In the circles I traveled as a young believer they were lifted up as the gold standard for sermon follow-up. Though their time in Scripture’s spotlight was pretty brief, they’ve had a long lasting impact when it comes to being an example of what to do with teaching that sounds new or, perhaps, doesn’t quite align with what you’ve believed. What to do when somebody opens the word of God and seems to shed some light you haven’t seen before. They are the Bereans.
The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed . . .
(Acts 17:10-12a ESV)
Paul and Silas ended up in Berea because they weren’t welcome in Thessalonica. In Thessalonica, those who thought they had a handle on God’s revelation hit the wall after three Sabbaths of meetings with Paul the itinerant rabbi . That’s all, three weeks. Three weeks of listening to Paul and Silas reason and explain from the Scriptures why the Messiah had to be a suffering Messiah and why the Jesus they proclaimed was the promised Anointed One. Three weeks during which some believed and received the gospel’s message and started following Christ by following Paul.
But also three weeks of growing jealousy among those who thought they had the corner on truth and that they should be the ones being followed (17:5). The religious elite didn’t like an alternative view presented to the way they had divided the Scriptures. And they really didn’t like that their influence was being undermined by these strangers with their strange teaching. And so they ran Paul and Silas out of town.
Enter Berea. That’s what Paul and Silas did, they entered Berea. And there too they went to the place where the Scriptures were revered and taught. There too they proclaimed the gospel. There too they reasoned from the Scriptures concerning the Christ. And there too some believed.
But there in Berea, unlike Thessalonica, the Jews, the religious leaders of Berea I take it, took a different approach to what was being taught. A “more noble” approach the Holy Spirit says. A higher approach based on a lower self-image. A more fair-minded approach unencumbered by trying to protect some sense of self-worth. A more open approach unrestricted by self-righteous know-it-all-ism. There they patiently tested the teaching rather than arrogantly trashing it.
The Bereans eagerly received the word as it was opened before them. They were open to what these traveling preachers were proclaiming. More than that, they were jazzed to consider afresh what it was the prophets were trying to foretell. And so, they leaned in. They took notes. And then? Well, it’s the “then” that makes these Bereans the gold standard. Then they opened up the Word and investigated the Scriptures themselves to see if what was being taught was something worth being caught.
Though the passages being preached were familiar, they didn’t consider that they knew it all. While they held their own convictions concerning God’s revelation, they were humble enough to recognize that they may not have had the full counsel of God completely figured out. Though this new teaching on the nature of Messiah’s deliverance didn’t quite align with what they’d always thought, they were open to taking it in and then working it out. And so, they’d go away and, with open eyes and open hearts, they’d open the Scriptures and trust the Holy Spirit to open their understanding.
How we need to be like the Bereans. Not that we should expect new revelation, but that we might be open to different interpretation and/or application. That when the word is preached in a way that maybe doesn’t quite align with what we’ve always believed, unless there’s a reason to suspect the preacher or teacher, we eagerly receive the proclamation of God’s word and then take it away and do our homework to see if perhaps God has graciously provided another gem for us to mine and place in our Scripture treasure chest.
To be sure, there are some foundational truths for which we too need to be ready to run people out of town if they proclaim a lesser Christ or a different gospel. But maybe for many of the things we tend to stop our ears at, we’d be better off to be like the Bereans even if it doesn’t alter our opinion. To humble ourselves. To recognize the propensity for bias and cry out, “Word of God speak.” To examine the Scriptures for ourselves to see if these things are so. To be like the Bereans.
Because of God’s grace. For God’s glory.