The newly formed assembly at Thessalonica was anxious about the safety of its spiritual mentors, and so, under cover of darkness, Paul and Silas were “sent away” (Acts 17:10). “The brethren” were very thoughtful, as were “the brethren” at Berea, even though their link with the missionaries was so recent (v 5). Being brethren should promote that protective attitude: “He laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1John 3:16).
The commotion at Thessalonica had not dampened Paul’s enthusiasm and it was business as usual when he arrived at Berea (v10). Berean Jews were credited with being “more noble” than their Thessalonian cousins, their nobility being exhibited in their attitude to “the Word” preached. They received it “with all readiness of mind” (v11). The Greek word translated “readiness of mind” is used on only four other occasions, all of them in 2 Corinthians, when the apostle was describing the Corinthians’ attitude towards needy saints (chs 8 & 9). Sadly, at that stage, their impressive project got no further than their heads; it had not been translated into concrete action. How often good intentions wither on the vine!
The Bereans were somewhat different. Their attitude to the message that was being preached was reflected in their investigation of its veracity – they “searched the Scriptures daily, [to see] whether those things were so.” The investigation was thorough; they “searched.” Bible truth does not always lie on the surface, and sometimes it has to be mined. Paul describes the earnest student of Scripture as “a workman” (2Tim 2:15); effort is needed. We will never understand divine truth without the Spirit’s illumination, but the intellect must be applied to the task: “Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things” (2Tim 2:7). The gift from the Lord of understanding is allied with the willingness to give thought to what is said!
The Bereans investigated persistently as well as thoroughly; they did it “daily.” (Take time to unearth the “daily” things in the Acts). The commitment of these Jews to delve into Scripture on a daily basis is a splendid model for believers today. “I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12). “Necessary food” involves a daily intake; “daily bread” (Matt 6:11). Manna was gathered “every morning” (Exo 16:21). From a spiritual standpoint, a daily diet of the Word of God is more necessary. Christian, discipline your life to include the daily routine of reading and pondering the Scriptures. The snacks provided by tear-off calendars and daily reading publications are fine, but in themselves, they will never provide the well-rounded spiritual diet that is required to sustain spiritual health and energy.
The “therefore” of verse 12 is significant: “therefore many of them believed.” Believing was the outcome of their attitude to the Word. The Word engenders faith (Rom 10:17). The Word affects regeneration (1Peter 1:23). The Word provides enlightenment (Psa 119:130). Little wonder the Lord’s servants are under mandate to “preach the word” (2Tim 4:2). There is no substitute for the simple declaration of gospel truth, and that is exactly what happened at Berea; “the Word of God was preached of Paul at Berea” (Acts 17:13).
What was being preached was sound. It was the Word of God. How it was being preached was simple. It was a plain proclamation of the unvarnished yet unadulterated facts of the gospel as indicated by the word “proclaimed” (RV). Who was preaching it was significant – a man who had been appropriately gifted and called by God for the task. These are three criteria for effective evangelism today, whether pioneering as at Berea, or in a more established work, as when Paul wrote of the Thessalonians, “from you sounded out the Word of the Lord” (1Thes 1:8).
On the basis of the foregoing, we must avoid three things. First, sidelining the Word and majoring on what might be perceived as a catchy presentation to excite curious minds. Second, obscuring the message by using garbled technical language and obscure clichés that are unfamiliar to the man on the street. Third, encouraging brethren to “take their turn” at preaching, whether or not God has gifted them for that. Avoid these pitfalls, so that Bible-based messages are communicated simply by those who are gifted to do it.
The Thessalonian Jews were so bitterly opposed to the Lord’s servants that they traveled to Berea and “stirred up the people.” What business was it of theirs? None at all, and yet their interference demonstrates the incorrigible attitude of Satan towards God’s work. Paul wrote of his visit to Ephesus, “a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries” (1Cor 16:9). Never be surprised when there is a hostile response to new initiatives in gospel activity. The Western world prides itself in democracy, with tolerance and freedom of speech being major planks of that applauded political system. Bubbling beneath the surface, though, there is still antagonism to the gospel. Behind the veneer, there is the innate hatred of God that explodes at times, and denies preachers the use of venues, attempts to block access to schools, complains about the “noise pollution” created by preaching in pedestrian precincts and parks, and brands gospel literature as junk mail. “He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap” (Ecc 11:4). Too often we allow opposition to muzzle us, and we settle for easy options.
At Berea it was deemed wise for Paul to escape, and Silas and Timothy were left to consolidate the work (v14). Athens proved to be a haven for him, but everything there militated against his Christian principles and his Jewish sensibilities. A great sense of desolation gripped him, hence his appeal for Silas and Timothy to come “with all speed” (v15). They did come, but Paul was concerned for the Thessalonians, and since he was persona non grata there, he dispatched Timothy (1Thes 3:1-10). Evidently, Silas had been sent northward as well (Acts 18:5). Hence Paul’s words, “left at Athens alone” (1Thes 3:1). Isolated, desolate, and lonely, he knew the implications, and yet he faced the sacrifice to help the beleaguered believers at Thessalonica.
Our dear brethren and sisters who respond to the call to serve God in an alien environment may have to face physical discomforts and privations. Perhaps a greater sacrifice is the psychological impact of being bereft of fellowship in an alien culture where demonic activity creates a nearly tangible atmosphere of evil. God bless them, and if you feel called to augment their numbers, weigh up the cost of being “left at Athens alone.”