The airman had ditched his plane into the ocean. He had survived that. He made it to the beach of a small island. But he had no supplies. What he couldn’t survive was the lack of water. When they found his body, they determined that he had died of dehydration. A survival expert commented that his death was unnecessary. Had he dug eighteen inches into the sand, he could have had fresh water from the seepage. He died eighteen inches from a lifeline.
Jesus said, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63b). Our lifeline is the Bible, the words of Christ. God’s word sustains our spiritual lives. It strengthens, guides, encourages, reproves, discerns. It gives hope and wisdom.
The prophet Amos spoke of a day when the word of God would be scarce. “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD…In that day shall the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst” (Amos 8:11, 13). Without the living word of God people faint. They become weak. If that persists, they will die.
As a young man I had my share of ups and downs in my Christian walk. Renowned evangelist R. G. Flexon would give his statistics of how many thousands had walked the aisle under his ministry. I could at least account for two of those and I only heard him preach a few times. I suspect I was counted in various other evangelists’ statistics. One day after a revival (I recall neither the church nor the preacher) I remember coming home and thinking, “If I’m going to be serious about following Jesus, I better be serious about reading the Bible.” Instead of snatching a verse here and there, I began systematically reading the Bible. When I went to college, I carried a New Testament with me regularly. If I felt spiritually attacked by the unbelieving atmosphere of the campus, I would open it and read it. Those passages gave me strength for the day. It was like a cool drink to my thirsty soul.
There are some sober similarities between those days of Amos and our day. It is not that we do not have Bibles; it is that most who call themselves Christians do not read them and thus do not heed them. The tragedy about this famine of the words of God is that is often self-inflicted. A recent survey revealed that of people who attend church regularly less than half read the Bible more than once a week. We can decry our “post-Christian culture” but even church people are becoming Biblically illiterate. It is not just a matter of illiteracy. It is a matter of life.
But what about people who do not have Bibles? Are there not believers who cannot even read yet are faithful to Christ? Yes. That is part of the reason the apostle Paul wrote that ministers should “give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:6). It has always been so.
Consider the time when the Hebrew people returned to their own city after it had long been in disrepair and abandonment. They stood to listen to the word of God, read by their spiritual leaders. How did the people respond to God’s word? “And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground” (Neh. 8:6). This was a sure encouragement to the ministers. “So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” (Neh. 8:8).
The word of God has no uncertain sound. Those who proclaim it should do it distinctly. It is not maybe this, or perhaps that. The prophets were direct. “Thus sayeth the Lord!” they proclaimed. Jesus was not reticent. “I say unto you,” he said, over and over. The important thing was the word of God. It was not the opinion of the reader that mattered. It was the word that mattered. They gave the sense of the word. It was vital that they got it right. It is still so today. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
Paul emphasized the importance of exhortation, or encouragement and comfort. This is to be rooted in the word of God. “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).
Two Russian peasants discussed their spiritual longings. Neither had inner peace. They talked with the village priest. He encouraged them to make a pilgrimage to a holy city. They set out on an arduous journey that ended at their supposed mecca. There the holy man assigned them some works of penance. They still lacked peace.
If they were really serious, the priest told them, they could do one final activity that showed true repentance. They could walk through an icy pool. The men steeled themselves and plunged into the water. One could not make it. He fled to a warm place, more hopeless than ever. The other gritted it out and waded through the neck-deep water to the finish. On their journey home, the man who failed told his friend that he envied him. His companion cut him off.
“I have no more peace than when we started out.”
Several weeks later it was announced that a gospel meeting was being held in a home in their village. One of the disappointed pilgrims decided to attend. When he heard the scriptures read and explained, hope came alive in his heart. He could not be saved by his own effort. Salvation is by grace through faith. It is not of works. Jesus died in his place. His sins were atoned for. He placed his trust in the work of Christ. And he found the peace he had been longing for. The “patience and comfort of the scriptures” brought him hope.
Jesus said that His words were spirit and life. What a waste of spiritual life when we neglect the scriptures! What a senseless loss when people in the land of Bibles leave them unopened on their shelves.
Instead, let it be said of us as the apostle said to the Christians at Thessalonica. “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe” (1 Thes. 2:13).
Read the word. It is our lifeline.