Memorizing Colossians together

  • Richard Chin
  • 12 September 2018

Rachel Macdonald: Could you say a little bit about yourself and your ministry role?

Richard Chin: I serve with the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students. And our mission is to “proclaim Jesus Christ at university to present everyone mature in him” (cf. Col 1:28). This involves evangelism, encouragement, training, and sending students and graduates to the world with the gospel of Christ. And part of my role is to raise up staff to partner students in this cause for the glory of Christ. So, my days look different from week-to-week. However, on this occasion it means being interviewed by Rachel.

A previous student whom you encouraged!

Yes, a previous student who did this very thing: go to the world with the gospel of Christ! And we were (and are!) very encouraged.

Do you meet personally with any of these students?

Yes, I do. I still meet with students, and graduates. I meet currently with one student on Tuesday afternoons, and a couple of graduates in a piecemeal way. In fact, this afternoon I’m meeting with a graduate. So roughly two to three students and/or graduates, as I go about each week.

I heard in an interview that last year you were memorizing Colossians with a group of students. Is that true?

Oh, it was actually two students, making a group of three (with me!). We were going to work through Colossians and we wanted to memorize it as part of the package. So we did that over the course of the year, and I think those guys memorized it better than I did!

Was that your idea or their idea? How did you get started? 

It was my idea. I was meant to preach at Summer School in January of this year, 2018, and so at the beginning of last year I thought: “What better way to prepare than to start working through Colossians with some students… and why not go the whole hog and memorize it as well?”

Was Colossians chosen for you by the Summer School team?

I chose Colossians in the end. I gave them some options, but Colossians was at the top of the list, and we agreed that that would be a good book to do.

On one level it’s my go-to book to establish young Christians, given the image of Christ that is portrayed in chapter one, and how an understanding of his supremacy really is what establishes us in the faith. And so the hinge verses that the commentators speak about in 2:6-7—“as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding with thanksgiving”—really unravels the whole book. I think it’s a great book for anyone of course, but it’s especially good to establish Christians in the faith.

Matthias Media actually had Colossians as one of its first books in the Interactive Bible Study series, from memory… for this very reason.

Well, we’ve just put out a Pathway Bible Guide on Colossians, so perhaps we’re circling back to where we started! So were the students you were reading Colossians with new in their faith?

No, they weren’t. They’re actually people that we’re strongly encouraging to pursue vocational ministry. So I saw it as a great avenue to study it in a bit more depth with them. They ended up teaching it at Beach Mission themselves, actually, last year! And another one taught Colossians at a youth group weekend away. It continues to be of great use to them, in their armoury of talks. So it’s been wonderful.

We have books that are close to our hearts in all stages of life, whatever joys or valleys. And Colossians is the one I continue to bring to mind. In Psalm 119:11 it says, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you”. And memorizing is just a lovely, lovely way of storing up the word of God. Colossians is the part of the Bible that, if I can’t get to sleep sometimes, or if in the middle of the night I wake up, I think “Oh well, let’s have a go at memorizing Colossians again!”. And I’m invariable asleep by, I don’t know, ten verses in. I’m bringing it back to memory as a way of killing time—but hey, what better way of killing time?

So it sounds like the project has worked for you! Can you still remember all of Colossians? 

Oh, I think most of it. There’ll be details here and there, and word order that isn’t quite right, or I’m sure I’ll paraphrase bits and pieces, but by and large I think it’s there. We made it a year-long project so that it would get into long-term memory. But I think it’s in a kind of medium to long-term memory zone. Chapters one and two are very much there! Or most of chapter one and half of chapter two, but chapter three, yes… anyway!

And it sounds like the students would say something similar, if they’ve been using it in ministry since.

Yes, I think so. They’re graduates now, in the workforce doing their thing. There are aspects and parts of Colossians that they can recall well. We talk about it semi-regularly. 

Were they keen from the get-go?

Yeah, they were actually. One of them went on to play the role of Jesus in the Mark Drama, so he had to memorize huge portions of Scripture. He thought it was easier to memorize Jesus’ words in Mark’s Gospel than it was to memorize the whole of Colossians: it had more narrative. So he went on to do things like that, and I think he’s really taken on the walk of memorizing Scripture as a part of his daily discipline. The other one continues to teach Colossians, and played Peter in the Mark Drama, so that was fun. So they’ve continued in various aspects of memorizing other pieces of Scripture as well.

What was your method for memorizing?

Reading it and trying to recall it. We started at the beginning and just tried to go through a few more verses each time we met, and then go back to the beginning. Each time we met we’d see how far we could go. We had the book pretty much word perfect mid-year, so after four or five months, we just kept on recalling and seeing if we could say it out loud all the way through by the time of our last meeting.

Did anything in content of Colossians stand out to you, that you hadn’t noticed before memorizing it?

Yes, certainly repeating words and ideas. Even though I’d studied Colossians and given various talks on it, repeating words and the threads of ideas were big. The concept of reconciliation in chapter one for example was very significant.

Certainly ideas that were alluded to in the beginning of the epistle that came up later were also particularly helpful. The idea of order, for example, with the portion of Colossians 3 that people find a little harder to take on board in the current climate: wives submitting to your husbands as is fitting in the Lord, husbands love your wives and do not be harsh, etc. It’s all in the context of “order in Christ”—and what order means begins in chapter one i.e. Christ-saturated order. Paul rejoices in seeing their “good order” (2:5), and he returns to it in chapter three with order in the household. It was just lovely to see those ideas coming through, and I think memorizing it helped.

Being able to recall verses from memory also makes it a little faster to read commentaries and the like, not having to keep looking back at the Scriptures. So there are little things like that, but the ongoing benefit is very much to store Scripture up in your heart in order to rejoice in it, and stop sinning.

It sounds like you would definitely recommend the book of Colossians in general to people. What about memorizing it? You did it as a group of three; do you think it’s suited best to that, or could a larger Bible study do it?

I suspect a wider group could do it. It’s just motivation. Like anything, I think Nike is right: “Just do it”. It’s not a matter of psyching yourself up to do it. If you work towards it and covenant towards doing it together with a clear goal, I think it’s doable. The homework is just that… Just do it.

I did try it with one or two other individuals from church, with different degrees of success. We only got so far because I could only meet fortnightly. I was away at various points, he was away at various points. I think we got through to about chapter two together though, so it still bore fruit for us. 

How could a leader help their memorization group persevere?

If you are all working towards a goal of not just memorizing it but teaching it, it adds to the motivation. There’s no reason why that can’t be the case for whatever Bible study group you have. That is, we should all be teaching the Bible to our children or our neighbour in the pew, or evangelistically with the neighbour on our street.

In the medical world they use the framework of “see one, do one, teach one” to get something into your memory. A junior doctor sees an injection, then they do it themselves, and later they teach someone else to do it. That’s how it stays in long-term memory. I think that helps in terms of memorizing any part of Scripture: See someone else memorize it, do it yourself, then teach it to others. The more you teach it, the more likely you will remember it.  So that’s one possible motivation that can get everyone covenanting together to do that.

But there’s that verse that I keep coming back to, Psalm 119:11: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you”. This is a lovely motivation. If you don’t want to sin, one way is to store Scripture up in your heart! And storing Scripture in our heart is of course more than memorizing—but memorizing is a great first step towards it.

Another motivator is that, like I said, it’s better than counting sheep in the middle of the night to go to sleep!

Ultimately I find myself recalling Colossians 3:1 all the time : “If then you’ve been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” It’s just a lovely image: you set your mind on Christ in heaven, and when you do, all the stuff about putting sin to death comes as a natural flow-on from that. Storing up Scripture in your heart and mind makes you heavenly-minded for great earthly use to his glory.

That’s the big picture: God’s glory is why you do whatever you do, including memorizing Scripture.

Fullness in Christ