Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men. (verses 11-12)
There’s a stark contrast in this passage regarding different ways of responding to spiritual insight and truth. Bereans and Thessalonians are held up alongside each other, each demonstrating a different approach. In the upshot, the Thessalonians don’t fare so well.
Earlier in the chapter we got a clear view of their attitude and behaviour. They themselves heard the good news of Jesus clearly presented, but instead of personally entering in, they stood back and watched. Observing positive response in others, they grew jealous. That emotion dominated, leading them into fractious behaviour. Rallying a crowd of “ne’er-do-wells,” they stirred up a riot in opposition to Paul and Silas, driving them from town.
Nor did the Thessalonians stop there. They kept their ears keenly attuned to any further activity. Hearing of the positive reception in Berea, they exported their own poison there, also, stirring up the same opposition.
The Bereans, on the other hand, are described as being more “noble,” literally “well born.” Their gut response is not the rough and tumble of the gutter. Rather they respond with level-headed stability, engaging with thoughtful consideration.
There are three elements I notice:
(1) They “received” the word. It’s not yet a response of faith, but it’s a willingness to take the message in hand and have a good look. Not defensively batting it away. Not indifferently turning a deaf ear. Not arrogantly pre-judging it as beneath them. No. Rather, they take hold of the message, valuing it enough to take time to contemplate.
(2) They did so “with great eagerness.” This speaks of lively engagement of mind. They’ve heard enough of the message to comprehend it could be life-giving, indeed life-changing. So, they really, truly want to know – is it? They enter in with a certain joyful enthusiasm, excited to find out.
(3) They “examined” the Scriptures to see if it was true. This word is used elsewhere in Acts to speak of inquiry in a court of law. Focused and deliberate, it involves close scrutiny and investigation that is intent on arriving at the truth. Guilty or innocent? True or false? It’s a powerful complement to “eagerness,”ensuring that level-heads prevail. Importantly, the standard is the Scripture itself, the Bereans actively comparing this new teaching with what they had already learned from God’s word. They honour the Lord by holding tightly to his word in this exploration.
The Bereans are a model, the Thessalonians a cautionary tale. Those from Thessalonica were sealed off, controlled by emotions, refusing to engage in thoughtful examination. Those from Berea were open-handed, enthusiastic, engaging in a Scripture-grounded examination of the issues.
At the same time, we recognize that we ourselves are in an amazingly different circumstance. What the Bereans examined as new, we ourselves have been given as the faithful deposit of New Testament scriptures. They carried out exploration on their own, but we have the indwelling Spirit, given to lead us into all truth.
So, put aside the jealous rigidity of the Thessalonians. Maintain the eager, thoughtful receptivity of the Bereans. And always stay grounded in the truth we have been given, reliant on the indwelling Spirit.
Eyes on Jesus, through the Scriptures – that’s our focus.
Thank you, Lord, for the gift of your word. Help me stay grounded in its truth, led by your Spirit, even as I keep my heart open to you. For I have much yet to learn.
Reflect: Do you tend to be more like the Thessalonians or the Bereans? Submit yourself to the Spirit again this day to lead you into all truth.