Monday, June 15, 2009

Acts 8 on reading and understanding

The board of trustees for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship recently was in town and visited our offices at InterVarsity Press. During their meetings I gave an opening devotion out of Acts 8:26-40, the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. Here's an excerpt of my remarks:

Let me zero in on just a few key verses. Verse 30, Philip asks, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And the eunuch replies, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”

This passage highlights reading and understanding. Reading plays a key role in people’s faith journeys. This has been true for centuries. Christians are people of the book. We have a heritage of reading, of being discipled by the written Word of God and Christian literature. But reading by itself is not enough. Do you understand what you are reading? How can I, unless someone guides me? Let me put it this way: Reading plus guiding equals understanding. We need to read, and we need to understand.

Reading by itself is not enough. Content is not enough. But relationship with no content is not enough either. Reading biblical content, in the context of Christian guidance and relationship, produces understanding and spiritual insight.

Obviously Philip is the main guide that helps the eunuch understand the text. But that’s not all. There are more characters in this story. First the angel of the Lord tells Philip where to go. Then the Spirit tells him what to do. Philip the guide is also himself guided.

The prophet Isaiah is also a guide. He is a written guide, giving testimony to who Jesus is, a sheep led to slaughter. Isaiah uses the power of the written word to point the eunuch to Jesus. Isaiah and Philip are partners in witness. They work together to bring the eunuch to Christ. And there’s another hidden guide here. Luke, author of the book of Acts. Luke writes and records this passage, and it’s a gift to guide us in our study and edification.

This says something about the nature of the written word. Writings are an extension of the writer. Through the written word, writers travel through time and space to be present with us. Isaiah still speaks to us today. So does Luke. And Augustine, or Bonhoeffer, or C. S. Lewis. I have a personal copy here of the very first IVP book, Discovering the Gospel of Mark by Jane Hollingsworth. Written six decades ago. This printing is from 1950. Through this book, Jane still speaks to us. She guides us through the gospel of Mark, just as Philip guided the eunuch through the prophet Isaiah.

Books are our guides when people are not physically present. In the early days of InterVarsity, staffworkers covered several states. They might visit a school every few months, once or twice a semester. Veteran staff Marilyn Stewart saw her staffworker just twice a year, so they made the most of their visits. And often those early IV staffers would disciple their student leaders through books. They’d leave behind an IVP book and say read these chapters, and we’ll discuss them the next time I’m in town. Books discipled our student leaders when our staff could not be present.

And IVP books extend the ministries of our IV staff authors. James Choung, Doug Schaupp, Nikki Toyama, Jimmy Long, Paul Tokunaga – great people, but they can’t be on two hundred campuses at the same time. But their books can go places that they can’t. And I’m thrilled that thousands upon thousands of students can benefit from their books.

1 comment:

Jenell Williams Paris said...

This emergent blog posted the blogger's sermon on Acts 8. Different angle than yours, both very valuable.