STUDIES IN ACTS, Part 10

The Most Noble of All, Acts 17:10—15

As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. (Acts 17:10a)

Jason found himself in a pickle. He had posted bail for Paul and Silas and got them out of jail in Thessalonica. Had Paul and Silas been found in Jason’s home, he would have forfeited the bail. So he did what he had to do: Jason and his friends sneaked Paul and Silas out of town and sent them in the direction of Berea.

So far, Paul’s second missionary journey was nothing like his first. Unlike the first trip, Paul’s second missionary journey began with an argument with his partner, Barnabas, which resulted Barnabas going his way and Paul going his. There was no supernatural leading here. Paul’s new team traveled literally hundreds of miles with no clear direction as to where they should go. And do you know what got them to set sail to their first port of call? A weird vision of a strange man from Macedonia, who, when they finally landed in Macedonia, was nowhere to be found! When Paul and his friends reached the first town of any population in the area, they couldn’t find a single synagogue anywhere to preach the Word from. Their early efforts produced no great revivals, unlike the first missionary journey did. And when the Spirit of God finally did move in Thessalonica, a girl was delivered from demonic possession, which resulted in Paul and Silas being tossed in the clink.

So Paul and Silas, in addition to being missionaries, were now jailbirds and bail-jumpers! This was a very inauspicious way to work on the mission field. It’s a good thing that our two missionaries did not let their circumstances dictate their level of faith! In spite of this awful start to the famous second missionary journey, our two intrepid missionaries did not grumble or complain, nor did they blame God or assume they had made some terrible mistake. Paul and Silas remind us of those two other warriors for Jehovah, Jonathan and his armor-bearer. Facing the mighty Philistine forces all by themselves, they were confronted with a choice: to fight or hide. Surely the exchange between the two must have gone down in history as one of the greatest statements of faith ever recorded:

Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.” “Do all that you have in mind,” his armor-bearer said. “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.” (1 Samuel 14:6, 7)

That’s what faith looks like sometimes: a definite maybe; a “you never know, we could be right and maybe God will come through and help us out.” Sometimes you can sit around praying for leading all day when the best for you to do is stand up and do something for the Lord. One thing is certain, if you heart is right and your motives are pure and your desire is to glorify God, just get up and do it! If you are wrong, the Lord will direct you and straighten you out. It’s easier to steer a moving ship than one that is still. Paul and Silas were moving, and whether or not it was clear to them at the time, they were definitely being led of the Lord.

The LORD makes firm the steps of those who delight in him. (Psalm 37:23)

1. On to Berea, verse 10b—12

On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue.

Instead of going to a major city, Paul and Silas travelled some forty miles to an out-of-the-way town called Berea. Paul is true to his calling; upon arriving at Berea, he sought out and found a synagogue from which to preach and the Gospel.

What a difference between the people of Berea and those of Thessalonica! Here is how Luke describes the two:

[T]hey rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. (the Jews is Thessalonica, 17:5)

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (The Berean Jews, 17:11)

After their terrible experiences in Thessalonica, Paul and Silas were blessed to run into people of honor and integrity. What set apart the noble Bereans from the people of Thessalonica was their approach to the Scriptures. The Bereans tested the truthfulness of Paul’s preaching against the standard of Scripture, whereas the Thessalonians judged Paul’s words by political and cultural standards. Whenever Christians study the Word objectively rather than subjectively and are not influenced by the notions of others or by the culture around them, they are Bereans. For Bereans, the Word of God stands by itself. It is the first and last Word; it is the foundation of their faith and conduct; it is completely relevant and entirely precious. How the Church of Jesus Christ needs faithful Bereans today.

Of these wonderful people, Dr. Luke makes two main points:

  • They were noble. Luke shows how the Bereans were noble-minded by comparing their behavior to that of the Thessalonians. As far as Luke was concerned, just being open to the Word and not dismissing it out of hand is being “noble-minded.” The Berean Jews, however, were already predisposed to receiving the truth of God’s Word because they valued it as part of their Jewish faith. When they heard the Gospel, something inside of them knew what Paul was saying was just as much God’s Word as was their precious Old Testament. The more Paul preached, the more the Bereans poured over their Scriptures. It’s not that they were questioning what Paul was saying; the preaching of the Word caused them to honestly analyze and compare the Apostle’s words with the Word. They were eager to learn. Their eagerness was revealed; their hearts were opened to the Gospel.

  • They had genuine faith. Not all the Thessalonians were bad. Like the Jews in Thessalonica, the Jews in Berea had an excellent relationship with Gentiles and especially Gentile converts to Judaism. Many God-fearing Gentiles in both cities came to faith in Christ and, particularly in Berea, Gentile women were prominent in the Church. Luke gives us the impression that by the time Paul and Silas left Berea, the church they started there was strong and flourishing. Did Paul ever revisit Berea? We have no record that he did. Perhaps he didn’t have to.

The result of all this eager, honest study of Scripture day by day was that the faithful Bereans discovered all that Paul preached was truth, and they did the natural thing when people discover the Gospel is true:

Many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men. (verse 12)

Interestingly, the Greek word for “prominent” means “wealthy, influential.” Once again, we see that the early Church was not made up of only the poor and sick and social outcasts. The Gospel certainly attracts all people. Thank God for “wealthy” and “influential” Christians! Without them, the work of Christ would take on a whole different dimension.

2. Here comes trouble, verse 13

But when the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, some of them went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up.

You can be sure that if you are a “producer” for the Kingdom of Heaven, you will face problems. In Berea, Paul’s problem took the form of those pesky Thessalonian Jews. Not content with causing problems for Paul in their city, these disreputable people took their beef with Paul to Berea.

Luke doesn’t say so, but we can assume that Paul and his team worked for, perhaps, a few months in Berea. The Greek word translated “agitating” indicates that the unbelieving Thessalonian Jews kept on causing problems among the population of Berea by misrepresenting the words and actions of the Christian missionaries until their goal had been achieved: the silencing of Paul.

Here we see what Jesus had promised years before:

Remember what I told you: ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.’ (John 15:20)

Jesus also gave this piece of advice to His followers:

When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. (Matthew 10:23a)

Some brave Bereans were about to step up and help Paul to do just that.

3. On the run. Again. verses 14, 15

Winning any battle is more than just the ability to fight. Sometimes in order to win a battle, one needs to know when to leave. Some 400 years before the days of Paul, in August of 338 B.C., the Athenian orator and statesman Demosthenes was an infantryman at Chaeronea, where a decisive battle took place between the Athenians and the Macedonians. The Macedonians were victorious, and 3,000 Athenians died. Demosthenes fled from the battlefield and was subsequently censured because of his desertion. To anyone who later called him a coward, Demosthenes would respond, “The man who runs away may fight again.” This is exactly what we see happening in Berea:

The believers immediately sent Paul to the coast… (verse 14a)

Sometimes you have to stay and fight, other times a strategic withdrawal is the only solution. In order to save his life, some Berean believers secreted Paul out of town and sent him on his way “to the coast.” Actually, they didn’t really. They just looked like they were taking Paul “to the coast,” but in reality they were heading to Athens. This was a long trip, over 200 miles! These brave and faithful Bereans were committed to Christ, the Word, and to Paul’s safety. Once again, Paul was forced to leave a fledgling congregation for his own good. We may well imagine how much Paul would have liked to remain in Berea, where his preaching and teaching were yielding such tremendous results. For Paul, God had other plans.

For some reason, the Thessalonian thugs had a hate-on for Paul, but not the other Christian missionaries:

…Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea. (verse 14b)

Thank God for faithful co-workers in the ministry! Paul was fortunate to have two men, one very young man, in whom he could entrust his ministry. We aren’t told how long Silas and Timothy worked in Berea; Luke was never overly concerned with providing details about “minor characters” in the story. What we do know was that Paul knew he would need his comrades in Athens:

Those who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible. (verse 15)

It appears that Timothy and Silas rejoined their friend Paul at Athens, and that he later sent Timothy back to Thessalonica:

So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we are destined for them. (1 Thessalonians 3:1—3)

That short paragraph is telling. The persecution that Paul had endured at the hands of those despicable unbelieving Thessalonians hadn’t diminished his love for the Christians he left behind in Thessalonica. The “we could stand it no longer” refers to his longing to see them again.

For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way. (1 Thessalonians 2:18)

So while Paul never again went back to Berea, he had an ongoing special relationship with the Thessalonians. In some sense, both the churches of Corinth and Thessalonica took up a lot of Paul’s time and concern because to varying degrees, they were both troubled churches that needed demanded Paul’s attention.

In Athens, Paul quickly realized what a monumental task it was going to be, reaching the highly educated Athenians for Christ. Here again we see the ups and downs of the second missionary journey. From unwarranted persecution in Thessalonica to a fantastically successful stay in Berea to banging his head against a brick wall in Athens, working for the Lord is certainly never boring!

What do we learn from the incident with the Bereans?

In America, the Bible continues to be the highest selling book of all time, in any form. Electronic downloads of the Bible are now out-pacing downloads of any other book. And yet, the Bible has the dubious distinction of being the most neglected book of all time. Just owning a Bible or two proves nothing. If the desire to own the Book is not matched by the desire to know what’s in it, then don’t waste your money. Buy a tank of gas instead.

The Bible, as the Bereans knew full-well, is a book unlike any other book. It is powerful and it changes everything. During the reign of King Josiah of Judah, his high priest discovered the long-lost Book of the Law, which had been hidden in a dark corner of the Temple. Because this Book of the Law had been neglected and forgotten, the people of Judah fell into idol worship. However, once that precious Book of the Law was hauled out of its hiding place, dusted off, and read aloud, the course of Jewish history changed. Josiah read the Word to the people; the people saw the error of their ways and pledged obedience to the forgotten Covenant.

If you are a Christian and you are reading this, hopefully you are reading the Word daily, with your family, if you have one. Families that grow up around the Word of God are strong families. We should study the Word together, we should memorize it, and we should be obedient to it. God’s Word is as relevant today as the day it was written. In our churches, the Bible should be central, not only in our preaching and teaching, but in our worship as well.

Why is reading the Bible so important? It is because when we read the Word of God, we are communing with God; He hears us, we hear Him, and He honors our devotion to that Word. The Word tells us how we should live, how we should think, and what we should do in any given circumstance. If God’s will for you is a mystery, the problem is with you. You need to take your Bible off the shelf, crack it open, and start reading it. God will speak to you. Put Him to the test in this and be amazed.

God’s Word changes everything.

A plaque at modern-day Berea, Veria, courtesy of Dan and Cindy Bratton, missionaries with YWAM

(c)  2011 WitzEnd
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