“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
A good thing about being a country that is predominantly christian is that everyone qoutes from the Bible. Everyone. From the preacher to the ordinary man on the street. From shop names like “With God all things are possible Hair Salon” to verses written on the back of taxis. It seems everyone has at least one verse that they can add to spice up a conversation or at least make a piece of advice sound authentic. On the surface, it gives a pretty good picture of how seriously people take the Bible and what it says until you start to pay attention to when and how the Bible is quoted. Then the picture starts to become a little blurry. Biblical texts are often times not only misquoted and misapplied but wielded as tool used to buttress one’s opinion. Bible studies often become a case of different people saying different(and sometimes contradictory) meanings of a text and the one who wins is the person with the sharpest wit(or loudest voice) and largest number of quotations. The case becomes even worse when the Bible study is around two verses with the rest of the chapter being totally ignored.
I suspect this is partly because that is how we have seen the Bible being taught from the pulpit. It is commonplace to see a preacher string up a bunch of verses to make up his point in a sermon. Sometimes it is helpful and gives brilliant insights into a passage, sometimes the point being made is wise and good counsel but has nothing to do with the verses quoted except for perhaps a single word that links them, sometimes the point being made is just unhelpful and has nothing to do with the verses quoted. Whatever the case may be, I sometimes get the feeling that sometimes the preacher decides and what to say and then goes in search of Bible verses to back up his point. I know lots of people in the congregation actually do just that. It will seem as if the meaning of a verse is dependent on the person quoting it. When the Bible is used in this way, it becomes difficult to know whether it is the Bible that is speaking or it is the opinion of the person wielding it.
Often when this happens, the preacher becomes the key to understanding what a passage means. And sometimes there is such a disconnect between what the preacher says a verse means and what is actually there that it is impossible to understand a verse unless he gives his unique insight. Again that is very good if the preacher is faithful to the passage but very harmful if the person is not. It will be very naive to imagine that every preacher that stands on pulpit with a Bible is a faithful preacher of God’s word. There are too many examples of people who have used the Bible for their own personal gain and we are even warned in God’s word that there will be false teachers who will twist God’s word for their own ends. And I think this is when christians are called to be discerning about what they hear.
The Bereans in Acts are commended for not only receiving the gospel message as preached by Paul, but also examining to scriptures to see if what Paul said was true. They checked to see if what Paul was saying was actually what the scriptures were saying. When was the last time you examined the scriptures to check if what the preacher said was true.
Examining the scriptures means that we dig deeper into the passage and mine the riches that are to be found in God’s word. It means we go beyond looking at verses in isolation and consider looking at the entire book to see how the verses fit together. It means we search for the main point of a verse by searching for the main point of the chapter that contains the verse. This in turn means we search for the main point of the chapters by searching for the main point of the book that contains those chapters. And searching for the main point of the book is searching for the author’s intent i.e. the reason why that book was written. This is the foundation on which the chapters and the verses of the book is built on. And that foundation is also built on Christ, the one that ALL of scripture centered on.
An important part of being faithful preacher of God’s word is proclaiming it as it was intended and not as we want it to be. It is staying true to what scripture says and not bending it to our own interpretations. Awhile ago during the elections in Ghana, a prominent preacher had some sermons he had done picked up by used in the political game. He wasn’t too amused and made a statement that his words should not be taken out of context and used in a way that was never its intention. It was quite the media hype. My point for bringing that up is very simple. If we as human beings get offended and upset when we think people have taken what we have said out of context and are using it for their own ends, imagine what it means the take the very words of God and rip it out of context. And I think in recent times where there are all sorts of people holding Bibles and claiming to be faithful preachers of the gospel, we as christians need to be discerning listeners of God’s word and adopt a Berean attitude when we listen to sermons. It will benefit us a lot if we ask “Is that really what the scripture says?” instead of saying “This is what [insert name] said”.
I will leave it hear with a very good qoute I came across…
“When all your favorite preachers are gone, and all their books forgotten, you will have your Bible. Master it. Master it.” — John Piper