“The Power of Repetition”
Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.
2 Peter 1:12-15
We all get tired of hearing the same things over and over, perhaps especially from the pulpit. If we've heard it stated once clearly enough why does it have to be repeated? I often feel the same way when preparing to preach sermons week after week. I will be studying a topic or a text and think, "We talked about that a few weeks ago. We better go in a different direction this week." But I've come to learn that, while variety in teaching has its merits, repetition is more valuable to the student. Jesus often repeated himself, sometimes to the point of exasperation (Mt. 15:16; Jn. 21:15-17). He told his disciples he would die and be raised from the dead on at least three separate occassions and they still were not prepared for it when it finally happened (Mk. 8:31; 9:30-31; 10:32-34).
Peter made no apology for reminding his audience of things they already knew (2 Pet. 1:12-15). Paul reminded the Corinthians of the fundamentals of the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-5). Timothy and Titus were told that teaching as an evangelist includes reminding Christians of familiar truths (2 Tim. 2:14; Titus 3:1). John made it clear to his audience he was bringing nothing new to the discussion (1 Jn. 2:7). But the writers of the New Testament did not merely repeat themselves. They iterated. They held up the same truths like a diamond against the light and turned them this way and that to see the same teaching from different angles. How does the command to love apply in this situation? What are the implications of Jesus' sacrifice in that situation? How does the hope of resurrection help in these cirucmstances? etc. Each time the same truths are taught, we gain a little ground and see a deeper layer than before.
Every parent and teacher knows that repetition and iteration reinforces learning. We may get tired of hearing the same thing over and over again but we will be less apt to forget it if we do. And the more important a thing is, the more it bears repeating. One preacher said to me, "About the time you get tired of saying it, they are just starting to hear it." Parents can relate! Parents are constantly repeating themselves to their children. We can tell our children the same thing a thousand times in a thousand different ways and we might not feel like we're making any headway. But then there are moments when our children surprise us. Without any prodding from mom or dad, they start cleaning their room or making their bed in the morning or brushing their teeth. The evidence that the lessons are finally sinking in are well worth sounding like a broken record.
We are God's children (1 Jn. 3:1), and as children we should never dismiss a subject our Father is teaching us on the basis that we've heard it before. "If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know." (1 Cor. 8:2) Thinking that we've mastered a biblical teaching is a good indicator we still have much to learn. We show that we truly understand a teaching by putting it into practice. This is the difference between mere knowledge and maturity. A child of God is always learning from their Father. We must always be listening with ears to hear, humbly striving to understand God's will with the aim to do it (Jas. 1:22).
John Chrysostom, in one of his sermons, said, “If therefore you would not have us wearisome or annoying, practice as we preach, exhibit in your actions the subject of our discourses. For we shall never cease discoursing upon these things till your conduct is agreeable to them. And this we do more especially from our concern and affection for you.” In other words, he refused to stop preaching on a subject until his listeners obeyed the teaching.
If God says a thing once in the Bible, it ought to be enough for us. But God repeats himself often. The same themes occur over and over again throughout the Scriptures because our patient Father knows his children need to be told the same things several times before the lesson sinks in.
But repetition is important for another reason. In the ever-changing demographics of the local church, some people may be hearing for the first time what is redundant to others. Children mature and begin to grasp things that, a year ago, were beyond them. A familiar passage can take on new and profound implications when circumstances in life change. So let us continue to teach and preach the same truths from the Bible. Our prayer is that, together, we "may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God." (Col. 1:9-10)