I was doing a lot of reading from the Book of Acts yesterday, and I could relate parts of it to my own life.
Paul was travelling throughout Asia minor (Turkey), then he went on to Greece, and he encountered a lot of Jewish opposition in those areas. On some occasions, Paul’s Jewish enemies followed him from city to city, specifically to stir up trouble against him (see Acts 14:19).
I can see a number of things here:
1. Right when you think God is working, there always seems to be something that messes everything up. Or perhaps it messes up your picture of how things should be. I’ll bet that Paul felt things would run a lot more smoothly if he didn’t have to encounter opposition everywhere he went. Imagine how effective he would’ve been if he didn’t experience mass chaos at every point of his journey.
But this was all part of the plan. Jesus told Ananias concerning Saul, “I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16 NRSV). After his enemies had stoned him and left him for dead, Paul encouraged churches with the message, “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). And Paul had to experience all sorts of troubles. In Acts 17, he endures the intellectual snobbery of the philosophers. In Acts 13, he tries to share the Gospel with the proconsul of Paphos, only to have a sorcerer oppose him at every turn. But God had a plan amidst all of Paul’s chaos, as he hopefully does in ours as well. God didn’t allow us to be born in a perfect world, but he’s using the imperfection for a good end.
2. Paul’s enemies were stalkers. Paul had that kind of effect on people. He’s kind of like this one blogger I know, who just manages to make people mad, almost to the point of insanity. In the blogosphere in general, there are people who follow others around, commenting wherever they comment, constantly seeking to undermine them. What’s their motivation? I don’t know. Maybe they want attention or acknowledgement. That’s why many of us “act out.” In the case of Paul’s Jewish opponents, they were jealous of the following Paul was getting (Acts 17:5). Plus, they were concerned that Paul was undermining their religious traditions (Acts 18:13). So they wanted to destroy Paul, once and for all.
3. Some of the Jews were actually receptive to Paul’s message. Acts 17:11 states about the Jews of Berea, “These Jews were more receptive than those in Thessalonica, for they welcomed the message very eagerly and examined the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so.”
Many Christians apply the term “Berean” to those who quote Scriptural proof-texts in an attempt to put down false teachers. As noble as that is, that’s not really what the Berean Jews were doing. They liked Paul’s message, and they were searching the Scriptures to convince themselves that Paul was right. Unlike many of the Jews in other areas, they weren’t really concerned about their power or prestige, for they savored Paul’s message that the Messiah had come and was offering forgiveness. And they were open-minded.
At an AA meeting that I once attended, the speaker was saying that he didn’t like the AA cliche of “Take what you like, and leave the rest.” According to him, maybe we should take a good look at “the rest,” for “the rest” may have things that can help us out in our lives. His point was that we need to be open to the possibility that there are other ways of looking at things than our own limited perspectives.
And that’s the way the Bereans were. Granted, they liked Paul’s message. But they were open to ideas that did not entirely correspond with how they’d always viewed the world. And that opened up a brand new life to them.