First, I’ll give some background on what led me to study this passage, so you can see what angle I’m looking at it from, and perhaps see if I’m reading things into the text that aren’t really what God intended to say.
That might seem like a strange thing to say at the start of this study, but hopefully it will make sense by the end.
It started about 18 months ago. Some of you know that I used to meet regularly with a friend to discuss a book we were reading. Well, back in May 2012, we’d just finished the book, but didn’t have time to start another one before he moved back to America, so instead we discussed an article he found on the Reformation 21 website.
The article was called Exposition and Sufficiency. The basic point was that, if we believe in the sufficiency of Scripture, “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work”, then we will want sermons to be expositions of Scripture: “an expositional sermon is one in which the point of the text becomes the point of the sermon.” At the time, I wasn’t really that interested in the topic, and I didn’t think our discussion had really had any effect on me, but in the year and a half since then, the main point of this article, combined with other influences, has changed the way I listen to preaching.
One of those other influences was a song about expository preaching, which probably sounds like a bizarre concept to most of you, but here are some of the lyrics:
let me ask a question: what’s most essential?//
What is it that gives a local church its credentials?//
Some would say music, some would say deacons//
Others say reaching the lost and soul seeking//
But if we wanna give God the glory in our meetings//
The most important thing is expository preaching//
Let me explain what I mean, it’s not too complex//
It’s preaching God’s Word in its proper context//
As you listen, be discerning- what you have to determine://
Was the point of the passage the point of the sermon?//
If not, this problem must be confronted today//
because he just used the Bible to say what he wanted to say//
And even if it’s delivered with fire and intelligence//
That’s basically making what God has inspired irrelevant//
Without exposition, you’ll lack major profit//
All you’ll get is tradition and your pastor’s favourite topics//
But we’re not here to study some song lyrics, or an article from Reformation 21. So what does the Bible say about preaching? Well, to do a comprehensive study on everything the Bible says about preaching might be a little bit ambitious for one Sunday morning. So there’s probably a huge amount that should be said that we won’t be covering this morning, I’m just going to focus on one of the main texts that I know of that speaks about being discerning while listening to Christian teaching, which is in Acts 17.
I found it hard, especially doing a one-off study where I could choose which passage to look at, not to do exactly what I’m concerned that preachers shouldn’t do. It’s so tempting to talk about what I want to talk about, and use some Biblical quotes to back me up, rather than starting with what the Scripture actually says and making that the point of the study. I doubt there are many preachers who start preparing a sermon with the deliberate intention of manipulating Scripture to say whatever they want, but I can see how some end up doing it unintentionally. In preparing this study I’ve tried to be disciplined in starting by observing the passage and seeing what we can learn from it, rather than just looking for ways to use the text to back up what I want to say, and hopefully, if you examine the Scriptures like the Bereans did, you’ll be persuaded that my observations are correct.
(Read Acts 17v1-15)
Before we dig in to the details of this passage, we should pay attention to the context. So what is the book of Acts as a whole all about?
It’s about the way the Holy Spirit worked through Jesus’ disciples to build the church. We call the book The Acts of The Apostles, but it’s made clear in Chapter 1 that it’s the Holy Spirit who gives them the power to do what they do.
And Chapter 17 tells us about the Apostle Paul telling people about Jesus, and the different ways that people reacted to what he said. I’m focussing on the first half of the chapter where Paul shared the gospel with Jews in Thessalonica and Berea. The second half of the chapter talks about Paul sharing the gospel in Athens, which he does a bit differently, so what we’re looking at this morning certainly doesn’t tell us everything we need to know about how the Holy Spirit works to teach people about Jesus, but hopefully we will learn some useful things about the way he worked in the situation in Thessalonica and Berea.
We’ll start by looking at the Bereans response to Paul’s teaching, because I think that’s directly applicable to all of us who listen to Christian teaching, then we’ll look at how Paul taught, which I think tells us a bit about what we should be looking for in a preacher and pastor, and then we’ll finish by looking very briefly at how the Jews responded.