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Table of Contents   Chapter 2

How to Memorize Scripture

The Meaning of Christian Discipleship

by Stephen Simpson

Why memorize scripture? If you are going to be successful at memorizing scripture, you must be convinced that it is important to do so, because it will take a lot of your time. You may wish to read my brief article called Why memorize scripture? In this article, I discuss why the Bible is so important in the life of a believer and what benefits can be gained from a detailed knowledge of the word of God. Since the Bible is our only source of knowledge about our Lord, we must make it a priority to read it, study it, memorize it and meditate on it as much as we are able. Let's talk about discipleship We all admire our Olympic athletes who train themselves endlessly in the hope of the glory of Olympic gold. You also know about the long hours of routine training, the sweat, the dedication, the personal sacrifice to attain their goal. As we will see, this can be used as an analogy to our life in Christ. As part of his instruction to Timothy, Paul writes a series of instructions to him as to how he should conduct his life and spend his time. Paul writes.

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

1 Timothy 4:7-8


The greek word translated 'train' (gumnazo) is the from word which we get the English words 'gymnasium' and 'gymnastics'. Paul is instructing Timothy to train himself to be godly, to exercise and to practice until the goal is reached. Timothy knows the value of physical training, but the value of godliness is greater. Paul says 'train yourself'. This is a command to everyone who would want to serve God. There are rules to follow if you want to be successful. This is something that Timothy must do himself. His godliness is his own responsibility. This idea of personal responsibility for spiritual growth is stated again in 2 Peter.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is short-sighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:3-11


This is a beautiful passage of scripture. The first half tells us that we have been supplied with all the resources that we need to become godly. These resources are all made available to us through our knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. This knowledge is contained in his word, the Bible. This fact must compel us to dig deeply into his word, so that we can have these resources for ourselves. The second half of the passage says that since we have these resources which will save us, we should 'make every effort' to grow in godliness. If 'make every effort' is not clear enough, Liddell & Scott Greek Lexicon adds these ideas to the verb used by Peter. (zeal, earnestness, seriousness, an object of attention, a serious engagement, urgently, with great exertion). Understand? God has supplied everything we need through Christ and the word, but it is up to us to put it into action. Paul also uses the idea of the games to describe what goals a Christian should have:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last for ever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

1 Cor 9:24-27


The NIV says "goes into strict training", but the literal meaning of this Greek verb is to "exercise self-control". Everyone who competes in the games must exercise self-control if he is to have any chance of winning. The Good News Bible says 'every athlete in training submits to strict discipline'. Further study of the word brings out the idea of forcing oneself to do a thing or starving oneself. A self-controlled man, then, is one who voluntarily drags himself in a direction contrary to the common nature of a man, in order to achieve something that the un-controlled man would never achieve. Both may have a desire to achieve something good, but only the man with self-control will be able to be able to achieve it because he is able to use his time and resources to his advantage. The man without self-control is like the would-be jogger described earlier. He goes from day-to-day only wishing he could be different.

Paul tells us that the glory given an Olympic athlete is temporary, but the value of spiritual training lasts forever. Considering this, he does not 'run' or 'fight' without a purpose or goal. He has committed himself to the life of strict discipline so that he himself can be sure to gain the crown of which he speaks.

According to the Liddell-Scott Lexicon of Classical Greek, the word translated 'beat my body' literally means 'strike one under the eye, to give a black eye'. The same word is used in Luke 18:5. Paul is using the term metaphorically to illustrate his determination to be self disciplined. What is he afraid of? To be sure this has nothing to do with losing his salvation. He is concerned about wasting his opportunity for productive service. He does not want to come to the end of his ministry and not be a Godly person himself. He does not want to slip into a sinful lifestyle which would destroy his reputation and fellowship with God. He does not want to get distracted. To avoid this, he says he is careful in everything he does. He is not easy on himself. He says 'I will do what is right even if I have to pommel and bruise myself to see it happen'. Do not be deceived. It is possible to waste your opportunity to serve God if you do not have the same attitude. I have been told that in one particular large city that each year one Pastor in an evangelical Church is forced to step down due to marital unfaithfulness. How could this be? This is astonishing and makes me fear for myself.

Following Jesus is a day by day, even moment by moment process of dedication to spiritual growth. Spiritual growth does not happen by itself. Spend some time thinking about the following simple concept. The next day is going to go by whether you do something constructive or not. The next few years of your life will go by just as fast whether you grow as a Christian or stay the same. The point is this - you have a choice. The next five years, indeed your whole life, will go by no matter what you do, but at the end of it, you can either look back and say 'this is what I accomplished' or you can say 'I wish I would have invested my time more wisely'. You can say 'I made every effort to train myself to be godly' or you can say 'I regret that I never saw it as being important enough'. I honestly fear the thought of arriving at the end of my life and then after examining myself come to the conclusion that I should have done much more and that the only thing that I can see is my own laziness.

Consider also the following:

No-one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs-he wants to please his commanding officer. Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor's crown unless he competes according to the rules. (2 Tim 2:4-5)
Paul says Timothy, my son, remember that your purpose is to serve God. There are many things you can do, but if you have dedicated yourself to serving the Lord, you must remain focused on your task. Just as an athlete cannot win if he is not focused on the race at hand, so also we as Christians cannot win unless we keep our eyes focused on Jesus. 

What else matters?

Before Paul became a Christian he had a lot to boast about concerning worldly success and privilege. Consider the following passage:

If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. (Philippians 3:4-6)
Each of us are in pursuit of something. Many are in pursuit of wealth. Some chase after fame. Others want to gain power and influence. Most of us wish to achieve something during the course of our lives. We dedicate ourselves to our careers in the hope of providing for our families. Some work to better themselves and the lot of man in general. Many people work very hard so their children can be successful and can have a better life than they did themselves. Paul was just like everyone else and passionately chased after the things which were important to him. Each society has things which are thought of as desirable to pursue. Before Paul met Jesus, he held a position of great status and honor among his people. He was accomplished in the things which were considered the most important by him and most others. Firstly, he was born a part of the nation of Israel, the people of God. According to the Law, he was circumcised at the appropriate time. His family tree was pure and uncorrupted. He was a Pharisee, a group of people zealous for God's Laws. He was the son of a Pharisee and had the best teachers. His boast was that he kept the letter of the law perfectly. He, so he felt, stood righteous before God because of his works. He seemed flawless and followed his passions to the point of beating those who went against the Jewish way of life.

Paul worked hard to achieve and was greatly successful. But then he met Jesus Christ and everything changed. After some time he realized that the things which he had were of little value to him compared with being a disciple of Christ.

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. (Philippians 3:7-16)
'No where else does Paul make it so clear, and with such feeling how vitally important the person of Christ is to him.' (1) Everything that he valued was voluntarily and joyfully written off as a loss because of his desire to be like Jesus Christ. The things he at one time invested all his energy in, and had much success at, now pale in comparison to pursuing a relationship with his Lord. He says that he considers them 'rubbish'. The Greek word translated rubbish means dung, excrement, manure or refuse. It was also used in the writings of Strabo, a Greek geographer, to describe the filth which washed out onto the streets when it rained in a particular city. The streets, you see, had no drainage system so the sewage gathered there. (2) You can imagine the stench that it generated when it got hot! Read the passage above several times. This creates a strong mental image and reveals the passion Paul has in his faith. I pray that I may have this same dedication to following Jesus Christ.

What is your Goal?

What is it that you want out of life? What is important to you? List out the things which are valuable to you. You will find that these are the things to which you dedicate your time. Look at the list you have made. Are these things really worth the value that you have given them? Are you pursuing something of eternal value or are you collecting sewage? Make sure that when you get to the end of your life, and find yourself standing before God, that you are carrying something more valuable than a bucket of sewage. What good is a bucket of sewage in heaven? At that time your life's work will be shown for what it is.

For no-one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. (1 Cor 3:11-15)

Just so that no on gets this wrong, I must stress that this has nothing to do with the type of work you do for a living. This is not a call for everyone to rush into full time ministry, rather it is a call for you to pursue Christ with the same passion and skill that Paul had in whatever circumstances and situations God has placed you.

Paul's goal was to pursue the life God called him to live - to know Christ and to make him known. To know Christ is to become like him and share in his blessings. To make him known is to teach others to do the same. He compares a life of pursuing godliness to running in a marathon. If you run in a marathon, the goal is to finish the race. There is no glory for those who get distracted and quit half way. You must finish the race. Paul's instruction for us is to forget what is behind us and concentrate on what is still ahead of us. Whether we have done well or poorly, we must strain ourselves forward. It is a blessing that we can forget our past failures. It is a hazard if we do not forget our past victories and good performance, because we may start to rely on it and slow down.

We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. (Hebrews 3:14)
What is the Cost?

It is said that God's grace is free, but it is not cheap. Grace means unmerited favour. There is nothing any of us can to to earn it. It is a gift. It is the best gift we could possibly receive. And this is the gift - that we should be called the children of God. Therefore we ought to life up to the honour we have received, not to earn it or to keep it, but because we are God's children. So we submit everything we have to him in order that we may become like our Saviour Jesus Christ. We give him our things and our time and even our-selves so that he can use us to bring others to him that they also may share in this gift. So then, what is the cost of being Christ's disciple? The cost is simply everything you have. Expensive? For some, yes. But for others, like Paul, the true follower of Christ does not mind the loss because of the value of gaining Christ. The biggest loss is awarded to those who cling to worldly things and reject Jesus.

Listen to Jesus' own words:

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters-yes, even his own life-he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. "Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' "Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. "Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure heap; it is thrown out. "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." (Luke 14:25-35)
So how important is it to you?

Now you have to decide what you are going to do with Christ. I urge you to follow him with all your heart. Make it your goal to lead a disciplined Christian life so that you may grow closer to him and become more like him. There are many components to leading a balanced Christian life. The word of God and his Spirit are our guides in it all. If we are to know what we are pursuing and not end up just running without purpose we must know his word well. The purpose of these pages is to encourage and teach Christians of the importance of God's word and how to make it a part of our every day lives through extensive memorization, study, and meditation.

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Footnotes:

1) Word Biblical Commentary - Philippians Gerald F. Hawthorne, 1983, word incorporated, Dallas, page 130
2) Strabo Geography 14.1.37 [Strab. 14.1.37]

 

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION,
Copyright (c) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by
permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers