Any time we closely study Scripture, we come away learning God’s will, valuable lessons about Christian living, and new emphases we had not previously took seriously enough. I recently spent some time studying and teaching the book of 2 Peter, and I have found a valuable theme returning to my mind as I consider my own role as a pastor and teaching in Christ’s church. I think it is a theme worth sharing.
One of the things Peter’s second epistle teaches believers is that Christian ministry involves a great deal of repetition. It is important for us to say the same truths over and over again. Put negatively, Christian ministry is not about novelty and teaching new doctrines or even bringing “fresh insights,” but about hearing and living the same Gospel and the same Scriptures, week after week, year after year, generation after generation.
The bulk of 2 Peter 1 is a call for the believers to “make every effort” to grow in Christ or “supplement your faith” (1:3-7). Increasing beyond one’s current spiritual state is an essential part of Christian perseverance (1:8-11). This is something the believers had heard before: “Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities,” Peter says, and this even though “you know them and are established in the truth” (1:12). Despite the evidence the believers had given of growing in Christ, despite their clear knowledge of the importance of Christian growth, Peter is determined to “always . . . remind” them of this. Not only so, he says in verses 13-14,
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.
Take note again of his emphasis on the reminder he is giving them, and that he is intending to pound this reminder home as “long as I am in this body,” or as long as he lives.
He continues in verse 15 to stress the importance of their having these teachings in their memory:
And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.
Peter not only wants to remind them of his teaching, but he wants them to work to store up his teaching in their memory and recall it at any time. The goal of Peter’s repetition, then, is for the memory of these doctrines. The truth is too important to say once.
With the remainder of chapter 1, Peter proves, from his being an eyewitness to the Transfiguration, the truth of the future, bodily return of Jesus Christ. This only confirms the truth of the “prophetic word,” which came from the Holy Spirit itself.
Peter turns to the false teachers in chapter 2, and teaches that those who deny the Word of God in doctrine and practice are condemned. Here Peter subtly returns to the theme of reminders again, for the false teachers and their followers are in a worst state because they have not retained the Christian teaching originally delivered to them: “it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2:21).
The theme of reminders in Christian ministry comes up again in chapter 3. In 3:1-2, Peter says,
This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles.
This “first letter” is probably lost (we do not know for sure what he’s referring to), but the important lesson is that both of them are reminders, and that such reminders, “stir up” their “sincere minds.” Here Peter teaches us how such “doctrinal reminders” serve as a means of grace for believers. Peter’s reminder, however, is not concerning the importance of advancing in the grace of Christ (as it was in chapter 1), but of the Bible’s prophecies concerning the return of the Lord. When Peter tells the beloved in 3:8 that they should “not overlook this one fact,” he is once again reminding them of his teachings concerning the end.
The final emphases on repeating Christian teaching come in verses 17-18. Peter warns them that the “ignorant and unstable” twist the Scriptures. This reminder (“knowing this beforehand”) helps them to “take care” that they are not carried away with such lawless ones. Instead, they are to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” whereby Peter shows us his confidence in the growth that will occur when they attend to the words of Christ delivered to them by the apostles.
What it taught me
People don’t like reminders. How often, as a child, did you like your parents reminding you to brush your teeth, to pick up your clothes, to do your homework? Not only do we tend to dislike reminders, we are drawn to hear new things; it stimulates our minds. But the Word of God criticizes the Greeks for this in Acts 17:21: “For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or hear some new thing.” Over and over again the Bible points back to old, unchanging truth. Paul tells Timothy, “Remind them” (2 Tim 2:14). Jude 17: “You must remember, beloved.” Hebrews 2:1, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” The Bible is full of the importance of reminders, from the stone monuments built by Joshua in Canaan to the words of Jesus, “Remember Lot’s wife.” Paul calls his epistle to the Romans a “reminder” in Romans 15:15. Holding onto the doctrine we have been taught is absolutely crucial, according to passages like 1 Corinthians 15:1-2, where Paul says that the Gospel is saving them, “if you hold fast to the word I preached to you.” The Lord’s Supper is a repeated reminder given by Christ that Christians do “in remembrance” of him (1 Cor 11:25).
Many of us have been Christians for a long time. We feel like we have heard it all.* We are sometimes tempted to tune out the Word of God, whether in preaching or teaching or private reading, because we think we already know it. For Peter, however, the repetition of Bible doctrines is a crucial, vital part of the life of the people of God.
Peter’s message to us is simple: do not despise the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, even when you have heard it before. You need to hear it again. Pastors, you need to say it again. Can you imagine saying to Peter after hearing him preach, “Oh, I don’t need that; I’ve already heard it.” Or, “That sermon was okay, but—eh—I’ve heard it before.” We all need to rehear the teaching we have heard before. In fact, his dying wish was make sure that these Christians heard it again.
The truth is that, when any of us are dismissive to teaching simply because we think we have heard it before, we are so because of a form of spiritual pride. Sometimes we are putting ourselves above the preacher. Sometimes we are implying that we have arrived it spiritually. We are “safe”–so safe that we can set aside what God wants to say to us. Peter says, on the contrary, that you need to hear it again and often.
In the life of the academy, the emphasis is often on “contributions” and new emphases in a subject matter. In ministry, there is a real temptation when one is involved in regular teaching and preaching to inject some kind of novelty to your message in order to keep people interested. Perhaps we are even tempted to make a name for ourselves through some kind of idiosyncratic doctrinal emphasis no one else is currently “marketing.” Frankly, I believe Peter would have none of this. His word to believers is to glory in hearing the same precious Gospel over and over again. I think his word to us who serve as pastors and ministers in Christ’s church is to not be embarrassed that you are saying something the people have heard before.** We must continue to repeat and remind and refocus on the same old truths that are our salvation.
*Trust me, you haven’t heard it all.
**This is not Indeed, an excuse for laziness in preparation for pulpit ministry. I do not condone preaching the same message week after week because of laziness.