In the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college, I was on a college ministry team that traveled around the Northeast USA spending 10 weeks ministering at summer camps. One week we served at Camp Berea in Maine. Camp Berea gets its name from the people we’re going to meet today as we continue studying Acts 17. Why? Because the description of the people in Berea is what the camp wanted its campers to become: good listeners of sermons.
Really? A camp wanted its campers to be good listeners of sermons? Well, kinda. Keep reading, and I think you’ll see what I’m getting at.
In the previous post, we learned that Paul and Silas were forced to leave the city of Thessalonica under cover of night. They travel to Berea, about 45 miles, a full day’s walk. There they enter the Jewish synagogue, and something extraordinary happens. See for your self in Acts 17:11-12.
What was so extraordinary in Berea? The people!
First, the Bereans were of more noble character.
Second, they received the message with great eagerness.
Third, they examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
Here we have a wonderful example of how to listen to sermons, to teachings, to posts on social media or any place we hear the teaching of the Word of God. As pastor and teacher, I have to admit that there is part of me that gets a little nervous about people who are like the Bereans. I can think, “What if they find a mistake in my sermons? What if their understanding of a passage is superior to mine?” Believe me, both of those have happened, more often than I care to admit.
At Faith Church, we have worship first, and classes afterwards. One of our classes is sermon discussion group, and I love it. I don’t prepare for sermon discussion class. Instead it is an open discussion where anyone can attend and talk further about the sermon. I have two goals in the 45 minutes allotted for sermon discussion class: 1. Talk about the Scripture passage and 2. Seek to apply the scriptural principles from the passage to our actual lives. I usually start by asking, “What’s on your mind? What questions or concerns or comments do you have about the passage?” From there sermon discussion is a freewheeling flow of thought that can take us all over the biblical, theological, and cultural landscape, sometimes far from the main themes of the sermon, including people sometimes pointing out my mistakes! You know what? I’m okay with that. In my way of thinking, that’s very much in keeping with what the Bereans were doing in Acts 17. Listening, thinking, researching, questioning, discussing. These are the raw materials for deep learning.
Notice how the Bereans respond to Paul in verse 11. Did the Bereans receive the message with great skepticism, with mistrust, or with a critical spirit? No, they received it with great eagerness! Do you think that would make a difference? I can tell you from the perspective of one who does teaching, including when the students point out my mistakes, and maybe especially when they point out mistakes, it makes a great difference when the students are eager to learn!
Are you eager to receive the word? What the Bereans demonstrate is a teachable heart. Can you say that you have a heart that is teachable, ready to learn what God is saying to you in his word?
Sadly, after that initial great response of eagerness from the people in Berea, things go south. Look at verses 13-15. The Jews from Thessalonica show up in Berea and stir up the crowds against Paul. So Paul heads to Athens, leaving Silas and Timothy in Berea with instructions to meet him as soon as possible.
Be like the Bereans, eager to receive the word. Be willing to do the work of testing what you hear. It is a tricky balance between trust and accountability. I’d like to believe you can trust that what I write here is faithful to the Scriptures, but I also invite you to ask questions, to research for yourself, and let me know if you disagree or find mistakes I’ve made.
Also, I encourage you study God’s word with other people. At Faith Church, this is why we have sermon discussion class and small groups. It is highly likely that what the Bereans were doing in groups. Be eager to study God’s word within a community, a church family.