First Comes First

By: Abbie Hoekstra

Jesus, before ascending to heaven, told the disciples that Him leaving was for the best because now they would gain the power of the Holy Spirit who would go with them as they sought to expand the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. The result of
this was that thousands of people heard the gospel, witnessed God’s power through the disciples, and joined the movement - the early church.

And because of that movement, people like you and me get to have a personal relationship with Jesus on this earth and eternal life with Him in heaven. And if you’re like me, there’s nothing like grabbing a cup of coffee and heading to your favorite spot for some quiet, uninterrupted time with your Bible and journal to cultivate that relationship we’ve been gifted with.

But did you know that reading the Bible this way has only even been an option for the last few hundred years? For the 1,500 years that the Bible existed before books, people heard it read aloud in churches, or saw its stories displayed through paintings and sculptures and icons.

In the Old Testament we see God’s Word read aloud as a way to remember. Over the course of Israel’s history, they would need to be constantly reminded of what God had done for them in the past in order to know how to live in the present. In the New Testament, reading scripture aloud in community was a core part of life for the follower of Jesus. Paul often encouraged people to read his letters aloud to anyone who would listen. Jesus led the way in this practice as He would share words written about Him with others by reading from the scroll.

When we look back at the early church, we see they found success in advancing the Kingdom of Heaven because they were not only reading scripture together, they were sharing resources with each other and their community, breaking bread together, and praying and worshiping together. Studying God’s word together was just at the forefront - the catalyst for changing lives and providing humanitarian aid in their community. In Acts, Luke tells us that this is God’s design for the growth of the Church.

In order for us to have a full grasp of God’s design for how scripture should be read, we need to first understand how He designed us - as image bearers, created in the image of God, to be the very likeness of God for other people. It means we are a reflection of what God has done for us. But I alone cannot reflect everything that God has done for all of humanity, I am just an image of what He has done for me. While I might be an image of what it looks like to trust God’s sovereignty in the face of losing a parent to a battle with cancer, someone else might be an image of what it looks like to endure suffering through discrimination based on the color of their skin.

I was recently reading about the limitations of humans in a Bible Project blog post and came across this line: “When no one has the full understanding of everything, then everyone needs one another in order to learn.”

 Hear me out: independent, quiet time with God is not a bad thing. In fact, our lead pastor says our highest priority in life should be cultivating an intimate personal relationship with Jesus. Doing this actually helps us be a better reflection of God. But in order for me to grow further, and allow others to grow further, it is also important to read and reflect on God’s word in community. I think you know where I’m going with this... when we read scripture together, we are *drum roll* BETTER TOGETHER.

The reason we say, “we are Word Saturated here at Bay Area,” is because we have seen the fruit of the early church (ie. the very reason we all know Jesus, and why Bay Area exists) and believe it is the only way we can see the Kingdom of Heaven, the Church, grow on earth. Reading scripture in our communities is the very start of this because it brings unity over diverse life experiences, ethnicities, socioeconomic status, race and background. And when we do this, we are creating space to listen in order to be shaped by one communal experience of learning, understanding and ultimately, remembering who God is and what He has done for us.

AND this is the key to our understanding of the foundation and security God’s power on display in our lives creates. It’s this very thing that allows us to give generously of our time, treasure and talents, to love our friends and our enemies, to have hope in what’s to come, to be the best advocate for the poor, broken- hearted and downtrodden, to have freedom and joy!

Said another way, our ability to be a reflection of God to others can only be as good as our understanding of who God is. Everything we can do for others was first done for us by a loving, caring and generous Father. Understanding that makes us the best versions of ourselves. And when you put a bunch of people who are word saturated in community, we are just as powerful as the early church. The gospel becomes more attractive because others are witnessing God’s power through us to the degree that they can’t help but join the movement. All the while we are reminding ourselves of the story we live in - God’s grand redemptive plan to save His people - that has transcended time, generations, cultural shifts and persecution to meet you in the middle of life. How amazing.