Devoted to the Public Reading of Scripture: Ideas, Techniques, and Resources

Paul commands Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:13 to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture. . . .”

Why be devoted to the public reading of Scripture?

Let’s take a look at the theological foundations of public Scripture reading and some ways to give Scripture a more prominent place in public gatherings.

Theological Foundations

  1. God has spoken.

From the beginning of the Bible (Genesis 1:3), we see that God speaks, and His word is powerful and life-giving. At the end of the Bible, we see that a word from God ushers in the culmination of history (Revelation 21:2-4). In contrast to idols that cannot speak or do anything (Psalm 115:3-8), we serve a God who speaks and who has ultimately spoken to us by His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2), the Word made flesh (John 1:14-18).

  1. It is written.

Because God has spoken, we know His words were worth writing down to be remembered for all of time. God shares with us in Scripture that His Word has two audiences in mind: the original audience and future generations (Romans 15:4).

  1. God’s Word brings life.

“. . . [M]an does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3, NIV). Through the Word, we are made wise unto salvation, trained in righteousness, and equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:14-17). We proclaim God’s Word through preaching and public readings because we long to hear from God so we can love Him, trust Him, obey Him, and receive life. To put it more simply: when Scripture is read, God’s voice is heard.

Biblical Examples

In addition to Paul’s command to Timothy, the Bible offers several examples and additional commands relating to the public reading of Scripture. Here is a sampling:

  • Public reading is commanded in Deuteronomy 31:11: “When all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing” (ESV).
  • Ezra and the Levites: “And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. . . . They [the Levites] read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Nehemiah 8:1, 8; ESV).
  • Jesus read from the Isaiah scroll in the synagogue in Luke 4:18-19. As He concluded, He said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (4:21, ESV).
  • At the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, James describes the public practice of reading Scripture, “For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues” (15:21, ESV).
  • The New Testament church read letters publicly: “And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea” (Colossians 4:16, ESV); and “I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers” (1 Thessalonians 5:27, ESV).

How to Read Scripture Publicly

Tim Keller writes in the foreword to Unleashing the Word (see suggested resources):

“In most church services the reading of the Word is poorly and hurriedly done. What a missed opportunity! The public reading of God’s Word is an interpretive act that takes skill and thought and has historically been understood as means of grace equal with preaching and sacraments.”

As people who take the Word of God seriously, let’s take public Scripture reading seriously.

1. Study the passage.

Studying the passage (and reading it over several times) helps you understand it better so you know what it communicates and how it communicates it. Simon Roberts suggests that readers “mark important words, bracket groups of words that belong together, and highlight important connecting words (e.g. ‘but’, ‘therefore’, ‘so’, ‘then’).”

It might be worth dissecting the structure and looking for a main idea as well. If there are any words you are unsure how to pronounce, ask others for help, or listen to an audio Bible on Bible Gateway for suggested pronunciation.

2. Practice reading the passage aloud.

Max McLean suggests, “Practice your delivery aloud until you feel ready to present it as if you’re having an animated conversation with a good friend.” McLean also advises paying attention to pause, pace, pitch, volume, and breathing. As you practice, you might record yourself to hear how you’re doing. Most phones now have voice recorder apps.

3. Make your inflection reflect the intent of the original author.

“When I read, I also go over the text multiple times,” writes McLean. “I think about how I will phrase the line so I can determine my inflection: the way I change my pitch or the loudness of my voice as I read a particular word or phrase. In my readings, getting the right inflection is one of the essential keys to communicating the meaning of the text.”

He continues, “The proper inflection helps me find the emotional undertow within the text. It connects the passage more viscerally to the congregation. While we certainly want hearers to connect at the head level, understanding the meaning of each thought block in the text, we also want them to go deeper and gain an understanding of the author’s motivation and intent at that moment.”

4. Pray that the Spirit would open eyes to see the glory of Christ.

The goal of Scripture reading is to behold the glory of Christ and be transformed into His image. Pray for listeners to experience our Risen Lord through His Word and for them to long for His Kingdom. Pray for the evils of sin to be exposed in hearts and the grace of Christ to be magnified.

You might also benefit from: 3 big ideas and 7 tips on how to read the Bible in church by Simon Roberts (GoThereFor)

Ways to Dedicate Yourself to Public Reading of Scripture

  1. Make Scripture reading an important and valued part of your church’s services. Choose your texts intentionally to reflect the service’s theme. Select and train a group of Scripture readers. Consider reading longer portions of Scripture to remind listeners of its importance.
  1. Consider holding special events to focus on reading Scripture. During a sermon series on Deuteronomy, The Orchard EFC in Arlington Heights, Illinois, held a special event to listen to the entire book being read. If the book’s original purpose was to be read publicly in one sitting (Deuteronomy 31:11), why not experience it like Israel did?
  2. Host a Scripture reading marathon. Involve your whole church in reading Scripture publicly by reading the entire Bible aloud over the course of several days.
  3. Memorize a whole book of the Bible and present it on a Sunday. (You will need many months of intentional preparation!) In doing so, you will not only bless your church with God’s Word, you will encourage them to memorize Scripture. Consider these examples: RomansHebrews, and 1 Corinthians. (Also see: 11 Steps to Memorizing an Entire Book of the Bible)
  4. Incorporate reading Scripture into everything possible: counseling sessions, small groups, member meetings, staff meeting, and church-related sporting events.
  5. Decorate your church with Scripture art. No, this isn’t necessarily public reading, but it does allow God’s Word to penetrate souls and proclaim the beauty of our God. God’s Word never returns void.

Suggested Resources:

Why Preach Overview Sermons of Bible Books

Preachers want their people to love the Word of God. They also want to grow as preachers and keep their preaching calendar fresh. Preaching a whole book of the Bible in one sermon is one way to accomplish all three of these objectives and might be worth adding to your preaching repertoire. Here are a few reasons:

  1. Preaching book-overview sermons encourages Bible engagement in the congregation.

All preachers should want their preaching to engender responses like, “I can read this for myself!” The more exposure your people have to different parts of Scripture, the better. Working in a book-overview sermon allows you to mix in other parts of Scripture that you wouldn’t normally cover.

  1. Preaching book-overview sermons adds more variety in the preaching schedule.

If you have ever gotten bogged down by preaching consecutively through entire books, you might consider taking a break from your current series and preaching an overview of another book as a way to mix things up.

  1. Preaching book-overview sermons helps show different contours of the book that are sometimes lost in a normal exposition.

Approaching the Bible with a wider lens reveals a book’s big ideas, turning points, and other vital details to the book’s message. More atomistic preaching risks losing the forest for the trees—or even the leaves on the trees. Teaching the Bible atomistically can lead our people to read the Bible atomistically. Zooming out to see the whole book reminds listeners that God moved authors to write whole books with coherent messages, not loosely arranged collections of verses.

  1. Preaching book-overview sermons grows the preacher.

Pastor Paul Alexander commented, “I myself learn so much as a preacher from preparing overview sermons. I learn both content of the book, and a different method of study, and my learning in those ways helps my congregation learn in those ways too.”[1]

  1. Preaching book-overview sermons helps you see how the book testifies to Christ in its macro themes and structure.

All of Scripture testifies to Christ. Focus on entire books allows preachers to more easily explain how higher-level ideas in books point us to Christ. The book of Judges’ steady drumbeat of “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25) points to Christ, the Promised King from the tribe of Judah. Joseph’s words near the end of Genesis, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20), summarize not only a major theme of the book but a major theme of the Bible—one ultimately fulfilled when sinful man’s crucifixion of the Christ opens the door for salvation.

Responding to Potential Pushback

Preaching book-overview messages isn’t for the faint of heart, as two points of pushback testify to. Careful thought should help a preacher overcome pushback.

Pushback #1: But . . . you won’t cover everything a book has to offer in one sermon!

Isn’t that the case with every sermon text anyway? Scripture has an unlimited depth of riches no matter what size text you choose to preach. Occasionally sprinkling in book-overview sermons will help make more parts of the Bible accessible for our people so they can discover its riches for themselves.

Pushback #2: But . . . it takes so much time!

Yes, it takes time and is hard work. Consider Pastor Paul Alexander’s recommendation:

“The main downside is that if you’ve never done it before, you can make it harder work than it is (both to prepare for it and for your congregation to listen to it!) by choosing a long book rather than a short one. So start small and work your way up to the bigger books if you’re inexperienced. Start with an short NT epistle like Philemon or Jude, or 3 John, then a book like Philippians, then try a short OT prophet like Obadiah, or Haggai, then graduate to Ruth, etc. . . . Major prophets, Gospels, and the Psalms should be among the last overviews preachers do.”[2]

Example Sermons

If you’ve never heard an overview sermon, here are a few examples from pastors Paul Alexander of Grace Covenant Church in Elgin, Illinois, and Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC:

[1] Quote taken from a personal email with Alexander on May 30, 2018.
[2] Ibid.


Related Resources:

“The pulpit now is no longer a burden, but a blessing” | Costa Rica Testimonial

We love telling stories of God’s work around the world. We love it more when you can hear the pastors we train tell their own stories of transformation from God’s Word.

Costa Rican Pastor William recently had this to share with our team:*

Sadly, I was at a moment in ministry where my sermons were dry and irrelevant. I even evaluated my own sermons and said, “It’s so boring to listen to me preach!” Every Sunday I would freeze up and tell myself, “Oh no, I have to preach again!” – not knowing what to preach. The moment came where I wrongly chose to use sermon outlines others had made. This discouraged the church.

LRI’s training has been a great blessing to me and has revived my passion for preaching. It has helped me desire to study the Word of God. Now our church is experiencing great spiritual growth. The pulpit now is no longer a burden, but a blessing.

God has done beautiful things through the preaching. The elders now say, “Pastor, how your preaching style has changed! And it is changing our church.”

LRI’s training has been a blessing to me, and I want to be a blessing to others. We have had the opportunity to teach others and go to other countries like Nicaragua. We are already going to work with pastors there in communities where perhaps the pastors have not had the opportunity to be trained, or if they have, they are struggling like I was. This training has been a huge blessing for them as well. . . .

Many thanks to those who have supported this ministry and those who took this training to us. I am truly a different person.

Praise God for Pastor William’s transformation! Praise God for how His Word is building up this Costa Rican church and churches in neighboring Nicaragua. Stories like this are why we do what we do, because, as our mission states, we long to see the Word of God flow powerfully through every church to every nation.

Thank you for your partnership and helping make stories like William’s possible.

To God be the glory!

Craig Parro

PS: You can help bring this kind of transformation to pastors like William by making a gift to the Latin America region.


Watch Pastor William tell his story below:

* Edited for clarity and readability

     

    Launching Pastoral Training Movements Worldwide

     

    The mission of Leadership Resources is to launch pastoral training movements worldwide. This blog shares articles, resources, and updates from staff of God’s work around the world through our training. If you’re new to our blog, start here.

     


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