Being the emissary of Christ to the Gentiles was not a cushy assignment on some resort island. Even though Paul spent most of his career as an apostle around the Mediterranean, he did not have the leisure to enjoy the sun, sand and scenery of that picturesque place. Often he was driven out of one place only to find little hospitality in the next. Sometimes he was the “guest” of the local law enforcement establishment as in Philippi. Once he was transported across the sea as a prisoner of the Roman government. On that trip, the weather turned bad and he and all aboard the ship, (“We were in all 276 persons in the ship,” Act 27:37), were cast ashore on one of those small islands.
One bright spot in the apostle’s peregrinations was the city of Berea whose Jewish citizens were said to have been more noble than those in Thessalonica who had just run him out of town (Acts 17:11). The IVP calls it “…this off-the-beaten-path” city of Berea.” (IVP Commentary, Acts 17:10-15). So unusual was this trait of character that it merits special notice from Luke, the historian. This trait has become so respected that the name “Berea” has become legendary, a synonym for open, fair mindedness – a willingness to consider evidence for a thing carefully and objectively. What was it about the Bereans that marked them as being exceptional?
First, they received the gospel eagerly – with all readiness of mind. “They eagerly welcomed the message” (CJB). “They were so glad to hear the message…” (ERV). “They were very willing to receive God’s message…” (GW). “…they received the word with all diligence” (JUB). “The Jews received Paul’s message with enthusiasm” (MSG).
As Jews, they had long been awaiting this very message that the Messiah had come in fulfillment of the prophetic promises. When the apostle announced the fact of His coming, they readily accepted this good news. Their hope and the hope of all the Jews was being fulfilled and they were to be sharers in the blessings of forgiveness and of Christ’s restorative rule over His new creation. And as they would soon learn, the blessings of this promised Messiah were not for them alone but for all of humanity.
Second, they investigated for themselves whether the things Paul was preaching were according to the scriptures. They were not willing to simply take his word for what he was saying – they wanted to find out for themselves. They were confident that the scriptures were the word of God and would either confirm Paul’s preaching or expose it as a falsehood. Therefore, they put the things they were hearing to the test, comparing and testing, making sure that they were not being led astray.
While most Christians consider the Berean spirit admirable, this openness to investigation of new ideas is far from being a common thing even in this supposedly enlightened age. Some people automatically judge anything different from what they have always believed to be false. They are so confident that the things they believe are true that they are unwilling to test those ideas to see whether they are true or not. The Bereans, confronted with teaching that was new to them, did not gullibly accept that teaching, but sought to either validate it or discredit it by comparing it with what they knew to be true. they received the message, but were willing to “check it out” to see whether it was true or not. Honesty and fairness demands no less of us today. It is such that marked the Bereans as being of noble character.
How would that nobility look today? Would we recognize a noble person in our day? We live in a world of vastly differing teachings and ideas, all competing for our attention – clamoring to be accepted. How can we possibly evaluate all of them? Should we even try?
Since that rosy vision did not come to fruition, people became disillusioned with the promise of an earthly utopia, a kind of heaven on earth. In this postmodern world there is a kind of cynical pessimism in which there is no such thing as absolute truth. Everything is relative. Truth is what you want it to be. Anyone who makes a claim to represent truth is automatically suspect. The noble person (if there is such a conception today) is a person who stands for nothing and condemns anyone who makes a claim for objective truth.
The Bereans were seekers after truth. They went to what they knew to be the reliable standard by which to judge the message they were hearing. That same standard is available for people today to judge what is represented to them as truth. It is just as reliable today as it was two thousand years ago. We can go to the Bible to determine whether what we hear is from God or from men.
But nobility demands that we approach the Bible honestly and openly, allowing it to say to us what it has to say. Too many approach it with preconceptions of what they think it ought to say. Or they utilize some formula they suppose will yield the results they are looking for. The real result of this type of approach to the Bible is that it is forced to say what people think it means. This is dishonest. It is wresting (twisting) the scriptures.
The noble person is looking for what God has to say to him. He is not interested in telling God what he wants to hear from Him. If the end result of his search is different from what he previously thought he is willing to change in order to align himself with what he finds truth to be.
Have you seen any noble people lately?
Co-authored with Bill Van Dyke, Ph.D, Give Me Liberty: Restoring the Spirit of Jubilee examines the mission of Christ as viewed from the fulfillment of Jubilee and how legalism robs the church community of the joy Jubilee brings.
A Better Way is an exploration and critique of the traditional method of determining Bible authority and suggestions for a better approach to understanding the Bible.