemiah 8:1-8:

  All the people gathered together at the square in front of the Water Gate. They asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses that the Lord had given Israel. On the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women, and all who could listen with understanding. While he was facing the square in front of the Water Gate, he read out of it from daybreak until noon before the men, the women, and those who could understand. All the people listened attentively to the book of the law. Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform made for this purpose. Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah stood beside him on his right; to his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hash-baddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam. Ezra opened the book in full view of all the people, since he was elevated above everyone. As he opened it, all the people stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God, and with their hands uplifted all the people said, “Amen, Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, and Pelaiah, who were Levites, explained the law to the people as they stood in their places. They read out of the book of the law of God, translating and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was read.  

Nehemiah 8:1-8

Ezra, among others, stood on a platform before the congregation reading clearly from Scripture and explaining it to the people. The congregation received the World humbly, while standing. And I want to make sure that we notice a pattern here: The Bible was read and explained and received.

Hughes Oliphant Old says that, “This account of the reading of the Law indicates that already at the time of the writing of this text there was a considerable amount of ceremonial framing to the public reading of Scripture. This ceremonial framing is a witness to the authority of the Bible.” The reading and exposition of God’s Word took place in context of worship as the people listened. The point of the sermon was simple: “to make clear the reading of the Scriptures.”

As mentioned before, there is almost no public reading of the Word of God in many churches. Worship is filled with music, but congregations seem disinterested in listening to the reading of the Bible. We are called to sing in worship, but we should not expect to be able to survive only on the portions of Scripture woven into songs and hymns. Christians need the ministry of the Word as the Bible is read before the congregation so that God’s people – young and old, rich and poor, married and unmarried, sick and well – hear it together. The sermon is to consist of the exposition or explanation of the Word of God along with its application. Having a Bible verse as our starting point is not enough.

In many ways we have become impatient with the Word of God. And the dangers are clear: the neglect of the Word can only lead to disaster, disobedience and death. If we can reach back a few weeks to our verse in 2 Timothy, God rescues His church from error, preserves His church, and sends out His church in witness by His Word.

Facilitating the reading of God’s Word in worship is simple – we just read God’s Word. But regardless of who is reading from the Scriptures, a great deal of responsibility falls upon the listener. There is a way to glorify God most in how we go about listening and receiving God’s Word as it is being read, whether that be in person or even online.

One of the greatest ways we can better appreciate and receive the Word of God is by preparing our own hearts. Let’s face it. Between checking one more text, filtering through the endless number of social media platforms, or scrambling to wrangle the kids, much of the time we’re not even remotely prepared to take in an hour worship service, much less the time devoted to the reading of God’s Word. But we are reminded:

  18 Therefore take care how you listen. For whoever has, more will be given to him; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken away from him.”  

Luke 8:18

Before giving into the Sunday morning frenzy, we must remember that we’re not at church for the sake of routine, but because of what we really believe – that the Creator of the universe loves us and wants to speak to us.

In our self-examination, we should take careful time to consider whether we meet the standards that God looks for in Isaiah 66:2:

  My hand made all these things,
and so they all came into being.
This is the Lord’s declaration.
I will look favorably on this kind of person:
one who is humble, submissive in spirit,
and trembles at My word.

Isaiah 66:2

God is looking for people who have a holy reverence for the Word and His plan for learning and applying it.

One of the keys to life and good relationships is effective communication. And for effective communication to occur, there must be effective listening. There are practical means by which we can accomplish this. It may mean leaving our phone in the car and using a physical Bible or making notes in the bulletin to keep us from digital distractions. Time should be spent in prayer before our gatherings if possible. Pray for the preacher, the church, potential visitors, and for yourself. As simple, heart-felt prayer, “Jesus you are here, I love you, I want to hear from you, speak to me,” can go miles in preparing your heart.

We should also be reminded or so need to learn that we are here to listen to God even though He has chosen to use human instruments to communicate with us.

  13 This is why we constantly thank God, because when you received the message about God that you heard from us, you welcomed it not as a human message, but as it truly is, the message of God, which also works effectively in you believers.  

1 Thessalonians 2:13

While certain care should be given to the reading of the Word of God, even the driest, monotone reading can bear fruit if we find ourselves attentive and look beyond the flesh of the one reading and remember that we are hearing the very voice of our Creator.

Sometimes we can even jump the gun a bit. God has so much to say to us and because He is the all-wise and sovereign God and because of our finite humanity as well as our brokenness, it is essential for us to listen carefully. But, as fallen people, even as fallen people now redeemed, we are prone to be distracted and drawn away with other things, even with good things.

  38 While they were traveling, He entered a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who also sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to what He said. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she came up and asked, “Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to serve alone? So tell her to give me a hand.”

41 The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.”  

Luke 10:38-42

While service unto our Lord and Savior is our highest calling, we can too easily be like Martha, who was distracted by so many things, including her service to Jesus rather than Mary who sat at the feet of the Savior to hear His Word.

The Bible is our index and guide for all the other ways God communicates (through the Holy Spirit, our experiences, through others). If we are going to listen to God and discern His voice in the other avenues He uses, we must be listening to His Word, the Bible. Of course, God can communicate His Word in many ways: through books, song, movies, etc. But the primary method God has chosen, and the method that is foundational to all the other ways God communicates in the church age, is the local assembly when the church is gathered together for the hearing of the Word. While our things are involved – singing, prayer, preaching, communion – at the center of all of these is the proclamation of the Word.

  17 Listen closely, pay attention to the words of the wise,
and apply your mind to my knowledge.
18 For it is pleasing if you keep them within you
and if they are constantly on your lips.
19 I have instructed you today—even you—
so that your confidence may be in the Lord.  

Proverbs 22:17-19

The lesson is obvious: We are to listen so we can learn to truth of the Lord. To fail to listen shows our determination to pursue life through our own resources and foolishness.