Learning is hard work. Anyone whos gone to school knows that. Using our brains is like exercising a muscle; it grows tired when its overworked and weak when its left idle. The school system in our country requires us to study until we reach a certain age, and many people will keep on studying for a few years after that in order to get a better job. But sadly, in the minds of some, once theyre through with school, the season for pushing their brains to learn new ideas comes to an end. The assumption is, weve had a lot of information poured into our minds during our school years, and after graduation we enter the season of life when we draw on that pool of information whenever we need it. The problem with that approach, of course, is that our memories decay over time, and if we dont keep using the knowledge we learned, we soon forget most of it. We may have gotten an A on the final, but six months later we can barely remember half of what we once knew.
You might think spiritual knowledge is different from this, but its not. We quickly discover that as soon as we stop going forward in our knowledge of God and His Word, we start sliding backward. It seems there is no plateau; its either uphill or downhill. In spiritual matters, just like any other area of life, it takes self-discipline and hard work to keep going uphill, which is why some people stopped learning a long time ago. Growing spiritually simply required more than they wanted to give.
But there are others who have the necessary attitudes and inner motivation to keep growing. In fact, some people are still growing when they die. That kind of individual never puts limits on themselves. They dont decide theyve outgrown the season for learning. And in every case theyre not mentally lazy. Theyre willing to put in the time and energy to investigate a matter. Theyre always reading something; theyre always stretching spiritually to walk at a deeper level with God (Php 3:12-14). You might suspect that someone like that was motivated by pride, but they never are. Proud people decide they already know way more than they need to, and stop growing early. In order for someone to keep growing for a lifetime, they must be willing to work hard year after year, decade after decade; and people only do that for one reason: Theyre driven! And I think the only force that can drive someone for a lifetime is love. Not even hate has such power. A person can fall so deeply in love with something or someone that they never feel they know enough or have drawn close enough. And there are people who love God like that. Paul met some of them in the city of Berea.
Two verses (Ac 17:11, 12)
Verse 11: Luke says the attitude of the members of the synagogue in Berea was far more noble (well born) than the attitude of the synagogue leaders in Thessalonica. The root of the problem in Thessalonica was that the leaders felt their income and influence was threatened. It didnt really matter to them whether the gospel was true or not. But in Berea the members of the synagogue were motivated by a desire to know the truth, so they listened carefully to what was being presented, and then examined for themselves each passage of Scripture that Paul and Silas presented. Luke says they
received the Word with all eagerness (keen, active minds), and daily examined the scriptures (to see) if it might have these things in this way (literal).
Verse 11 (continued): Hes telling us that they approached the gospel with a combination of open-mindedness and caution. They were open minded in that they were hungry to know as much as they could about God, and humble enough to acknowledge that there were truths they did not know yet. But they were also cautious, meaning they knew they could be deceived if they relied on their own feelings. In their minds the Bible itself was the final authority, so they engaged in diligent study, undoubtedly reading each passage in its context to see if these visiting preachers were accurately presenting what each passage really intended to say. And that honest hearing was all Paul and Silas asked for, or needed, because the fact that the Christ (Messiah) had to suffer and rise from the dead (Ac 17:3), is indeed a truth taught in Scripture. And once that truth is acknowledged, it becomes obvious from the historical facts about Jesus of Nazareth that He is the Christ (Ac 17:3).
Verse 12: After much careful study, many in that synagogue believed, including a significant number of Greek women and men who were highly respected in that community.
Three cities (Ac 17)
Three cities are described in this chapter of Acts: Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens. There were people in each one who believed the gospel when Paul preached, but there was a notable difference in the attitude of the leaders in each city toward new ideas:
1) Thessalonica: People with money and influence who wanted nothing to do with change.
But (the leaders), becoming jealous and taking some wicked men from the marketplace, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar
Some people like things the way they are and will viciously fight new ideas.
2) Berea: People who want to know God better
Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica for they received the Word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so (Ac 17:11).
Some people are hungry to know more and willing to study hard to learn.
3) Athens: People who are proud and love to judge new ideas.
Now all the Athenians and strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new (Ac 17:21).
They judged everything by their own experience and ability to reason, so the gospel appeared to them to be foolish (v32) (1Co 1:18-25).
Being a Berean
Compared to the others, Berea was a very small city located in an out-of-the-way place, but the Bereans are the ones who model for us how to grow spiritually. Instead of resenting the new ideas they were hearing, they listened carefully to what was being said, and then went to work examining each passage of Scripture to see if they had missed something. Notice how submitted they were to the Word of God. They didnt ask if it made sense to them, they asked if the Bible really said that, because if it did, they were going to believe it regardless of the backlash it might bring. And you can be certain they fully understood that what was being presented wasnt what they had been taught as children. But when they went back and looked with fresh eyes, it was as if someone had written new passages in their Bible. Why had no one ever said anything about this before? How could we have missed something so important? When Paul preached the gospel they:
1) Received it eagerly, because they were hungry to go deeper in Gods truth and know Him better.
2) Examined it carefully. For them, the Word of God was the final authority.
3) Believed it obediently, regardless of the price they might pay
Testing a new teaching
Jesus didnt hide the fact that some of the things He taught were new revelation. He didnt just explain old truths. He said,
Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old. (Mt 13:52)
In other words, He was presenting fresh revelations about God, not just reminding people about truths Moses and the Prophets had already taught. He said He wasnt undermining or discarding those teachings, in fact, He was showing us how to fulfill them. But no one could have known the mysteries He revealed, until He revealed them. So in order to follow Him people were forced to use their discernment and study the word to decide if they would trust Him. We still do. Here are some ways Jesus taught us to test a new teaching:
1) Does God confirm the Word with the right kind of miracles?
Mt 11:2-6 Go and report to John what you hear and see.
Lk 4:18, 19 The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. (captives, blind, oppressed, longing for grace)
2) Is the Holy Spirit confirming this to my conscience?
Lk 24:32 (Emmaus road) Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?
Mt 12:22-31 blasphemy against the Spirit
3) Does the Bible really say that?
all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.
1Th 5:20, 21
do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.
4) Does this teaching produce godly character?
Mt 7:16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles are they?
What kind of people does this produce?
We become like the One we worship (angry, judgmental, lawless, proud, cruel, violent, kind, loving, pure, forgiving
Testing my own heart
So, these Bereans force us to ask ourselves some deep, personal questions: Am I a Berean? Am I so in love with God that Im driven to know Him better? Am I still studying and learning, or did I decide I already know enough and stop along the way? Do I make spiritual decisions based on my own feelings and judgment, or have I decided that the Bible will be my final authority in what I believe about God and how I live my life? Do I:
Receive eagerly Examine carefully Believe obediently
Because if the answer is yes, Ill still be growing on the day I die
and then I really start growing!
1) What steps do you take to keep growing and learning?
2) Do you like to read? If reading is hard, how do you take in new information?
3) Name someone you consider a lifelong learner. What do they do that keeps them growing? What have you learned by watching them?