My job (and my hobbies) sometimes involve working in multiple computer programming languages. It might be one language today, and another tomorrow, or sometimes more than one in the same day. It’s not terrible, since basic principles (logic, loops, calculations, etc.) tend to be similar from one language to the next. However, I sometimes forget the exact syntax of a particular command that I don’t use very often.
Modern development environments typically make it easy to get help, though. Pressing F1 will usually bring up some context-based information, including the specific format (and punctuation) of a particular command, and often some examples. There are times when a specific procedure call is brand-new to me, but in other cases, seeing the instructions brings back a flash of memory to the last time I used a particular function. (Where I work, there’s no shame in looking up help on something specific. Other veteran, multi-language developers around me also have to do this periodically.)
Take a moment to read through something that Paul wrote to the church in Rome:
I am fully convinced, my dear brothers and sisters, that you are full of goodness. You know these things so well you can teach each other all about them. Even so, I have been bold enough to write about some of these points, knowing that all you need is this reminder. For by God’s grace, I am a special messenger from Christ Jesus to you Gentiles. I bring you the Good News so that I might present you as an acceptable offering to God, made holy by the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:14-16 NLT
There are times when I wonder if all of the sermons have already been preached, or if all of the lessons have already been taught. Does what is written here really add anything to what has already been said about God’s good news for humankind?
Then, I realize that, even if I were to write about the same messages that others have already discovered in the Bible, or if a pastor were to re-preach sermons from a previous ministry (at another congregation), that’s OK. The purpose of Christian teaching and preaching is – by definition – not to add to or take away from what God has already told us. His word and the Holy Spirit provide us with the truth that we need. Rather, Christian instruction is meant to share the truths from the Bible (when the hearer hasn’t yet discovered them through Bible study), and to remind followers of Jesus about those same truths (when the hearer has heard or read them at least once).
Of course, the same passage or topic in the Bible can be presented in many different ways. While the message does not change, the applications in historical and contemporary contexts are many. Furthermore, trying to understand a concept like “covenant” (which isn’t frequently used, today) can be difficult when we don’t have the background on what it meant to the first readers of the Bible. Similarly, understanding a complex term like “imputed righteousness” probably requires some technical explanation. And, knowing how the first-century followers of Jesus reacted to situations (in their era) doesn’t always tell us exactly what we should do in a world of smartphones and automobiles. So, multiple ways of presenting God’s message (while remaining faithful to the truth) are certainly appropriate.
Still, like the book of Romans (see above), reminders are good for us. You may share a verse from the Bible with a friend today, and find that it is just what she needed to find hope, or to make a decision. Or, in your reading of the Bible, you may realize that a forgotten principle is exactly what you need for today (although sometimes we don’t realize that until the end of the day, when we look back and see how God lined up a specific part of His word with our specific situation).
So, if the next sermon that you hear is on a passage that you already know well, be sure to still listen intently, and ask God for new insight. If you’ve started to ignore verses that you keep with you (or at home, school, or work), take the time to read them again, and supplement them with new reminders. If you are tempted to skip daily Bible reading (or haven’t started), because you think you already know it all, remember that even the first recipients of the Bible needed a reminder.
But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.
James 1:25 NLT