Out of a lifetime of Bible study, four verses have become especially significant to me over the years. Let me tell you why each is so special.
About halfway through my freshman year at Ozark Bible College, I became very ill. My parents sent a telegram that they would come to Joplin to help, but the message was a puzzle. It concluded with an unusual abbreviation. “Will arrive tomorrow about 6:00 p.m., TLW.” Several student and faculty friends tried to figure it out. Could TLW be short for Trailways Bus? Could it mean TWA, and just be a typo? At length my parents arrived about 6:00 p.m. the next day—by car! I asked Dad what the telegram meant.
He was surprised. “Well, I thought surely with all the Bible scholars here you’d think of James 4:15.” I looked it up and read, “You ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” Ever since then our family has used the abbreviation “TLW” to convey our conviction that God is in ultimate control—the Lord willing!
As a student at Ozark Bible College in the 1950s, I was facing the typical decisions of a college student. What will I do with my life? Where will I serve? Who is the right person to marry? That last question was really big! I was talking about it to Gerald Bowlin, a missionary friend from Mexico, when he was in town. He said, “Sam, let me give you a verse of Scripture.” Then he turned to Psalm 37:4: “Delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
He said, “Rather than ask God for the person you think is right, you need to seek first his will and his glory. When your heart’s desire becomes to please God, then God can give you what your heart desires.” And he did! Gwen and I were married one week after graduation.
When President Calvin Phillips phoned to invite me to speak for the 1981 North American Christian Convention in Louisville, he told me that the executive committee had assigned me the text Ephesians 4:15. I knew the verse well. I could not think of a text I would rather preach on for that occasion: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”
All too often in my 25 years of editing Christian Standard I encountered people who went to one extreme or the other. Some had love without truth. They said in essence, “Just love everybody. Doctrine doesn’t matter.” Others had truth without love. They were accurate on every interpretation of Scripture, but they did not convey a spirit of love and caring. Paul calls us to maintain the right balance when he commanded us to speak the truth, but to do it in love. Jesus modeled this perfectly in his life. He would never excuse or tolerate sin, but he always loved the sinner. For my part, I hope when I die people can say, “He tried to speak the truth in love.”
If I had to choose a single “favorite verse” in the Bible, it would have to be Romans 8:28. I first learned it in the King James Version that begins, “And we know that all things work together for good. . . .” The New International Version is more accurate, however. “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Things don’t work together; God works them together!
This is a verse we like to quote to others when they’re having problems, but sometimes it’s harder to hear when we are the ones facing difficulty, hardship, sickness, or death. It is important to remember that God does not cause all of the problems we have. Suffering, pain, and death are a part of life because sin entered into the world. Like the fallout from a bomb, the effects caused by Adam’s sin touch everything. God wanted us to live in the paradise of Eden, not a fallen world. James reminds us that “every good and perfect gift is from above” (1:17). God gives us the good; Satan gives the bad.
The Lord is always in control. No matter what happens to us today, tomorrow, or a year from now, nothing can occur but that God is able to bring good out of it. This is a verse we can hang on to, no matter what challenges we face in life. God means it when he says he is able to cause all things to work together for good to those who love him, who are the called according to his purpose. That’s a Bible verse to live by!
Sam Stone is a Christian minister, writer, and retired editor of CHRISTIAN STANDARD.