I’ve been told that I should memorize scripture. And I’ve been told that this could enable me to meditate often on scripture, and to internalize more of it, and ultimately to better obey it. And I think that’s all very true – so I’m finally going to buckle down and memorize some of the Bible.
I’ve picked out passages to start with, and I have them printed out on one sheet of paper, front and back. And glancing over this sheet, I am astounded at the difference that would be made if I believed and obeyed these words. The sheet holds only a tiny fraction of the Bible. But if my mind also held it, and my heart held it, and I actually lived it out – I would be transformed.
My sheet includes Jesus’ Beatitudes, because I need to learn what and who is blessed. I need to remember that God’s kingdom inverts this world. I need to learn that the blessed are the poor in spirit, the gentle, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those slandered and persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Their reward in heaven is great. They will see God, and will be called children of God. No matter how immediate and pressing this world looks, and no matter what some Christian thinkers do to focus on this world and downplay heaven, it is heaven on which I need to set my sights. For those who await rewards in heaven are those who are truly blessed on earth.
My sheet also includes Jesus’ words that “everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” I am prone to fantasize about pacifism and love for enemies (which Jesus does speak of a few verses later), but then get angry with my brother… especially my brother who happens to be my middle school student. But no, there is no room for anger. More specifically, there is absolutely no room for a Christian to insult or curse someone. When someone does something which might anger me, love constrains me to either simply forgive them, or to lovingly talk with them. What use has love for an insult? What good could a sarcastic joke, or an angry exclamation, or a sneering slight ever do? By God’s grace, a humble person might on occasion take good reproof from it. But this reproof would be much better given with love – plainly, gently, and privately.
Jesus goes on from here to talk about not resisting an evil one, and about loving enemies. And He then says that “if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” I need to remember that Christ calls me to perfection. Even tax collectors loved those who loved them. And even Gentiles greeted their brothers. Lots of young Americans are idealistic and philanthropic. And lots of religious people pray and read their sacred texts. But Christ calls me to more than any of this. He calls me to more than the goodness that sociology and psychology can adequately explain. He calls me to be perfect, as our Father is perfect.
Part of this is that He calls me to forgive. The way in which He tells me to pray includes, “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” And He goes on to expand upon this that “if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”
This may seem exceedingly demanding – but so it is with the way of following Jesus. He urges, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” I must accept and remember this, so that I am not shocked, or terrified, or discouraged by the smallness of the gate and the narrowness of the way. When life is hard and when following Jesus is hard, I shouldn’t be surprised. For Jesus has told us: the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life. I will be challenged, I will be hurt, I will be tempted – but I need never be surprised.
And when I am tempted, I want to have ready in mind: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” Therefore I never have a reason to fear temptation, and I never have an excuse for giving in to temptation.
But I don’t only need to fight against temptation – I need to reach forward toward holiness. So I want to bear in mind that this holiness, the fruit of the Holy Spirit, “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” I must bear that beautiful fruit, and crucify my flesh with its passions and desires. May these words help inspire and enable me to do so.
I also need to bear in mind Jesus’ words about money and possessions in Matthew 6:19-25, and keep my efforts at simplicity grounded in the word of God. In dumpster diving, or comparing prices, or not spending money on entertainment, I don’t want to slip into mere routine or legalism; I want to follow my Lord with love and fear. And He says “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. … You cannot serve God and wealth. … Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”
The last passage of scripture I’ll mention here is found in Revelation 21:11 – 21:5: “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.’ And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” I need to hold this vision up before my eyes. I need to learn both its comfort and its fear. I need to remember how this world is passing away, and we will all be judged according to our deeds, and God will dwell among men, and will wipe away every tear from their eyes. What, then, is too great to do or to bear in this short life?