“The Discipline of Scripture Memory” (Matt. 4:1-11 sermon) 

(Preached at PRBC 5-31-15)

In the summer of 1980 I went on a mission trip with my home church, the First Baptist Church of Harrah, to Switzerland and Germany. During the trip we also took a one-day visit to Paris, but in many ways I was disappointed by the city. It was dirty, both physically and spiritually, and after half a day of visiting, I sat down on the curb of one of the city’s streets, and I could feel that I was sinking into a depression. But I had recently begun to memorize scripture, and had memorized James 1. Without anything else to do, I just began reviewing that chapter as I sat there: “James, a bondservant of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the 12 tribes who are dispersed, Greetings! Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” The more I quoted of that chapter, the more God’s Spirit began to lift me up, until I got to :12, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial, knowing that the testing of his faith produces endurance …”. By that time, I was no longer sinking in depression, but “soaring” in the heavenly places! God’s Spirit had used His word to lift me up. This was the first of many times in which I have found scripture memory to be one of the greatest blessings of my lifetime.

This morning we are continuing our series, “The Disciplines of Disciples.” Jesus commands each of us as His disciples to deny ourselves, take up His cross daily, and follow Him. And I Timothy 4:7 tells us that we are to “discipline (ourselves) for the purpose of Godliness” as His disciples. We have seen that some of those disciplines include having a morning time with God in the “pure milk” of His word, and in an organized prayer, following the Model Prayer outline that Jesus gave us, as well as continuing to walk with God all throughout each day through the discipline of spontaneous prayer. The discipline we are going to look at today is “The Discipline of Scripture Memory” — and I am going to ask each of you here today to make a special kind of commitment to it when we close our service this morning. Right now, let’s read together Matthew 4:1-11, where we find one of the best examples of the Lord Jesus using scripture memory in His own life, as an example to us:

The most important reason for us to memorize scripture is because Jesus memorized scripture, and used it in His life and ministry. The goal of “the disciplines of disciples” is to become like Jesus — we need to make sure we do not lose sight of that! We are not merely trying to “fill out the checklist” of things some preacher tells us to do; rather the goal of discipleship is to become like Christ. Romans 8:28-29 tells us that God is causing all things to work together to conform us to His image. So the end of all of the “Disciplines of Disciples” is to become like Jesus. Jesus memorized and used scripture in His personal life and ministry.A

A. He used scripture memory in His own personal life
We see this most clearly here in Matthew 4, where the Bible tells us that Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Three times it records that Satan tempted Jesus, and each of the three times, Jesus responded by quoting scripture: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God’ … On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’ … It is is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.'” Every time He was tempted personally, Jesus responded by quoting scriptures. He did not have a big “scroll” with Him to roll open and try to find a truth from God’s word to help Him. That would not have been practical in that wilderness, and with the temptations the enemy was constantly putting in front of Him. He had to have memorized the word, so that He could draw upon it when He needed it.

I believe we also see an example of Jesus using scripture memory when He was dying on the cross. We remember that on the cross, He cried, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” — but many of us do not realize that this was actually a quotation from Psalm 22:1. Then just before He breathed His last, Luke 23:46 says, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” This was a quotation from another Psalm, 31:5. So earlier, He was quoting Psalm 22, now it was Psalm 31 … it is not beyond reason to think that Jesus was meditating through the Psalms as He died on the cross, quoting God’s word to remind Him of His mission, and to sustain Him through the incomparable suffering He endured on the cross.
But we definitely see in this episode, and in Matthew 4:1-11 that Jesus relied upon the word of God which He had memorized, in His own personal life and temptations.

B. He used scripture memory in His public ministry
But not only did Jesus use scripture memory in His own personal life, He also employed it widely in His public ministry. We see numerous examples of this in the Gospels:
— when He was asked what was the greatest commandment, He responded in Matthew 22:37, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” — quoting Deuteronomy 6:5.

— when Sadducees debated with Him about there being no resurrection, He quoted from Exodus 3:6, where God said, “I AM the God of Abraham …” and asserted that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. (Matthew 22:32)

— When He talked about marriage in Matthew 19, He quoted Genesis 2:24, “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

And we could go on an on. The first part of the Sermon on the Mount is punctuated by Old Testament quotations; when Jesus described who He was, and His mission in this world, He quoted verses. Both Jesus’ personal life, and His public ministry were characterized by His frequent quotation of scripture.

II. Thus, if for no other reason, we should memorize scripture because Jesus did, and use it, just as He did, in our personal lives first, and also in our ministries. Let’s look at OUR APPLICATION OF SCRIPTURE MEMORY:

A. In our personal lives.

We can quote scriptures when we are tempted, like Jesus did, or when we are depressed, like I did that time in Paris, or any time when we need to be reminded of God’s truth.

Our pastor while werre at Trinity Norman, Ronnie Rogers, preached a very instructive sermon series last year on Ephesians 6 and spiritual warfare, and he posited that contrary to what a lot of people consider about spiritual warfare being ssuch things as getting a flat tire on the way to church, or something of that nature, the heart of spiritual warfare is really that the enemy tries to get us to believe something false about God or about ourselves. For example, in the verses we looked at in Matthew 4, he tried to get Jesus to doubt who He was, twice saying to Him, “IF you are the Son of God.” Then he tried to get Him to doubt that God’s word was enough, or that His Father would provide for Him, that He needed to turn the stones into bread instead. And he tried to get Him to cast aside God’s plan by bowing down before him in order to have “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” — when God had promised Him those things His way instead. Satan was trying to get Jesus to doubt or deny what God had said about Him and His mission.

And he will try the same thing with us as well. He is constantly waging warfare against us, to get us to doubt some truth about God or about ourselves. So when that happens, we must do what Jesus did: we must use the word of God which we have memorized to counter his lies with God’s truth.

Let me give you an example that is very fresh on my mind, because it is what our family has experienced over the past couple of years. Many of you know that I served as a pastor in Southern Baptist churches for almost 30 years before coming down with an illness in Louisiana two years ago which led to me having to resign my position. As a result, we had to sell our home, 2/3 of our possessions, and we moved to Norman, Oklahoma, with no human hope of recuperation. Over that time, there have been occasions when we were tempted to think that God was mean, or that He was being unkind to us, or on several different occasions, that He seemed to raised our hopes only to dash them. So one of the verses that became special to us the past couple of years has been Psalm 119:68, which says, “You are good, and do good.” During that time, whenever we as a family talked about our situation, we usually ended up bring that verse up, and it basically became to us our “family memory verse.” Whenever we were tempted to think that God was being mean to us, or doing mean things to us, we’d quote this verse: “God is good, and does good.” We said that seemingly a million times over our “wilderness wandering”, as we fought the spiritual warfare about what God was doing with our lives. That was one way that we memorized and used God’s word as we fought our own personal battles.

There are multiple ways to use God’s word in our personal lives. One of the best is in our prayer life. A couple of weeks ago, we talked about “The Discipline of Ordered Prayer” and how we can use the Lord’s Prayer as an outline for prayer. So one of the best things we can do to help us pray the way we should is to memorize Matthew 6:9-13, and use it as a model: “Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name”, beginning the prayer with praise; “Thy Kingdom come”, then pray for your church and mission requests; “Thy will be done”, and pray for God’s will — and so on, all through the prayer. Memorizing that Model Prayer will help you to pray better prayers, and guide you to talk with God about the things He wants to hear from you about as you pray.

Additionally, you can memorize verses to use in that initial “praise” portion of your personal prayers; verses like Psalm 100, “Shout joyfully to the Lord all the earth; serve the Lord with gladness … enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.” Or Psalm 8:1, “O Lord our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth.” Just as we saw a couple of weeks ago, one of the best ways to praise God in our prayers is to use scriptures, so we should memorize verses to praise God in our personal prayers wherever we are.

We each also have specific areas in our own personal lives in which we struggle, and in which we need to apply God’s truth. One of the best things you can do to help in your personal struggles is to find a verse of scripture that addresses that area of your life, and memorize it. Then every time you have a “battle” in that area, quote the scripture and ask God’s Spirit to help you:

— If you are a child, and have trouble obeying your parents, you might want to memorize Ephesians 6:1, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”

— Or if you have a problem with anger, you might want to memorize Ephesians 4:26 “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.”

— If you have a problem with your tongue, memorize Ephesians 4:29, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

— If you have hard feelings against someone, memorize Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

(or if you have problems with all of those things, just memorize all of Ephesians 4! It’s a great chapter! My wife Cheryl has memorized that chapter and uses it for her own personal confession time in prayer.)

So if you are looking for a good place to start memorizing scripture, one of the best things you can do is to identify an area of need in your life, and then memorize a verse or verses that address that need. Ephesians 6:17 says “the sword of the Spirit … is the word of God”, so when you memorize scriptures, you are giving the Holy Spirit a “sword” to use in the personal battles of your life.
B. In our ministries.
Just as Jesus constantly quoted scripture in His public ministry opportunities, we will have numerous occasions to use verses we have memorized as we serve the Lord in the ministries He assigns to us.

Several years ago, I was on a mission trip to Delhi, India, and at one point I was riding in one of those little “rickshaws” in the traffic with an Indian man. I talked to him about Jesus, but he said something about how Jesus was one truth, one god, but there were other truths and other gods that were valid as well (Hindus believe that there are literally millions of gods). I was able to share with him John 14:6, where Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.” I said to him, either what Jesus said is true, or not. It is just like math: 2 + 2 cannot be 3, 4 or 5 at the same time — there is one right answer, and it is that way with religion as well. It was a good opportunity to share, and I was able to do it because I had memorized John 14:6, and could use it when the opportunity presented itself.

I have found over the years that memorizing scripture has been one of the single best things I have ever done to benefit my ministry. When I am preaching, there are many verses I do not have to read, because I have them memorized. Sometimes, even if I have not planned to use a certain verse, God’s Spirit can bring up a verse I have memorized and have me use it. When I am preparing a message or a Bible study, God will often bring to my mind verses that I have memorized. When I pray for people who are sick, or in the hospital, I often quote a verse of scripture in the prayer, as a way of pointing them to rely on the Lord in their time of trial. You can do the same thing with your classes, and lessons, personal witnessing, and ministry.
Just as Jesus continually quoted and used the word of God in His own personal life, and in His ministry, so we will have countless opportunities to use the scriptures we have memorized in our own personal lives, and in our ministries as well.


So with that Biblical background for the importance and use of the discipline of scripture memory, let us look at some practical aspects of scripture memory for the rest of the message.

A. One of the very first things we need to address is OBJECTIONS against scripture memory. I don’t think any Christian doubts the desirability of memorizing scripture, and the Bible’s command to do it. God said in Deuteronomy 6:6, “These words, which I am commanding you today shall be on your heart.” God did not just tell His people to “read” His words to their children and others; He commanded them to have them “on (their) heart” — they were to memorize His word. Most of us know Psalm 119:11 “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” We all know that it is good to memorize scripture — but many of us have some reasons why we think that WE personally cannot do it.
(May I just add here that one of the biggest problems in the Christian life of many people is they always have some excuse as to why whatever is being taught in the word of God does not apply to THEM. For example, they might say:

— I know the Bible says we are to forgive, but you just don’t know what they did to ME!

— I know the Bible says you are to be faithful in marriage, but I have some really special circumstances

— I know the Bible says we are to spend time with God in the morning, but I am just not a morning person

And on an on. The truth is, we can always find some excuse as to why what God’s word says does not apply to US — when the truth is, it DOES apply to us, and we need to stop making excuses and obey it!)

I don’t know of any area of life in which this is more true than scripture memory. We all know that we should do memorize scripture, but very few adult Christians really do. (We always get on to Christians for not being the witnesses we should be, but I think perhaps more adult Christians even witness than memorize scripture regularly.) Many of us have our excuses all lined up: “Well, I am just not good at memorizing things”, or “I am too old to memorize any more”, etc.

And like many things Satan uses, there is an element of truth in some of these objections. I know that not everyone is as good at memorizing things as some other people are. Some people have a real gift of it. Some have a photographic memory; some can memorize things very easily, while others of us really have to work at it. And it is also true that we do lose at least some of our ability to memorize as we age; children memorize better than adults.

But those things are still no excuse not to practice the discipline of scripture memory. Some people find it very difficult not to drink alcohol — that doesn’t mean they should just give in to it. Some people find it hard to remain morally pure — either in hetero- or same-sex attractions — but that is no excuse for them not to fight against it! They just have to work hard, with God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, to do what God wants them to do. The same thing is true for us with scripture memory. It IS easier for some than others, but that is no excuse for all of us not to work at it.

— in fact, I’d go so far as to say that some of us who say we do not memorize things actually DO memorize things that are important to us. Some of us say can’t memorize scripture, but there are other things in your that you memorize: you know your computer login password; you know your locker combination; you know your ATM pin; you know the number of your favorite channel on tv!

For many of us, the problem is NOT really that we can’t memorize, it is that we haven’t made it a priority to memorize God’s word. Our problem is that we don’t really believe Psalm 19 when it says that God’s word is “More to be desired … than gold ….”. We think other things are more desirable, and we put our efforts into those other things instead of memorizing scripture.
— Secondly, it has been demonstrated that even senior adults, who do not think their memory is very good, can usually increase their memory IF they will work at it.

New research released recently at American College of Neuropsychopharmacology’s Annual Meeting found that older Americans may improve their memory in as short as 14 days, by making simple lifestyle changes – including memory exercises. “Most people do not realize that they are in control of their memory as they get older,” declared Dr. Small, “But this research demonstrates that it is possible, in just 14 days, to make simple lifestyle changes that will not only improve memory and brain function, but also will improve overall health and wellness.”

So the truth is that many of us CAN, even as we get older, memorize and increase our memory IF we will make the effort to do so.

So the question is not really our ability, but our obedience! Will we sit here and say we believe the word of God, or are we going to really believe it enough to DO what it says to do, which will bless our lives and those of others?

I had the opportunity to meet with Max Barnett, the legendary Baptist Student Union director at OU, for several months last year. Max is almost 80 years old now, and it was challenging to me that he was still memorizing scripture. He had I Thessalonians chapter 2 written down on a big page, and he was memorizing and reviewing that whole chapter. What an example to us that scripture memory can be done by senior adults!

I have a challenge today that I pray that every senior adult would take up: why don’t you make a commitment to memorize ONE verse of scripture that you have not learned before. Write that verse down on a card, carry it with you wherever you go, look at it several times a day, and attempt to memorize it. What is the worst thing that could happen? What if you carry that same card with you the rest of your life, and never do memorize that verse? At least you will be trying to obey the word of God, by hiding His word in your heart. But I have a suspicion that if you really did that, more of us than we might think would indeed be able to memorize that verse, and could go on to memorize others as well. And as you do it, it will sharpen your mind, and bless you in other areas of your life as well!

So don’t make excuses as to why you can’t obey God’s word. Make a commitment to obey God’s word by hiding His scriptures in your heart.

B. I have also found it greatly beneficial to work on memorizing a large portion of scripture, rather than a number of assorted verses. There are many individual verses we will want to memorize, of course, but if you have never tried it, you might want to work on memorizing a chapter, or a larger chunk of scripture. Because it flows naturally from one verse to the other, it ends up being easier to memorize one-20 verse chapter, than it is 20 different verses. Plus you get the benefit of knowing all of those verses in context, so no one is going to “trick” you by quoting that verse out of context. Memorizing chapters and longer sections of scripture has been by far, one of the single most beneficial things I have done in my whole life spiritually. If you have never done it, I would encourage you to begin working on memorizing a chapter, or a long section of scripture.

C. Having an accountability partner can also be helpful for scripture memory. Tell someone that you are memorizing a verse/verses, and check in with them periodically. Make it a Sunday School class project and keep each other accountable. I know many people who meet with someone once a week, and among other things, they check each other on the verses they are working on. Accountability works for diet, exercise and many other things, and it can be a big help for scripture memory as well. (We are going to be emphasizing one-on-one discipleship meetings here at PRBC; this might be a good time for you to find an accountability partner and begin meeting with them.)

D. Another thing I have found very helpful for scripture memory/review is to record the scriptures you are working on, and play them. Listening to the verses helps you to memorize them — especially when you record them in your own voice, because you learn them with your own tone and emphasis, which helps you to pick it up faster. For example, I made a “voice memo” of the Book of James on my iPhone and I played it in my car on my commute to Pauls Valley while I was interim there. It didn’t even take half my trip to review the entire Book of James. Some of you can do the same thing: record a verse, — or even a chapter or a long section on your phone or computer — and play it over and over until you can say it along with it. And once you have it memorized, play it again at least once a week so you can review it, and you won’t forget it. Which leads to the last point:

E. REVIEW is vital.

Someone once said that the 3-fold key to scripture memorization is “REVIEW, REVIEW, REVIEW!” and that is true. Many of us could look at a verse right now, read it a couple of times and memorize it before you leave this building. But the problem is, you as quickly forget it, because it is not stored in your long-term memory. So you need to review it. We say that scripture memory is important, but one might well say that it is scripture REVIEW which is really important, because that is how you either keep the verses you have memorized. There are a number of ways you can do that:

You can keep them written on cards, and review them regularly.

You can keep them stored on your phone or iPad.

I have a printed list of the scriptures I have memorized, and use that to review.

You can do it all kinds of ways — the important thing is that you DO it somehow. Reviewing the verses is critical. And the more we review, the more we have the added benefit of having the word of God constantly flowing through our minds, where God will use it to minister to us and to others.


So with all that in mind, my challenge today is very specific: I am going to ask you to come forward, and take one of these cards. Use it to write a verse on, carry it with you, read it several times each day, and begin to memorize it. Maybe you think you’ll never be able to learn it. But would you be willing to try? What if, like I said earlier, you carry this card with you to the day of your death and never learn it? At least you can say you tried to be obedient to the Lord, and learn His word. Now, I believe if you really try, with God’s help, many of you WILL be able to learn it. But even if you don’t, would you be willing to ask God to help you try?

The truth is, we can’t do anything in the Christian life on our own. We are only saved by the grace of God in Jesus Christ; we must admit our sin and inadequacy, and call on Him and ask Him to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves and save us through Jesus’ death on the cross. That same principle is true for every area of the Christian life as well: we can’t do it on our own, but must depend on the grace of God to do in us what we can’t do for ourselves. Would you do that in this area? Maybe you think you can’t do it; but would you be willing to come forward, and ask God to help you do what you can’t do: and hide His word in your heart, by exercising “The Discipline of Scripture Memory”?

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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