Why Missionaries Should Memorize Scripture


It is very satisfying and appropriate for me to write an article with this title because I began my journey of extended memorization of scripture while I was on my first mission trip, to Kenya in 1986. I was sitting on a bench waiting for the bus to Nairobi, which I was told would come “in the afternoon!” Like any time-conscious Westerner, I arrived at 11:50 and waited. The bus eventually rolled in several hours later. With time on my hands and my pocket Bible there as well, I redeemed the time by beginning to memorize the Book of Ephesians. Thirty-eight years later, I am working on my 45th book, the Gospel of Luke. The scripture memorization journey has been one of the sweetest and most rewarding of my entire life, and I am delighted to commend it to missionaries all over the world.

No Christian who is still alive is done being saved. All Christians have been justified (forgiven of all sins) and adopted into God’s family. But salvation is more than that; it includes sanctification—daily growth into Christlike holiness. Paul said that if Timony developed in his gift of preaching and teaching the Word, he would save both himself and his hearers. (1 Tim. 4:13-16) The same faith that justifies also sanctifies, and that faith comes from hearing the Word. (Rom. 10:17) We must continue to hear the Word to have our faith vibrant and strong. One doesn’t need to memorize scripture in order to take it in and feed faith; simply reading and hearing it is sufficient. But memorization inevitably involves deep meditation on the Word, working it into your soul. It greatly enhances the work of the Spirit in sanctification to have your mind constantly immersed in some passage of scripture.

The work of missions is a work of spiritual warfare. We are destroying Satanic strongholds (evil ideas), both in our own hearts and those of the people we are ministering to. (2 Cor. 10:3-5) Satan will be attacking your soul daily, seeking to destroy you with sin: either lust or discouragement or pride or anger. No missionary can stay on the field for any length of time without becoming adept at spiritual warfare. Ephesians 6:10-18 tells us to put on the full armor of God to protect ourselves against the allurements and accusations of the devil. Memorizing scripture puts the “sword of the Spirit” in the hand of a missionary constantly, ready to kill all of Satan’s “arguments”—temptations as well as the false doctrines prevalent on the mission field.

The best passage on why all Christians should memorize scripture is John 15:7-8: “If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” To have Christ’s words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs… sentences, paragraphs, chapters) “remain” (dwell, live, abide) in you seems to me to be directly talking about memorization. Coupled with a disciple who is constantly abiding in Christ and constantly asking the Father for requests dictated by the Word will result in eternal fruit—souls won and developed to maturity for the glory of Christ.

I love to memorize gospel stories, especially accounts of Jesus’ healings, and relate them to non-Christians. Having the account memorized allows me to recount it with precision and power. Gospel words make evangelism vivid and passionate since it is the purpose for which the four Gospels were written: “… that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing may have life in his name,” (Jn. 20:31) Memorization also keeps the urgency of missions burning in our hearts, making us constantly zealous for the lost.

I believe scripture memorization is an essential tool for discipleship all over the world. I strongly urge new Christians to memorize, and I am able to point to my own example to give them a pattern to follow. If your converts memorize, they will be able to battle sin in their own hearts (Ps. 119:11) and win lost people in their own communities. But it is not as likely that they will do this if the missionary doesn’t.

Matthew 28:19 says “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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Missions is both “reaching and teaching.” Jesus wants his disciples all over the world to obey all the commands he has given in all the scripture. Extended memorization of scripture makes us more aware of the details of God’s Word and more thorough and comprehensive in our obedience. God has not spoken any frivolous or unnecessary words. Jesus said, “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Mt. 4:4) Missionaries that memorize whole books of the Bible are more equipped to fulfill all of the Great Commission by commanding in Christ’s name all of the Word of God over all of life and over all disciples.

Throughout church history, Christians have been imprisoned for their faith. Paul was in prison again and again, and so have been many of our brothers and sisters over twenty centuries. Often the imprisoned are deprived of access to the Bible. Those who have stored up scripture within their hearts can strengthen their own faith and feed others in prison with them as Paul and Silas did in the Philippian jail. Memorizing whole books of the Bible will prepare God’s precious saints to bear fruit even in prison.

[Note: as an aid to those who want to memorize, I commend my booklet, How to Memorize Scripture for Life: From One Verse to Entire Books (Crossway, 2024).]

Andrew M. Davis

Dr. Andrew M. Davis is the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Durham, North Carolina and the founder of Two Journeys Ministry. He holds a bachelor’s degree from MIT, a Masters in Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also a visiting professor of church history at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, a Council member of The Gospel Coalition, and an executive trustee of the International Mission Board. In addition to his preaching and teaching, he is the author of An Infinite Journey: Growing Toward Christlikeness, Revitalize: Biblical Keys to Helping Your Church Come Alive Again, Christ Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Isaiah, and An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture. Andy and his wife, Christi, have five children.

Want More Content Like This?

We will deliver Reaching & Teaching articles and podcast episodes automatically to your inbox. It's a great way to stay on top of the latest news and resources for international missions and pastoral training.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.