My kids can’t remember a time before the internet and mobile phones, and they find it hard to imagine how such a world existed.
But I got thinking the other day—can we imagine a time before Bibles? That is, a time before the widespread availability of cheap, accessible Bible translations in the common language of our culture? A time when literacy was not as universal as it is in most modern Western societies?
Surely that time would comprise most of the history of the world in most places since the time of Jesus. (And of course, the Christians of the New Testament would not have had a New Testament.)
And that leads me to a question: how did people have their quiet times? For us, a regular (preferably daily) reading of the Bible is a staple of spiritual growth, and rightly so. But what about all those Christians in history who didn’t have a Bible? Or couldn’t read? How did they fill their minds and hearts with God’s word so that they could grow in faith (since faith comes by hearing the the word of God)?
I think the answer is much the same as the one that I give to my kids when they look at me incredulously and say: “What do you mean, there you didn’t have sms or facebook?!! How did you keep in touch with your friends?”
“Oh we’d go round to each other’s places and, like, talk”, I say. “Or I’d pick up the phone, and call them … and you know … talk.”
It’s interesting when you look through the New Testament for evidence of how believers received regular every-day encouragement. You don’t find much about reading the Bible each day, I guess because this was not very practical piece of advice for most New Testament believers. But you do find numerous examples of believers speaking to one another to build each other up:
- Paul knows that the Romans are well able to instruct one another (Rom 15:14)
- Paul wants the Ephesians to speak the truth in love to one another for their growth in Christ (Eph 4:15)
- Paul urges the Colossians the word of Christ to dwell among them richly as they teach and admonish one another (Col 3:16)
- Paul wants church elders to be able to teach and instruct; but he would also like to see older women teaching and training younger women (Tit 1:9; 2:3-4)
- And the writer to the Hebrews, in his long exposition about the living power of the word of God, says: “… exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13).
The normal way in which people heard the word of God and fed upon it and drew encouragement to persevere and to grow was by hearing it from the lips of another believer, whether in their church gatherings or day by day. Teachers and elders had a special responsibility to speak and teach God’s word, but it was the joy and privilege of all believers to instruct one another, to teach and admonish one another, to exhort one another every day that it is called ‘today’.
I wouldn’t want to get rid of personal Bible reading any more than I would want to dispense with running water, the internet or mobile phones (although maybe mobile phones…). But it does make you wonder: have we forgotten the daily exhort time?