I recently finished rewatching Downton Abbey, experiencing again the ups and downs of the Crawley family as they learn to adapt to the post-war world. For six seasons (or series, if you’re British like the Crawleys), Downton helped ratings on PBS soar. An Emmy magnet, the show garnered fifteen awards and many more nominations for everything from Outstanding Miniseries or Movie to Outstanding Hairstyle for a Single-Camera Series. From 2010–2015 the goings on both upstairs and down at Downton Abbey fascinated the world. I’m sure many reasons could be given for its success: clever writing, excellent acting, on-location filming at an actual English castle (Highclere Castle), and an interesting plot arc. Surely all those things contributed, but we can’t overlook the fact that we’re simply fascinated by nobility and the life that Lord and Lady Grantham and their daughters lived. A little part inside of us wonders what it would be like to be them.
What if there were a way we could be noble?
The book of Acts actually describes a group of people as being “noble-minded” when it comes to their attitude toward Scripture. Luke uses the word for nobleman, eugenes, just twice in his writings. Once, in recounting a parable of Christ about a nobleman who goes on a trip and entrusts his money to three stewards (Luke 19:11–27) and again in Acts 17:11 where he describes a group of Jews at Berea as being “noble-minded.”
Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Acts 17:11, emphasis added)
Luke wants his readers to see that these soon-to-be-disciples were a cut above in how they heard and studied Scripture. Though we know little else about this church, they’re meant to be exemplary to us.
Receive the Word: Be Humble
If you follow the ministry of Paul throughout Acts, you’ll notice his basic game-plan for evangelism: visit the Jewish synagogue and preach the gospel there; then when the Jews try to run you out of town, start ministering to the Gentiles. The Jews often instigate the persecution that ends Paul’s run in any given city. In fact, that’s how he ends up in Berea in the first place (see Acts 17:1-9). But Berea was different. The Jews in this synagogue received Paul’s words. They didn’t turn him off as soon as he mentioned the name of Christ. They humbled themselves enough to recognize that maybe they didn’t know as much as they thought they did.
If you’ve been around church for any length of time, you’ve probably fallen into the “I know this already” trap. Whether it’s an Old Testament narrative, like David and Goliath or Noah’s ark, or a common parable like the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son, or just a familiar passage like Isaiah 53 or Psalm 23, it’s easy to assume you know already what is going to be said. Or maybe you listen intently during a sermon, but when you come to one of those passages in your daily Bible reading, you’re tempted to skim or skip it all together. I get it. Familiarity breeds contempt in my heart, too.
To have a “noble” mind toward the Word, we need to humbly receive it, regardless of how familiar the text, dry the speaker, or even shallow the exposition. To presume that we need or deserve better reveals a problem with our own hearts.
James prefaces his admonition to be a doer of the Word with this exhortation:
Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21, emphasis added)
Before we cast a stone at the pastor for picking such a blasé text, we must first search our hearts for “filthiness and rampant wickedness.” In short, the reason I have a hard time receiving the Word with humility has nothing to do with the source, the text, or the style of presentation.
It has everything to do with me and my own arrogant heart.
Devour the Word: Be Hungry
The Bereans didn’t just receive the Word humbly; they also devoured it eagerly. It’s as if they couldn’t wait to get to more. The Greek word for “eagerness” can also communicate readiness, like a runner who is poised on the blocks, just waiting for the starting gun to fire. Does this describe your approach to Scripture? I know it doesn't always describe mine.
This type of desire for God’s Word doesn’t just come because we want it to. Consider a few lessons from the writer of Psalm 119, a prayer rife with the speaker’s love of Scripture.
First, the psalmist has had a life-long love of God’s Word (vv. 9, 152). He started young and has continued to delight in it. Don’t expect to have the same affection for the Word as the psalmist in a week, month, or even a year. It’s a lifelong commitment. But don’t despair if you’re getting started late. Be faithful in your consumption of the Word and let God reap the harvest.
Next, though the psalmist has dry spells, he continually returns to the Word (vv. 25, 83). He says he “cleaves to the dust” and that he’s like a “wineskin in the smoke.” He hasn’t lived his life on the mountaintop; his life hasn’t been a bucket of sunshine and daisies; but he’s never abandoned the Word. Regardless of the desert he’s in, Scripture is his lifeline. You may feel dry and like you’re about to crack, but don’t let that keep you from the Word. Crawl back on hands and knees and then beg the Lord to revive your weary soul.
Finally, the psalmist depends on God for nourishment from the Word (vv. 12, 18, 19, 26, 27, 64, 68, 73, 135). Most of the psalm (173 of the 176 verses) is a prayer in which he repeatedly asks for God to teach him. We have the Holy Spirit within us to teach us and lead us into truth, but do we depend on Him? Or are we content to “sit and get” and then take off to go about our lives unchanged?
Ravenous hunger for the Word doesn’t mean we always feast at the table of Scripture. It means we remain committed to it no matter what.
Don’t Be Naïve: Do Your Homework
Though the Bereans were voracious recipients of the Word, they weren’t naïve. They didn’t just believe everything they heard from Paul. They went home and searched things out for themselves to make sure what they were hearing wasn’t a bunch of fiddle-faddle.
The Epistles teach us to beware of false teachers, who surely infiltrated congregations in every city during the Church’s infancy. The Berean Jews had perhaps been fed lies of false Messiahs coming to the scene, and they wanted to be absolutely certain that Jesus was who Paul claimed He was.
If we think that false teachers don’t infiltrate our churches as well, we’re already at risk.
Information has never been more readily available or readily falsifiable. Anyone can host a podcast. Anyone can have a YouTube channel, gain a Twitter or TikTok following, or have a blog. I hope that whether you’re reading my articles or listening to a sermon online or in your home church, you will be on the lookout for false teachers and bad theology.
I realize this isn’t easy. It requires independent study, active listening, and a lot of self-discipline. As you read a book or listen to a podcast, make notes about questions you have. Then go do some research. Maybe in the end you’ll have more questions than answers. That’s okay. Take them to your pastor or another trusted mentor. Ask your questions, listen to their answers and weigh what they say against God’s Word. Certainly a disagreement over a minor theological detail is no big deal. It would be impossible to find a group of believers among whom this wasn’t the case. However, if what you’re hearing or reading sounds more like the rhetoric of our society than the words of Scripture, raise the red flag!
Be shrewd but not suspicious. If you’re in a good church that values the Word of God, don’t doubt every word your pastor says. However, we should always take in information and hold it up to the plumbline of Scripture to see if it’s true.
You and I will probably never know what it’s like to live in a castle or to have a butler, valet, or lady’s maid. The days of that type of gentility and nobility have passed. But may we aspire to have a “noble-minded” approach to God’s Word.