Sermon for Sunday Evening, May 28th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Act 17:10-15 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; 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. 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.
There are two definition of the word “Noble.” And because these definitions are almost opposite each other in some ways, I tend to avoid using the term. But it is indeed used in our passage. The Jews in Berea were more noble than those in Thessalonica.
The first definition of noble is like “nobility.” “belong to a hereditary class with high social or political status.” The second is the one we have in view: “having or showing fine personal qualities or high moral principles and ideas.” Probably many in “high status” do have a good moral upbringing, but more often than not the wealthy or the “nobility” are not so “noble.” Hence the conflict in use of the term.
But the Bereans are “noble” in that second way, having high principles. And that principle is that the search the Scriptures. Our translation says they “examine the Scriptures.”
I want to look more deeply at that point this evening. How do we examine the Scriptures? Or, what does it take to BE A BEREAN.
Examining the Scriptures. How is this done?
We’ll look at 6 points.
Meditating upon them.
Submitting to them.
Testing all things by them.
I. Reading them.
This is a no-brainer. But very often we have to say the obvious, at least as a reminder. How are we to know the mind of Christ if we do not read his word? How are we to examine the Scriptures without reading them? We don’t yet have a microchip in our heads with which to download and memorize all of Scripture instantaneously. We must read.
That is the famous line that St. Augustine heard. “Tolle Lege” – take up and read. That is what must be done. And, it starts there. Either with the word HEARD or the word READ. To begin you need to either hear someone else read and preach the word, or you need to pick up the Bible and read.
Do not be intimidated. While it is a large book, there are many ways in which you can make it more digestible. Sometimes you’ll see a copy of the Gospel of John, for example, as a stand-alone printed book. Take up and read that. Then move on to another book.
Make it a regular practice. Look at the Bereans, when they examined the Scriptures they did not do so just once, but did so DAILY.
Reading the Scriptures is so vital, that Christ regularly questioned the Pharisees and Sadducees saying “Have you not read?” Certainly the Pharisees and Sadducee had read the Scripture. It was part of their training. But they didn’t pay close enough attention, they didn’t examine the Scriptures so that they would know the answers from the mouth of God.
II. Meditating upon them.
So the second part of examining the Scriptures is meditating upon them.
The Psalmist makes it the characteristic of a good man, that he “meditates on God’s law day and night.”
Meditation, Christian meditation, is not the emptying of the mind, but the filling of the mind with the word of God, and “thinking it over.” Thinking it over and over and over. Looking for new applications and implications that come from a particular verse or passage.
Reading is insufficient, meditation is necessary. It is the difference between “going in one ear and out the other” and the absorption of a sponge. Don’t let the water just bounce off, but take it in. Drink from the word of God, do not just taste the water but drink it.
III. Searching them
Then, in examining the word of God, we are to search the Scriptures.
Literally, you can use a concordance or a lexicon to find people, words, or topics in the Bible.
Perhaps a particular subject comes up in your mind. A great question. What does the Bible say about Baptism? Or what does the Bible say about marriage? Or any other subject. So you search the Scriptures for as many passages as can be found on the subject. Even, you look for the passing mentions of your topic of interest in passages that are otherwise about something else entirely. You dig and dig seeking the wisdom and truth of God.
And, this is my experience, you’ll be amazed at what you find. On every subject the Word of God has something to say; it has much to say. And the greater you study the subject the more you will see the wisdom of God in the answer. The Bible doesn’t give any wrong answers, not does it give overly simplistic answers. Rather, the wisdom of God is seen in the beauty of the answers. His answers match His world, and are to our benefit.
So we read in 2 Timothy 3:16-17
[2Ti 3:16-17 ESV] 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.
IV. Comparing them.
Now, after searching the Scriptures and finding various passages, in order to further “examine” we must compare the passages.
This is called “comparing Scripture with Scripture.” Also known by the Latin “Analogia Fide” or “the Analogy of Faith” which frankly seems to me to be an unhelpful phrase.
So we want compare Scripture with Scripture.
And this leads to a discussion of Biblical presuppositions. We cannot compare anything unless we agree on the basics of the field of Logic, and that the Scriptures contain no contradictions nor errors.
These are presuppositions, this that must be presupposed in the comparing of Scripture.
1. There is no error in the word of God. To say otherwise would be to call God a liar.
2. There are no contradictions in the word of God. No passages entirely opposes another passage. There is harmony, unity in God’s word.
3. Humans have the ability, even the obligation, to compare Scripture in order to improve their understanding of difficult passages.
We must go the Scriptures themselves even for these presuppositions. We must read Scripture with Scriptural lenses.
And the Bible tells us that it is all truth. So we do not get to chose what we like as truth and what we want to discard. We don’t discard the creation narrative or the teaching that church officers are to be men. Though even Christian culture in places opposes such teachings, saying that they are not “scientific” or “are only fitting for a culture of a previous age” we accept the Bible’s view of itself. It is true, and it remains true.
It has no contradictions. And it can be understood.
There are indeed “difficult passages” as there are easy passages. Peter even admits that some of Paul’s writings are hard to understand. But it doesn’t mean that they are impossible to understand. Paul wrote, and God revealed Scripture to us, so that we might understand. The Bible was not written for naught, nor written to a people who can’t read or can’t comprehend what it says, but rather the Bible was written for us, in human language, to convey information from God to us. We ought to study it like the Bereans.
Then, with the assumption – the Biblical assumption – that there are no contradictions in Scripture, if you see something you don’t understand, if you see something that looks like a contradiction, you know that your thinking is somewhere in error, not the Scripture. And so you must keep studying. You must keep searching. You must keep examining the Scriptures.
V.Submitting to them.
Now, finally, the whole enterprise is null and void if you don’t submit to the Scriptures.
That is our fifth element of examining the Scriptures. Submitting to them.
Here we ought to acknowledge that God’s word is truth. And we ought to acknowledge that in the word of God we find eternal life.
He said [Jhn 5:39 ESV] 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,
So we have Christ, and we have life, which he offers, which he presents to us in his death and resurrection, taking upon himself the punishment of death that we deserve, forgiving our sins, and declaring victory over sin.
Finally then, having examined the Scriptures, and submitted to them, we are to test all other things by them.
VI. Testing all things by them.
See, we don’t test Scripture by the world, we test the world by the Scriptures.
Paul says: [1Th 5:21 ESV] 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good.
So the Bereans tested even Paul’s words. They compared them with Scripture to see that Christ was promised and had to be.
Whenever a new theory comes your way, you are to test it against the word of God.
And if that theory is not in accord with the Scriptures, toss it aside.
We do not add to Scripture, for in it is “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life.”
I want to them conclude this evening, leaving you with this quote from George Whitfield
“Search, therefore, the scriptures, my dear brethren; taste and see how good the word of God is, and then you will never leave that heavenly manna, that angel’s food, to feed on dry husks, that light bread, those trifling, sinful compositions, in which men of false taste delight themselves: no, you will then disdain such poor entertainment, and blush that yourselves once were fond of it. The word of God will then be sweeter to you than honey, and the honey-comb, and dearer than gold and silver; your souls by reading it, will be filled as it were, with marrow and fatness, and your hearts insensibly molded into the spirit of its blessed Author. In short, you will be guided by God’s wisdom here, and conducted by the light of his divine word into glory hereafter.”
Let us pray.