BELIEVERS AND THE BOOK
10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 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. 12 Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. 13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds. 14 Then the brothers immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea, but Silas and Timothy remained there. 15 Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed.
— Acts 17:10-15, ESV
I tend to be Shakespearean when it comes to church names. If your church smells like a rose, because it gives off the fragrance of the word of God and the gospel, the name does not matter much. You could call us the Hootenanny Hometown Church as long as we stay true to God and His word.
Usually, church names reflect location and affiliation, like ours. Sometimes they convey precedent, like First or Second church. In most cities they stop counting after one or two, but one of my all-time favorite preachers is the late James Montgomery Boice who served the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. I could not tell you who pastored the other nine.
If you’re really holy, or dumb, you name your church after people or places in the Bible. I’ve preached at more than one Corinth Baptist Church, and still cannot understand why some would name a congregation after one known for sex scandals and heresy. Sardis Baptist Church blows my mind, too, for this is the church Jesus pronounced dead in the book of Revelation.
A good name seldom chosen by churches is Berea or Berean. This is the name of a city and people among whom Paul planted a church during his second missionary journey. They stood out to the Apostle Paul, and to Luke, the author of The Book of Acts.
Of course, these converts to Christianity would not have referred to themselves as Bereans (except in the citizenship sense), nor would they have adopted the name Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, or any other such denominational label, for denominations did not exist in the early days of the Apostolic (with a capital A), catholic (with a small c), Christian church. They would have simply thought of themselves as believers in Jesus, followers of Christ, fellow Christians, members together of a new church.
The Berean believers leave us a lasting legacy of what a legitimate loving and saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ looks like. It is a combination of faith, love, and commitment to a person they could not see, and a book which they could. The person, of course, is Jesus, crucified, raised from the dead, and ascended into Heaven two decades before Paul came to their town. The book, as you have guessed by now, is the Bible, which to them consisted of an Old Testament while the New Testament was being written before their eyes.
Believers are predisposed to believe the word of God and the gospel.
Paul’s pattern for preaching the gospel was to go to the Jews first, then the Gentiles. This was not prejudicial, but practical. Not all Jewish synagogue audiences were the same, obviously, and there existed a superiority in the Jews from Berea not found in Paul’s previous audience in Thessalonica.
The text tells us “they were more noble.” The Greek word for “noble” (eugenās) is where we get our English word eugenics. They simply had better genes, or something in their genetic makeup that created a hunger only the word of God and the gospel could fulfill.
Genetics has been used in the most hateful and murderous ways. Chilling tales from true life can be told from the Roman Empire’s arrogance and cruelty to the Old South’s chattel slavery to Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Party to Margaret Sanger’s Planned Parenthood. But the Maker of genes and the God of all races has a more gracious purpose in mind.
In sovereign grace, God has chosen people to be saved (ref. Ephesians 1:4). In providential predestination, He mapped out their place of birth and birth parents, thus determining their genes (ref. Romans 8:28-30). In effectual calling, like Jesus raising Lazarus from the tomb, God sent His word and His gospel to quicken the genes of a Christian, enabling repentance and faith (ref. Romans 9:21-24) to be born again (ref. John 3:3).
We are not “noble” because of our race or wealth or hard work. We are believers because God in His infinite grace and mercy chose us to be a people for Himself (ref. 1 Peter 2:9). And God’s choice of the Berean Christians, or any of the elect, is completely harmonious with the free, willing, and good choices made by those who come to Christ.
Believers are eager to hear the word of God and the gospel.
The first good choice that the Bereans made, even before they were believers, was to regularly and attentively sit themselves down before the word of God in worship. The first Christians in Berea were first Jews who gathered on the Sabbath in the synagogue.
Church attendance was mandatory in the colonial days of America. The powers that be at the time thought everyone could use a little preaching. Some modern Christian families maintain the same rule, sometimes giving kids a “drug” problem, dragging them to church against their will. I would have been against the former, but admit as a parent I practiced the latter, though my girls always seemed to want to be in God’s house.
When the Bereans heard Paul preach the gospel in their synagogue, “they received the word with all eagerness.” Literally, it fired them up, peaked their interest, gave them hope. Remember the two disciples who walked with the post-resurrected Jesus on the Emmaus Road (ref. Luke 24:13-25)? They had a little holy heartburn, too.
Whatever fires you up is what has grabbed your mind, heart, and soul. If life is a bore except when you get that paycheck in your hand, then your life is about money, and the things money can buy. If you only get excited when your team wins its second consecutive college football national championship, but you fail to fervently worship the Lord God and the Lord’s Day, then football is your god. But if you have been chosen by God, and chosen to be a fully devoted follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, then nothing is as interesting and important in this whole world than the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Believers are able to interpret the word of God and the gospel.
Real Christians love homiletics (preaching) and practice hermeneutics (interpretation of Scripture). Like those early Bereans, they are always “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things are so.” Like Reagan in his days with the Russians, you should trust credentialed pastors and preachers of the Bible, but always verify what is preached or taught with the spiritual and intelligent study of the Bible for yourself.
I listened recently to a popular, unholy TV preacher. The ground he was covering was Noah and the flood in Genesis 6. He claimed the flood is debt, discouragement, ill health, or any other obstacle to accomplishing your dreams. He said the ark is positive thinking, faith, and of course a donation to his favorite charity, himself. On the contrary, the flood is the wrath of God against sinners, and the ark is salvation by sovereign grace through obedient faith in God’s word.
Holy people have the Holy Spirit to help them interpret Holy Scripture. When the Berean Christians were said to be “examining the Scriptures,” it means they were analyzing them, searching for facts, not feelings, using sound principles of interpretation combined with genuine faith in the gospel, believing Jesus is the glue that binds together every teaching of Scripture.
The word gives us the gospel, and the gospel makes sense of the word. Jesus redeems the fallen in creation, Jesus is every sacrificial offering, Jesus is the promised Messiah, Jesus is the author of a new and better covenant, Jesus is the living Lord, and Jesus will return to share His new heaven and earth with every chosen believer who has chosen to trust God and His word.
Believers withstand the persecution caused by the word of God and the gospel.
For the new believers in Berea, Heaven had come to their souls, then all Hell broke loose. Those less than noble Thessalonian Jews came to town to persecute Paul and anyone who had accepted his message of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus. We know it was bad for the “crowds” turned against the Christians, as they always do, and Paul had to escape 300 miles away to Athens.
Persecution followed Paul like a blitzing Bulldog linebacker pursues an overmatched quarterback. Only Paul was never overmatched, nor were the true Christians he left in his wake. In Berea the church stood strong, as can every congregation chained to the authority of Scripture and the necessity of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Christianity is not bibliolatry. But, little or no regard for the Bible is not Christianity. Name the church anything. But, name every one of the sixty-six books in the Bible, and count them as trustworthy and true. Name the name that is above every name, the Lord Jesus Christ, and crown Him King of His church and Lord of your life. Believe the book, the book will lead you to believe in Jesus, Jesus will lead you to love the book even more, the book will lead you to love Jesus even more, and so forth and so on it goes, for a believer and the book.