The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews 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. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. – Acts 17:10-12 ESV
The Bereans are often the prime examples of a community devoted to bible study. It is quite obvious that Paul was speaking to a community of Grecian Jews. No one there was a Christian when Paul and Silas arrived. They had previously been in Thessalonica and had received less than a warm welcome. They had to flee Berea amidst much commotion and danger from fellow Jews. It is perhaps this contrast in reception that is the reason why they had such a stellar commendation from Luke. Even though not all of them became Christians they were all commended. They engaged with Paul and made the work so much easier. I guess those who did not believe were not yet convinced. What Paul was telling them necessitated them rereading the Scriptures and applying a whole new interpretation. Such a huge paradigm shift never comes easily. The Jewish people are deeply devout and they had a tradition that went back more than millennia. Note that they examined the scriptures daily to see if what was being said was true. It was a process and not an event. I think the apostle sincerely sympathised with them and sought to persuade them to his view. The preacher needs to be patient (2 Timothy 2:23-26.) Paul would later to say Agrippa his goal was to persuade him irrespective of how long it took (Acts 26:28-29.)
There are many things we can learn from this short passage. It not only sheds light on the ideal character of the audience but the attitude and method of the preacher as well as the very nature of the message. Perhaps the word conversion is somehow misleading. It’s like going to a forex bureau and instantly changing from one currency to another. We sometimes assume we should get instantaneous results, a pop-corn kind of evangelism, apply a little heat and it’s done! I fear sometimes in our approach we are only applying heat. When people do become believers they sometimes think the Gospel is a message in their past associated with their point of conversion. Further inquiry into the exact nature and claims of the Gospel often cease. This shouldn’t be the case.
Persuasion is very important word in preaching. Persuasion is a much slower word than conversion. It involves conviction and that requires convincing. Good reason must be given before someone accepts that position. It is also implies that we might not always get a 100% success rate. It also implies that what we preach must be compelling. I believe that the Gospel in itself is very compelling but the preacher has the responsibility to deliver it in a compelling manner. Now if the message has a compelling delivery the audience, like the Bereans, has the responsibility to investigate the claims.
Now the Gospel was so ground breaking that it caused the re-evaluation of an entire worldview. The ripples of it reached very far and wide. Even though the message is persuasive enough to make a commitment it does not mean we get the full impact even when we decide to put our trust in it. I don’t think believing the Gospel means we full grasp its meaning and impact. The Gospel is not just our past, it is our present and our future. We live in the Gospel. Paul in Romans speaks of obedience to the Gospel. Obedience cannot be a onetime thing but a lifelong practice. The Scriptures could have ended comfortably ended with Acts but rather it goes through the Epistles and ends with Revelation. I believe there is a lot to learn.
Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. – 2 Peter 3:14-16 ESV
The Bereans obviously found the things they heard quite incredible. When Peter talks about Paul, probably many years after the Berea incident, he says still says there are things which he says that are quite difficult. The same vigour we used to investigate the truth of the message should not stop when we become faithful to Jesus. It needs to intensify. Even in the first century when people had direct access to the eyewitnesses the things being said were not child’s play. What about us who are far removed from their setting by culture and time? Paul tells the Ephesians that the purpose of his writings is so that they can understand things in the same way that he does (Ephesians 3:1-5). He wants them to gain true insight into the Scriptures as he has had. Now if the goal of our Bible studies is to the get the scriptures in a similar manner to Paul’s I believe approach will be a little bit more urgent.
I have been a quasi-lay leader (whatever that means) for a number of years. The one common observation I have made is that people do not really study the Scriptures. I have encountered research that also says a similar thing. It is I daresay a global phenomenon and even worse a part of Christian culture. The “Wednesday Bible study” is among the worst attended Church meeting. I believe this is a huge problem whatever the reasons are. Christianity is so rooted in the Scriptures that if it is not central to the everyday lives of believers I am confident enough to say we have generally missed the point. I think a lot of the problems that we see in Christianity today is because of our attitude to the Scriptures. I strongly believe that true Christianity is Biblical Christianity. The Bible is the historical umbilical cord that connects all believers. By ignoring it we run the risk of our faith being aborted before we can truly live it out.
I have realised that most people assume the Bible and do not really study it. As I pointed out the Bible wasn’t easy to begin with and now in many ways it is harder for us today since we have to break through the linguistic and cultural barrier as well. This means the Christian has to be more diligent today to understand the word of God.
It is my personal observation that whenever I have been reinvigorated as a believer it is by drinking deeply from the well of the Scriptures. When I stopped assuming and started studying I gained new perspectives. Right now I am in a bit of a yearlong personal renaissance. Whenever I have endeavoured to know the Scriptures just the right things I need to make it happen are made available. This is not a coincidence. God I believe is at work in this. Paul knew that for the believer to personalize the word one needs the Spirit of God. You needed insight into the very mind of God (Ephesians 1:17-18; 1 Corinthians 2:10-13.) It is no accident that whenever we truly want to know him he makes himself known.
For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. – Malachi 2:7 ESV
Malachi means messenger. The prophet in this book describes the Levitical priests as messengers of the Lord, that is, they are ministers of God. In his writing he deals with the failure of the Levitical priesthood and the restoration of the covenant priesthood which is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus the Christ. In the above verse the scripture says that the priests were the custodians of the Law. They were divinely tasked with ministering the word of God to the people of God. It was an essential part of their worship teaching the word of the God. Paul also considered the preaching of the Gospel a priestly duty (Romans 15:15-16.) Knowing the Scriptures is not some prosaic chore but a vibrant act of worship. Studying the word of God is not optional neither is it for the select or the elite. It is an indispensable part of our worship to God.