Once a week, I stand before a host of international students, teaching them the English language as best as I can. Pre-Covid, forty-eight nations were represented, but that number has decreased quite a bit. The handful that still come are diligent and eager to learn so they can live in America with greater comfort and familiarity. If you have ever been among a people group where you lack fluency in their native tongue, you know what a disadvantage that is. It is trying and confusing, lonely and isolating. And when you have lost your way, it is frightening. I find it helpful to keep this example in mind as we think about Christians who lack biblical literacy. Just as my students lack the essential language where they live, so it is with God’s children who lack the essential language for the Christian— the language of the Bible.
In a foreign land, you would find it easy to fear when troubles come because you don’t know how to express to those around you what it is you need. Others cannot guide and encourage you due to your poor understanding of their words and phrases. Likewise, biblical illiteracy greatly affects the courage needed when suffering increases in our lives. When the weight of sin presses or the tragedy of someone else’s life collides with yours, the greatest enemy of your faith is not your circumstance. As much as we want to believe it to be so, the solution is not a reprieve. The solution for every Christian under the duress of life’s sorrow is the beauty and worth of Christ, seen primarily in the pages of Scripture.
How we choose to give our time in all the little moments of our day will inevitably yield fruit, either good or bad. Paul encourages us in Galatians 6:8:
“For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”
Our duty to become familiar with the Bible— observing, interpreting, and applying it correctly— takes us from shallow understanding to a deeper and more robust communion with God.
In Song of Solomon, Solomon paints for us a picture of the “little” intrusions that rob us of delighting in our union with Christ: “Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom” (Song of Sol. 2:15)
Commenting on this verse, Hudson Taylor reminds us of how necessary it is to protect the cultivation of our love for Christ from anything that might threaten its growth and fruitfulness. He says:
“How numerous the little foxes are! Little compromises with the world; disobedience to the still small voice in little things; little indulgences of the flesh to the neglect of duty; little strokes of policy; doing evil in little things that good may come; and the beauty and the fruitfulness of the vine are sacrificed!”
Little foxes include those little decisions of neglect from pouring our souls over the pages of Truth, however, we may feel on that particular day. We must come to know and love God’s Word if we have any chance of surviving—even prospering— when the turmoil of darkness comes. When we take the Bible seriously and treat it as such, our resilience amidst suffering will no doubt be greater than if we treat it flippantly.
If you have spent time among other believers, it will be of no surprise to you that biblical illiteracy is a major problem in the church. We have replaced the effort of getting to know who God is with other endeavors. Man’s opinion has become more important to us than taking the time to develop the biblical conviction needed to live courageously as exiles in this world. The under-development of conviction has everything to do with not knowing or comprehending biblical truth. Biblical illiteracy helps Christians to learn how to engage with their suffering.
For example, you may think your suffering is a punishment from God or disapproval of you as His child. These thoughts morph into feelings that eventually lead to particular convictions about God and His character that are devoid of biblical truth. Forgetting passages like Hebrews 12:7, “Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons,” has dire consequences for our life in Christ. Or the exhortation from James to “count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3). Instead, our suffering comes at us, knocking all strength from our stride because we are unaware of its use in the Christian life. You see suffering places weight on our theological muscles, revealing to us where our theology of God has been exercised rightly and where it has not.
I think of passages like Matthew 7:24–27:
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
Notice that hearing precedes doing. How do we hear from God? How do we know what to do? How does a person stand amidst the peril of trial and tribulation?
Psalm 119:92 says, “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.”
By delighting in every God-breathed word, we have access to!
There is a proverb that reminds me of how wonderful Scripture can be for one who is in need of consoling after days, months, or even years of suffering.
Proverbs 25:11–12 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear.”
In our deepest place of need, God’s word stands ready, at all times, to be a friend to us in our distress to adorn our heart with more of the beauty, worth, and majesty of Christ. What can stand against the inevitable winds that will come? Only Christ. Without fluency in the language of God and a passion to understand it from His Word, suffering will only be a dark foe to you when it was meant to be so much more.
Please do not miss the purpose of your suffering due to having your attention to diverted to worldly indulgence being more attractive to you. Doing so will result in you missing the depth of joy awaiting you and the power of God’s word that can strengthen the muscles of faith that will help you to endure to the end.