Monday, June 26, 2006

Noble-minded? They were smart, too!

The apostle Paul visits three places in Acts 17: Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens. In Thessalonica there was a riot; in Athens there was scoffing. But between those was Berea:

Now the Bereans were more noble-minded than the Thessalonians, for they received the word with great eagerness, searching the scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.

Acts 17.11

What does it mean, "noble-minded"? We could look at the text in the original language (Greek for the New Testament) and use a Greek-English dictionary to see. But according Dr. Sarah Sumner (author of the excellent Men and Women in the Church) it's a no-no to use a dictionary. OK, so we could use a concordance, a Bible cross-reference, to see how that same Greek word is used elsewhere in the Bible. Well, maybe we could, but for this passage we don't need to do that, because the context tells us what we need to know.

And whatever "noble-minded" means, I believe Luke is telling us that these were good guys. They are a good example to follow.

OK, here's the first clue: they were different from those in Thessalonica.

Why was there a riot in Thessalonica? Because the religious leaders felt threatened by the new movement's popularity. They were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. (Acts 17.5)

So that's one aspect of the Bereans' noble character: they were not slaves to politics or power or popularity.

Where the Thessalonians failed, I think, was in their unwillingness to admit they were wrong -- they misunderstood the Old Testament (they missed the point of salvation, for one thing). It was more important to the religious leaders in Thessalonica to hold on to power than to follow the truth. How about me? Am I willing to admit that I've been wrong about something, even if that would mean a loss of face, a loss of popularity or power?

Another clue comes from the word "for" -- for they received the word with great eagerness ; that is, they wanted to learn. How interested am I in knowing God better? How much time do I spend listening to, reading, studying, meditating on the things of God -- versus listening to, reading, studying, meditating on popular media, the false promises of our culture, home improvement ideas, investment advice, crossword puzzles (ouch!), or film and rock stars?

So, I just thought of this: I recently discovered that both our Kobe (Japan) church, Kobe Bible Fellowship and our current church, Menlo Park Presbyterian, make sermons available for free download. Seeing as someone gave me an iPod a few months ago, I could easily put sermons on it, and listen and meditate on them during my train commute.

Something else the text tells us about the Bereans is that they searched the scriptures daily. Their understanding of the world was informed by the Scriptures.

This is harder than it sounds. We all have experiences that shape our understanding of the world. So when the Bible reveals God as a father, it's well nigh impossible not to be influenced by the relationship I had with my human, earthly father -- whether good or bad.

And when we read a passage, we cannot help but be influenced by the teaching we've heard about it. If the teaching is good, this is a good thing. But if the teaching misses the point -- the way the rabbis missed the salvation that comes through faith in Jesus -- then teaching can stand between us and the truth of God.

The Bereans had it figured out, or figured out well enough. That's why I think these folks were so smart. I wonder if they prayed this? Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things out of thy law. (Psalm 119.18)

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