Why Christians Must Be Readers

person reading

"The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments" (2 Tim. 4:13).

Paul was in prison, soon to lose his life at the instigation of the Roman Emperor Nero. But in prison he asks Timothy to bring with him books and parchments. It is a most interesting scene. Here is a great man, full of the Spirit of God, with a life of fruitfulness almost unparalleled in the history of mankind. Soon he will leave this world and go to be with Christ. But in his prison cell he longs for something which Timothy can bring: books and parchments.

We cannot know for sure what these books and parchments were. They might, of course, have been the Scriptures of the Old Testament. We bear in mind that the New Testament Scriptures were only beginning to exist at this time as a collection of books. They certainly were not yet put together in the form of a completed New Testament. So in all likelihood these books and parchments included the Old Testament Scriptures. But Paul was a prolific reader and an indefatigable student. It is probable that amongst these books and parchments were other books, perhaps commentaries on Scripture or even secular books written by Greek writers of the pagan world. You will know that on two or three occasions Paul reveals his familiarity with pagan Greek literature. He evidently did not despise Greek literature. At this point we might ask a question of our text. If it was the Bible of the Old Testament that Paul was asking to be brought, my question would be, "Why did he need it?" He had a good memory. He had studied the Scriptures from his childhood, and seems to have been able to quote much or even all of the Old Testament from memory. Some people have achieved something similar.

Why then would he need the Scriptures, if he had them stored away in his own mind?

On the other hand, if it was not the Bible of the Old Testament he was asking for, but other books, one might ask, "Why would he want them?" He was, after all, so close to death and to glory. Soon he would see his Savior’s face and receive his immortal honors from Christ. You would hardly think that such a man would be interested to read anything but divine, spiritual, and inspired literature. But whatever it was he wanted, and whatever it was he needed, he asked for these books to come. So we are faced with the question: Why?

Let me suggest three reasons. First, I would suggest that if a man is once a reader, he is always a reader. And a prison cell to a reader becomes a home from home when there are books. A small shelf of familiar books is like a small cluster of familiar friends. How the apostle in prison at Rome would have rejoiced to see these old "companions" beside him!

And then, as a second reason, it does not matter how advanced a Christian is in knowledge, grace, wisdom, and experience; in this life he has not yet come to perfection. The apostle was forever pressing on to that perfection which was his desired goal. Even as the shadow of eternity fell upon him, he was anxious that his dying days should be also learning days and days of progression. Evidently there were still things he had to learn, and he was humble enough to indicate his readiness to learn from books.

Let me offer to you a third reason. I would suggest that the apostle includes these words for Timothy’s sake, as though to say to Timothy, "You must be a reader, Timothy. You are taking up the work that I am laying down." Technically, Timothy did not have plenary, divine inspiration as the apostles did. Whenever the apostles opened their mouth officially to preach, what they said was infallible, conveying the very Word of God. But Timothy did not have that gift. His work was the consolidation of the churches of Christ, and it was essential that amongst other responsibilities that Timothy would take upon himself was reading the best books.

So I do not think it is straining the passage to say to you that the doctrine from these words is surely this: A Christian man or woman must be a reader, all his or her life. We are to be readers to our dying day. No book is remotely comparable to the Bible. So it is most important that in talking about books we say something first about the way to read the Bible to greatest profit. When we read the Word of God, I believe we should try to memorize it and try to learn it often by heart. We cannot know the Bible too well.

We know nothing compared to some of our spiritual forefathers in the faith. You would have heard of the Waldensians. They were the evangelicals of the Middle Ages. They lived in northern Italy in remote and inaccessible valleys and hillsides. They maintained the Word of God in its integrity and purity for centuries. Their ministers had to learn the New Testament by heart before they entered the ministry, and often they knew the Psalms also. We know our Bible so little compared with them. The Waldensians are an inspiration to us to learn our Bible. It is not enough just to read it. We are to imbibe it until, like John Bunyan, our very blood is ‘bibline’ and the mind of Christ fills our whole conception of everything. Evaluate everything by this book. That is the way in which we are to use the Bible. Then you must read the Bible to consolidate your theology. What is missing in many Bible readers today in the world is that they have not understood the theology of the Bible, and that is an incalculable loss. What is the theology of the Bible? It is the distillation of all its teachings. Put the Bible in the crucible, heat it up, distil it to its essence, and what you have is what the world has learned to call "Fundamentalism" or "Dispensationalism." The theology of the Bible is a system of grace. We must see that and have that consolidated more and more in our minds. Perhaps there is one thing we could export to Christians all around the world. After the Lord’s Day evening meetings for preaching or the prayer meetings on a weeknight we could gather together in one or other of the homes of the assembly for a while to talk about the Word of God. One may ask questions, and let others volunteer answers; and then others will be drawn in to speak from their own experience about things relating to the text of Scripture that is being discussed.

God did not make us to be mindless. We begin with the mind, the renewed mind of the decided Christian. True faith begins with the mind, and that is what is so wonderful about those who have instructed us in the truths of the recovered truths. They began with the mind. They address the mind. They give factual, propositional instruction to the intellect of a believing man. But our teachers also addressed the heart. The mind is the first thing, but not the only thing. What we believe must affect our emotions, and that is what they believed in: the reality of faith in the heart.

Some of these books are the very best books the world has ever seen. Scarcely any language in the world has had such books as the English language. Today if you go to countries which are influenced by the gospel, the first thing these other countries have to do is to read our language. In Korea today and other countries Christians are learning our language because they want access to the books! What an extraordinary thing! Young people gathering to read the Puritans. But you see my point is this: You and I don’t need to learn the English language. We have it; we were born with it. It is our mother tongue. Shame on you and me if, having the language and having the books and having the means of getting them, we do not fill ourselves with the divine knowledge. Through reading the Word of God and the best books, the fragrance of heaven should be felt by others to be in our hearts and homes.

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