The Jews in Berea, it is said, were more noble than those in Thessalonica, for “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). How telling–for them and for us–that nobility is measured not by titles, land, parentage, wealth, or degrees, but by how we handle the word of God. Our approach to the Scriptures sets us apart as riff-raff or royalty.
So how do we become better Bereans?
That’s the question I recently posed to my congregation and the question I want to explore this week. How can we be more like the noble Bereans and less like the rabble from Thessalonica (Acts 17:5)?
Let me suggest ten ways: three for today, four for Wednesday, and a final three on Thursday.
1. Listen to the Sermon With an Open Bible
There is no authority we have in the pulpit except in so far as it is derived from the word of God. It worries me when I speak at different places and read through the Scripture text without hearing anyone opening their Bibles (or at least stare down at a screen). I want to say, “You don’t know me. You don’t know if you should listen to me. You don’t know if anything I have to say is worthwhile. I hope you didn’t come to hear me. God is the one worth listening to, and he only speaks by his word. So I’ll wait a few seconds while you grab a Bible.”
Incidentally, you do not want to be at a church where you can listen to sermon after sermon and it doesn’t even matter if your Bible is open. You want to be at a church where the preaching is pulling you in to the text—to see it, to listen to it, to find connections with it. The best stuff in every sermon should arise from the truth you see in the text, not from the illustrations, the stories, or the preacher’s own enlightenment.
In Nehemiah 8:8 it says about the leaders in Jerusalem who came and were teaching the word that “they read from the book, from the law of God clearly, and they gave this sense so people could understand the reading.” In a nutshell, that’s what preaching is. The preacher reads from the book and then explains it clearly so the people can get it.
Ultimately, the only reason to listen to any preacher is because he brings you back to the Scriptures. Hopefully you trust your pastors because you know them personally and can see evidences of grace in their lives. But just being a nice person or a good parent or a sincere teacher does not mean you have any real God-given authority. There are lots of people who are sincere and nice and fine people who do not teach what accords with Scripture. They speak without divine authority.
Test everything. Take your Bible with you. Open it up. Follow along. See for yourself whether everything being taught accords with Scripture.
2. Don’t Rush On From the Word of God to the Rest of Your Life
The Bereans saw Scripture as something that deserved their attention. It merited their time and effort. They examined it daily. They were not skimming; they were searching. And to do that, you have to give yourself unhurried time in the word.
It’s not an absolute rule, but in general careful time in the Bible is better than a large quantity of time. Better to have five to ten minutes of slow, digestive, meditative study than cruising through thirty minutes of not really paying attention.
One of the great dangers for all of us is that the seed of the word of God would be choked out by thorns. Remember the third soil in Jesus’ parable. It seemed to be good. The heart seemed to receive the word and bear fruit. That is, until the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of wealth choked it out and the plant became unfruitful.
How common it is for people to go to church, hear something that speaks to them powerfully, and they will seem to be on fire for God for a few weeks or even a few months. But then what happens? It’s not like they make a conscious decision to stop believing what they once believed or to stop going to church like they once did. Their falling away is not a deliberate choice as much as a bad habit learned through busyness and distraction. These withering plants let their time in the word dry up, fade up, disappear. No more searching. No more lingering. No more unhurried time to see what things are so.
There is a great danger every Sunday that we would be stirred and not changed. We come to church, feel a little something, but it turns out to be nothing but a little Jesus inoculation–just enough of the virus to keep you from getting the real thing. If God is working on you next Sunday, don’t waste it. Don’t rush on from the word to the rest of life. Find someone to pray with you. Have that conversation you need to have. Don’t turn on the football game the second you walk back in the house.
The work of the Lord in our lives is more like a crock pot than a microwave. We want our spiritual growth to be obvious and immediate. But God’s work is often deliberate and imperceptible. Do you want Hot Pockets for lunch or a good, slow cooked, pot roast? Do you want to be mature in Christ? Get in the word and take it slow.
3. Get In the Word as a Way of Life
The Bereans examined the Scriptures daily. They came to the Bible and kept coming back. Is there a frequency and consistency to your spiritual consumption? We will not make progress in godliness without persistence in God’s word.
And why did the Bereans go every day? Presumably, because they wanted answers. They wanted to know the truth. They believed that they would learn something from the Scriptures that they could not learn anywhere else. They wanted to know if Paul’s message was true—that is why they searched daily.
If we are not going be in the word of God with consistency, we have to focus not just on discipline but on faith. Do you struggle to make the Bible a regular part of your routine? Consider what you are not believing about the word? Do we believe it has something relevant to say? Do you believe there are answers to life’s hardest questions in the Bible? Do you think you will find the comfort and presence of Christ in this book? The Bereans went to the Scriptures daily because they were eager to listen to God and they believed the Bible was the place to go to hear his voice.
Why do we check email compulsively? Or Facebook? Or Twitter? Or the old fashioned mailbox? Because we believe there is news for us—there’s something there. Someone may have just put up a sweet video of a cat or a status update about someone who made a nice lemonade. Really important stuff like that. We check because we believe we may hear something relevant and necessary. And yet, what could be more relevant or necessary than God’s word?
Let this truth be a diagnostic tool you and for me: Our behavior with the Scriptures is an indication of our belief about the Scriptures. The Bereans looked into the Bible every day because they expected to find something there. Do we?