hear the Word

Okay, one more ODJ devotional for this month:

read > Colossians 4:2-18

After you have read this letter, pass it on to the church at Laodicea so they can read it, too. And you should read the letter I wrote to them (v. 16).

 Paul’s closing remarks indicate how his letters were read. There were no personal copies for believers to take home and read with their morning coffee. Instead the church gathered to hear one person read the letter out loud, and when they were done they copied it by hand before sending it on to another city. For the average Christian, the Word of God was heard with their ears before it was seen with their eyes.

         We thank God that we can read His Word whenever we want, but we must not neglect the unique power that is present when the church gathers to hear it read aloud. When we hear God’s Word we realize that:

         1. His Word is alive. God’s Word is not inert marks on a page but is “alive and powerful” to make things happen (Hebrews 4:12). God speaks, “Let there be,” and the universe flashes into existence (Genesis 1:3). God says, “Lazarus, come out!”, and a dead man stirs to life (John 11:43). God declares, “Look, I am making everything new!,” and His words swish around the swill of corruption and spit it out of creation (Revelation 21:5).

         God’s Word performs what it describes. Martin Luther said it’s important to read God’s promise of forgiveness (1 John 1:9), but we especially believe it when we hear that promise announced to us:  “Go in peace and sin no more” (John 8:11). This power of God’s spoken Word is why the sermon is the centerpiece of our worship services.

         2. His Word is life. We let the Word of God that we hear interpret what we see. Our eyes tell us we are habitual sinners; God’s Word declares we are saints (1 Corinthians 1:2). Our eyes tell us our dead brother or sister is never coming back; God’s Word says their gravesite is resurrection ground (1 Corinthians 15:50-58).

         We trust our ears, not our eyes. And we gather often with God’s people to hear more.

7 Comments

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  1. Thanks Mike, Your thoughts echo the words of Dr. Grier when he described Scripture as “the recorded speech of the Living God.” Those words are indeed alive and bring life to the hearers.

  2. Because I am such an innocent person, I never know when you are writing sarcastically (although I suppose I could assume that it is most of the time!).

    I cannot remember how many times people listed to a lesson/message and then repeat back what “they” heard… They must have been somewhere else!! I think God knew the art of oral communication is too precarious for important data.

  3. “listened” not listed @#$%

  4. Yes, Mike, and my written communication suffers from the same problem (just getting ahead of you).

  5. Great reminder that the Bible is more than words on pages. I wonder would you describe the “unique power” experienced during the corporate reading of the Word? Is it only present in the assembly? Would you be comfortable with the idea of a “unique opportunity” instead?

  6. Gary: I’m not sure which part struck you as sarcastic, but I must have it bad when even my earnest writing can be taken this way. I hear your point about the need for a written Word, I was only trying to note Luther’s emphasis on God’s performative speech. I think that in general writing is a second order discipline, following the first order of oral speech. Which makes me think–how is our present emphasis on texting and Facebook and online education–all the forms where writing supplants speaking–how might this corrupt normal communication?

    Doug: Part of what I mean is that when I’m listening to the Word read I am in a humble, receiving position. I must wait for the Word to be spoken to me (vs. reading it for myself at my own speed in Scripture). The other part is that I need the other–in this case a spokesperson for God–to declare his promises to me. In this case the speech performs what it declares–it’s as if I’m hearing God himself speak to me. Of course, I also hear God speak to me when I read the Bible for myself, but it’s not quite the same as hearing another speak those assurances to me. I need both private reading and public hearing, for they each contribute something essential.

  7. Having gone to bible school and seminary, I find it odd to read my self write that if the private reading of scripture is the chief ingredient for our spiritual growth, something is wrong. When our solitary study is elevated to near sacramental levels, we commit a historical elitism that forces us to conclude that for the majority of the Church’s history, the majority of the Church could not experience the most important spiritual discipline. I feel I am on pretty safe ground saying that the fullness of life in Christ is available to all believers in all times and all places regardless of one’s education.
    Faith comes by hearing…

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