Almost 23 years ago I started serving as an AFES staff worker with the Christian Union (CU) and it has been 30 years since I first walked on to the University as a ‘fresher’ and joined the CU. If you think I’m stuck in a rut; just remember that Charles Simeon stayed at Cambridge for 54 years, and Socrates never left Athens. Both were accused of ‘corrupting the youth with their dangerous teaching,’ a charge once again being levelled at Christians; and not just in the Universities.

It has been 30 years since I first walked on to the University campus … If you think I’m stuck in a rut; just remember that Charles Simeon stayed at Cambridge for 54 years.

Something did change this year however. Having worked with undergrads for all these years, I’ve changed roles to work full-time with the Post-grad/Uni-worker arm of AFES: The Simeon Network. This involves an older, busier and more diverse range of people. It has certainly helped me become more aware of the many different people who live, work, teach and study on campus. God has reminded me that the University—as part of the Universe; with everyone and everything in it—by rights belongs to him as its Creator. God is at work in his world, and he is at work at the University, gathering and building his church around his Son the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s words to Paul as he faced the daunting prospect of taking the gospel to the godless and cosmopolitan Corinth are an apt text for university workers, and indeed for gospel workers in Australia full stop:

Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city. (Acts 18:9b-10)

What am I doing here?

However there have been more than a few occasions when I’ve felt a little discombobulated. Unlike undergrad ministry, there is no ’critical mass gathering,’ or regular opportunity for platform ministry. All my meetings are about catching up with one person; or a small group of people. For the first time since I began working at Uni, I have not preached on campus once!

Reading the Bible

But not preaching has been strangely liberating. It has provided the opportunity to stand back and reflect on why I am at Uni. I’ve been reminded of the one non-negotiable of all gospel ministry (and own ‘life’s work’): prayerfully reading and receiving God’s word from the Bible with others; so that we:

  • Hear God’s voice;
  • be made wise for salvation through faith in Jesus;
  • are equipped for every good work that God has prepared for us to do.

In theological terms, I’ve been re-learning in practice the doctrine of ‘the sufficiency of Scripture.’

I’ve been re-learning in practice the doctrine of ‘the sufficiency of Scripture.’

This is of course true for preaching and teaching. It is not our profound insights, turn of phrase or winsome presentation that changes people. It is the Holy Spirit writing God’s word on our hearts; communicating and connecting us to Christ through the message of the gospel. The best kind of Bible talk, study group, or commentary, is when you/your mentor/ your friend/pastor/author puts you in the way of the message of the verse or passage of Scripture you’re looking at, and as it were, ‘gets out of the way’ so that you hear God’s voice together. Spurgeon put it this way when he was asked about defending the authority of Scripture:

There is no need for you to defend a lion when he is being attacked. All you need to do is open the gate and let it out. [1]

Peter Adam summed it up well as he applied the message of 2 Timothy for us at a SUMMIT (mid-year conference) I attended as a student:

  • How will you teach your Sunday school class? Use the Bible!
  • How will you encourage people in your youth group? Use the Bible!
  • How will you promote a godly lifestyle in your Bible study group? Use the Bible!
  • How will you train your faculty leaders in evangelism? Use the Bible!
  • How will you comfort those who mourn? Use the Bible!
  • How will you persevere throughout your life in Christian faith and service? Use the Bible!’

For the Holy Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the person of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
(2Timothy 3:15-17)

When I first hit Uni, all the Scripture that had been sown into my life—by faithful Sunday school teachers, Bible class leaders and my parents came—alive for me. Reading it became the main thing and the most important thing. Whether it was sitting talking with friends in the coffee lounge, or hearing a talk in a public meeting, or taking part in a faculty Bible study, God grabbed hold of our hearts by his Spirit through his Bible words. We were hearing the voice of the living God as we asked him to help us to understand it and know him. Our loving heavenly Father was teaching us how to pray in Jesus’ name. We were being commanded by the Holy Spirit to receive his word in faith, to obey it in our lives, and to share it with others.

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness … Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
(Hebrews 3:7-8, 12-13)

Ministry of the Word

John Calvin once said that, ‘The Lord Jesus Christ rules his Church, and the word is his scepter.’ Preaching and teaching are not optional extras in the life of the church.

John Calvin once said that, ‘The Lord Jesus Christ rules his Church, and the word is his scepter.’ Preaching and teaching are not optional extras in the life of the church. The proclamation of the Scriptures stands at the heart of our life together (e.g. Revelation 1:12-20; 1Timothy 4:13, 15-16; Ephesians 2:20; 4:7-13). But the ministry of the word is not only for those who are teachers and leaders amongst God’s people; this is what we all do:

Let the message of Christ dwell among you (plural) richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
(Colossians 3:16 cf. Deuteronomy 6:1-9; 29:29)

So we…

  • hear the Bible read to us;
  • read the Bible on our own;
  • sing it out in song;
  • read and hear it with other people (sometimes with one person, sometimes with ten people, sometimes with a 1,000 people);
  • read it to children;
  • read it (or have it read to us) when we’re on our death-bed—whether we are sharp and alert to the end or lost in the confusion of our fragmenting minds. [2]
  • read it in cafés, or on the train.

Currently, one of the places I have the privilege of reading the Scriptures is at a table in ‘University House’. When the waitress or waiter overhears, or sees my Bible lying on the table when I go to the bathroom, they might ask me: ‘Excuse me; I’m intrigued. What do you do?’ I’ve got my answer ready: ‘I read the Bible with people, have you ever read the Bible?’ God will decide what happens next.

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of people, but as it actually is, the word of God which is at work in you who believe.
(1Thessalonians 2:13)

Jesus said, ‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock, and one shepherd.’
(John 10:14-16)

Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.
(1Timothy 4:13)

A prayer for a lifetime of receiving God’s word

Teach me, Lord, the way of your decrees,
   that I may follow it to the end.
Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law
   and obey it with all my heart.
Direct me in the path of your commands,
   for there I find delight.
Turn my heart towards your statutes
   and not towards selfish gain.
Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
   preserve my life according to your word.
Fulfil your promise to your servant,
   so that you may be feared.
Take away the disgrace I dread,
   for your laws are good.
How I long for your precepts!
   In your righteousness preserve my life.
(Psalm 119:33-40)

[1] Quoted in D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, (London: IVF; 1958 (1967)), 41.

[2] C.G. Moule, Charles Simeon. (London: IVF; 1892 (1956)), 174. ‘On his death bed the last chapter Simeon requested to be read to him was the first chapter of Ephesians. Such was his weakness, that it was only when read in a whisper that Simeon could bear to hear it…another kindred passage he would dwell on for hours together, repeating the words, was ‘For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.’’ (Romans 11:36)