Exhortation and Teaching in Worship
“Until I come, devote yourself … to exhortation, to teaching.”- 1 Timothy 4:13
Scholars of religion often note the importance of words for the Christian religion. We define orthodox theology with words, and the words of our prayers and songs express our piety. But the importance of words for biblical religion is most evident in our reliance on the written Word of God. Ever since the days of Moses, the reading of the Scriptures has been definitional for the religion of God’s people, and as 1 Timothy 4:13 indicates, the public reading of Scripture must be a part of our worship services.
Yet, 1 Timothy 4:13 says more about the Scriptures in worship than that we are to read them aloud. Paul also tells Timothy and, by extension, all Christian pastors to be devoted to exhortation and to teaching. There is, in fact, a careful sequence laid out in today’s passage. First the Word of God is to be read, and then it is to be explained. John Calvin comments, “[Paul] places reading before doctrine and exhortation; for, undoubtedly, the Scripture is the fountain of all wisdom, from which pastors must draw all that they place before their flock.”
Pastors and teachers have nothing to give to God’s people besides what the Lord has given, namely, His inspired Word. So, essential to worship is exhortation and teaching based on that Word. The word “teaching,” or in some translations “doctrine,” has in view the systematic exposition and explanation of Scripture for the purpose of establishing what we are to believe. “Exhortation” refers more to the practical application of the text to God’s people. Those who teach God’s Word in the worship service are to explain and apply it, helping us learn how to love our Creator more truly and follow Him more rightly.
Scripture is clear enough that anyone can read it and discern the basic message of salvation. But some portions of the Bible are harder to understand than others, and so God has given the church teachers to help us learn His Word and grow in grace and truth (Eph. 4:11–14). Because the Word is essential to our lives as Christians and because God has given us pastors, elders, and teachers to assist us in bringing this Word to bear on our lives, Christian worship conducted according to the Bible will always involve the teaching of the Bible.
Pastors, elders, and teachers must place a high priority on studying the Bible so that they may rightly proclaim it to their congregations. But laypeople are responsible as well to call on their leaders to teach them God’s Word. Let us encourage our pastors, elders, and teachers to give us the Word of God in our worship.
If God’s people do not call for their pastors, elders, and teachers to bring them the Word, their leaders may be tempted to give them something different. We are all responsible to make sure that God’s Word is faithfully proclaimed. If we are teachers, then we must take care to exposit the Word carefully. If we are laity, we must ask for the Word to be preached in our congregations and listen when it is.
Passages for Further Study
2 Timothy 3:16–17
2 Timothy 4:1–2