We are studying Paul's second missionary journey, which is recorded in five chapters in the middle of the book of Acts. He has crossed the Aegean Sea to Philippi, where he preached the Gospel, was beaten and imprisoned, and founded a church. He is then run out of Philippi and goes to Thessalonica where he goes into the synagogue, preaches the Gospel, and establishes a church there. As usual, the Jews cause a riot:
But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and coming upon the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people. (Acts 17:5 NASB)
So the believers send Paul away by night:
And the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea; and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. (Acts 17:10 NASB)
Paul and his company proceeded overland southwest from Thessalonica for a distance of about fifty miles to the small city of Berea. Berea is described by Cicero as an "out-of-the-way town," but all that he means is that it is located off the Egnatian Way. The city is located on the eastern side of Mount Olympus near Pella, the birthplace of Alexander the Great. It had a community of Jews and a synagogue.
The picture Luke paints of this Jewish community at Berea is one that depicts Judaism at its best, the way God intended for His people to be:
Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so. (Acts 17:11 NASB)
Luke seems to want us to view Berea in contrast to Thessalonica, rather than in terms of comparison. One contrast is to be seen in the size of these two places. Thessalonica was a large, major city; Berea, so far as we can tell, was a small town.
Another contrast is in the way they responded to the Word of God. The word "noble-minded" comes from the Greek eugeneis from which we get our English word "eugenics." The Greek word means: "well born or high born." In Luke 19:12 the word is translated "nobleman." In Greek and Biblical understanding, to be eugenos primarily was to be "of noble birth," but it can also refer to noble character. It is clearly used in the latter sense in our verse.
To understand the Bereans' noble character, we have to remember what we saw in the beginning of Acts 17 about the Thessalonians. It is in contrast with these Thessalonians that verse 11 praises the noble character of the Bereans. The virtue of the Bereans was the opposite of the vice of the Thessalonians in that the Bereans "received the word with great eagerness," unlike some of the Jews at Thessalonica, the Bereans did not doubt or resist the Gospel message, and they did not persecute the preachers or give them a hard time. The Bereans were noble in character, not because they were suspicious or hard to convince, but because they were teachable and receptive to the Gospel.
The noble-minded Jews of Berea were looking for Messiah and did not need to be convinced of anything other than the fact that Jesus was the promised Messiah. These Jews "received the word with great eagerness." They obviously loved the Word of God and sought to live by it. It was a maxim among the Jews, that "none was of a noble spirit who did not employ himself in the study of the law." Paul seemed to have to work hard to convince any Jews in Thessalonica. Luke speaks of Paul's ministry there as "reasoning," "explaining," and "giving evidence," and those who believed as having been "persuaded." The same effort is not required at Berea.
The Greek word translated "received" means: "to receive by deliberate and ready acceptance of what is offered." W. E. Vine says the word in this context connotes "favorable reception of testimony and teaching" (p. 927). They thought about the word, meditated on it, and openly embraced the truth of God's Word. Luke writes, "received the Word 'with great eagerness.'"
Receiving the Word then and now means a willingness and an eagerness to hear what God says on any topic. We see this same word used in:
Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21 NASB)
This verse gives us the theme of the book of James. The phrase "save your souls" is the Greek phrase "sozen ten psuche," which is a standard and normal way of saying, "to save your life." There is no text in the Greek Bible where it can be shown to have the meaning, "to save the soul from damnation."
James has been talking about the death dealing consequences of sin:
Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. (James 1:13-15 NASB)
I don't think that this is referring to spiritual death, because that is a result of the fall. I think it is best to see this here as referring to physical death. In 1:21, he suggests that the antidote to that kind of consequence is the life saving capacity of God's Word. Remember, James is a Jewish Epistle and in the First Testament the theme is frequently repeated, "Righteousness leads to life."
Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. 22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. (James 1:21-22 NASB)
James is saying here that they will be saved from the destruction that sin brings if they are doers of the Word. And it all starts by "receiving" the Word.
Although the Bereans were eager to hear from God, they were not at all foolish or gullible people. Their attitude was, "You have brought us a good message, let us also see it from the Scriptures."
I want you to pretend for a moment that you are a first-century Berean Jew. Now suppose one Saturday a stranger comes into your synagogue and addresses the congregation. He says that his name is Paul, and he brings you the exciting news that the long-awaited Messiah has finally come! No, he didn't actually restore the kingdom to Israel, as expected. In fact He was murdered a few decades ago by the Romans. But, Paul says, that this is exactly what was supposed to happen to the Messiah, and he seems to prove it from Scripture. So now what do you do? If you are of noble character, you begin to search the Scriptures yourself to see if what Paul said is true.
Luke tells us that these Jews at Berea were, "Examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so." The word "examining" comes from the Greek anakrino, and means: "to investigate." The word is used in the New Testament of judicial investigations. We see an example of this in:
And Pilate summoned the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, "You brought this man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion, and behold, having examined Him before you, I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him. (Luke 23:13-14 NASB)
The scriptures, which the Bereans were investigating so diligently, were the Hebrew Scriptures, the First Testament. Paul's preaching about Jesus had to harmonize with the predictions of the First Testament prophets. The Bereans wanted to make sure that what Paul was preaching was indeed the truth of God's word. So they examined the scriptures daily. We all need to be following the example of the Bereans and search the scriptures daily.
Think about this: the Bereans were taught by the most famous apostle and theologian of the early church, and the human author of at least 13 New Testament books. They may have heard about him casting the demon out of the slave girl, and the prison being destroyed as they sang praises to God. Yet, they searched the Scriptures when Paul taught, to see if his teaching was truly Biblical! They would not accept Paul's word at face value, but wanted to know if these things were so. When they heard Paul teach, their settled reaction wasn't, "This guy has lost his mind." It wasn't, "This is a heretical doctrine, a suffering Messiah." Instead, the Bereans wanted to know, "Are these things so? Is this man teaching us the truth? Let's search the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things are so."
Was it right for the Bereans to check up on Paul? R.B. Theme, a preacher out of Texas, said, "The Bereans were jackasses, they had no business checking up on the preacher." Why would he say that? Were the Bereans out of line to go to the Scripture to check up on the message that Paul was preaching? No, they were not. Why did Theme say this about the Bereans? He said it because he wanted his people to blindly believe whatever he said. It was a form of psychological manipulation.
Notice that the Bereans response to this strange teaching was to examine the Scriptures. It doesn't say they asked their rabbi, or discussed it with their friend who is an expert on the Messiah. They went to the Bible, which is the only inspired document there is. They searched the Scriptures, i.e. of the First Testament, to see whether these thing were so; to see whether the promises and types corresponded with the alleged fulfilment in the person, works, and sufferings of Jesus Christ.
We do not know that a man's teaching is correct just because he is on the radio or television, or because of where and how much he has studied, or any other factor, until he has spoken, and we have examined the Scriptures for ourselves to see if his teaching squares with the Word of God as a whole.
It is the Scripture, and Scripture alone, that is the final judge of all teaching. This is the principle taught by the reformers as "Sola Scriptura." This is the idea that the Scriptures are the only authority for sinful man in seeking truth about God. "Sola Scriptura" is foundational to Christianity. In the words of reformer Martin Luther, the doctrine of Sola Scriptura means: "What is asserted without the Scriptures or proven revelation may be held as an opinion, but need not be believed."
One of the major differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestants pertains to their views of Scripture. The Roman Catholic Church has believed and taught for centuries that only the Pope and other Scripture specialists can reliably interpret the Bible. Such an attitude led the Catholic Church to restrict the Bible's access to common people--including the so-called "lay members" of their own fellowship. For example, Martin Luther was trained as a Catholic priest, but had never seen a complete copy of the Bible until he had earned a doctorate and was teaching at the University of Wittenberg. When he discovered a copy of the whole Bible in the university library, he was enthralled and declared: "If I could have a Bible for my own, I would desire no other earthly treasure."
The Bibles in early Catholicism were in Latin--a language the common man could not read. Luther brought down on his head the wrath of the powerful and politically motivated Catholic Church by translating the Bible into German. Some men, such as, John Wycliffe, who wanted the Bible in the language of their own people--whether German, English, Dutch, or French--had to pay with their lives for translating or attempting to translate God's word.
The Catholic Church would still prefer their people to allow the Pope and his official representatives to interpret the Bible. Roman Catholicism cannot survive the test of Scripture.
The Bereans were characterized by a great confidence in the Word of God, as God's authoritative source of revelation and as the standard by which all teaching and conduct should be appraised. In fact, there are a lot of Christians who call themselves
Bereans, because they like to identify with these noble folks. This is why we named this Church "Berean Bible Church," we wanted this church to be known for its diligent, daily searching of the Scriptures. We all need to seek to be Bereans in our handling of the Word of God. Let us ask God to give us the love and eagerness to study God's Word and to test the teachings of all men.
Sadly, in our day, not many believers have the Berean spirit. George Gallup contends that fewer than 10 percent of evangelical Christians could be called deeply committed. He says that the majority that profess Christianity don't know basic teachings and don't act differently because of their Christian experience.
Most Christians today don't know their Bibles, they don't examine them daily or even weekly. They hear things taught, and they believe them without ever searching the Scriptures. Ask your average Christian, "What is God like?" What is the first thing they will tell you? "God is love"! Is that true? Yes, it is absolutely the truth:
The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:8 NASB)
To say that God is love is the truth, but is it the whole truth? No! Love is one attribute of God, but He has many others: holiness, mercy, grace, justice, omniscience, immutability, wrath, sovereignty, and on and on we could go.
God's attributes are His characteristics, excellencies, or qualities exercised visibly in His work of creation, providence, and redemption. We call them attributes, not because we add them to the essence of God, but rather because they inhere in Him. They were and ever will be His. They tell us something about God's substance, His invisible essence.
Apart from an objective standard, we can make God to be anything we want. What is our objective standard? The Bible! The Bible is the self revelation of God. If we are going to know God, we must learn of Him from the Scriptures. This is why we must be like the Bereans and examine them daily. The problem is that most everyone believes in a "god" of their own invention. They have made up a "god" that they are comfortable with--a "god" who is only love. He loves everybody and puts up with everything. He's just a nice gentle old man! This is not the God of the Bible!
Is it right for us to pick out one attribute that we like about God and reduce Him to that attribute only? No, when we do this, we have created a God of our own liking. This is idolatry! Believing the wrong thing about God is idolatry. When we think of idolatry, we think of somebody in a mud hut with a little god on his table that he bows down to. Or we think of a pagan temple, very elaborate and ornate with a lot of people burning incense. But idolatry is much broader than that. Idolatry is simply thinking something about God that is untrue of Him. It is postulating anything about God that is not right. In its fullest stage, it is creating a god. In its secondary stage, it is making the God Who is into something that He isn't. And maybe in its third level, which even Christians are guilty of, it is thinking thoughts about God that are untrue of Him.
God is not only love, God is also a God of WRATH. The wrath of God is a prominent truth in the Scriptures. A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury, and wrath of God, than there are to His love and tenderness.
What is God's wrath? First, we must understand that God's wrath is not like ours. Wrath to us may suggest a loss of self-control, an outburst which is partly, if not wholly, irrational. God's wrath in the Bible is never capricious, self-indulgent, or irritable. God's wrath in the Bible is always judicial. It is the wrath of a judge administering justice. Each person gets exactly what he deserves.
Wrath denotes God's resolute action in punishing sin. It is the active manifestation of His hatred of moral evil. God is Holy, and His holiness demands that He not tolerate unholiness.
In Old Covenant times, God not only displayed His wrath toward rebellious Israelites, He also demonstrated His wrath against wicked pagans. He destroyed the inhabited earth by means of the flood (Genesis 6-9). He also destroyed the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). And after the exodus, He employed the nation Israel to destroy the wicked Canaanites for their sin, just as He had indicated earlier to Abraham (Genesis 15:12-16):
"When the LORD your God shall bring you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and shall clear away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you, 2 and when the LORD your God shall deliver them before you, and you shall defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them. 3 "Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. 4 "For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and He will quickly destroy you. 5 "But thus you shall do to them: you shall tear down their altars, and smash their sacred pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire. (Deuteronomy 7:1-5 NASB)
"And you shall consume all the peoples whom the LORD your God will deliver to you; your eye shall not pity them, neither shall you serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you. (Deuteronomy 7:16 NASB)
The Israelites were to be the instrument of God's wrath toward these Canaanites. They were to show no mercy. They must not allow any of the Canaanites to live. This was for Israel's own good. If allowed to live, the Canaanites would most certainly intermarry with the Israelites and also teach them to sin, duplicating the very sins for which God was pouring out His wrath upon them.
Believers, if we are going to know the God of the Bible, we must read the Bible. We have to spend time in it to learn of our God. Don't believe everything that you hear, examine the Scripture.
Alright let's go back to Acts:
Many of them therefore believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men. (Acts 17:12 NASB)
"Many of them therefore believed"--Therefore! That's the necessary inference from searching the Scriptures daily. If a person searched the Scriptures daily, you can be sure that God the Holy Spirit will give His objective, yet internal testimony, that the Scriptures are true and that the Gospel is true, and that one may have salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
That they believed is distinctly attributed to the fact that they "searched the Scriptures," showing again that faith comes by hearing by the Word of God.
The word "believed" is unquestionably used in this context of men and women who obeyed the Gospel and became New Testament Christians. Paul specifically mentions "honorable women." These women were apparently leading ladies in Berea, but we are not told any more about them.
I think it's interesting that we've had a reference to the women's response in Thessalonica and Berea. This is one of the little implicit evidences of the legitimacy of these accounts, because we know from history that the women of Thessalonica and Philippi and Berea and Athens had a bit more freedom than others on the other side of the Aegean. And so, it's not surprising to read that reference is made here to their responsiveness to the preaching of the apostle.
But when the Jews of Thessalonica found out that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea also, they came there likewise, agitating and stirring up the crowds. (Acts 17:13 NASB)
"But when the Jews"--once again we find these words. Every time we see Paul preaching, the next thing we see is, "But the Jews." Somehow, word reached the Jews at Thessalonica that Paul had been very successfully preaching the Gospel at Berea. The fact that many Jews believed and joined him must have been especially aggravating. These Thessalonican Jews, or at least a delegation of them, set out for Berea, where they proceeded to re-create the same unrest and turmoil which they had successfully instigated in their own city.
The Greek word translated "agitating" is used literally of earthquakes in Acts 4:31; 16:26. They stirred up the crowd. They probably accused him of the same crime. They probably said that he did not obey Roman law, which is what they accused him of in Thessalonica.
These troublemakers stirred up the crowds against Paul, just as had been done before in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:45, 50), Iconium (Acts 14:2, 5), and Lystra (Acts 14:19) on the first missionary journey, and in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5-8) on the second missionary journey. This is now the fifth city Paul has been run out of by an angry mob, stirred up by envious Jewish leaders.
And then immediately the brethren sent Paul out to go as far as the sea; and Silas and Timothy remained there. (Acts 17:14 NASB)
Luke tells us that the saints in Berea sent Paul out "as far as the sea." Some think that Paul then sailed to Athens, while others feel that this was but a diversionary move, and that Paul then traveled by land to Athens. In any case, he reached Athens safely and sent instructions back with the Berean brethren who had accompanied him that Silas and Timothy should join him soon. They apparently had stayed behind to help strengthen the new converts. The persecution, it seems, was directed principally against Paul.
Not only does Paul leave behind a newly planted church to be nurtured by Silas and Timothy, but his escape will take him to Athens, the center of Greco-Roman culture and Greek religion. Paul's progress is like wildfire; try to stamp it out in one place and it crops up in another.
So now churches had been established in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. The Gospel had gained a foothold in three different cities in Greece.
Have you ever wondered why Paul wrote letters to certain places, and why he didn't write letters to other places? You never hear another word about Berea in the Bible, but you hear a lot about Thessalonica. Why did Paul write no letter to Berea? I don't really know. No one really knows. But let me suggest to you a possibility. When a church is busy studying the Word of God, and examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things are so, psychiatrists will move to other towns. Psychologists with Biblical backgrounds will go to other parts of the city; for they will not be able to support themselves by those who come from that particular congregation.
This text challenges us all to be "Bereans." The noble-mindedness of the Berean Jews is surely set before us an ideal as a goal for every Christian. And remember the Christians in Berea only had the First Testament. We, on the other hand, have the whole Bible. What are we doing with it?
There are few greater privileges than to have the Bible in one's own language. Over 450 years ago Erasmus expressed a hope that some day the farmer, as he followed the plough, and the weaver, as he sat at the loom, would cheer themselves with the message of Scripture. The thought burned in the heart of William Tyndale who longed to give English-speaking people the Bible in their own tongue.
Today more than half the languages of the world have no portion of Scripture at all. This includes about 150 million people. To have the Scriptures in our own language with a ready access to them and complete freedom to study them--these are great privileges.
The Bible is a revelation of what God in Christ has done, what He promises and what He requires. The Christian's great passion is to know the mind of Christ, to understand His Person and His will for His disciples. If I am passionately concerned to know Jesus, where else can I go? "Search the Scriptures," Jesus tells me, for there alone is the authoritative revelation of what God in Christ is and what are His demands upon me.
I think that we all need to have a plan for our daily Bible reading. If you have a plan to guide you, then you will make progress. If you don't have a plan, you will never read the Bible. You may read parts, but never the whole Book, and you will never gain that familiarity with it which is so necessary if you are to benefit from the fulness of its message.
Samuel Annesley, John Wesley's grandfather, at the age of five or six began to read twenty chapters a day and continued that throughout his life. Arthur Pink wrote to a friend: "In my early years . . . I read through the entire Bible three times a year (that would be eight chapters in the Old Testament and two in the New Testament daily). I steadily persevered in this for ten years in order to familiarize myself with its contents, which can only be done by consecutive reading." ("Letters of A. W. Pink," p.23; Banner of Truth). Few Christians today have the stamina for such a scheme.
The chief aim of studying the Scriptures is not the amount read or even the reading itself. The aim is to know God. There are many precious things we will never see unless we read the Word of God in large chunks. We would never read fifteen lines of any other piece of literature and then set it aside, believing that we had thus satisfied the author's original intentions. To see the whole massive movement of Biblical thought, the Scriptures need to be read frequently and from Genesis to Revelation. The Christian must be content with nothing less. He will not understand the individual verses unless he has the framework of knowledge which a larger acquaintance with Scripture provides. The more he reads, the more comprehensible the Bible becomes.
Everybody wants a shortcut to Bible knowledge. They want a gimmick. They want a formula. They want three easy lessons to master the Bible. There is no shortcut. It takes time and work to understand the Scriptures.
It cost a lot of blood, sweat, and tears for you to have your Bible. Many of those who wrote it gave their lives to say what they had to say. Those who have preserved it in history went to extraordinary efforts, copying it meticulously, preserving it, saving it, defending it, loving it, in order for it to last century after century under attack.
Now that Bibles are readily available and very inexpensive, what are we doing with our Bibles? What are we doing with the great freedom we have to read and to study the Bible? The Scriptures are sufficient for us, for our salvation, and for our Christian life. May God help us to realize that and to do what those Bereans did, examine them daily.
We should have the attitude that Job had:
"I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food. (Job 23:12 NASB)
I think this is why Job did such a great job dealing with the tremendous trials he faced, he loved God's Word.
World starvation is tragic. Often we hear reports that thousands starve to death daily. Television specials on the trouble and tragedies of the world break our hearts. But as sad as this is, there is an even greater tragedy. We should be weeping for ourselves. The Christian community is a starving, illiterate people. Believers are living lives of frustration and discontent. The only cure is for God's people to take the study and application of His Word seriously. After all God has done for you, is it too much to ask that you spend a time each day reading and studying His Word?
|Continue the Series|