It happened during one of my years in Bible college. Every student was expected to perform a “Christian service” assignment each week. These assignments could take various shapes and formats.
While I was in attendance at the evening service of the church right across from the school, I noticed a man enter and sit down in one of the back pews. He was, as far as I could tell, in his fifties. He was on the thin side, but not too thin. He wore a white shirt, and, as I remember it, green, perhaps military-type pants. His moustache, goatee-like beard, and long, somewhat stringy hair, were all white. I watched him during the service, and as the congregation was exiting, I made it a point to try to meet him and engage him in conversation. Maybe this could be my Christian service assignment.
As I talked to him, I found out that he considered himself a Christian, though he was not a member of any church, and hadn’t been baptized. But he liked coming to church, especially the evening service, and sitting in the back. I was kind of suspicious and surmised that, most likely, he really wasn’t a Christian. Yes, this might be a good Christian service project. Interestingly, though, he did seem to use a lot of Scripture during our conversation. Of course, I knew that there were a lot of non-Christians who, nevertheless, knew their Bibles fairly well. There were lots of “good ol’ boys” like that in the South in those days. And, hey, after all, the devil knows Scripture.
While I was talking to him, another student came up and joined us. After a while my fellow student and I asked him if we could come and visit him. He said he’d be glad to have us come, and we set up a time for later that week. My Christian service assignment was taken care of for that week.
The gentleman’s name was Nathan Spaugh. Whenever he talked, it kind of reminded me of those Goofy cartoons of decades ago. Maybe you remember. Goofy had this kind of “hyuck, hyuck” laugh, sort of hillbillyish. Minus the laugh, Nathan’s speech was kind of like that: slow and deliberate, somewhat resonant, but in that Goofy kind of “hyuck, hyuck” resonance. I learned some time later that he had been in the war, I believe World War II, and that he had sustained some kind of head injury that had lasting effects. Perhaps that accounted for the slower kind of speech, the way he dressed, and the stringy hair.
In any case, my friend, Chuck, and I went to visit him. He lived by himself on the second floor of an older-style Southern apartment house. He greeted us warmly, and served us some refreshments. We had a very nice conversation. Interestingly, that phenomenon I mentioned earlier showed up again. He continually used a lot of Scripture during our conversation. In almost every sentence he would either quote Scripture, or make an allusion to a scriptural passage. His knowledge of the Bible, and ability to recall it, was plainly evident, almost embarrassingly so for my friend and me because, well, we couldn’t do that. Here I was, a Bible college student, not yet in my twenties, trying to witness, for my Christian service assignment, to a man in his fifties, who clearly had greater recall of Scripture than I did.
At one point in the conversation I said to him, “Mr. Spaugh, you sure do know a lot of Scripture.” Quick as a flash, but still in that slow, deliberate speech of his, he replied, “Yes, brother Shepherd, but it doesn’t dwell in me richly in all wisdom.”
Incredible. I had made a remark about how well he knew the Bible, and he had replied, without missing a beat, by quoting King James Version Scripture back to me, and yet, amazingly, with this self-deprecating and deep humility. “Yes, brother Shepherd, but it doesn’t dwell in me richly in all wisdom.” I am convinced, however, that he was wrong.
I saw him a few times after that. But after time I lost contact. I heard that he might have eventually gotten baptized and joined that church. I don’t know. I did an internet search recently, and found out—if it is the same Nathan Spaugh—that he passed away back in the late nineties.
But I’ll never forget that night, and I never read Colossians 3:16 without thinking of him. I’ll never forget what Mr. Spaugh taught me about not just about reading and knowing Scripture, but about internalizing it, digesting it, perhaps even what it means to tremble at the word of the Lord.
I must confess, sometimes I get a little cocky. I have a PhD in hermeneutics and biblical interpretation. I’ve been teaching Bible in various educational institutions for over thirty years. I’ve written a number of articles on various topics for Bible dictionaries, written one commentary on an Old Testament book, and am in the process of writing another one. I’ve taught numerous Sunday School classes over the years, and preached I don’t know how many times.
But every once in a while, especially when I tend to think I’m quite something, I hear Nathan Spaugh, in that slow, deliberate voice of his, asking me a question.
“Yes, brother Shepherd, but does it dwell in you richly in all wisdom?”
May 4, 2015