It is a sad reality: Many churches are more attentive to the reading of the announcements in the worship service than to the public reading of the word.
Yet, Paul commanded Timothy to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture (1 Tim. 4:13). And the early church took this seriously. In about A.D. 150–155 Justin Martyr, describing a typical church service, includes the importance of reading the Word aloud:
“On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together in one place, and the memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has finished, the president speaks, instructing and exhorting the people to imitate these good things” (First Apology 67).
And, in the introduction to the book of Revelation 1:3, John exhorts us:
"Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it."
What are those who read this aloud doing in John's estimation? Does John mean that blessed is the guy who stands all by himself, opens up his Bible, and reads the book of Revelation aloud at home or on the street corner?
That's not what he's saying.
Remember, John's writing this letter specifically to seven churches. Certainly, even in his day, there are more than seven churches to write to. But, in God’s providence as he was led by the Holy Spirit, John picks the number seven intentionally and symbolically. Seven is the complete number of the churches of God.
But how are these letters received by these churches? Is there a copy for every person in the church?
In 2023, that’s the way we think. Why? Because every one of us has a copy of the Word of God. In fact, we've got multiple copies (print and digital!). And there's nothing wrong with that!
Is this what happened to the seven churches? No, that's not what happened. When the letter written by John arrived, someone had the privilege of standing up in the midst of the congregation and reading the letter aloud that was designed to bring encouragement to the saints in the midst of their darkest hour.
We have said that this book (Revelation) is what most people want to hear preached, but, unfortunately, what most pastors / teachers / preachers don’t want to teach / preach. That’s sad! Revelation moves you to know that there’s a sovereign God and he has the whole universe in his hand.
So, since the original recipients of this book heard this book read publicly in their church’s gathering, why should churches continue to emphasize the public reading of Scripture? And what blessings come out of it?
1. Because it is commanded (1 Tim. 4:13) and has been a practice of God’s people in the Old and New Testament.
—In Exodus 24, Moses read Scripture to the Israelites on Mount Sinai.
—In Deuteronomy 31:9-13, the Jews were instructed to read Scripture publicly every seven years at the Feast of Tabernacles.
—In Joshua 8:34-35, Joshua read Scripture to the people of God as they entered the Promised Land.
—In 2 Kings 23:1-3, the King Josiah read the Scriptures publicly and started a revival.
—In Nehemiah 8:1-12, after the return from the Babylonian exile, the priest Ezra read the Bible publicly for hours each day for a week, which also started a revival.
—By New Testament times, Jews were reading the Scriptures as a normal part of their weekly synagogue service. During one of them, Jesus began his public ministry after publicly reading God’s Word (Luke 4:16-21).
—The Apostle Paul wrote to various churches that they were to read his letters publicly (1 Thessalonians 5:27; Colossians 4:16). Very specifically, in 1 Timothy 4:13, Paul tells the young pastor Timothy to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.”
The public reading of Scripture was put at the same level of importance as preaching and teaching!
2. Scripture immersion was ordinary Protestant spiritual formation (and at all times for God's people).
In the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, as well as in 1559, daily readings (public and private) covered nearly the entire Old Testament once and the New Testament thrice in a year. On top of that, the Psalms were to be read once a month. And these are not isolated examples!
3. Brother Steve Burchett of Christian Communicators shares the following blessings:
—Believers living in a culture full of godless sound bites would hear at length from the One true God.
—Hearing God’s word causes believers to hunger for more of God’s word on a daily basis.
—Reading extended passages of Scripture is a certain way to bless believers who cannot read.
—Unbelievers would hear the truth and could ultimately come to Jesus Christ.
—If the sermon is weak or confusing, at least a large portion of God’s word would be heard.
4. And Aaron Shryock mentions many other reasons we should read scripture in public at church (or home!):
—Affirms the supremacy of Scripture - The reading of the Scriptures by the leaders of a congregation is a public reminder that they and the whole congregation are under the authority of His Word.
—Affirms the necessity of reading the Bible everywhere — If we want to encourage the reading of God’s Word through the week, how much more should we read it aloud as part of corporate worship on Sunday?
—Increases our knowledge of Scripture - When the Scriptures are read aloud, a congregation learns more than if they were asked to read a passage to themselves silently.
—There’s a greater sense of community - The more the congregation takes part in the act of reading, the more potential there is for increased community. For instance, if everyone rises together or takes part in responsive reading, it makes the moment a shared one.
—Increased spiritual growth and blessing — The public reading of Scripture must be accompanied by the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. When we follow the teaching of Scripture and strive to live in obedience, we are promised growth and blessings in Christ. A congregation that faithfully reads the Scriptures and seeks to live in obedience should experience these same blessings of obedience.