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On his second missionary journey, Paul made a sudden detour to Berea after the fledgling Christian church in Thessalonica was violently threatened. While Paul’s plan may have been disrupted, his pattern of ministry was not: in Berea he continued his established method of reasoning from the Scriptures in the synagogues with Jews and other God-fearers. There is not a lot told to us about the people of Berea except that they 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” (Acts 17:11).
Luke clearly admired their enthusiasm for the Word, and Christians for centuries after have admired the same. To this day, it is not odd to find their name adopted by congregations. In my own city, we have a Berean Baptist Church. Colleges have taken on these Berean Jews as their namesake, and settlers in Kentucky hundreds of years ago named their small village Berea—now it’s the fastest-growing city in the state. While we don’t know a whole lot about this group of God-fearers in Berea, we know enough to model ourselves after them in at least three ways.
The Attitude We Have toward the Word
First is in the attitude that we give to Scripture. The Bereans “received the word with all eagerness.” The Greek word here, prothumia, means “readiness of mind.” It doesn’t mean that they were naive, willing to accept anything. But they were leaning in and expecting something great to come from God’s Word. They anticipated that it would speak to them, guide them, and not fail them.
We struggle with that eagerness, don’t we? Often, we approach the Scriptures like a child approaches the spoonful of cough syrup being offered to her. But we should approach the Word with the joy of the psalmist, who said it is “sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb” (Ps. 19:10). The Bereans viewed God’s Word as a great gift. That’s why they “received” it—they took what was given them. They received with a thankful, eager, and expectant attitude because what comes from God’s hand is always good. If we come to God’s Word with eager expectation, we will not treat it flippantly.
The Attention We Give to the Word
Second, we should follow the Bereans in the attention we give to Scripture: they were “examining the Scriptures daily” (Acts 17:11). This is a natural outworking of the first point. Their examination was not a casual acquaintance. It was an investigation. The Greek word used here, anakrinō, can refer to judicial inquiry. Luke uses it to describe Pilate’s interrogation of Jesus (Luke 23:14).
I am a great skimmer. My grandma taught me that trick when I was still in elementary school. “Read the first and last sentence of each paragraph, and if it makes sense move on,” she said. She shared that and other great tips (that I won’t share here, lest you employ them while reading this article) that helped me read a lot more books than I would have been able to otherwise. But the attention I give a work of fiction, or even the greatest theological tome out there, can in no way compare to the attention I must give the only book ever written by a divine Author. The Westminster Larger Catechism unpacks that attention for us:
Q. 157. How is the Word of God to be read?
A. The holy Scriptures are to be read with an high and reverent esteem of them; with a firm persuasion that they are the very Word of God, and that he only can enable us to understand them; with desire to know, believe, and obey the will of God revealed in them; with diligence, and attention to the matter and scope of them; with meditation, application, self-denial, and prayer.
For the Bereans, their attentiveness to the Word is described not just in terms of how they read the Bible but also how often they read it. They examined the Scriptures daily. Perhaps some people feel that there is an artificiality to insisting that one should have regular time in God’s Word, reading it and meditating on it. This may be a reaction to a forced (and empty) practice of the fundamentalism of yesteryear. But there is no denying it, and we shouldn’t try to excuse our way out of the reality that both Scripture and experience attest to: the best of Christians, the most faithful of Christians, the most mature of Christians, have spent more time in God’s Word, not less.
The Authority We Recognize in the Word
Finally, we can learn from the Bereans in the authority over men that they recognize in God’s Word. The Bereans “examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” What “things”? Paul’s preaching. Even someone like the great Apostle is not over or above the Bible. This perspective was recovered at the time of the Reformation, in response to the medieval church that had elevated the authority of the church to be equal with the authority of God’s Word. In response, Martin Luther said: “We must make a great difference between God’s Word and the word of man. A man’s word is a little sound that flies into the air, and soon vanishes; but the Word of God is greater than heaven and earth, yea, greater than death and hell, for it forms part of the power of God, and endures everlastingly.”
That’s why true churches strive to emphasize the Word of God in every aspect of the ministries, but especially in their preaching. When the Bible is preached faithfully, we can be certain that what we are hearing and receiving is true.
So let us believe that we are wretched sinners. Believe that the wages of sin is death. But also believe that the grace of Jesus is greater than all our sin, and that through faith in Him we can have everlasting life. Don’t believe it because I’m telling you; believe it because God tells us this.