Imagine you’re tasked with introducing Jesus and the gospel to an entire city of people for the first time. Literally everywhere you go, every person you meet, everything that surrounds you needs the gospel, but so far has had none of it. It’s your job to change that and present everyone with the opportunity to be saved and liberated by the Son of God. Where do you even begin with such a daunting mission? For the apostle Paul he would begin with the people with whom he had the most in common. Paul would find Jewish synagogues and begin preaching Jesus there. Sometimes this was successful, but for the most part Paul was met with hostility instead of hospitality. Wherever Paul went there would be some trouble, but there would also be newfound friends in the faith too! This is the kind of thing men like Paul live for even if it is certain to take their life one day. Whenever I think about the kind of trouble Paul faced when preaching the good news about Jesus and whenever I think about that same kind of trouble coming my way, I like to remind myself about the Bereans. We first meet the Bereans in Acts 17:10-12. Here the BIble says,
"Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men."
What began as a difficult situation in Thessalonica became an opportunity for Paul and Silas in Berea. As a young man invested in the success of the gospel, I’m encouraged to know that there may be a group of fair-minded people, ready to receive the words of God, modern Bereans just around the corner. However, if all I take away from this little description of Paul’s Jewish audience is that other people have much to learn from me, I’ve greatly missed out. This story serves as an encouragement to preachers of the gospel, no doubt, but can we not see how desperately we need more fair-mindedness in our own lives? How do I fare when someone makes bold claims about the Bible that I don’t understand and hurls them my way? Am I prepared to engage in a deep Bible conversation at any given moment even if the topic seems silly or ridiculous? For me, I’d like to think I would welcome these moments as exciting opportunities. After all, how often do modern people of the 21st century engage in deep Bible conversations? How often do we take the strange and unfamiliar things we’ve heard from others and search the Bible on our own time to see if there’s any truth to them? In short, I think we need to be like the Bereans, but how?
We can be like the Bereans when we challenge our baggage.
Sometimes the most elusive concepts, the hardest things to grasp, are the ones we think we know best. Every person brings baggage into their relationships. We bring baggage into our friendships, into marriages, we bring baggage into our relationships with our in-laws, and especially into parenthood. Why should our relationship to the Bible be any different? It isn’t. Make no mistake you and I do impose a series of understandings onto the Bible. We may not realize it and it may not always be dangerous, but it’s there. We should know that it isn’t necessary that we annihilate or destroy these preconceived notions, but we must challenge their validity. If our understanding can be corroborated by some other authoritative source, they are welcome to stay, if not, then they get the boot. We must always challenge the things we think we know about Jesus and the Bible and where we got those ideas in the first place. As followers of Jesus we respect the truth, since Jesus said He is the truth (John 14:6), and we seek to verify or deny the understandings we have on any given topic. This attitude makes us fair-minded like the Bereans!
We can be like the Bereans if we refuse to be yes-men.
While the Bereans were eager to be taught, they were by no means, “yes-men”. The Bereans weren’t great because they took Paul’s word for it, but because they took God’s word for it and saw in Paul’s teaching therein. Paul said to the Ephesian brethren in Ephesians 4:14, "that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting..."
We live in a world filled with great storytellers who like to take their own thoughts and teachings and present them as biblical. For the average person, like you and me, we’re quite susceptible to this kind of teaching, but to the Bible student like that of the 1st century Bereans it’s going to take more than a good story to deceive him into forsaking the truth. Even a man like Paul, inspired by the Spirit to preach the gospel, was scrutinized before he was trusted. To a fair-minded person the word of God is the ultimate authority, that source by which we verify our baggage as biblical or fictional. This leads us to my final point…
We’re like the Bereans when we regularly study the Bible.
Does the apostle Paul strike you as credible? Sure, we think so now as Bible believing, Christ confessors. As a Jew living in Berea, would it be wise to place great religious authority in an excommunicated Bible teacher on the run from the Jews in the next town over? He’s on the run by the way not for lying or stealing, not for cheating or killing. These are great sins, but Paul was being sought out for teaching what the Thessalonian Jews saw as false doctrine. Does this seem like the kind of guy we should be listening to? Probably not from a Jewish perspective, but who said the Bereans cared about Paul’s reputation or his character? The Bereans were recorded in holy scripture as fair-minded because they cared about what the Bible had to say, not the social status of the man saying it. If Paul could teach the Bereans something that they didn’t understand, and it was in accordance with what they read daily in the scriptures, who cares if others have evil things to say? If we adopt the Berean approach to our teachers, we can empower people who have made bad mistakes, or perhaps people who are misunderstood like Paul, to teach the truth anyway. We should never assume that someone’s reputation disqualifies them from knowing something useful! But how do we know if that teaching is useful? It’s a commonly used example by now, but as someone who works at a financial institution, I can confirm that there are many counterfeits out there. The best way to know when you’ve got a counterfeit is to study the real deal regularly. The lengths criminals will go to to cheat banks and businesses using counterfeits is ever evolving, but the real money goes through fewer changes. If we’re studying the word of God which is promised to never change, we’ll be able to confidently deny false teaching and embrace sound teaching even if it’s unfamiliar to us!
What would happen if, instead of calling various denominations and religious groups crazy or delusional, we followed this biblical pattern? We would be certain that we aren’t falling prey to dangerous teachings while at the same time engaging and understanding others with opposing views. Who knows maybe we’re the ones who have it wrong and God has presented us with an opportunity to embrace the truth in ways we may not have considered before.