Saturday, 24 June 2017

Our spiritual starvation

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.  Acts 17:11

If you know your Bible at all you will know a bit about the churches Paul had dealings with: the Corinthians (wild and undisciplined), the Galatians (turning back from Christ to their old ways), and perhaps the Colossians (prey to false teaching).

But what about the Bereans? The who? you might say. Well, you could be forgiven (though if you have been a Christian for any length of time you really should know!), because the Bereans don't figure much in the Bible. But what little is said about them has given them a good reputation which has lasted down to the present day.

For one thing they were, apparently, “of noble character”. That’s rather an old-fashioned expression, I know, but I must admit I like it. It prompts a searching question: How ‘noble’ is my character...? Mmm.

But they are remembered especially because, even before they became Christians, they listened to Paul and his friends preach, and "examined the scriptures every day" to see if the preaching was true.

Two things stand out.

First, the Bereans were serious about the message of the Gospel. It didn't just go in one ear and out the other. No: every day they "examined" the Bible. That’s worth noticing: they didn't just "read" it, they "examined" it.

Bear in mind that at this time there was no such thing as the New Testament. The four Gospels hadn't yet been written, and the various letters, while one or two may have been written, hadn't yet been collected into book form. So all Paul had to preach from, and all the Bereans had to "examine", was the Old Testament, plus of course stories of Jesus which were in circulation in the churches. But they did it, not just now and then, but "every day".

Second, the Bereans were not afraid to bring their minds to bear on God's word. If you "examine" something you study it, you scrutinise it, you wrestle with it, you ask questions of it. You make a serious attempt to get to grips with it. We may not all be great intellectuals - but God has given us minds, and it must sadden him when we don't use them.

Well, I think we would do well to take a leaf out of the Bereans' book.

Let's be honest, much of our Bible-reading tends to be pretty casual, pretty hit or miss. We might take a few minutes to skim over a short passage, but we don't really take it in. To be honest, sometimes we might as well have not bothered.

But this is God's word! It is as vital to our souls' nourishment as food is to our bodies. We’ve all seen those poor people on our televisions who are suffering from starvation in some famine-stricken country. They can barely move. They have no drive or energy. They can't even brush away the flies on their faces. They are wide open to the next infection that comes their way. If they were under attack from an enemy they would be powerless to fight back.

Sadly, that is a picture of you and me when we neglect to feed ourselves on God's word. We lack nourishment for the living of the Christian life. We are wide open to the attacks of the devil. No wonder our witness and enthusiasm for Christ are so feeble.

I know that Bible-reading can be difficult. I know that our lives are frighteningly busy. But where there’s a will there’s a way (sorry about the cliché; but the thing about clichés is that they are actually true - which is precisely why they have become clichés.) There are all sorts of Bible reading aids available. You can buy a Bible which contains notes, comments, time charts, maps, diagrams.

And, of course, there all sorts of apps and other devices for any of us who find reading a struggle. Whatever, there really is no excuse for us to be so ignorant. I find it very encouraging to think that most of the people in the early church probably couldn’t read at all - their “searching” of God’s word depended mainly on a willingness to listen to others and to ask questions.

But most of us can read, so here's a suggestion. Why not take a book of the Bible - perhaps one of the short ones to start with, such as Philippians or Habakkuk or James - and get to know it in depth over the course of a few weeks? Read everything on it you can find. Make yourself a mini-authority on it. Soak it up. You will be amazed at the confidence and strength it will give you. You will be a new man or woman!

Thank God for the Bereans. May we copy their example.

Dear Father, please forgive my neglect of your inspired word. Please help me to become a serious Bible-student, so that I can better live the Christian life, and even be a source of wisdom and strength to others. Amen.

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