#LEARNINGCHURCH - BEREA
Read Acts 17:10-15
Berea was a Macedonian city forty-five miles southwest from Thessalonica along the Via Egnatia. After all the disruption in Thessalonica, Paul and Silas left during the night to find the next place in their journey to bring the gospel to region. What happened at Berea was the polar opposite of what happened when the gospel came to Thessalonica. We are meant to read these two stories side-by-side, comparatively. At Berea, the gospel was welcomed with receptive ears; at Thessalonica with rioting and rejection. Why such a different response? The Berean church is a model for us of what it looks like to be people who are transformed by our encounter with Scripture.
4 Keys to a Transformative Encounter with Scripture
The first key has to do with the kind of character we bring to our reading and listening to the Scriptures. Luke tells us the Bereans were “more noble” than the Thessalonians. The word “noble” originally meant being of noble birth, but came to mean having an open-minded character. Being an open-minded person means not allowing personal bias and prejudice to prevent you from listening to and fairly examining other beliefs and views. In order to be transformed by the Bible, we need to learn to identify and set aside our biases and prejudices so that we are able to listen with an open mind.
But how do we identify our biases? Our personal biases are so intuitive and natural; we can’t see our own. The Thessalonians help us see how we might discover these biases. They reacted in anger to the message of Christianity because of their sense of religious and ethnic superiority. The couldn’t receive the gospel because it challenged their religious and ethnic pride – so they became angry and attacked. What we learn from this is that one key diagnostic to identify our own close-mindedness is our anger. What makes us most angry about other people/groups is often an indicator of where own prejudices and close-mindedness lie.
Contrary to many people’s impressions and (unfortunately) experiences, Acts is telling us that Christianity fosters open-mindedness and is most appealing to open minded people. For Luke, a close-minded Christian is an oxymoron.
Verse 11 tells us the Bereans “received” the word. This is the second key. The word for “received” was used for warmly receiving visitors into a home. The sense here is that they didn’t keep the message of the gospel at arm’s length or at a safe distance but they welcomed it into their lives. Often we approach the bible in a “it’s there if I need it on the periphery of my life” kind of way - the gospel isn’t impacting our real struggles or everyday lives. We can tell this is happening if we find that we are more frequently using the bible as a weapon against others but rarely being challenged ourselves or confessing our sins in response to what we read/hear.
Receiving the bible means learning how to combine our reading and study with prayer. Prayer welcomes the word into our lives. We also need to learn to the bible in community. We would sorely misapply this passage if we thought it said that we are to examine what we hear/learn “just me and the bible”. All the adjectives and verbs in this passage are plural. They describe the character and practices of a community.
3) Slow Inquisitiveness
The Bereans didn’t believe immediately on the spot. They took time to daily examined the Scriptures themselves. Their slow and inquisitive study led them to a transformative faith in the gospel. When we think of having a “transformative encounter” with Scripture we can often have a mistaken picture of what that looks like. We look for sudden and dramatic moments of change. But most often our growth happens like fruit – slow, gradual, eventual. Maturity is the result of patience and steadfastness.
The Bereans also show us that examining the Scriptures (the word was used in judicial contexts for “cross-examining) is not only “allowed” – it leads to transformation. Our questions are not to be ignored or downplayed, they are potential gateways into deeper growth.
The 4th key to the Bereans transformation was the eagerness they had for learning the message that Paul brought. It totally transformed 1) what they expected to find in the bible and 2) how the bible worked to transform. Paul came claiming that the whole bible was about Jesus (Acts 17:1-3). They were eager to see if this was true. We will only be eager to learn if we are convinced that in the Scriptures we but encounter Jesus.
They were also eager to learn how the gospel worked to transform them. Luke tells us women and men of high standing believed. Why? He’s giving us a picture of how the gospel works. People of high standing were brought low (“you are all sinful and in need of a Savior”). People who were oppressed (the women) were affirmed as of equal standing and importance in the gospel. The gospel humbles us & brings us low like no other message BUT at the same time affirms us & lifts us up more than any other message.
1. What about the sermon stood out to you or impacted you most? Do you have any follow up questions about the sermon?
2. Did it surprise you to learn that Acts portrays open-mindedness as a positive character trait? Why is open-mindedness (as defined above) so important for being shaped by the Scriptures?
3. What about people/other groups gets you most angry? How might your anger reveal a sense of superiority or bias? What do you think your own anger reveals about your own character, close-mindedness?
4. How do you warmly welcome and receive the Scriptures into your life? Do you have a community of people that help you understand and apply the Scriptures to your life and struggles?
5. How do you respond to the reality that transformation is almost always slow? Have you taken time to explore your questions regarding your faith or aspects of the Bible? Why or why not?
6. Are you currently at an “eager” place to learn? It was said in the sermon: “the places you are being brought the lowest now -these are the places you are most ready to receive the word” How are you being brought low now? Where are you most in need of affirmation and being lifted? How does the gospel speak to both of these things?