By Brandon Lemons
When digging into Scripture, we can uncover beautiful nuggets of truth (while recognizing that the overall biblical storyline is glorious and grand). It’s like a miner digging for gold and discovering a huge gold nugget.
To me, one such nugget is found in Acts 17. The apostle Paul is traveling through northern Greece, preaching the Gospel. Angry, jealous Jews run him out of the city of Thessalonica, and he ends up in the city of Berea. Acts 17:11 says, 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.
I love how the Berean Jews responded to Paul’s teaching: they not only received it with great eagerness, but they examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As Jews, they recognized there is an authority greater than Paul; that authority is God, who revealed Himself through the Bible. (At that time, their Bible was what we know as the Old Testament.) Paul’s teaching only had validity insofar as it lined up with Scripture. To the Bereans’ credit, they didn’t just accept Paul’s words at face value; they went back and studied Scripture, and they were prepared to accept his message only if it aligned with God’s Word. As we see in the next verse (17:12), many of those Jews recognized that Paul’s message was based on Scripture, and they responded by becoming followers of Jesus.
As I reflect on Acts 17:11, a couple of key questions come to mind.
Key Question #1: Do I know how to use Scripture to examine whether a claim is true?
There is a big difference between knowing something is useful versus knowing how to use it. For instance, I was once riding in a car with a friend when one of his tires went flat. He had a spare tire. However, he didn’t know how to change a tire. So although the spare tire was important and useful, he was unable to make use of it himself. Thankfully, I knew how to change a tire and did so effectively so we could continue our journey.
The question is whether we know how to use Scripture to examine whether a claim is true. Would you know where to turn in the Bible to find information on a particular topic? Do you have an idea of what you would do if you don’t know where in the Bible to turn? When you read a passage of Scripture, are you able to understand and interpret it in a manner consistent with the author’s original intent? These are questions that reveal our confidence and competence in handling Scripture.
Based on my sixteen years in vocational ministry and seven more of being a Christian, I have recognized that relatively few Christians have a healthy level of confidence and competence in handling Scripture. They have heard people teach from the Bible and have read the Bible some on their own, but they are still uncertain and timid when it comes to digging into Scripture for themselves. Therefore, they are like my friend with a flat tire: they have a distinct lack of confidence because they lack the competence that comes from experience. This is a big difference from the ideal we see in Acts 17:11 or in 2 Timothy 2:15, which says, Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
To help people grow in their confidence and competence in handling Scripture, Friedens Church is currently offering a class called Digging Into Scripture. This article is not intended to drum up attendance in the current class, though you can definitely join if you’d like (similar classes will be offered in the future). I am focused on the bigger picture: helping as many Christians as possible recognize and embrace the value of intentionally digging into Scripture for ourselves. There are certainly other aspects of growing in spiritual maturity, but our handling of Scripture is crucial to following Christ faithfully.
As I have told the Digging Into Scripture class multiple times, I don’t know of a better way to gain confidence and competence with Scripture than actually getting into Scripture. It’s like learning to play a sport; you can talk about it a ton in a classroom, but your confidence and competence are going to be extremely limited until you actually go out and practice playing the sport for yourself. It’s the same with handling Scripture. It is so important that Christians are regularly getting into Scripture for themselves. Among other benefits, this will prepare us to be like the Bereans – that when we encounter any sort of teaching, we will be ready to search the Scriptures to see whether it’s true.
Key Question #2: Do I actually prioritize Scripture as my litmus test for what I’m believing and building my life on?
This is where the rubber meets the road. Humans are notorious for knowing the right thing to do without actually doing it. A classic example is patients who have heart bypass surgery and essentially receive a “change or die” prescription from their doctor in terms of eating healthier, exercising more, and reducing stress. Ninety percent of the patients fail to implement changes that last more than two years! Even if people know the right thing to do, they struggle to do it.
The same applies to using Scripture as our litmus test for determining what to believe and act upon. We can know the Bible is important, but does it have this sort of shaping influence in our lives? Or are we just giving it lip service?
In the same biblical book where it says to correctly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy), the apostle Paul warns of a primary reason why people (including Christians) are prone to neglecting Scripture’s teaching: to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3). Here in 2022, we have more opportunities than ever to gather around us the types of teachers who say what we want to hear (think of podcasts, social media, and television shows). There is a vast amount of information coming our way, curated for our personal preferences. This highlights the importance, all the more, of Christians being people who are well-versed in the Scriptures and are intentional in comparing the messages they are hearing with what is found in the Word of God.
There is no podcaster or commentator, teacher or preacher, actor or actress, CEO or author, blogger or YouTuber, or anyone else, whose messaging should escape the scrutiny of the Scriptures. If the apostle Paul wasn’t exempt from having his teaching fact-checked with the Word of God, how much more should we be diligent to apply Scripture as the litmus test for what we believe and what we build our life upon?!
So my application point – for me and for you – is that we are each consistently digging into Scripture for ourselves. By doing so, especially over a period of months and years, we will gain confidence and competence in handling and applying God’s Word to our daily situations. And our lives will be transformed. As Paul wrote in Romans 12:2, Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.
If you still feel intimidated by Scripture and would like to learn more, I highly recommend the current and upcoming Digging Into Scripture classes. Also, I’d love to be able to talk in person or on the phone if you’re looking to dig into Scripture but feel uncertain about how to start, or if you feel stuck in some way.