The vital importance of memory in the Christian life:
The Bible throughout speaks about the importance of not forgetting. It speaks often about remembering the Lord, what he has done, what he has commanded, and so on. The fact that we are told this so often in Scripture must mean that this is exactly what we are all prone to do: to forget.
Deuteronomy 4:9 Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.
Deuteronomy 8:2 Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.
Deuteronomy 8:11 Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.
Deuteronomy 32:7 Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you.
1 Chronicles 16:12 Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced,
Nehemiah 4:14 After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”
Psalm 44:1 We have heard with our ears, O God; our fathers have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago.
Psalm 77:10-12 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.” I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.
Psalm 103:2 Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.
Psalm 105:5 Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced.
Psalm 143:5 I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done.
Proverbs 3:1 My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart.
Isaiah 46:8,9 “Remember this, fix it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.
Hosea 13:4-6 “But I have been the Lord your God
ever since you came out of Egypt.
You shall acknowledge no God but me,
no Savior except me.
I cared for you in the wilderness,
in the land of burning heat.
When I fed them, they were satisfied;
when they were satisfied, they became proud;
then they forgot me.
Luke 17:32 Remember Lot’s wife!
1 Cor 10:11-12 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!
1 Cor 11:23-25 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night 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, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
James 1:22-25 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
Here I want to discuss one such verse that I just read again. At the end of Numbers 15 there is a short section which can easily be overlooked, but it is actually quite important. In verses 37-41 we read about “Tassels on Garments”. It says this:
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the Lord your God.’”
This is an Old Testament sticky note or post-it note if you like. It was a visible, practical reminder for the people of God. It was a helpful little device to help them remember. Today we have alarms that we can set on our smart phones to remind us when to pick up little Johnnie from school, or when someone has a birthday or anniversary.
God knew the ancient Israelites needed such a device, so he used the tassel. We are in need of similar things today. How often do we forget the Lord? How often do we so easily forget his commands and ignore his presence? Every time we sin we basically forget God – or rather, tell him to get lost.
Most folks will more readily sin when they think they can get away with it – under cover of darkness, when no one is looking, etc. But they foolishly forget that God is always there. He knows all about what we do, think and say. Nothing escapes his attention.
So for the Israelites this tassel was a practical reminder not to forget God. It was a command of God, but also the gracious provision of God. He knew how weak and forgetful his people were, so he brought this requirement in to help them to stay continually focused on God.
Today believers have an even more powerful – and built-in – reminder: the Holy Spirit that resides within all Christians. But we can still forget as well, so there is a place for other sorts of reminders. The 1 Cor. 11 passage mentioned above offers us a very tangible and physical means by which we can remember the Lord and what he has done for us as we celebrate communion together.
Let me finish with a few bits of commentary on this passage from Numbers. Timothy Ashley reminds us (no pun intended) that the biblical call to remember is not merely intellectual: “To remember does not mean simply bringing something to mind, but using whatever means necessary to make real in the present what was real in the past: the power and love of Yahweh shown in statutes and ordinances for the guidance of his people (cf. Deut. 6:24; 10:13). Remembering in this sense includes doing.”
Warren Wiersbe says this:
These tassels were reminders that the Jews were God’s covenant people and different from the other nations. (See Deut. 22:12; Zech. 8:23; Matt. 23:5.) Modern orthodox Jews have tassels on their prayer shawls. When they dressed each morning, the Jews would see the tassels and be reminded that they were God’s people, obligated to obey His will. . . . No matter how many idols they might see during the day, the tassels reminded them that it was Jehovah, the God of Israel, who had delivered them from Egypt, and they were to worship and serve Him alone.
Iain Duguid tells us these tassels helped to remind the people of two things:
In the first place, they reminded the Israelites who they were by God’s overwhelming grace. They were the people of the Lord, the people he had redeemed from Egypt. He had redeemed them so that they might have an ongoing relationship with him: neither the power of Egypt nor their stubborn, defiant rebellion could compromise that purpose (v. 41). Secondly, though, it reminded the Israelites of the obligations that went with their calling. They were redeemed from Egypt to be a holy nation and a royal priesthood. God brought them out of bondage so that they might obey his commands and be consecrated to their God, instead of going after the lusts of their own hearts and eyes (vv. 39, 40).
In some ways, with this combined emphasis on their privilege and responsibility, the requirement to wear the tassels sums up the thrust of the whole chapter. God redeemed Israel by his grace for relationship with him; yet that did not now leave them free to do whatever they wanted to do. Such “freedom” would actually merely be a different kind of bondage, prostituting themselves to their own lusts (v. 39). A relationship with God by grace does not eliminate the need for obedience but rather forms the foundation for it. The God who commands us is the same God who first delivered us from bondage; so we know that his purposes in commanding us are good. In fact, he delivered us from our former bondage to sin so we could experience the true freedom that comes as we obey his commandments and law. His law turns out to be the path to true liberty.
As noted, the Holy Spirit, who dwells in every believer, helps to remind us of all things that we need to always keep in mind. But there is nothing amiss in using some physical object to further help us always keep God at the forefront of our thinking.
Just as a businessman who is often away from home might bring along with him a photo of his wife, and even place it on a hotel room bedside table to remind him of her, so too Christians as a pilgrim people need constant reminders that this world is not our home. So maybe even something like a small plastic cross carried in your pocket or some such thing might be of use to some folks in this regard.
Whether or not such physical aides to memory are needed, all believers need to take seriously the many biblical injunctions to never forget, and to always remember the Lord, his great salvation, and their need to constantly walk close to him in love and obedience.