When it comes to helping your kids begin to memorize Scripture, there are many places you could start. John 3:16 is a great verse for every Christian to commit to memory. But I want to suggest two other verses for young children, for a couple of reasons.
First, like John 3:16, these two verses are central to the Bible’s teaching. And second, to grab ahold of the principles in these verses, kids only have to memorize six words!
The verses are from the book of Matthew. In chapter 22, an expert in the law asks Jesus, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (v. 36). In response, Jesus sums up the entire teaching of the Old Testament, using two key clauses you can teach your children to begin fostering the invaluable habit of Scripture memorization:
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
According to Jesus, there are no commandments greater than these (Mark 12:31). If children learn these six words—“Love the Lord” and “Love your neighbor”—and put them into practice, they will not only begin to understand the heart of God’s will for them but also begin to fulfill it.
I like the idea of teaching young children key clauses like these from the Bible—super-short quotes of five words or less—to get them started on a lifelong habit of memorizing Scripture. I call these Bible Gems, or Gemstones. They’re tiny, but they convey powerful truths! And they’re so easy to remember.
As you read the Bible, look for Gems like “Trust in the Lord” (Prov. 3:5), “Overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21), and “Do everything in love” (1 Cor. 16:14). There are lots of them, they’re full of wisdom, and you can memorize them at a glance. Try challenging your kids to memorize one Bible Gem each week, and then as a family spend that week digging deeper into what it means and how it applies to your lives.
Here are some examples of how to do that.
For “Love the Lord” (Matt. 22:37):
- Talk about how a person should love God, starting with the rest of the verse (“with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”).
- Discuss how the first four commandments (Ex. 20:1–11) relate to this Gem.
- Look at Jesus’ comments about how people who love him obey him (John 14:15, 23).
- Read Bible stories together and talk about whether the characters in the stories show love to God, and the consequences of their actions.
For “Love your neighbor” (Matt. 22:39):
- Talk about how a person should love others, starting with the rest of the verse (“as yourself”).
- Discuss how the last six commandments (Ex. 20:12–17) relate to this Gem.
- Look at Jesus’ command to his disciples to love each other as he loved them (John 13:34).
- Explore the “one another” verses in the New Testament (many of them are Bible Gems too), such as “Accept one another” (Rom. 15:7), “Encourage one another” (2 Cor. 13:11), and “Serve one another” (Gal. 5:13).
- Read the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10) and other Bible stories and talk about which characters show love to other people, and the ramifications of their choices.
Each week, pray with your children about the truth in the Gem they have learned and encourage them to put it into practice.
As you can see, Bible Gems are a wonderful way for parents to teach their children core principles from God’s Word, in a way that helps them understand these truths, remember them, and live them out.
Many people are intimidated by the prospect of trying to memorize Scripture themselves. They are daunted by God’s command simply to remember his words, let alone teach them to their children (Deut. 11:18–20). But Scripture memory doesn’t have to be scary and difficult! It can be fun and easy and very rewarding for everyone involved. Don’t be afraid to start helping your children begin to memorize Scripture at an early age. You’ll be amazed at how much of God’s Word you and your family will learn together, and what a difference that makes in your lives.
Note: All of the Gemstone quotes in this blog post are taken from the New International Version (NIV) translation of the Bible, which is used by many families, schools, and churches.