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What is a Berean? Part 3

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)

After commending the Bereans for their noble character, Luke then proceeds to present two closely related evidences of this nobility: their receiving the Word with all eagerness, and their searching the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. This week, we’re going to look closely at the former.

Luke tells us that the Bereans possessed an eagerness to receive the Word. What does this mean? Well, the Bereans were excited to hear the Word of God from Paul and Silas. They had a passion for the Scriptures (which we’ll talk about more next week). Luke’s use of the term eagerness is pretty straightforward. We uncover more depth in what Luke is saying here, however, when we observe two important points from the context.

First, we need to remember how events unfolded in Berea. The Jews of Berea had not yet heard the Gospel. When Paul and Silas arrived, they were still in bondage to their traditions. But when they heard the Word, the Bereans eagerly received it, and in the end believed what they had not believed before. The Bereans changed their views. They were corrected from their former, deficient understanding of the Scriptures.

Many in our day think of a “Berean” as one who already understands truth and from that foundation resists false teaching. That’s a legitimate application of this passage. However, that’s not the meaning of this passage, because that’s not what actually happens here. The Bereans here did not defend a truth they already believed. Instead, they were presented with a new truth they didn’t yet believe, and were won to it through the Scriptures.

The Bereans’ eagerness, then, is not merely love for the Scriptures in the abstract. They were eager to receive the Word. They were not merely eager to hear the Word—they were eager to be conformed to it. They listened with anticipation and expectancy. Their attitude in hearing Paul’s preaching was not one of guarded suspicion, but of eager hunger to be changed by the truth in the Word being preached to them.

This does not at all mean they were gullible or easily swayed (more on that next week). But, again in the helpful words of Matthew Henry, the Bereans “...received the word with all readiness of mind; they were very willing to hear it, presently apprehended the meaning of it, and did not shut their eyes against the light. They attended to the things that were spoken by Paul, as Lydia did, and were very well pleased to hear them. They did not pick quarrels with the word, nor find fault, nor seek occasion against the preachers of it; but bade it welcome, and put a candid construction upon every thing that was said.

There’s a second part of the context we need to pay attention to as well. It’s crucial to remember that Luke is contrasting the Bereans with the Thessalonians. So, one conclusion we could draw is that the Thessalonians were not eager to receive the Word, and their rejection of the Gospel is certainly proof for that. But I think Luke is saying more than that, though. The Thessalonians’ problem was not a lack of passion. Indeed, they did actually demonstrate great eagerness—of a sort. The Thessalonians not only drove Paul and Silas out of their city, but even pursued them to Berea. Luke diagnosed the Thessalonians’ sin as jealousy. Well, this is no mere petty jealousy, but a deep, obsessive, vindictive, eager desire to see ill done to these men. The Bereans, on the other hand, welcomed and gave a fair hearing to Paul, and their city saw no rioting until the Thessalonians showed up and provoked it.

Here, then, is the contrast Luke is drawing. The Bereans, on the one hand, were noble because they were eager to receive the Word and be themselves corrected by it. The Thessalonians, by contrast, demonstrated no eagerness to receive the Word themselves; their eagerness was limited only to a jealous desire to see others corrected and defeated.

There’s several applications for us here. First, a Berean is one who has an eagerness for the Word. He is passionate about Scripture. A Berean can enthusiastically say, “Your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jer. 15:16).

Second, and moreover, a Berean is one who is eager to receive the Word. A Berean practices “expositional listening.” He eagerly attends the preaching and teaching of the Word. He listens actively, intently, and at length. Crucially, a Berean receives the Word as something intended to be internalized and applied by himself. A Berean is not someone obsessed (like the Thessalonian Jews) with how others (mis)understand the Word, but is first of all (though not exclusively) concerned with how he is to understand and apply the Word. Again, that doesn’t mean a Berean is gullible. It does mean that the Berean’s first concern is to look for logs in his own eye (cf. Matt. 7:3-5).

Which leads to the third application: a Berean is one who is eager to be corrected and changed by the Word. A Christian who seeks to emulate the Bereans is one who listens eagerly to the Word preached and taught in order to be conformed to, and corrected by, it. A Berean is not a suspicious listener who takes in preaching and teaching as a detached critic. A Berean eagerly seeks the Word to be convicted of sin, to be exhorted to fight it, and to increase in his understanding of God.

The Bereans’ nobility is exemplified by this passionate eagerness to receive the Word. Indeed, such noble character is in great part a product of this view of the Word. Which leads us to the Bereans’ faithful and daily searching of the Scriptures—next week.

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