September 15, 2019
Pastor Ricky Smith
If you have your Bible, open it, if you would, to Acts chapter 17. We’re going to be looking specifically at verses 10 through 15. -a pretty small section of verses, but some that I think we can learn a lot from. In fact, I’m pretty confident, regardless of what’s going on, I think the Lord will show every one of us something that we can learn about ourselves and about Him today, and we will leave different. So that’s my prayer for all of us, myself included.
Do you ever listen to what they say?
I owe it to you to unpack more what I mean. I’ve had many conversations over the years with my family as we sit around wondering what they say, and we wonder what they will say next. Like, they used to say, “You only need to drink skim milk,” and now they say whole milk is good. So what do I do? I mean, I just go with the good stuff and get the full body.
They used to say, “Keep your baby car seat facing backward until your baby is one. Then you can turn him or her around.” Now they say, “Wait until your child is two or reaches a certain weight.” Who are they anyway? That’s the question. I would like to go talk to them sometimes and really give them a taste of my opinion. That’s what I would like to do, whoever they are. “You know, they say…” No, I really don’t know who they are.
Do you ever get that? I mean, I remember (speaking of the kids’ car seats), when I was probably way too little, my dad would sit me in front of the steering wheel with my feet sticking out the bottom. I’m holding on to the top while he’s driving, and I’m just doing the driving motion down the road. They all would say that’s a bad idea, but it was a memory, at least.
Now, we could all give examples of things they say that may be different now than what we were used to, and it’s okay. I mean, we’re in a spectrum of research and science and health, and I get that. That’s okay. But when we take that idea and make an unfair and dangerous assumption that that also applies to faith, now we’re getting into a dangerous lane.
In fact, Jesus even warned us to make sure that our faith is built on this firm foundation of a rock and not sand, which shifts back and forth. The question I would submit to all of us is, how do I live my life? How do I live my life in a way that it is firm, and it is not potentially shifting based upon what they say is right or wrong? How do we live that way?
I think the text today gives us a wonderful example that we can learn from, and it’s going to show us as we continue this journey through the book of Acts, the value of a biblical worldview and the standard of unchanging Scripture that points us to truth.
I. Strength of Focus
If you’re taking notes, here’s the first thing I would encourage you to write down when we look at this text: There is a strength of focus. Let’s read verse 10 and part of verse 11 from Acts 17, and then I’ll just make a few comments. Let’s begin reading together.
Acts 17:10-11a (ESV)
10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica;
Okay, clearly we’re jumping right into the middle of a continuing story. It would benefit you later to go back and read the first nine verses of this chapter. We read when Paul and Silas were in Thessalonica, and they were working in the synagogues. They were preaching the good news of who Jesus Christ is, and some believed. But all of a sudden, here come the Jewish antagonists who start to persecute.
Remember, they went into the house of Jason, and they began to attack. Jason had to pay earnest money just to pay them off and to keep things moving. So, in that drama, Paul and Silas had escaped. This is where we pick up in verse 10.
While this is wrapping up, you can almost picture, this is simultaneously happening. While the Jews are attacking Jason, they find Paul and Silas were not there. Well, where were they? They had now moved on to Berea, and here they come to Berea, and what I think we notice first of all is, we can learn an important lesson about Paul.
Paul immediately continued in obedience to carry out the mission that God had handed him to do. He gets to Berea and immediately goes right into the synagogue and begins to preach. Here’s what I recognize about that: Paul did not allow his circumstances or his situation to dictate how he lived. That’s a critically important lesson for all of us to understand.
In fact, I’ll just ask you this question. Can we just be honest with each other for a moment? -or be honest with yourself. Do you allow your circumstances, do you allow your success or lack thereof, do you allow your situations to dictate your joy, and do you allow the circumstances to determine how you live in obedience to God? From Paul, we clearly see that he did not. He was faithful even in the midst of his struggle. Even in the midst of being run out of town, he immediately goes right back to work, right back into the synagogue, to be faithful to preach.
And this truly is almost synonymous with the Christian life that we live in today. I mean, it is not all roses all the time. It’s not all beautiful flowers all the time. Life is hard; it really is. And Christian living, it will lead us in and out of trial. I mean, can we just be real with each other?
If you look around, you do not have to look very far to see somebody who is in a trial right now. All around, maybe even yourself, sitting in your seat, you admit, I am hurting right now. Maybe it’s disease. Maybe it’s financial struggle. I mean, there are people in our church who are hurting. We’ll talk more about this at the end of the sermon, but right now we just have to acknowledge and recognize that this Christian life, this thing that we call life, is not easy.
And at this point of the conversation, as we look at the example of Paul, we must pause and recognize, do we allow our situations to determine our joy? Or instead, regardless of the situation, do we remain faithful to the mission? Let’s look at what Jesus said in John 16, verse 33. You can turn there if you’d like or just make a note and read it later.
In John 16:33, Jesus said this: “I have said these things to you that in me, you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world.” Now, I want to challenge you to open up your heart just for a minute to think of, what is it in this moment right now that’s bringing you great stress, pain and anxiety? It may be physical. It may be emotional. It may be spiritual.
Whatever it is, step into that right now. I need you to hear the words of Jesus. “You’re not alone. I’m bigger than that problem. Don’t quit. Never ever quit. Even in the middle of pain, keep your eye on the mission to obey God, to make Him known, and do not depend on your circumstances. Don’t quit.”
And here’s what I’ve noticed about God. I’ve seen this in my life. Just at the moment when I’m at my lowest, God gives me affirmation. He gives me that pat on the back. He gives me that “attaboy” at just the right time. At just the right time, when I think Lord, I’m being faithful to give, and I have no idea how I’m going to pay this bill, He delivers.
At just the right time, when I feel like there is no hope, there will be a conversation or a song or a Scripture passage that God will use to affirm. And here’s what you need to know about this God that we love: God is always on time. Always. He is never late, and you can trust Him.
God is always on time.
It may or may not mean He delivers and affirms with the answer that you want, but He knows what’s best, and we trust Him in that. But, God is always on time. Thank Him for that. Trust Him in that.
II. Scripture Filters Truth
And I’ll tell you how we can trust Him in that, is by the second point: Scripture helps us to filter truth. Scripture filters truth. See, Paul understood this. Paul could be faithful in his circumstances because he knew and trusted what God had said in His Word. He knew and trusted the command of God. Therefore, he could rely on what was true. Let’s read the second half of verse 11 and verse 12, and if you’ll permit, I’ll make some observations.
11b they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.
So, we took a moment a minute ago, and we looked at the example of Paul. Now I want us to turn our attention to the people of Berea because there’s a lot that we can learn from them. In fact, I think there are some things that we can learn and immediately apply to our lives today. Here are some things that we read about them.
A. Acknowledge the message (receive the Word)
First of all, they receive the message. They acknowledge the message. We read it in verse 11 that they received the Word. So, they’re hearing what Paul is communicating, and they’re listening. They have a desire to learn. They’re eager to know. They’re at liberty to think. They’re open for instruction. They desire to be taught. Do you see that? That’s a spirit that we can learn from them. They were eager to receive this message.
If you’ve skimmed through the next couple of verses or even those other things, we’ll see that even in their eagerness to learn, they were not walking and trusting blindly. Blind faith is a mistake. Now, we would say, “Of course, blind faith is a mistake.” But, if we listen to each other closely, this is something in our church language, our “Christian-ese”, if you will, that we’ll use a lot of times.
“Well, the preacher said _____.” Okay, don’t do it just because I said it. What does Scripture say? “The preacher said so” is not a good defense of your faith. In fact, replace that. Instead of saying, “The preacher said so,” learn so that you can say, “The Bible said so. Therefore…” That’s a much more solid footing to be on.
And I think because of that, we can learn from the Bereans. There was an eagerness to learn. There was an eagerness to explore. There was an eagerness to grow, and they received the Word. I think where we can apply this to our life is simply this: Dig deep. Ask big questions. Desire to grow and learn and receive information. But in doing so, please understand this: It is totally okay to ask big questions. In fact, don’t feel guilty for asking big questions.
Some of you, maybe you’re wired with a logical, analytical mind, and you can’t help but ask big questions. Others of us, because of the way we’re wired, we may feel guilty for asking big questions.
For example, have you ever asked big questions like, is the Bible really the Word of God? Is God really real? It’s okay to ask those questions. Whatever the big question is, it’s okay to ask it, as long as you understand this truth: You have to know that there is a Truth to discover.
Know that there is a truth to discover.
When we ask these big questions, as we’re processing and owning our faith, and we’re going to God’s Word for answers and we’re asking these big questions, just know that the result is not some open-ended question like, “Well, whatever you decide, it’s okay for you, and whatever I decide, it’s okay for me.” No, there is an absolute Truth to discover. Know that, and we also need to be warned.
It was ironic; in LifeGroup this morning, this conversation came up in our discussion. I leaned over to my wife and was like, “Man, this is perfect with what we’re talking about today!” -because we live in a postmodern world that embraces varying philosophical positions and ultimately pushes us to a place to say, “Well, as long as you’re being consistent with your beliefs, it’s okay. And don’t impose your beliefs on me.”
Folks, that’s hogwash, is what that’s called. There is an absolute Truth to discover that God teaches in His Word, and this is what we must live and die upon. Know that there’s a Truth. Proverbs 14:12 says this:
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
I need to trust in the Lord with all of my heart and not lean on my own understanding and in all my ways acknowledge Him, and He will make my paths straight, or He will direct my paths (Proverbs 3:5-6).
B. Willingness or longing (eagerness)
So the first thing we learned from the Bereans was an acknowledgment of the message, this willingness to receive the Word that Paul delivered, and then the second thing we note from them in the text is that there was a sense of willingness, or longing. We see it in the word eagerness. They received the Word with all eagerness.
Now, here’s where we understand how this eagerness plays itself out. When we read through the rest of verse 11, we see that they examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were true. You’ve got to understand that the norm of this day was, they would go to the synagogue on Sabbath (Saturday), and the rabbi would read the Scripture, give a message, and then they would go.
But the Bereans were like, “No, no, no, no. We need more. We eagerly desire to study the Scripture every day.” It wasn’t just something that they were going to leave for Saturday (for them, the Sabbath). Now translating into our world, “We’re not just going to leave it for Sunday; we’re going to search and study the Scripture every day.”
And because of this, you’ll even see some churches pop up here and there. They may even name their church Berean Bible Church or Berean Baptist Church, and that’s the desire of those people. -to identify with this commitment to search and study the Scripture every single day. And they did it with enthusiasm. They did it in a search for Truth. They did it with eagerness.
Now, I’ve got to ask a question. What does your daily time with Jesus look like? You have got to ask and answer that question. I don’t know about you. I love to eat. And I eat at least three times a day, whether I need it or not. Why? Because food is good, right?
Spiritually speaking, though, it is so easy for us to fall into this trap that we eat one day a week. We eat on Sunday. “I’m here, and I’m listening. I’m eager to learn. I’ve got my Bible. I went to LifeGroup. I ate that meal on Sunday, and now I’m going to go throughout the week, and my Bible will collect dust until I pick it up and carry it to church again on Sunday.”
And we wonder why we’re starving on the inside. This eagerness and this desire and longing to study Scripture every day is a personal decision that you and I must make. Otherwise, if we don’t, we become codependent. Have you ever picked this up? Have you ever seen a codependent child or a codependent relationship? And you can immediately spot it to say, “That is not healthy.” -because we realize the need for our kids to grow and be independent and make their own decisions.
Well, we don’t need codependent Christians either. We shouldn’t live our lives in a way like, “Man, I really hope Pastor Ricky gives me something today that I can walk away and apply because otherwise, I’m going to be hungry all week.” Be a big boy or girl. Feed yourself every single day. This is not rocket science, is it?
But it sometimes is difficult. So, here’s what I would like to do. I’m going to give you a two-minute approach to what studying Scripture every day can look like. Would you like to know? Okay, good. I thought so. Raise your hand if you’ve ever binge watched a show on Netflix. Thank you. Confession is good for the soul.
Well, here’s the deal: This is what my Bible study looks like personally, okay? I view it this way: In one way and one vein, I binge watch like I’m watching Netflix, and then the other vein, I become a movie critic. We know what movie critics are, right? They study the lighting. They study the character development. They’re looking for all the backstory and all the subplots, and they’re just digging deep.
I would recommend that your approach to Scripture in one vein should be like binge watching Netflix and in the other vein be like being a movie critic. Let me explain this for you. This is my world every day. If you hear me gloating, you’re hearing the wrong thing. I’m trying to teach you, okay?
Every day, I binge watch, meaning this: I open the Bible, and I read five chapters a day. I don’t stop and try to study it. I’m not reading and taking notes as I go. I am just reading it as if I were binge watching a show. Does that make sense? Just like it’s a story, I’m going to read five chapters today. And to me, I’m just reading it that way because I want to get the feel. I want to get the flow. I want to get this story. I just want to see it develop. Does that make sense?
Oh, and by the way, that doesn’t take long. 15 minutes, maybe 20. It’s not a long time. Binge watch. And then, flipping the script, I need to turn the page and become a movie critic. And then it’s like, “Okay, I’m going to narrow down to a verse, and I’m going to pay attention to that verse.”
I’m going to look at, what is the subject? What is the verb? What’s going on around it? What’s the context of this verse? What’s happening in this situation? Maybe I can search and find some history of what’s happened in this city. I want to really make sure I completely understand what this verse is saying, and now I can’t binge watch; I’ve got to become a movie critic.
And to me, the ultimate goal is, if I have become a critic of that verse to the point that I could write a paragraph about what that verse is saying, I then think, I understand that verse. Does that make sense? Now, that’s not the only way. There are lots of ways. I’m just simply saying there has to be an eagerness and a willingness on all of our parts to examine the Scripture and to study it with purpose.
C. Carefully examine (ask questions)
In fact, that even leads me to the third thing I think we could learn from Berea. They carefully examined. They carefully examined not what Scripture was saying; they had already done that. They’re carefully examining what Paul said. Let me illustrate it this way.
Ronald Reagan was the President of the United States in the eighties. He developed a common leadership practice, and using this technique led him to guide us through the end of the Cold War (video shown of Reagan saying, “Trust, but verify”).
Trust, but verify.
This idea of trust, but verify was a great military leadership and political leadership move, but it really establishes this idea that the Bereans used. “Okay Paul, we hear what you’re saying. We’re studying the Scripture every day, and we’re carefully examining that what you say measures up with Scripture.”
So in reality, what they had done is, they were practicing what you and I should practice, which is that Scripture communicates the standard, and everything in life, we view through that lens. How does this measure? Again, it’s not what the preacher says; what does the Bible say? Trust, but verify. I’m going to compare with what I’ve learned in Scripture.
If I’m a goldsmith, I use a touchstone to measure the quality of this gold. If I’m a builder, I’m using a plumb line to make sure that things are proper and correct. All throughout life, in many different areas, we take what we see, and we measure it against the standard to determine, is it right and true? And where you and I have to be careful is, just because it’s a book that’s written or it’s a sermon that’s posted online or that preacher’s well-enough known to be on TV, does not mean I should just receive whatever I read and hear. I must constantly, carefully measure it. Trust, but verify, with what does the Bible say?
Does that make sense? It is so easy for us to just turn off our filter and blindly receive information. I think the people of Berea have shown us this wonderful example of what this looks like. But this is reinforced all throughout Scripture. Here are several references. You may want to write them down and read them later: 1 Peter 3:15, it’s this idea of, I must always be ready to give an answer.
1 Thessalonians 5:21 is this principle of testing everything and then putting away what’s bad and holding on to what’s good. 1 John 4:1 is this awareness that there are false prophets around us, teaching things that aren’t true, and we must test every spirit to see if it is from God. How do I test that spirit? It’s not based on how it sounds or how I feel, but what does the Bible say is true? 2 Timothy 3:15-17 says this:
2 Timothy 3:15-17
15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Trust, but verify. But just be ready. Whenever you hear and receive the Truth, it will produce change, because the Spirit of God is alive. Scripture is active and living and breathing. It will produce change. And so, just be excited, but also be forewarned. When you examine Scripture and you study it every day, it’s going to change you. It’s going to change the faith community that we call Calvary Baptist Church. It’s going to change the Chattahoochee Valley, because there’s power in these Words. It’ll change you.
And here’s what I want you to notice. This is an important thing. Look at verse four and notice how the Thessalonican people, what the response was. Paul preached, and we read that some believed. Look at verse 12. Paul preached; many believed. What’s the difference? It’s the same preacher. It’s the same message. The difference is the responsibility of the listener. There’s the difference.
They were eager and desiring to listen and learn, and I’ve just always thought you get what you expect. I mean, imagine if every day I approached my time when I opened up God’s Word, I went into it with an expectation of, God’s got a Word for me today. If every Sunday when I walked into worship or every time my LifeGroup met, I walked into that experience and we opened God’s Word, I walked into it with expectation to say, God has a Word for me today.
He’s always there. So, I’ll just say this: If you’ve ever been in church or you’ve ever been in Bible study or you’ve ever read the Word yourself and you closed the Book or you walked away and you said, “I didn’t get anything out of that,” it may not be the messenger that’s the problem. It may be the responsibility of the listener to receive it. Does that make sense? We see that difference here.
III. Support in the Fight
Let’s move on to the third point of the day: Support in the fight. Let’s read verses 13 through 15. I have a few more comments to make, and then I’ll be done.
13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds. 14 Then the brothers immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea, but Silas and Timothy remained there. 15 Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed.
Do you ever feel like you’ve got a “kick me” sign on your back? Or, maybe you just feel like you’ve got a bullseye taped to your chest. It’s like, “Man, the shots are being fired from everywhere!” I imagine Paul had to feel this way. I mean, again, we’re going back to where we started. He’s faithful to not let a situation or circumstances keep him from being obedient, but every time he turns around, here’s another attack.
Here these Jews come again, and we’ve got to understand, like them, some people will go out of their way to destroy the message of the Gospel. These Jews travelled almost 40 miles from Thessalonica to Berea because, “We hear Paul’s up to it again. Let’s go down there and try to stop him and run him off.”
And what do we learn from this? You know, what we learn is that the Jews were not the enemy. The Jews were not the enemy here. Satan himself is the enemy. We know this from Ephesians chapter 6. “For our wrestle, or our struggle, is not against flesh and blood.” We’re in this spiritual battle, and it’s so easy when we feel like shots are being fired or somebody’s kicking us in the back or even kicking us while we’re down, to turn our attention toward them as the enemy.
We have to remember that Satan is like a roaring lion roaming to and fro, seeking whom he may devour. And we’re in a battle. It’s a spirit of war waging against us, and it tends to come even at a quicker pace when the devil knows that God’s doing amazing things. Eternal change will grab the attention of the enemy. We shouldn’t be surprised. Just be aware.
But, I want our attention here for the sake of today’s conversation, not to specifically focus on the Jews attacking. What I want us to learn from, are the brothers, and notice how they responded. They immediately came to help Paul. They wasted no time. Verse 14: “Then the brothers, immediately they stepped in.” We’ve got to read between the lines what was happening here. They set up an evacuation… Whatever they did, they wasted no time responding to help Paul and to make sure that he was safe.
What this reinforces to me when I realize it is the value of his living life together, being in a LifeGroup together, being in a place where, when we are hurting (we talked about this at the very beginning. We know that people next to you may be really navigating life decisions that are hard and walking through pain), somebody needs to know that so they can’t help you. Rather than wearing the mask, where is that place that we can just let it all be known, and people can rally behind us and pray for us and encourage us and be there to help us and immediately step in?
I’m so encouraged with some of the stories that I’m hearing of people that are hurting and their LifeGroup is rallying around them to help. That’s a beautiful picture of what this faith community should look like. I mean, this is a huge value for us as a church, that we’re doing life on mission together.
But just know this: People can only know you’re struggling if you take the time to tell them. You don’t have to broadcast it to the world, but somebody needs to know that you’re hurting so they can be present, so that they can pray for you, so that they can be there for you.
Today, we’ve asked a lot of really big questions. We’ve asked the really big questions about whether or not we allow our circumstances to dictate our joy and even drive us off our mission. We’ve been encouraged to evaluate the time that we spend in Scripture, and do we allow God’s Word to be the standard by which we make decisions in life? What does the Bible say? And here toward the end, we’re even seeing the importance of evaluating our expression of love and support for others and why that’s a really big deal.
- I will trust God’s purpose in pain and rely on His timing.
- I commit to study God’s Word every day.
- I will support my brothers and sisters when they struggle.
- Review Acts 17 and compare the attacks against Paul. If you were him, would you have quit or stayed on mission? How can we maintain missional focus, even when we experience trouble?
- Read 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Why is it beneficial for us to study God’s Word? How are reading and studying the Bible different?
- Share what your daily time in God’s Word looks like. What can we learn from one another in our individual approaches to personal study?