Examining the Scriptures

The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 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. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. (Acts 17:10-12, ESV)

One of the subtle temptations those of us who lead Bible study groups may have is the desire to be well-respected and known for our Bible knowledge. It feels good when people express appreciation for our teaching, when they look to us to sort out difficult passages, when they put their trust in our interpretation of a text. We are tempted to pride as we teach, and our egos are stroked as others rely on us for their understanding of the Bible. All who teach or preach the Word must watch out for this temptation and guard against it!

One way we can fight this temptation as Bible study leaders is not to just teach or share the conclusions of our own study of the Bible, but also to explain how we studied and arrived at our conclusions, and to teach others how to do the same kind of study. When we do this well, we point people’s praise and appreciation more to God and how wonderful His Word is rather than how wonderful we are as teachers. In addition, rather than encouraging people to be dependent on us for understanding the Scriptures, we can help teach them the skills to study it themselves. Instead of us just feeding them, we help them learn how to feed themselves. Over time, we can develop a fellowship where all are able to study and to help each other learn God’s Word. In doing so, we also encourage greater dependence on God, rather than on ourselves.

In Macedonia, during this second missionary journey, Paul and Silas were experiencing a challenging time in their ministry of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. They had been arrested and imprisoned in Philippi and miraculously freed by God. In Thessalonica, a mob dragged them before the city authorities and accused them of stirring up a rebellion against Caesar. It seemed wise to get Paul and Silas out of town before something more serious happened, so they went by night to nearby Berea where they again went to the Jewish synagogue to proclaim the gospel message of the life, death, and resurrection of the promised Savior, Jesus Christ.

What I find interesting about their experience in Berea is as the people heard Paul and Silas’s message, they did not just accept it or reject it without checking it out. Luke, the author of Acts, commends the people of Berea as being “more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” They took the time to compare what they heard with what the Scriptures said. As they did their own study of the Scriptures, many became convinced and believed, both Jews and Greeks.

Let me ask you this: If a guest teacher or speaker came to your church and preached a message that was a bit controversial, would many of those who heard the message have the knowledge and skills to know how to study the relevant Scriptures to see if what the speaker said was right? Or, would they simply turn to the leaders of your church and ask them if what was said was correct? Another way of thinking about it is, are your people dependent on you or other leaders to know what to believe, or can they study the Bible itself in pursuit of understanding? Are they equipped to distinguish false from true teaching, or might they be easy victims to a powerful speaker or cult leader? Paul’s teaching was new to most of the people, so it was right not to simply accept it without checking it out. But their own careful study of the Scriptures backed up his message, and many responded in faith.

One of the major issues addressed in the Protestant Reformation was to encourage dependence on the Scriptures and not on some other authority. “Sola Scriptura,” the Scriptures alone, were to be the guide for faith. Martin Luther, and many others, wanted to make the Scriptures available in the common language of their people so that they could read and study it together, not just remain dependent on a priest or bishop’s interpretation. This was one reason behind Luther’s support that schooling be made available to all boys and girls, and that they learn Hebrew and Greek so they could study God’s Word themselves.

We live in a time when the Scriptures are readily available to most people in the West. Are we encouraging and equipping people to study them, or are we content to allow them to remain dependent on us for their understanding? If we are to multiply the ministry of the Word in our congregations and Christian fellowships, we need to invest time in teaching how to study the Scriptures. This investment can help reduce our own temptation to pride, and equip our people to distinguish truth from falsehood as they listen to podcasts or attend worship services in different churches. It’s worth the investment!

Father, I am grateful for the gift of your Word. As I lead Bible studies, help me to find ways to equip others to study your Word themselves, to be able to test what they hear from those who teach them, including myself. May their confidence in your Scriptures be stronger than their confidence in me. Help me always point them to You and Your Word, and may your mercy, grace, and steadfast love through Jesus Christ be clearly seen and understood. Use Your Word and Your Holy Spirit to encourage a response of faith. Amen.

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