A Scripture-Examining Church
It is not uncommon in our day to hear people talk about "their beliefs". But I am curious, where do these beliefs come from? Where do your beliefs come from?
Certainly there is no shortage of "beliefs" in this world. We all have them and we are all entitled to them. What concerns me, however, is the origin of many people's beliefs.
Often, when I hear someone begin a sentence with the words, "I believe", it becomes manifest that the person with the beliefs has no authority higher than himself. If you believe something to be true, by what authority can you say that? Is it true because you say so?
There are many people in our society that hold to some very strange doctrines and, yet, they cannot point to anything beyond themselves to validate their beliefs. The Christian Church does not need to suffer from this problem. We have an authority beyond ourselves--an authority that supercedes our experiences and our personal preferences. For the Christian, when we say "I believe", we had better be able to substantiate our claims by what the Bible says.
In the Book of Acts, chapter 17, the apostle Paul and his friend, Silas, visit the city of Berea. As was their habit, Paul and Silas visited the synagogue and preached about Jesus Christ. And what is apparent in the response of the Bereans is that Paul did not preach Christ from an authority that he derived from himself. It is clear that when Paul preached Christ, he appealed to something beyond himself to substantiate his claims. When Paul preached Christ, he would always appeal to the Holy Scriptures.
And how did the Bereans respond? Luke describes the Bereans as "noble-minded" because "they received the Word with great eagerness"(Acts 17:11).
Last Sunday, we learned from Paul that we should be "eager" to preach the Word (Rom.1:15). And here, in Acts 17:11, we learn from the example of the Bereans that we must also "receive the Word with great eagerness".
Is that how you would describe your disposition this morning? Have you come here eager to hear the Word of God preached? Are you expecting God to speak to your heart this morning, or is this just Bryn MacPhail spouting off some nonsense?
Many people, I am thankful, come eagerly to hear the Word of God read and preached. I can see it in your faces and your body language. Others, I am afraid, are counting the minutes until you can head downstairs for a coffee.
Our Bible text reveals that if we are to be a healthy church, we must be a Scripture-examining church. But before we can examine a sermon properly, we must be sure to hear it. What I mean by that is we must guard against a superficial, or flippant, type of listening. Charles Spurgeon calls this "hasty hearing". Eagerness to hear does not have to result in hasty listening.
I think there is an analogy here from eating. I was often scolded as a child, and even sometimes as an adult, for inhaling my Kraft Dinner. As I continue to get older, my body now gives me some painful reminders if I do not properly chew my food. Just ask President Bush--he knows what I am talking about. In the same manner, we do not receive all the benefits, and we open ourselves up to harm, when we become hasty hearers of God's Word.
So the Bereans were not hasty listeners, but rather, after receiving the Word, Luke tells us that they "examined the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so"(Acts 17:11).
When we read that the Bereans "examined the Scriptures", we learn, by inference, what the Bereans did not do when they heard the Word of God preached.
We learn from this passage that the Bereans did not immediately dismiss Paul's preaching as false. While many communities would not tolerate this new teaching of the apostles, the Bereans gave them a hearing and were willing to test the apostles' teachings in the light of Scripture.
We also learn from this passage that the Bereans did not immediately accept Paul's preaching as true. If Paul had concluded his sermon with an altar call, I'm guessing the Bereans would have stayed in their pews. The Bereans were unwilling to embrace Jesus as the Christ until they had a chance to review the evidence. Until Paul's statements were tested against Scripture, there were going to be few converts in Berea.
The Bereans are called "noble-minded" for good reason. Rather than immediately rejecting or accepting the apostles' teaching, they resolved to engage in further examination.
I think a helpful illustration of this approach can be found in the television show, CSI--that is, Crime Scene Investigation. In CSI, we learn from the forensic investigators that looking upon the crime scene is not enough to solve the crime. What I've learned from the show is that the crime scene produces evidence, and the evidence must be taken back to the lab where it is examined and tested. And only when the evidence has been carefully examined and tested can accurate conclusions be made.
In the same manner, it is not a good idea to immediately agree or disagree with everything a minister says in a sermon. What is said from the pulpit must be carefully examined and tested under the light of Scripture. To encourage this, I make every one of my sermons available in print. I do this with the hope that you will act like a Berean--that you will take the sermon home, examine your Bible, and see if the things I am saying are accurate.
It should be the case that when you hear a particular statement from the pulpit that you are unsure about, you can ask the preacher, "Where did you get that?". And the preacher should then be able to point to some Scripture to support what was said.
On the other side of the equation, if you find yourself in the middle of the sermon saying to yourself, "I disagree with that", you too should be able to produce Scripture to buttress your view. It is simply unacceptable for any preacher, or any parishioner, to cling to a belief that cannot be supported from the Bible.
The Bereans did the hard work of going home and DAILY examining the Scriptures in light of what was being preached. And what they found was that the apostles' teaching, of Jesus fulfilling the covenant promises, was accurate.
I want you to notice that the work of the Bereans did not end with finding the truth, for Luke tells us in verse 12, "Many of them therefore believed".
Luke calls the Bereans "noble-minded" because of they way they received and examined the Word of God. Following this example, my prayer is that St. Andrew's and Fraser would be congregations that eagerly receive, and carefully examine, the Word of God. But even then, even if we become a church characterized by careful examination of the Scriptures, we need to take one more step. We must also be "doers of the word"(Jas. 1:22).
The apostle James, in his epistle, says that we "delude" ourselves if we stop short of doing what we believe(Jas. 1:22). James says that the one who does not do what the word says, "is like a man who looks at his face in the mirror, and after looking at himself and going away, immediately forgets what he looks like"(Jas. 1:23, 24).
The key word here is "looks". The Greek word does not mean "to glance". Quite often, I glance at my watch, someone then asks me what time it is and I have to look again because it never registered when I glanced what the time was. This is not what is meant by James' analogy. James is talking about a man who EXAMINES himself and then forgets what he looks like. Isn't that absurd?! To look closely at something and then forget what you see? That is James' point exactly. Isn't it absurd that we would listen intently to the reading and preaching of the words of Scripture and then NOT DO THEM?
I once read of a minister named Donald who came home from church a little sooner than usual, and so his wife inquired,
"Donald, is that you? Is the sermon all done?"
"No, no", he replied, "it is all said, but it has not yet begun to be done."
I implore you not to leave undone what has been set before you this morning. Let us commit to examining daily what God says in His Word. And let us commit to being doers according to what we find therein. What God bids you to do, He will assist you to do, in order that He might gain all the glory through Jesus Christ (1Pet.4:11). Amen.