Should the Church Be More Vocal about the Conflict between Israel and Palestine?
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Should the Church Be More Vocal about the Conflict between Israel and Palestine?

Are You a Noble Hearer? {Acts 17:1–15}

This article is part of our weekly series, “The Book of Acts and the Church Today.” You can see all articles in the series here. 

What does it mean to be noble? We might picture kings and queens in full regalia. But Luke means something different when he says that Paul’s Berean hearers were “more noble than those in Thessalonica” (Acts 17:12).

If God is “the King of the ages” (1 Tim. 1:17), a mark of nobility is recognizing and loving the King’s voice. Sadly, many people mistake God’s word for the voice of a created thing—they have ordinary hearing. Let’s not listen like that. Let’s learn from Acts 17:1–15 how to eagerly receive and discern God’s word.

Ordinary Hearing

Though he “had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi,” in Thessalonica, Paul boldly preached the gospel for three Sabbath days to a mixed audience of Jews, devout Greeks, and leading women (1 Thess. 2:2).

Paul preached two-points. First, from the Old Testament, Paul developed a composite sketch of the Savior. The Mediator would carry his peoples’ sorrows and die like a sinner. But he would be vindicated by rising again from death. His righteousness would make many righteous (Is. 53:5, 10, 11). None of this should have been controversial. Second—and here comes the controversy—only Jesus of Nazareth fits Scripture’s description of the suffering Savior. His righteousness was obvious to those not poisoned by bias (Luke 23:41). “He bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). He “was raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:24).

How Paul presented this gospel is also insightful: he reasoned, explained, and proved (Acts 17:2, 3). The gospel is reasonable; it aligns with facts. So preaching must engage minds, not manipulate feelings. Preaching must also explain. Gospel teaching doesn’t just assert that Jesus is the Christ; it opens the Bible to show it (Luke 24:32). Finally, preaching must prove, or “set side by side.” Paul built a rock-solid case, showing the congruence between Old Testament prophecies and the historical facts of Christ’s life.

Despite Paul’s case for Christ, only “some of them were persuaded” (Acts 17:4) and “accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13). They were won over to Paul’s message through the Spirit’s work. As a result, they “attached themselves to Paul and Silas” (Acts 17:4 YLT). These believers didn’t become fringe church members, participating when convenient. If Jesus is the Christ, and if he is building his church, then no organization is more important.

And the believers joined the church expecting painful pushback. The Jews formed a mob, rounding up “certain lewd fellows of the baser sort” (Acts 17:5 KJV). The accusers got some things wrong—allegiance to King Jesus need not produce poor citizenship (see 1 Peter 2:17). But the church truly was turning “the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). Kingdom values will not tolerate the old ways of darkness.

Many people in Thessalonica wanted darkness so they prevented Paul and Silas from teaching the gospel in their city.

Noble Hearing

In Berea, Paul found a nobler audience than those in Thessalonica. What does that mean?

Noble People Have Open Minds

They “received the word with all eagerness” (Acts 17:11). They were zealous to learn from God. They listened while the word was read and they leaned in to the explanation. They didn’t come to worship indifferent to the Bible or biased against its preachers. They resisted prejudging. This is how we should listen, believing that the properly preached word is a word from God (2 Cor. 5:20).

Noble People Have Discerning Minds

“They examin[ed] the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). They were quick to listen. But they weren’t gullible. They were prepared to sift truth from error. Regrettably, how they searched the Scriptures is frequently misunderstood, so the typical application to this text is mostly wrong. We might imagine every Berean worshipper whipping out Bibles and cross-referencing Paul’s claims as he spoke. They certainly didn’t do that. Probably no Berean owned a copy of Scripture. And the church didn’t have pew Bibles. This text doesn’t make every hearer a sermon critic. Peculiar interpretations of individual believers should carry no weight in the church (2 Pet. 1:20).

Luke’s word for “examining” the Scriptures “refers to a legal process, such as a trial.”[1] The judges in such a trial are elders who “are to maintain the purity of the word.”[2] The church, under the leadership of pastors and elders, in consultation with the Christian community past and present, must maintain biblical doctrine. So we should all read our Bibles and ask questions if any teaching seems wrong, lest we be “carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). But being good Bereans also means belonging to, and submitting to the decisions of churches with faithful leaders and sound government.

Sadly, even though the Berean congregation validated Paul’s preaching and “many of them therefore believed,” the missionaries faced opposition (Acts 17:12). The unbelieving Thessalonians agitated the crowds in Berea also, forcing Paul and company to flee to Athens where they would find more noble hearers.

In God’s eyes, noble people understand Christian preaching as a word from God; he speaks truth, and we listen to and believe his infallible testimony. We also prepare to suffer with Christ, and we find consolation with the church of all ages joined to the one King who cannot fail.

[1] Darrell Bock, Acts, 556.

[2], article 14.

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William Boekestein

William Boekestein is the pastor of Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He has written several books and numerous articles. He and his wife, Amy, have four children.