February 15, 2019
Timothy was a traveling companion and fellow worker with the Apostle Paul. He receives two personal letters from Paul that are a part of the New Testament. The two letters address him as he does the work of evangelist in the city of Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3, 2 Timothy 4:5). Paul breaks out into good news and writes:
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! (2 Timothy 2:8–9, ESV)
In one sense it may seem odd to say to a preacher of the gospel: remember Jesus Christ. Isn’t he going to anyway? Yet, the two thoughts that follow it make the statement much more understandable. Remember Jesus even when there is suffering attached. Remember Jesus because the word of God is not bound.
I need that last reminder. The sharing of the good news can at times be discouraging. Paul is reminding all of us that the power is in the message not the messenger. Paul may be bound and in prison, but the word of God isn’t.
Other passages remind us of the same great truth.
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8, ESV)
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. ” (Isaiah 55:10–11, ESV)
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Corinthians 4:6–7, ESV)
I need reminding that the power is not in the messenger but in the message. It is the gospel that is the power of God for salvation. The word of God when presented will have its effect. It will not return to God void. The word of God is not bound.
February 23, 2018
The basis for the public reading of scripture in our assemblies can be found in the New Testament. Timothy, an evangelist in Ephesus, is instructed by Paul: “Until I come, continue to devote yourself to reading, to exhortation, and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). Most modern translations render reading as public reading. Although the word can mean either private or public reading, the public nature of the other two items in the series, exhortation and teaching, would cause us to think of the assembly. Other passages also indicate a public reading of the word (Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:27, and Revelation 1:3).
The public reading of God’s word underscores its authority. It also gives opportunity for us to hear the message of scripture. Yet it must be done well. If we do it poorly, the hidden message may be that this is unimportant–the exact opposite of what we want to convey. Let me make some suggestions for public reading to help us achieve excellence.
- Select a unit of thought to be read. Remember chapter and verse numbers are the later addition of editors. They may not always help in selecting a unit of thought. The reader may need to give some context to help the listeners. The goal is that the scripture selected will convey the same message to the listeners as if they had read it in context for themselves. (Most of the time for us, the passage is selected to go with the preaching text. If you want to know the passage prior to Sunday, let me know.)
- Check for pronunciation and words you may not understand. A Bible dictionary can aid you in the pronunciation of Bible names, so can the book, That’s Easy for You to Say: Your Quick Guide to Pronouncing Bible Names. The web sites, biblespeak.org and thebibleworkshop.com, provide audio pronunciations of some Bible names. An app called Biblical Pronunciation is also available for Android and iOS. Some Bible names have multiple acceptable pronunciations. But nothing hurts a public reading like stumbling over the pronunciation of unfamiliar words and names.
- Watch for problems that may arise in public reading that might confuse the sense. Failing to pause at the right place or pausing in the wrong place may confuse the listener. Consider the example Luke 2:16: “So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger” (NRSV). If the reader fails to pause at the comma, it will end up sounding as if all three — Mary, Joseph, and the child — are in the manger.
- Find the author’s meaning, place the stress and emphasis on the main point.
- Read more slowly than you might speak but be willing to vary the speed and pitch to fit the tone of the reading. I once heard a comparison of audio books made by Audible.com with amateur produced audio books. The speed and pitch of the Audible books were well modulated. The amateur books sounded flat in comparison. And this difference effects the listener’s ability to pay attention and comprehend. No, I’m not expecting us to become professional readers, but it is something at which most of us can do better.
- Communicate the emotion and tone of the passage with your voice if possible. Is there joy? Is there anger? Is there sarcasm? Is there humor?
- Practice reading the passage aloud.
February 16, 2018
When I arrived at my sister’s house, it was night. Rounding a curve in the street, I could see her house all lit up since it sits on a hill. The house had lights all the way around, so it was like a beacon. For me, the lights were welcoming. They were even helpful as I unloaded my luggage from the car. But I knew all those lights hadn’t been there on my previous visit, so I enquired about them. She said that there had been break-ins in her neighborhood, so she had the lights installed for security.
The same light can be welcoming or something that a person wants to avoid and hide from. It is the same light, but different responses to this light. Which brings us again to Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (ESV). Even though the psalm presents this picture of God’s instructions as light for guidance, he also reflects the reality that it is not true for everyone. The author of Psalm 119 confesses he had gone astray (119:67, 119:176). He had returned and was now keeping God’s law, but there had been a time in his life when he was wandering in the wrong direction.
Besides the personal confession in Psalm 119, the psalmist also speaks of the wicked. “Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, who forsake your law” (Psalms 119:53, ESV). “Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me, I do not forget your law” (Psalms 119:61, ESV). God’s instructions have all the wonderful qualities that we looked at in the last article, but they require the right response from us. It is instructive to go through the psalm and ask: what kind of response is the psalmist making to God’s precepts? Here’s my list, and I’m going ahead and personalizing the list as ways I am responding even if it is a work in process.
- I feel reverence and awe for them because of who God is. 119:120, 119:161
- I diligently keep them. 119:4
- I remember them (119:11, 119:15) and meditate on them. 119:153, 119:176
- I delight in them (119:14) because they are more valuable than riches (119:35, 119:47, 119:72), better than money (119:103), and sweeter than honey (119:143, 119:174).</;i?
- I seek them as my counselors. 119:24
- I hope in them. 119:43
- I am comforted by them. 119:52
- I am blessed by them. 119:56
- I love them. 119:97, 119:119, 119:163, 119:165, 119:167
- I count them as my forever heritage/inheritance. 119:111
- I rejoice in them like someone finding a treasure (i.e., plunder). 119:162
- I am helped by them. 119:175
I’ve looked at Psalm 119 in four articles to tell my journey of moving beyond a few favorite verses to a deeper appreciation for this psalm.* I used some inductive questions to reflect on the psalm: What do I learn about the author and circumstances? What are his petitions? What does he say about God’s instructions? How does he respond to God’s instructions? Answering those questions and meditating on the psalm brings a deeper appreciation. God’s word can indeed be a light for my path, but for it to bring guidance, I must have the right response to God’s instructions.
*The articles in order are:
February 9, 2018
When I think of Psalm 119, verse 105 certainly comes to mind: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalms 119:105, ESV). The psalm emphasizes the importance of God’s instructions by the use of Torah (law) along with seven synonyms. One of those eight words will be in every verse except for four verses, but the psalmist compensates for these omissions by using two of these words in five verses. The emphasis is clear.
But how do I get beyond just underlining Psalm 119:105 or couple of other favorites? I never really appreciated the psalm as I should until I did an inductive study of it. I took a few simple questions and recorded my findings. I’ve already written about learning what I could about the author and his circumstances and noting his petitions to God. He has clearly telegraphed in the psalm by his use of law and its synonyms that a major theme is God’s instructions. So it is helpful to go through the psalm and record all that he says about God’s instructions. Here’s my list, but it is a project worth doing for yourself.
- God’s instructions are righteous. 119:7, 119:62, 119:75, 119:106, 119:137, 119:144, 119:160, 119:164, 119:172
- God’s instructions give life. 119:25, 119:37, 119:50
- God’s instructions are good. 119:39, 119:68
- God’s instructions are saving. 119:41
- God’s instructions are true. 119:43, 119:142, 119:151, 119:160
- God’s instructions teach good judgment, knowledge, and wisdom. 119:66, 119:98
- God’s instructions are sure, trustworthy. 119:86
- God’s instructions endure. 119:89, 119:152
- God’s instructions are broad. 119:96 How do we understand the word broad or wide in this verse? One approach is found in the NET: “I realize that everything has its limits, but your commands are beyond full comprehension.” Obviously, we get a clue from the contrast. Another approach is to compare limits to something that is boundless.
- God’s instructions are a light for your path. 119:105
- God’s instructions are wonderful. 119:129
- God’s instructions (in this case, promises) are tested. 119:140
These are the conclusions of a reader who has spent time in God’s word. I agree with his conclusions as someone who has also spent time in God’s word. The Bible is an amazing library that has a unified message despite the fact that it spans 3600 years, 40 some authors, three languages, and three continents. It contains predictive prophecy. In the places where it can be tested by history and archaeology it has been found reliable. We have sufficient manuscript evidence to believe we have reliable manuscripts. It has a message that makes profound sense of the human predicament, and its practice seems to produce the best in its followers.
If you are not convinced, I invite you to read and see. Investigate! Maybe you too will become convinced of the characteristics of God’s instructions in Psalm 119.