On the Importance of Reading Part 2

 

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Ten years ago, the National Endowment for the Arts published “Reading at Risk: A survey of Literary Reading in America” (2004). This detailed study showed that Americans in almost every demographic group were reading fiction, poetry, drama, and books in general, at significantly lower rates than ten or twenty years previous. 

This decline was steepest among young adults. The data specifically concluded: (1) Americans are spending less time reading; (2) Reading comprehension skills are eroding; and (3) These declines have serious civic, social, cultural, and economic implications. What this study failed to consider was the more important “dire” spiritual implications of this national intellectual declension. 

Another insightful study from the early 1990’s revealed that the average American home had roughly eleven Bibles within. Is this data not shocking? Now, what if there were an average of five Bibles in our homes?  Do you think anybody would be reading them? A number of studies in recent years have concluded that most evangelicals are not reading their Bibles. In fact, less than ten percent read their Bible with any type of regularity. Dear friends, we have moved from an image-oriented world (during the Middle Ages and Renaissance), which overlapped with a text-oriented world (beginning with the invention of the Gutenberg Printing Press in 1450, which led to the production and proliferation of the Bible and books of all genres) just prior to the birth of the Protestant Reformation (October 31, 1517) until roughly the decade of the 1970’s. However, in the last thirty years or so, we have moved back to a predominantly visual-oriented world. 

So, despite its many benefits, our present world has become less interested and very impatient with the importance of words, thinking, argument, moral clarity, and final conclusions. And this postmodern mindset has infiltrated the church! In fact, if you read books at all, you are often seen as out-of-touch, spiritually clueless and obviously doctrinaire. Take for example, Ecclesiastes 12:12, where it reads, “My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” Have you ever heard this verse quoted for why a Christian should not read the Bible too much or other books at all (Christian or otherwise)? Sadly, those who would cite this passage against the reading of books, even Christian books, conveniently ignore two important words in it: “…beyond these.” 

What does “beyond these” refer to? …the previous verse, verse 11. In this passage, Solomon brings together his final thoughts from verses 9-10. He instructs us (through the Holy Spirit) that words penned by wise men are to be sought out because they instruct, warn, and admonish their readers. In fact, Solomon says such words were given by one Shepherd -- Yahweh (cf. Psalm 80:1). Thus, “beyond these” refers to books written by the wise.  These do not weary the body, but rather, strengthen faith, even in the final hours of life (2 Timothy 4:13)! Why? Because the Chief Shepherd (Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 5:4) has given these wise men (e.g., the writers of Scripture as well as: Athanasius, Tertullian, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Bunyan, C.H. Spurgeon, et al) to both edify and equip His people throughout the history of His Church (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 4:7-16). 

Therefore, such authors are God’s gifts to His people through the printed page! And what should we expect from the lives of those who read them? - Spiritual maturity, through the reading of this solid spiritual food (Hebrews 5:11-14). Put another way, God’s people often obtain strength for living their daily Christian lives (John 10:10) from those who have been long in the grave, yet still speak (Hebrews 11:4)! Are carefully chosen books, therefore, a wise investment of both your time and money? Yes!! Remember the words of the great puritan preacher, Thomas Brooks, who said:  “Books may preach when the author cannot, when the author may not, when the author dares not, yea, and which more, when the author is not.”

 Can you afford to allow the fleeting time of your short life to be sucked up by trivial things that carry no eternal value? Read and think. Then pray, worship and serve. Devotion to Christ flows out of doctrinal knowledge. That’s why Paul told Timothy, “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people WILL NOT ENDURE sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:2-4). So then, the more you read God’s Word, and other wisely-written, spiritually-sound books, the more you will spiritually benefit from the worship you offer to God on the Lord’s Day morning…especially, as you lean into the preached Word of God, as it is proclaimed…

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