- David Mathis
You will never regret any extended time given to memorizing God’s word—especially when it’s the passages that come up again and again as particularly useful in the Christian life and in ministering to others. These are 10 that will prove especially useful for pastors and Christian leaders, but we think this is a good list for all Christians as well. See which ones you already know. Put a little polish on those, and perhaps tackle a new passage or a few you don’t yet have to memory.
1. PSALM 23:1–6It’s one of the Bible’s best-known texts, and one of the most wonderful for steadying our own souls and others’ in the Good Shepherd (Psalm 23:1; John 10.11–18" data-version="esv" data-purpose="bible-reference">John 10:11–18), in life’s best times and toughest.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
2. 1 CORINTHIANS 11:23–26However frequently our churches celebrate the Table (the more often, the merrier, it would seem), here’s the passage many pastors (should) recite in public more than any other. Speaking these “words of institution” with your eyes graciously scanning the congregation, rather than reading from a Bible or piece of paper, can make for a powerful moment in the life of the gathered church.
I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
3. Matt 28.18–20" data-version="esv" data-purpose="bible-reference">MATTHEW 28:18–20Hopefully the Great Commission is such an important text in focusing the mission and direction of our individual lives and especially our corporate life together that you’d have this one ready to go at the drop of a hat. The generals and commanders should have this mission plan put to memory.
Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
4. PSALM 46:1–11This psalm of confidence in God as our refuge and strength—a very present help in trouble—can be deeply comforting personally, but in particular in consoling others in the midst of life’s most difficult circumstances, whether it’s at the bedside, or in the hospital, or at the scene of the tragedy. When you’re called on unexpectedly to say a word of comfort about the nearness and unshakable strength of God, it’s hard to beat a gentle but confident reciting of Psalm 46, chased by a short prayer tailored to the trouble at hand.
5. COLOSSIANS 1:15–20Any good shortlist of passages to memorize cold needs a good Christological anchor text, about Jesus’ objective work for us and outside of us. It’s easy to gravitate toward the more subjective texts that may feel more immediately applicable to our posture of heart and outward actions. But Christianity begins with Christ’s objective accomplishments, not the subjective application to us, essential as it is. And Colossians 1:15–20 may be the most power-packed six consecutive verses in the Bible for forming and shaping a distinctly Christian worldview. This is a potent little stick of dynamite to have hidden in your heart (along with Hebrews 1:1–4 and Philippians 2:5–11).
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
6. PHILIPPIANS 3:7–11Here’s the good-as-it-gets subjective passage to complement the great objective accomplishments in Colossians 1:15–20. This is where we want to live daily, and lead those who are following us, “count[ing] everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Even though the world, the flesh and the devil almost constantly keep us from extended experiences of what Paul describes here, we love our tiny tastes and glimpses—and desperately want to keep realigning and recalibrating our heart-life, and our church, with this emotional North Star.
Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order 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 comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
7. GALATIANS 5:22–23Many of us have discovered that the longer we live the Christian life, the more admired and appreciated is the fruit of the Spirit at the end of Galatians 5. It’s a seriously profound list. The more and more our life is genuinely characterized by the virtues here, the more and more we are learning to live by the Spirit, in the kind of trust and reliance that makes our everyday lives surprisingly supernatural to the patterns of this age.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
8. ROMANS 8:28–39OK, so just memorize the whole of Romans 8. Some have called it the most important chapter in the Bible. It very well may be that. Perhaps resolve with some ministry partner to tackle the chapter together, five verses each week, for two months. Meet weekly to stay accountable and recite the chapter as far as you’ve learned it so far, for some listening ears other than your own. But if making that kind of commitment is too much in this season of ministry, at least try to button down the final dozen verses. These are the biblical Himalayas. And they are omni-relevant in the Christian life and in ministry.
We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
9. NUMBERS 6:24–26This is the so-called “Aaronic Blessing” of the old covenant. God instructed Aaron (Moses’ brother and Israel’s first high priest), and his sons after him, to bless the people in this way. The threefold repetition of “Lord” rings of our Trinitarian Sovereign, and the use of this particular name makes it easily transferable to new-covenant Christians with the sovereign Christ as our “Lord.” A clear, well-paced and pastoral reciting of this blessing makes for a beautiful benediction for weekend corporate worship, or for a wedding or funeral, or for putting the kids or grandkids to bed.
The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.