[16] And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.

Colossians 4:16

My church background was one of Strict and Particular Baptist Churches. As part of the service both morning and evening there was the public reading of scripture. The scripture read had nothing to do with the sermon that was going to be preached, it was just scripture. Often we worked through a book in the Bible a section at a time, using both Old and New Testaments. The new trend is to read the passage you are about to preach on and you may get scripture read as part of the worship. Nostalgic or loss?

The reading of, and listening to, Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae was a momentous occasion. The people gathered in eager expectation to hear, what we now know today as scripture. They were attentive, expectant and full of anticipation. I am not sure how the reading of four chapters of Colossians would go down in today’s modern services!

I was so impressed with a pastor friend of mine who when opening their new building, and before any meeting took place, set up a rota to read the whole Bible publicly twenty four hours a day until the complete Bible was read (I think it took nearly four days).

The public reading of God’s Word was a common practice in the

Synagogue (Luke 4:16, Acts 13:15, 15:21, 2 Corinthians 3:14-15) and was found in the early church as well. In his first letter to the Thessalonians Paul wrote, rather strongly, “I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers” (1 Thessalonians 5:27).

Again, in writing to Timothy, Paul says, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13).

I have expressed my views before about the loss of the public reading of scripture. Some people maintain that this is not as effective as it once was as a means of reading scripture particularly with todays modern gadgets where scripture is at the fingertips of any Christian at any time. That may be true but there is also something powerful in the corporate reading and hearing of the word of God, where believers gather together to listen to the voice of God. It’s also a powerful witness to any unbelievers present, I know of many people who have got saved by hearing the public reading of scripture.

That Paul regarded this as crucial for the life of all Christians, and not simply this one congregation, is seen in his request that the Colossians take steps to have the letter read publicly in the church at Laodicea. In addition, they are to read publicly “the letter from Laodicea” (4:16).

Clearly the two letters were different from one another, each with its own distinct points of emphasis and yet Paul thought it wise and helpful for both letters to be read in each congregation.

This raises a huge question namely, what is this “letter from Laodicea?”Some believe it was a letter written to Paul by the Laodicean church, or perhaps by its leadership, or even one of its members. It is more likely that Paul means they are to get hold of a letter from him, currently in the possession of the Laodiceans, which had been written to that neighbouring church. But what letter might this be? This gets the theologians going!

Some maintain that Paul is referring to his letter to the Ephesians, believing that Ephesians was a general epistle sent not only to the Ephesian church but to all the many Gentile congregations in south-western Asia Minor. Others have added to this saying that the words “in Ephesus” (Ephesians 1:11) may not have been part of the original text. Anyway, most believe that the epistle was initially sent to Ephesus, since it was the centre for communication and commerce throughout the province. Paul’s intent was that it be circulated among the many house churches in Ephesus and its surrounding areas. It would make perfectly good sense then, for him to encourage the Colossians to have it read in their midst as well.

There is a problem with this and it is that Ephesians was most probably written after Colossians. Another theory is that it was Paul’s letter to Philemon, but this was a distinctly personal and private letter. Also, Philemon lived in Colossae, not Laodicea!

Let’s make this simple, Paul implies it’s a letter he wrote to the Laodiceans, one that obviously did not get included in the canon of Scripture. What happened to it? We don’t know, but it’s possible that it was destroyed in the massive earthquake that hit the region in 61 AD But that’s only speculation, maybe you have it in a box somewhere?

Paul most likely wrote four letters to the Corinthian church, only two of which are included in our canon of scripture (see 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 and 2 Corinthians 2:4-9). Who knows how many other individuals and groups Paul wrote too, many probably. These letters not included in the cannon of scripture have been described as the ‘lost letters.’ Yes they are lost to us but at the time there’s no indication from Paul or the readers that they viewed them with lesser authority.

Why then didn’t God preserve these and other apostolic writings for the church of subsequent generations? Evidently once these letters served their divinely designed function for the early church, God sovereignly arranged for their disappearance or destruction. In his infinite and gracious wisdom he determined that the content of those epistles was not essential for the life and faith of the church beyond the first century. Ultimately we must trust in divine providence and believe that God has preserved for us everything that is necessary for a life of truth and godliness.

Ok, let’s be naughty, what if someone finds the ‘lost letters?’ Let’s imagine for a moment your great grandfather left a mysterious box to you in his will after his death, you open it and there they are the ‘lost letters.’ Should they be included in our canon of Scripture? I’m convinced they will be not be found.

If God deemed it essential for the 21st century church to have them then he would have preserved them and they would be in scripture now.

Scripture clearly states that it contains everything we need in it for life and godliness. So let’s not speculate on what we haven’t got rather let’s honour and obey what we have been given.

This is something I read by Andrew Wilson about the reading of scripture. https://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/why_do_we_read_scripture

“We do not read it to earn. It is so easy to be tricked into thinking like this, but the purpose of reading the Bible is never to present God with a good work that entitles you to a reward. You are no more justified after reading a Bible for an hour than you are after playing Play Station or having breakfast or going for a walk.

Instead, we read it to learn: about God, about his world, about ourselves, and about how they fit together in his purposes. Despite the popularity of phrases like “we need transformation, not information,” careful reading is always going to involve learning things we didn’t know, so that we might be changed by them: “give me understanding to learn your commands!” (Psalm 119:73). A disciple is a learner. Reading Scripture is more than learning, but it is not less.

We read it to discern. “Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:13). Maturity is not just knowing what to think, but how to think; it is not just knowledge, but wisdom. And regular Bible reading (“constant use”) shapes the way we think about everything, whether the subject is directly addressed in its pages or not. Diligence produces discernment.

We read it to turn: to turn from our sin, and to turn to Christ. Reading Scripture shapes our thinking, but it also shapes our behaviour: “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). It aims at repentance. And this happens not just negatively (turning away from sin) but positively (turning towards Jesus and following him once more). For all the emphasis we place on the first time that happens, it is actually a daily habit, as Martin Luther famously pointed out at the start of the 95 theses: “the entire Christian life is one of repentance.”

We read it to burn. When I open Scripture in the morning, I am looking for fire. I want passion to rise within me, for God and his kingdom. I want heat as well as light. I want joy fuel. I want to experience the God about whom I am reading, as if Jesus was personally explaining it to me in the room. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

We read it to yearn. Reading the Bible stirs our hearts with desire for another world. As we read, the seed of the kingdom is awakened in us. We long for the realities of heaven to become the realities of earth. We long for more of God’s presence. We pine for the day when our faith will be sight, and justice will roll down like rivers, and “holy to the LORD” will be inscribed on the bells and the cooking pots (Zechariah 14:20)! and death will be swallowed up in victory. Out of that longing comes hope, and out of that hope comes prayer”.