“Familiarity breeds contempt.” I first heard those words when I sat across a table from a newly divorced man. Although he was sharing about the negative downfall of a marriage, I remember that short sentence sticking in my mind. There is truth in the statement for more than marriage relationships. As we’ve been making our way through The Story, the first few chapters are familiar to those who have grown up in church and read their Bible continually: the creation account, Abraham and Isaac, Joseph, and Moses. They are familiar to so many people, and unfortunately just like the man sitting across the table, people can allow the familiarity to breed contempt.
As someone who was dedicated in a church as a baby, attended Sunday school, youth group, small groups, sermons, summer camps, and even Christian college, and now seminary, there are times where familiar stories can seem redundant. I’ve talked to friends who have heard a pastor merely mention the name of a familiar Bible character and their eyes glaze over and they’ve tuned out. As a pastor I would like to tell you that something like this has never happened to me, but I would be lying. I know all too well what can happen when there’s a familiar story, idea, or theme. The first reaction is, “I already know all of this.” Then a variety of emotions flood over me: apathy, frustration, arrogance, disappointment, and pride (just to name a few). This is not how it should be though.
The Bible is not some virus that our bodies should become inoculated toward. The stories that make the mosaic of Scripture are not one-hit wonders where we hear them and then discard any future worth or value from them. The Bible is living and active, which means that God can bring fresh meaning even from stories we’ve heard our whole lives. It doesn’t matter if we’ve seen the story in Sunday school, read it in our study Bible, and heard 20 sermons about it over the years, there is still something fresh that God can reveal to us because the Word of God is alive.
This was the case for me on Sunday during LifeGroup. As I was leading the discussion questions based on the life of Joseph, we were talking about his relationship with his brothers. While preaching the sermon I was already familiar with the story, but there in the discussion I felt like God was revealing something personal that I hadn’t dealt with or connected to His goodness. As Joseph was talking to his brothers (the ones who had sold him into slavery), he was saying how he would provide for them and in our LifeGroup discussion we started talking about forgiveness.
Even though I had read, studied, written, preached, and started leading the discussion, this story that I’ve heard dozens of times came alive in a new sense. God used that portion of the story to convict me about a person that I had thought I had forgiven. The truth is that I haven’t forgiven the person, it’s just that they’ve been out of my life for 20 years. I asked the group to be praying for me to know how to forgive someone who is no longer a part of my life.
It would have been really easy to glance over the story of Joseph and to blaze through the discussion questions because I was familiar with the story and ideas, but by being open to God’s revelation I have a new area of my life to allow the Holy Spirit to work on. I would have never thought about this if it weren’t for that LifeGroup discussion and being willing to approach a familiar story with fresh eyes.
I know that some in our congregation have heard these stories for decades. Please don’t allow your familiarity to breed contempt toward what God can do through engaging the Scripture with fresh eyes. We have other people in the church who have never read the Bible as a whole, people who are experiencing these stories for the first time. Ask God to use you in their lives, but also to show you things that He wants to do in your life. The story of the Bible is for all of us, no matter how many times we’ve heard these smaller stories, they continue to point us toward our living God who wants to be with us. This week pray for eyes to see something fresh in the stories you may be familiar with. God wants to reveal Himself through every story in Scripture, don’t let familiarity breed contempt.