Lisa Bevere, author and speaker, writes, “Rules will never set us free, just as fear and control will never keep us safe . . .The Law demands and dominates, but love leads and gives.” I’m captivated by her use of this revelation to teach women how rules alone will not keep them sexually pure. She argues that true sexual purity for God’s daughters is the product of a real and vibrant intimacy between them and their heavenly Father. She prescribes nothing short of a fairytale, sparing none of the fantastical ingredients of our most dearly beloved ones; princes and princesses, a castle and far off lands, danger and rescue. And as she weaves this story, she proves how laws can never legislate love, but that true obedience is fashioned out of deep and abiding intimacy. What has that got to do with Scripture memorization?
We have overlooked intimacy as an ingredient of this long underrated discipline in modern discipleship. These days, I wonder just where has the challenge to memorize Scripture gone? We live in a time where parishioners can quote more Jerry Seinfeld than they can Jesus Christ. And so, what is the solution? Is it to legislate more laws of Scripture memory from our pulpits or is it to pray that God would make us people of his Word? Is it such a big deal at all? Technically, there’s no verse that commands us to memorize Scripture, right?
But what if that’s not the point? What if Scripture memory is actually a passionate response to the love and grace of the God who extended both to us? What if Scripture memorization invites us to better know the one who loves us most?
Motivated by Passion
When I think about Scripture memorization, the usual passage comes to mind, “Thy word have I hid in my heart; that I might not sin against you.” (Ps. 119:11). Immediately, we draw upon the necessity of the verse, the why (i.e., “that I might not sin”), but we rarely reflect upon the nature of the man or the who that wrote it. This man was very real and raw; a man of war and of passion. Of David, it is written that he was a man after God’s own heart. Though he could beat a lion and a bear with his bare hands he could also unashamedly burst into tears of praise or anguish before his God and his people. He was indeed full of passion. This man wrote that verse. David teaches us that God is not only concerned with us doing what we are told, but also with the direction in which our hearts are led. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom. 8:14).
Though it was no law in his Torah, it was a value in his heart. David’s passion led him to realize as Dr. John Piper says, “You cannot hide what you have not memorized.” And the promise of its necessity, though not fulfilled in David’s life, is come to fruition in the life of his Greater Descendant—Jesus. See Jesus in the wilderness (as recorded in the Gospels) being tempted by the devil. How does he win this match with almost all natural odds stacked against him? By his memory. By what he has hidden in his heart that he might be an obedient Son, not believe the devils’ lie and sin against his Father. And we know that Jesus too was a man of even greater passion—one in total intimacy with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Passion is Built on What We Prize
Memorizing Scripture helps us to prize God’s voice above others because our passions are built on what we prize. As a culture heavily dieted on media and entertainment, I’ve noticed how even Christians boast more fluency of popular TV sitcoms than of the Bible. Do we identify with a cast on TV or a sports team roster more than with our ancestors in God’s story? If so, this evidences how we are prizing other voices over God’s in the Scriptures. Yet that‘s the voice we are commanded to meditate on both day and night. Rosaria Champagne Butterfield says, “When we cross reference our lives with Scripture, we insert ourselves into God’s story.” This process is significantly aided through committing God’s Word to memory. Instead of pouring our passions into scripts and filtering them through the psychology of modern television we can instead sift our hearts by the greatest story of all.
Scripture memorization brings a primacy of God’s point of view to our minds. It makes Christ more real and more beautiful to us as it keeps his reality close to our hearts and makes them inseparable. A long distance lover who receives a letter from their sweetheart feels immediately and undeniably connected from the moment their fingers touch the letter or their nostrils inhale the scent of its pages. Every aspect of the experience is savored because the beloved is prized.
This is important because merely quoting Scripture is not the same as prizing God’s voice. For the gospel to work in the heat of temptation, it requires an intimate affiliation with it. One that prizes it over and above the bait that is being dangled before us.
The End of Intimacy is Knowing
Picture a woman’s fingers gently tracing the face of her lover. What is she doing, but becoming intimately acquainted with every feature of the one she loves. She will know each contour, curve, and line of her beloved’s face. Her passion for him fascinates her. He will be no stranger to her in the dark. These acts of intimacy familiarize her with her lover. Committing God’s word to memory does this for us as well. Memorizing Scripture familiarizes us with the various contours, curves, and lines of Jesus’ character. His nature and ways are no stranger to me for I am my beloved’s and He is mine (Song of Songs 6:3). This familiarity, this knowing is the end of intimacy. In Genesis 4:1, it says, “And Adam knew Eve, his wife . . .”
The culmination of intimacy is knowing one another completely. Our intimacy with God through the memorization of his Word will lead to us knowing him. The end of Scripture memorization is not a boastful spirit (which is what the law produces), but Christ-the living Word. We will recognize Jesus.
Jesus sharply rebuked the Pharisees in his day saying, “Verily, you search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life—but these are they which testify of me!” The Pharisees missed the point of memorization, Christ. Their memorization should have led them to immediately recognize the Savior when he came—but they did not. For they never learned to prize the voice of God, so that they recognized him when he spoke. Their motivation was not passion, but performance. They were more in love with their present political arrangement of compromise than they were with the God in whom they should have put their hope. And so when God spoke to them by Christ, it was the voice of a stranger and they would not follow.
They did not know God. And because true intimacy always leads to knowing, their empty adherence to the laws resulted in what the law always ends in apart from faith-futility (i.e., attempting to be justified by keeping the Law instead of turning to Jesus in faith and thus results in futility—relying on anything outside of faith in Jesus to justify). They did not proceed from passion so they did not end in intimacy. As a child knows its mother’s voice because it has been whispered over them while in the womb, in the light of day with gentle caresses, and in the night soothing after terrifying dreams—so does Scripture memorization train us to recognize a God who has spoken and is still speaking to us through that same living and active Word. Let us remember that we know God and also know God intimately by remembering his Word.
Kileeo Rashad is based in Philadelphia, PA, where he serves his local church in many capacities; speaker, preacher, deacon, and hospitality director. He is currently working on a debut writing project which will address breaking silence on sexual brokenness within the church. Kileeo is also the founder of Restoring the Breaches, a ministry that aims to help churches and individuals facilitate gospel-centered conversations around sexuality.