What did the Bereans examine?
They weren’t thinking “Ooh, that doesn’t sound like something Robert would say” (or insert whichever other preacher or author you want in there; John Piper, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spurgeon…).
Nor does it say “They examined the 1689 confession to see if these things were so.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be familiar with the 1689 confession, and if a preacher does say something that contradicts it, alarm bells should be ringing.
But while a sermon might not sound dodgy to our 1689-trained ears, that doesn’t necessarily mean the preacher is being faithful to the text he’s preaching on.
A sermon might contain sound doctrine, but not actually expose us to the Word of God itself.
Hence, if we want to hear God’s Word, we should examine the Scriptures to see if that’s what the preacher is proclaiming.
The Bereans “received the word with all eagerness”.
Not “they received historic reformed teaching with all eagerness”.
The Bereans didn’t examine historic Jewish teaching and say “ok, what Paul’s saying is true, because it matches what we’ve been taught before”; they examined the Scriptures for themselves to see if what he was saying was in fact the Word of God, and so should we.
In 2 Timothy 4v1-4 Paul talks about people who wouldn’t receive the word with all eagerness:
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
Again it’s quite easy to think of “those awful people out there somewhere” who only listen to preachers who say what they want to hear. We all assume he’s talking about people other than ourselves, but I enjoy listening to sermons that suit my own passions. Don’t you?
Some people are particularly passionate about God’s grace and will particularly enjoy a sermon that emphasises grace, but won’t enjoy a sermon about God’s judgment so much. Other people are particularly concerned about how many churches have completely abandoned any talk of God’s judgment whatsoever, so they’re pleased when they hear a powerful sermon on judgment and perhaps think there’s something wrong with the preacher if he can go a whole sermon without mentioning it. Some people are particularly passionate about the Christian duty to evangelise and care for the poor, and want to hear sermons that challenge them to make an impact in society.
How can we know Paul’s not talking about us accumulating for ourselves teachers to suit our own passions?
We need to evaluate sermons, not based on “did he emphasise grace enough, or did he powerfully illustrate God’s judgment, or did he challenge us to evangelise (or whatever your passion is)?” but did he preach the word? Can I examine the Scriptures that he preached on and see that what he said is what God’s Word says?
The Bereans were “examining the Scriptures to see if these things were so”
They were able to see from the Scriptures that what Paul was saying was true. They were able to understand for themselves what the Scriptures said. Although they hadn’t recognised what the Scriptures were saying until Paul explained it, it wasn’t beyond their ability to comprehend.
Sometimes preachers (and Christian authors) seem to be put on a bit of a pedestal, as if they have some secret key to understanding the Scriptures that the rest of us don’t have access to. That’s not true. Obviously we should respect the time and effort they put into studying the Scriptures to gain a greater understanding, but we should be able to see for ourselves how they’ve developed their sermon points from Scripture.
If I’m listening to a sermon thinking “Wow! I would never have got that point out of that passage!” then I need to ask how the preacher did it. If we examine the Scriptures and can’t see how the preacher got his point from the text, then I think there’s a problem.
The Bereans didn’t just think “Well, I don’t understand that, but Paul’s much smarter than me, so I’ll just take his word for it.” They expected to be able to see for themselves that what he was saying was true because they could see it in Scripture.