They say that elephants never forget. Well, I’m no pachyderm because a coworker once told me that after the birth of my third child, I began to forget deadlines and details. I guess it takes a lot of brainpower to keep up with three children!
She’s right, my memory has taken a hit. I blame it on aging! As we get older, we have more to remember, so it’s easy to let some things slide.
But memory isn’t a problem just for gray-haired folks.
Timothy was a young apostle-in-training under the guidance of the apostle Paul. Dispatched to the churches of Ephesus to address the problems of legalism and leadership, Timothy had a lot on his plate.
To help out, Paul wrote him two letters (1 and 2 Timothy) replete with ministry advice. And among his many suggestions was this comment:
“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel.” – 2 Timothy 2:8 (ESV)
Why would Paul have to remind Timothy to remember Jesus? How could the young man forget the Lord? Why would he?
I found an answer to these questions when I was reading the 77th Psalm during my devotions. Here are the verses that stood out to me:
“When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints . . . 6I said, ‘Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.’ Then my spirit made a diligent search . . . 11I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember Your wonders of old. 12I will ponder all Your work, and meditate on Your mighty deeds.” – Psalm 77:3, 6, 11-12 (ESV)
Using a literary technique called “synonymous parallelism” (whereby a writer repeats material in two or more lines), the psalmist identifies memory with meditation.
Notice these similarities:
When I remember God, I moan;
When I meditate, my spirit faints.
Let me remember my song in the night;
Let me meditate in my heart.
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
Yes, I will remember Your works of old.
I will ponder all Your work,
And meditate on Your mighty deeds.
According to Psalm 77, to remember means to meditate. This activity emphasizes reflection, not recall.
How does this relate to Paul’s admonition? Let’s include verse 7 with verse 8:
“Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. 8Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel.” – 2 Timothy 2:7-8 (ESV)
Do these verses employ synonymous parallelism? If so, then “remember” echoes “think over.”
Paul isn’t rebuking Timothy for forgetting who Jesus is. Rather, he encourages the young minister to ponder the gospel in the context of serving the gospel.
The weight of Timothy’s serious responsibilities could squeeze out contemplation of the Lord’s presence.
To allow that would be a mistake for two reasons. First, He’s the One who makes all ministry efforts worthwhile. Second, Christ models suffering and vindication. He was crucified but God raised Him from the dead. That’s not only the heart of the good news; it’s also the hope of everyone who serves God.
The pains of caring for souls can wear you down and undermine your commitment. When you remember Jesus Christ, you review how He handled the stress of service and the sting of rejection. But you also realize how the Father honored the Son by raising Him from the dead. Paul implies that God will honor us, too, as we exalt Jesus in the power of the Spirit.
You may not have the memory of an elephant, but you can always focus on Jesus. Paul’s imperative is not an odd command; it’s the secret to spiritual success.
In the midst of ministry, remember.