By Tony Eldridge
It was January of 1990 when I read my first Charles Swindoll book, Living Above the Level of Mediocrity. I was fascinated by his grasp of spiritual matters. He seemed to have a way of picking me up and showing me the light that exists in a dark world. In the following two months I read five of his books and before long I became a Swindoll “disciple.” As I began to explore this untouched region of my life, I encountered another author, Max Lucado, and his book, Six Hours One Friday. His style is much like Swindoll’s in that he uses spiritual principles to give the hope of living a life that makes a difference in the eyes of God.
Within a matter of weeks, I began to use illustrations, points, and materials by these men in my sermons. People asked for copies of my outline because the material impressed them so much and made them feel charged. I felt as if I finally found a way of presenting the Truth the way it was in the New Testament. I realized that my sermons were more motivational than doctrinal, but I felt that Jesus himself approved of that when he told the Pharisees, “. . . you have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faith” (Matt. 23:23). I was confident that the “devotional” aspect of the law was weightier than the “doctrinal” aspect of the law.
Oh, I didn’t think that doctrine was unimportant; I just thought that here was the material that we Christians have been forsaking in our lives and especially in our preaching. My mission was clear show Christians what living a life devoted to Christ was all about.
It was during spring break of this past year that something happened that caused me to re-evaluate my spiritual feasting. My mother had met a young man at work who showed an interest in spiritual matters. She mentioned me to him and within a week he called me in Florida to set up a time that we could meet over the break. I was elated! I met him one night and before long, we were joined by four other people who began to “study” with me. We all agreed on the attitude that we should have; we all agreed on the power of Christ in our life; and we all agreed on the potential that Christians had in a life with Christ. Yet the charges he laid before me against the church belonging to Christ were above my head. I was simply not able to defend the teachings of Scripture concerning the precious body of Christ.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not a novice in the faith. I have been studying the Bible for the biggest part of my life. The conversation that my friend and I participated in was one of meaty consistency. Yet I was silenced because of my ignorance. I went back to school both disillusioned and wiser. I was disillusioned with the books that I had put so much trust in. Though I thought they offered life, they gave me no assistance when I was called to defend my King. I was ready to pitch my whole collection of “feel-good” books. I came back a little wiser because I realized that there was no substitute for the true book of life, the Bible.
Now that I look back on my experience, I see that I went from one extreme to the other. Don’t get me wrong – I believe with firm resolve that there is no substitute for God’s Word; however, I still see some good that can be gained from the books that I mentioned earlier. My advice is simple: “Read them with care!” They have some good things in them that Christians can use. Just don’t make them your Bible.
Yes, we must be able to see the beautiful life that our Saviour promises. We must be able to understand the limits of “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” But we must also be able to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth ” (2 Tim. 2:15). As Peter said, “. . . always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15). It is a sad thing when members who ought to be teachers can’t wield the sword of the Spirit effectively in defense of their King.
It is my strong plea that every Christian engage in some sort of daily Bible reading, for it is in his Word that we know the mind of God. That seemed to be the whole point of Paul’s message in 1 Corinthians 2. God had revealed his will to the inspired writers (v. 10) so that we might know it (v. 12). Only by searching the Scriptures can we equip ourselves with God’s words to give a defense to everyone who asks a reason for the hope that is in us so we don’t have to be ashamed.
As I said before, books written by men can be good. Many contain inspirational messages that can lift our souls and cause us to think about our commitment to the Father. But I pray that everyone who reads this will remember that there is no substitute for the living Word of God. It is the power of salvation (Rom. 1:16). It contains eternal life (Jn. 5:24). It can save your soul (Jas. 1:21). Can any other book today make such bold claims? Doesn’t it only make sense that our true spiritual feast should come often from the inspired writers? Let our foundation be built on the words of Christ and we will stand firm in his doctrine.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 23, pp. 707-708
December 6, 1990