Live at Peace with Everyone

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading the Bible at lunch, and I came across Romans 12. “What a great chapter,” I thought to myself. “I ought to memorize this.”

Bible memorization has been on my mind lately, ever since Tom Meyer (a “Wordsower”) recited all of Jonah and Nahum to us at church. He did a nice job, articulating the story of Jonah, especially, with lots of dramatic flair. “I wonder how hard it would be, to do that?” I mused to myself.

When I was a young lad, I had a great memory. One year I memorized more than 600 verses (on sheets of twenty-five at a time) so that I could earn money to attend a Christian camp. It used to be that if I scanned a page of print carefully, I could see a picture of the page in my mind for some hours afterward, and could literally read the words off the page in that memory picture.

This is true no longer. These days, memorization takes substantially more effort, both up-front, and in terms of maintaining the memorized passage.

In a family with five children, there are always relational challenges, and some even among the kids. Thinking particularly about verse 18, which talks about living in peace with one another, I issued a challenge to my older three children: “I’ll pay a dollar a verse for memorizing Romans 12, and a five-dollar bonus to anyone who memorizes it before me.”

Hold on, Buddy!

“I’ll pay a dollar if you’ll slow down, Daddy.”

Rachel and Daniel are eager to go on a youth group retreat (their first since joining the lofty ranks of Middle School), so they jumped on it, burning the ‘midnight oil’, memorizing in their beds. Daniel had the first eight verses down at breakfast the next day, and so I knew I would need to move fast if I was going to be a credible threat.

Joshua disdained the monetary prize (flush as he is with cash from lawn-work) but casually memorized the whole passage in one sitting. He was reciting it happily (and a bit ostentatiously) to himself as he biked off to do some lawn work. Sometimes we think he was accidentally swapped for some other child in the hospital. I can just imagine a set of wealthy and successful parents as they scratch their heads at their slap-dash, irresponsible son. “Maybe he takes after your Uncle Erwin,” confides the Dad to his wife.

Okay, you may take my picture, Mom.

Joshua, try Psalm 119 and get back to us.

Rachel keeps her cards close to her chest, but I think she is nearly done memorizing the passage. Kathy and I were out in the backyard yesterday evening, and my oldest daughter was inside, washing some dishes. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil … ” we heard her shouting, trying to make herself heard over the rush of the water and the clanging of the pots and pans. “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody … ” she bellowed. Apparently Joshua was checking her progress.

Even the little two are picking up on it. “Do not be overcome by evil … but overcome evil with good …” they sing, as they run across the yard.

Where are the brakes on this thing?

It seems nearly every day, someone asks me, “So, Dad, how much do you have memorized?” All the little ears perk up as I clear my throat nervously. “Well, let’s see … Romans 12:1-21.” There is an embarrassed silence, and then another silence after that.

Finally one of them speaks up. “Um, is that all?”

I try to maintain a haughty dignity. “Yep. I’m still getting started. I do know the last verse, though.” I launch into song, accentuating my point with excessive volume: “DO NOT BE OVERCOME BY EVIL … ”

They shake their heads, sadly, fingers in their ears. “You’re not doing very well, Dad.”

Truth be told, I don’t really mind losing the wager. I’m glad to help the kids raise money to go on their retreat, and I’m delighted to incentivize Bible memorization in the lives of my children. I guess what irks me is how easily they leave me in their dust. I try to stall them, insisting that they recite the passage word-perfect. “After all,” I tell them sententiously, “the scripture is worth our best effort, since it is the living Word of God. We dare not corrupt it by sloppy memorization.”

“Do pauses count?” Rachel asked me. “No, but if I have to tell you a word (or correct a wrong word) then that counts as an error,” I told her. Already Daniel is down to five or six minor errors in the whole passage.

Some people might think it inappropriate to pay kids to memorize scripture. One of my favorite pastors was once challenged about this:

“Isn’t it sort of crass,” a woman asked him, “to pay your kids to memorize? Shouldn’t they be motivated out of love for God and respect for the scriptures?”

“Well,” he answered gently, “that’s an interesting question, but let’s look at it pragmatically. My kids know hundreds of verses. How many verses do your kids know?”

This boy knows a lot of verses.

If you’re a grown-up like me, and your head is already full of the things you need to know to work, or to raise your family, then you’ll have to apply some clever technique to overcome your handicap.

I have three strategies that I use:

  • First, I read the passage over several times, trying to fix the picture of the page in my mind, the way that I used to when I was younger. It doesn’t work anymore, but I seem to be unwilling to try my other two strategies until I’ve proven that this one is no longer effective. I think it helps a little. Maybe.
  • When that doesn’t work, I try copying it down, either writing it by hand or typing it. I look at each sentence and then try to type it from memory, going back to check after I’m done. This usually gets me to the point where I have the passage mostly memorized.
  • To get a passage word-perfect, I resort to my third technique. I write the passage on our whiteboard (or as much of it as can fit) and then I recite it repeatedly. Each time I finish reciting, I erase a word or two. Pretty soon, I’m looking at an empty whiteboard and am able to recite the whole chunk of scripture.

How ‘bout you? Do you memorize scripture? How much, and how often? What techniques do you use? Do you pay your kids to memorize, or do they do it for free?

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. -– Romans 12:1-21


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10 thoughts on “Live at Peace with Everyone”

  1. excellent challenge… and you say J memorized “the whole passage” in one sitting. As in the whole chapter? One sitting? eegads. Keep throwing fuel on those mental fires, and keep ‘em blazing!

  2. Tim, my favorite approach for memorizing passages of Scripture is outlined in an article here: I used this approach to memorize most of Ephesians last year this time. I’m ashamed to admit that I gave up somewhere in chapter 6. But as long as I kept it up, it was effective! And I’ve used it since on chapters to good effect. I don’t memorize nearly as much as I suppose I ought to, nor do my kids, alas. (But we all did Romans 12 a couple years ago while our pastor was teaching through it–he read the whole chapter out loud every Sunday night for many months, and that was pretty much all it took for us all to memorize it. And it inspired my dh to memorize all of Romans, which he’s still working on.)

    Love your posts!

  3. Since you asked, we all started memorizing Scripture (using Sonlight’s recommended verses) 10 years ago in August of 1998. After a little over a year of memorizing, I was frustrated that we’d forgotten some of what we memorized and began using a review system I read about in an article on Since then, we review every verse we’ve ever learned at least once a month. I don’t pay them; we did it as part of school. So, whether you consider that as “for free” or not, I don’t know! LOL!

  4. What a wonderful passage to memorize!
    Our girls are in Bible Bowl, a fun program where they memorize TONS of scripture and compete in games. It is amazing how much they know. I was doing a good job of memorizing a while ago but I’ve fallen off recently. At one point I had all of Philippians memorized. A great book is His Word In My Heart.

  5. That’s a great passage to memorize. A couple kids I babysat for memorized it (I think they were 4 and 6 at the time). I need to memorize it so I can recite portions of it when my kids at church disobey. I want to be able to point to a scripture and show them that have disobeyed God’s Word, not just some silly rule I made up.

    Oh, and I laughed thinking of the picture of Joshua being switched at birth…

  6. We are sort of hit or miss here. When I am on my “game” the kids memorize more, but sadly, Bible seems the first to go when I get too tired.

    I have always been terrible at memorizing anything except for short term (great test taker).

    It is on our list this fall once we start back to school. I am not above paying my children to do almost anything from chores to schoolwork.

  7. We memorized Eph 6 last spring by learning it sung to acoustic guitar music. We honestly can’t say it without breaking into song at parts. I really doubt any of us will ever forget it.

  8. You subscribe to the Dee Duke model of pay-for-Scripture memory, as well as his pragmatic response that because his kids know tons of verses, the ends justify the means. I’m not sure that’s so. If my son memorized Psalm 23 because he loved Jesus and thought Psalm 23 was amazing, that would be more meaningful to me (and possibly God, methinks) than a child who memorized the book of Genesis because someone gave him 200 bucks. In Isaiah, the Lord says He doesn’t care about routine; He cares about heart. Would I be better off encouraging Scripture memory in my children because I teach the importance of the Word, or would I rather bribe them?

    Not saying that incentives aren’t important and useful to getting children to doing the right thing. I’m saying that as a stand alone reason for paying children for Scripture memory, the ends-justify-the-means is not convincing to me.

  9. It might be a bit of a stretch to say that I ‘subscribe’ to Duke’s pragmatic response, especially taken out of context of the rest of his remarks.

    One of the core questions Kathy and I continually revisit is this: “How can I reach the heart of my child with the love of Jesus?”

    Naturally, we would never neglect matters of the heart in favor of rote or routine. But I think there is value in memorizing scripture, regardless of motivation.

    Many times in my life, I’ve been tempted to do evil or to neglect good. In those times, I’ve been nudged by the Holy Spirit, who (as promised) convicts me of sin and righteousness. The times when I have felt the nudge most clearly and been most effectively convicted have been the times when the Spirit has brought a specific passage of scripture to my mind. That scripture is much less ‘available’ to the Spirit, I think, if I have never memorized it (or if it is not current in my thinking). This is one reason I think I ought to be reading the Bible every day.

    I’m willing to shell out a few bucks for lots of things, and my children watch my spending carefully as a pretty good barometer of my values. Why not put my money where my mouth is?

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