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.” Acts 17:11

In Acts 17:11 Luke gives us a very striking description of the Jews who heard Paul preaching in the town of Berea. Comparing them to the Jews in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9), Luke says that the Bereans were ‘more noble’. This description is of course of historical interest helping us to follow the progress of the gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (see Acts 1:8).

But it is also of personal importance, for as we read of the noble Bereans we are challenged to think about our own response to the gospel message. The question is a simple one: When we hear the gospel proclaimed from the Scriptures, will we be noble hearers as the Bereans were?

Luke’s comparison between the Bereans and the Thessalonians encourages us to look back at Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica. Acts 17:2-3 tells us that Paul attended the synagogue on three Sabbath days and that he “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying ‘This Jesus whom I proclaim to you is the Christ.’”

Note the words Luke uses to describe Paul’s preaching – reasoned; explaining; proving – words that tell us that Paul wanted his audience first to think about what he was saying rather than to blindly accept his words and then, having considered his words carefully, to accept the message and to put their faith in Jesus.

Some of the Bereans did that, but sadly many did not. We might say that the majority of the Thessalonians were ignoble hearers because notwithstanding the truth of Paul’s message and the lengths to which Paul went to explain and convince, they rejected the gospel. One can only imagine how this grieved Paul’s heart (see Romans 10:1).

What then of the Bereans?. Luke tells us that their response to Paul’s ministry of proclamation and persuasion was a noble response. First we are told that they “received the word with all eagerness” (Acts 17:11). The word translated eagerness speaks of ‘readiness and good will’. And this tells us something about the attitude with which the Bereans listened. While not gullible, as we shall see in a moment, they were also not closed minded or antagonistic in the way they listened. They were not like those people who decide in advance that they will not give the Christian message a fair hearing, no matter how clear or convincing the argument is.

Rather they were open minded, willing to listen and ready to receive the word, provided of course that what was being said was true. How we should pray that we and those with whom we seek to share the gospel have the same attitude to listening!

Second, Luke tells us that the Bereans “ examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). What an important statement this is, for it tells us that the Bereans’ open mindedness was not an easily impressed gullibility. Paul was without question a capable orator, but in the end it was the content of his message and the fact that what Paul was saying agreed with what the Scriptures taught, that persuaded the Bereans to become Christians. Nor would Paul have had it any other way, for we read in Acts 17:2 that all of Paul’s reasoning, explaining and proving was based on the Scriptures and not on his own opinions. 

The fact that this examination of the Scriptures took place daily reminds us that conviction about the truth of the gospel is something that grows over time and through diligent effort. To put it in personal testimony terms, I can well remember hearing the gospel at St James and wanting to believe the wonderful truth about God’s grace to me, a sinner.

As I look back I realise that the Lord was giving me open ears and a willing, open mind. But I needed time and the answers to many questions before I finally believed. During that period I listen eagerly to the preaching. And for the first time in my life, I began to follow up what I was hearing for myself in the Bible. The more I studied the Scriptures, the more answers I found and the more questions I had. I was making progress toward genuine, Bible based faith but it took time and a lot of patience on the part of those whom I kept peppering with hard questions.

By the grace of God I came to the point where I moved from being a eager hearer and inquisitive seeker to being a true believer. And having believed, I discovered an even greater joy. For the truth is that even as believers we are keep imitating those noble Bereans. For every day is a day to grow in the gospel and to discover for ourselves from the Scriptures that these wonderful gospel truths are indeed so!