Tucked away in the book of Acts is a testimony to some people who heard the good news about Jesus, and neither dismissed it out of hand, nor accepted what they were told without question:
The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 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. Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men.
Acts 17:10-12 NASB
These people of the Jewish faith (per “the synagogue of the Jews”) from the ancient city of Berea* illustrate a couple of key reminders for us, today.
Before diving in, though, note the phrase, “with great eagerness”. This community in Berea did not just casually listen and chat – they really dug into this opportunity. The history of Christianity (since the first century, and even in modern times) has many examples of those who honestly sought the truth about Jesus, and found Him to be the truth (see John 14:6). Contrast those at Mars Hill, in Acts 17:16-21, who seem (to me) to be more interested in talking than in finding the truth. This is a good reminder for all of us who discuss the matters of the day, but let’s get back to what the Bereans can teach us…
First, they did not reject the teaching of Paul and Silas outright. While this message would have probably seemed new to them (although it was meant to be the outcome of what God had revealed in the past – see Matthew 5:17-18), they were willing to listen to something outside of what they had previously known.
In today’s world, for all the talk about being “tolerant”, there is a significant trend – one which I’m probably guilty of following, sometimes – of becoming fixed in our ways. We prefer to listen only to those who agree with us, and tune out (or worse yet, marginalize, demean, or even attack) anyone whose opinions vary from our own.
I’m not suggesting that we actively go out and listen to every crazy idea, or embrace every idea as equally valid (see the second point, below). There are some ideas that can be quickly dismissed as false. However, rather than blasting anyone who has a different idea, it wouldn’t hurt us to listen to others a little more than we spout off our own opinions.
There are some interesting thoughts being discussed in the church today. While some of them are outright heresy, others are attempting to get back to Biblical principles where human traditions and incorrect teachings have taken root and are starting to overshadow God’s Word. That’s not new – even the early church had to separate correct from incorrect teachings.
Secondly, the believers in Berea did not accept new teachings from Paul and Silas without some verification. They checked against what they already knew to be true – their Scriptures.
I realize that Truth is a tricky subject these days. Over time, though, the evidence – facts, history, the testimony of others, and our own experiences – should lead us to what is truly true and correct. Faith plays a part in accepting some of the gaps in our direct knowledge, but if something is actually accurate, any reliable evidence that we encounter should also lead us in the same direction.
If you believe in the Bible as God’s Word – based on the evidence of the world around us, what we can learn from history, the testimony of others who follow Jesus, and your own experience – then you have your own foundation for evaluating what you are told. If not, I encourage you to keep searching for truth, because I believe that there can only be one eventual destination in an honest search. (And, I welcome your thoughts, both on the idea of Truth, and on this website.)
For those of us who look to the Bible as a source of truth, we are instructed, in I John 4:1-3, to verify what we hear.
Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here.
1 John 4:1-3 NLT
This is a pretty simple test, isn’t it? It screens out a lot more false teachers than it might seem at first glance. It identifies both those who dismiss Jesus outright, and those who purport to teach “religion” but whose doctrine is false.
Anyone who asks you to believe everything they say as “gospel”, without being willing to explain how this fits into a Biblical framework, should probably be questioned and scrutinized much more closely than someone who is willing to study the Scriptures with you.
So, wherever you may hear new ideas – whether in a church environment, or somewhere else – consider whether the speaker deserves a little bit of your time to listen. But, don’t accept any teaching of significant importance as true – whether from your favorite pastor, or from articles on this website – without vetting it.
- Note that there are also groups today who use the name “Berean” for themselves, referring to this group. I’m not commenting here on the accuracy of their beliefs or practices (neither for nor against). However, the example of the Berean synagogue-goers from Acts gives us two good principles to apply to those groups, as well!