The Noble Bereans

August 08, 2016

by Kent Hughes

In their missionary journey throughout southeastern Europe, Paul and Silas were consistently faced with two responses to their message: reception or rejection. Thessalonica represented the extremes of both responses. It’s in those extremes that hostility broke out in the city and the decision to send them away was made. Moving on meant that same old question would face them: how will this next city respond?

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…(vv. Acts 17:10, 11a)

Some might surmise that the Bereans were more nobly disposed than the Thessalonians because they were off the beaten track and had not fallen prey to the vices of metropolitan living. “We who live in cities can come to some strange conceits.” But verse 11 gives us the true secret of a noble life:

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.

Their “eagerness” carries the idea of rushing forward. They could not wait to receive God’s message! Eagerness makes all the difference in the flavor, quality, and nobility of our Christian lives. J.I. Packer says:

John Owen and John Calvin knew more theology than John Bunyan or Billy Bray, but who would deny that the latter pair knew their God every bit as well as the former? (All four, of course, were beavers for the Bible which counts for far more than a formal theological training.)

The Bible says, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). George Müller read the Bible over 200 times, and that certainly is a primary reason he was such a man of faith. All of us should be constantly reading, digging, cross-referencing, comparing—rushing with eagerness to feed on the Word of the Lord!

Acceptance of teachings without discernment is not a Christian virtue.

The Bereans were “noble” because they “examin[ed] the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” They eagerly but cautiously listened, then compared everything to the touchstone of Scripture. Acceptance of teachings without discernment is not a Christian virtue. Luke congratulated the Bereans because they avoided predigested food, choosing to hunt it out for themselves. If we listen uncritically to only one preacher or read only one author (even if he is C.S. Lewis), we are in danger! We cannot afford not to examine the Scriptures every day.

Though the Bereans were cautious, they also remained open. No one has ever had a silver tongue who did not have a golden ear. Some of the Jews in Thessalonica did not listen, but the Bereans did. The exchange of ideas in modern society has been called “dialogue of the deaf.” In contrast, God’s nobles hear! Consider the mindset of the noble Jonathan Edwards:

Resolved, therefore, that if ever I live to years I will be impartial to hear the reason of all pretended discoveries, and receive them, if rational, how long soever I have been used to another way of thinking.

The Christian life can be most stimulating if we allow ourselves to be learning and growing, continually immersing ourselves in the Scriptures. God’s Word will keep us in touch with the fundamental issues of life and so keep us alive and growing—honorable ambassadors of Jesus Christ!

The Word that Overturns Lives

The outcome of all this was predictable: “Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men” (v. 12). A new royalty was born in Berea!

The noble life had been turned upside-down, or, more accurately, rightside-up. God’s princes and princesses had their lives revolutionized. They kissed the doctrines they once despised and now saw themselves and life as it really is. Once their thoughts were devoted to this world, but now they looked upward.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1)

. . . waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:13)

Old pleasures had taken on new meaning. New pleasures had come to the surface. The Word of God had come alive. They rushed to taste it, and it satisfied their souls.

This can come to pass anywhere! It even happened among the less-than-noble Thessalonians. Listen to some of the opening sentences of 1 Thessalonians, written a short time later:

You became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. (1 Thessalonians 1:7, 8)

And in 2 Thessalonians 1:4 Paul said:

Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.

A pastor friend of mine was in a nice restaurant one day. When the waitress came over to the table, he said, “Have you made the wonderful discovery of knowing Christ personally?” In the conversation she indicated that she had not and began to make excuses—she could not get to church on Sunday because she worked, she would be more comfortable with a Bible in her own language (Romanian), and so on. Since there were not very many people in the restaurant, my friend reached for a copy of the tract Four Steps for Peace with God, but discovered he did not have any with him. So he took a napkin and wrote out the steps and gave it to her. He went on his way but later dropped off a Romanian Bible for her.

At a later date he came back to the restaurant, now very busy. Across the restaurant the waitress saw him and came over to tell him that she was reading the Bible. In fact, she had sometimes read it all night long! Better yet, she had come to know Christ. Then she pulled the napkin out of her pocket, now almost in tatters, and said, “Would you write that down for me again? I have showed this so many times, my napkin is coming apart.” The power of the Word of God had turned another life upside-down.

This piece is adapted from R. Kent Hughes, Acts: The Church Afire (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 225–228. Used with permission of the publisher.

Kent Hughes

Dr. Hughes (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is professor of practical theology at WTS.

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