November 15, 2019 Standard Bearer preview article
Reformed Free Publishing Association
This mediation is written by Rev. Ronald VanOverloop and will be published in the November 15, 2019 issue of the Standard Bearer.
Right receiving of the word preached
“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” Acts 17:11
God is pleased to use the preaching of His Word to work faith (Rom. 10:17).
God is pleased to use weak, sinful men to preach, which calls the hearers to focus on the voice of their Shepherd and not so much on the Shepherd’s instrument, the preacher.
God declares that the preaching of Christ crucified is the power and the wisdom of God (I Cor. 1:23, 24).
The great importance of the preaching of the gospel requires a proper attitude when receiving this preaching. Acts 17:11 describes this correct attitude of receiving the preaching of the gospel.
This text is found in that portion of Scripture that is detailing Paul’s second missionary journey. According to the end of chapter 16, Paul and Silas were escorted out of Philippi. From Philippi they went to Thessalonica, but they were there for only three weeks. The unbelieving Jews hired “certain lewd fellows of the baser sort” to create a mob that forced the missionaries out of the city. They went to the nearby city of Berea.
Paul, “as his manner was,” went into the synagogue at Berea on the Sabbath and preached “out of the scriptures” (v. 2). The manner of Paul’s preaching is described: he “reasoned” (gave careful, logical argument) out of Scripture, “opening” (explaining) and “alleging” (expositing) the Scriptures of the Old Testament (v. 3a). The content of Paul’s preaching to the primarily Jewish audience focused on what the Scriptures said of the Messiah, specifically that the Messiah must suffer, die, and rise again. And Paul sought to make clear that the Jesus of whom he preached was the promised Messiah who accomplished forgiveness for worthless sinners.
The Bereans were outstanding Bible students: they “searched the scriptures daily.” This implies that they believed the Bible to be the standard of all truth for faith and life. They searched daily, not to increase their intellectual grasp of the content of the Scriptures, but because they were driven by a hunger for the knowledge of the Savior they and their children desperately needed. They were like the parents who insisted on bringing their infants and little children to Jesus, in spite of the disciples’ interference, because it was so important to them that Jesus bless their children (Mark 10:13–16).
Notice that the Bereans’ daily searching of the Scriptures did not make them minimize or despise the preaching of the Word by a man sent from God. They were convicted by the Scriptures that faith is worked and strengthened by the preaching (Rom. 10:13–17). They knew that the preaching of Scripture has the effective power to make one wise unto salvation (I Cor. 1:18–24).
The Bereans “received” the message of the gospel of salvation by attending the preaching and by listening. They listened attentively (carefully and receptively). They assented to the truth of it and believed it (v. 12). And they embraced it. They loved the Word as a pearl of great price because they saw it as the Word of God Himself (v. 13) and because it gave them the knowledge and assurance that they were delivered from the dominion and slavery of sin. It was the voice of their beloved Shepherd!
How did the outstanding Bible students of the Berean Christian church receive the preaching of God’s Word through the apostle Paul?
First and foremost, they received the preached word “with all readiness of mind.” The word translated “readiness” refers to an eagerness or willingness. They had a zeal for the word preached. In other words, they received the preaching of the Word of God with enthusiasm. That means, negatively, that they did not receive the Word grudgingly; they did not listen looking for errors; they did not listen worried about the time.
Their eager and enthusiastic hearing was in all likelihood related to Paul’s preaching, which was equally enthusiastic. He was eager to demonstrate from the Old Testament Scriptures that Jesus was the promised Messiah. The enthusiasm of the Berean Christians arose from their fervent desire to hear that in the Messiah there is forgiveness, that in Jesus there is salvation from sin. They were not looking for a Messiah who would establish an earthly kingdom. They were hungering and thirsting for the knowledge and assurance that they were forgiven and righteous through the work of the Messiah. Paul preached that Jesus was the Messiah whose suffering and rising from the dead accomplished complete salvation for them (v. 3).
Their enthusiastic reception led to faith, for “many believed” (v. 12). The Spirit gives this enthusiastic receiving of the preaching and then works faith, both for the first time, and continually in the souls of God’s children. The Berean Christians were sinners who were desperate to know forgiveness. It had to have been a great joy to know that their hope in the promised Messiah was realized and fulfilled in the Jesus whom Paul preached.
Secondly, the enthusiastic receiving of the Word by the Berean Christians was accompanied with a critical mind, for they “searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”
There is a critical attendance of the preaching that is wrong. It is characterized by fault-finding and leads to “roast preacher.” For such a critical mindset the angels themselves would not be good enough preachers.
What made the critical reception of the Bereans proper?
First, notice the clear implication that they held the Old Testament writings to be truth, and to be the only way to identify what is truth. They did not investigate the Bible to see whether it was true. They obviously accepted it to be inerrant, reliable, and authoritative.
Second, it should be obvious that they did not believe what Paul preached just because he was an apostle and an excellent, powerful preacher. They could never be accused of following a man. Instead, they compared what Paul preached out of the Scriptures with Scripture. Paul consistently showed them what the Old Testament Scriptures said about the Messiah having to suffer and die and rise again. Paul’s exposition was similar to what Jesus did with the two travelers to Emmaus, namely, “beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Paul’s preaching was a biblical exposition of an Old Testament passage, which he explained in light of other passages and in light of the whole of Scripture. The proper critical reception the Bereans had was that on the basis of the Scriptures they searched, they received the preached Word.
Such critical reception of the preaching is the only proper way to receive the preaching. It is not a threat to receiving God’s Word, but is the right way to receive the preaching. It shows that Scripture is the final authority and that it is perspicuous, that is, clear on its teachings concerning salvation in Jesus Christ. And it shows that the office of all believer enables them to judge all things by the Scriptures.
Such receiving of the preaching of God’s Word made the Bereans “noble.” This word means that they were “well born,” that they had the quality of excellence worthy of admiration.
True nobility is spiritual, and it arises from the enthusiastic reception of God’s Word. The nobility of a church is not in its size or its building, but in its enthusiastic receiving of the Word. Individual nobility is not in being born and baptized in a certain church, nor in one’s earthly riches, nor in one’s earthly accomplishments, but is found in one’s enthusiastic receiving of the preached Word.
The spiritually noble are those born into the royal family of God. They have the sovereign King as their Father. They receive the preached Word gladly and eagerly because their hearts have been opened (born again) by the Spirit of God; they are “well born” with regeneration. And they are excited and anxious to hear the truth of the Messiah crucified and risen, so that they might know and be assured of their forgiveness and salvation.
In conclusion, what are we to learn from these Bereans?
May the preacher preach exclusively out of the Scriptures, “opening and alleging.” May he set forth Scripture’s message of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ.
May the ones who gather under the preaching of God’s Word receive God’s Word willingly and eagerly. May they hold the Scriptures to be their faithful guide for what they believe and how they are to live. May they be searching the Scriptures daily so that they can knowledgeably receive the preaching of forgiveness and salvation in Jesus Christ. May they find in the Scriptures the knowledge of their worthlessness and the knowledge of Christ’s infinite riches. May they reject all that does not match with the Bible, and may they love all that does. May such hearers know that God would say of them that they are spiritually noble.