Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part series on the importance of reading books, you can read Part 1 here.
As important as books are they are not the most important thing in life. To paraphrase Paul, “If I have many books and I’ve read them all, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
In order for us to demonstrate love we need to be living in community with others. We need to have close, personal relationships with other people. All the books and all the knowledge in the world will do us no good if there is no one to serve by sharing what we’ve learned.
This is not an either/or scenario it’s both/and, we should not create a false dichotomy between being loving books and loving people. We need to do both. Books are important to our continued growth both as human being and as Christians. We only get this one short shot at life here on earth and it can be a terribly confusing place. For different reasons we may go through certain seasons of it alone, whether because we are embarrassed or afraid we will be misunderstood by others. Yet in these situations books can be of tremendous import, especially biographies because in reading biography we are able to take advantage of a lifetime of wisdom by investing a mere fraction of our own. In the case of biographies the return far exceeds the investment. In this world we need wisdom, desperately! And books are one of the primary ways we can gain wisdom (go read Proverbs!).
However, our purpose in reading isn’t just that we would benefit as individuals from the books we read because as Paul writes to the church in Corinth, “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (1 Corinthians 14:26 NIV). Our reading should be for the building up of the church, of benefiting and serving our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Consider Paul’s words at the beginning of his second letter to the Corinthians,
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NIV)
How often are the Scriptures a balm to our wounded souls? These same Scriptures which so often speak peace and healing into our conflicted and hurting hearts can also do the same for others. Likewise, good books can accomplish similar ends.
Words are God’s gift to broken hearts, knitting together what was torn asunder by the harsh circumstances we face and giving expression to our deepest anguish.
“A person finds joy in giving an apt reply—
and how good is a timely word!” (Proverbs 15:23 NIV)
So then we should not think of books as primarily for our own individual enrichment but rather for the blessing of the whole community. Whether you are in pastoral ministry, lead a small group, are part of a small group or even just a friend. Our personal individual reading has the potential to bring comfort, healing and peace to those around us as we apply the wisdom we have gleaned to the lives of those we care about.
In a similar way, reading books with others can also be immensely profitable.
This year, technically we began last year but we’ve only read one chapter, a number of people in my church have formed a book club. We are reading through Kevin DeYoung’s excellent book The Hole in Our Holiness.
We meet once a month to go through the study questions for whichever chapter we’ve read but they are really only a starting point. Having organised the book club I had no idea going in how well things would go that first night. I was slightly worried it would be a complete flop. A number of questions were floating around in my mind:
Would people talk?
Would we stay on topic?
What if we finish in five minutes?
Would it feel awkward?
Thankfully, everything went really well. Far better than I expected! Everyone had something helpful to contribute. We talked about the chapter for over two hours and it didn’t feel awkward at all, as talking about spiritual issues and holiness can be sometimes (maybe that’s just a Baptist thing?). More importantly everyone enjoyed it and they are looking forward to our next book club. I’m also looking forward to it and to what God will do in us through it.
So I would really encourage you to try something similar. Meet up with friends or people from your church (or both! Maybe they’re the same people?) to read a book together. It could be a book like The Hole in Our Holiness or a book of the Bible. Set a date: it could be once a month, twice a month, once a week, whatever happens to suit the needs of your group. Bring some unhealthy food: no explanation necessary. Do it. Then keep doing it.
In my opinion, having pre-prepared questions that people can be thinking about while they read is very helpful as it gives everyone the opportunity to come with something to discuss or share and they are useful for guiding the conversation when the inevitable lull naturally occur after everyone has said their piece. Someone who can lead the conversation well, ask good follow up questions and gently encourage the more timid member of your book club to contribute is always a huge benefit.
So who are you reading with?