That very night the believers sent Paul and Silas off to Beroea; and when they arrived, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 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 of them therefore believed, including not a few Greek women and men of high standing. But when the Jews of Thessalonica learned that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Beroea as well, they came there too, to stir up and incite the crowds. Then the believers immediately sent Paul away to the coast, but Silas and Timothy remained behind. Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and after receiving instructions to have Silas and Timothy join him as soon as possible, they left him.
Today’s episode challenges us to consider how we respond when we hear of God at work elsewhere in ways that seem to eclipse our own experience. The believers at Thessalonica, on hearing that those in Beroea were “more receptive,” opt to “stir up and incite the crowds” as opposition to them.
In their book, Rooting for Rivals (*), Peter Greer and Chris Horst challenge their readers to discover “how collaboration and generosity increase the impact of leaders, charities and churches”. They suggest that pride is the chief vice – an undercurrent pushing us to think more of ourselves and less of others. Citing C.S. Lewis they point out that pride “is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense”. By contrast, they suggest, “For followers of Jesus, our joy comes when others succeed. We thrive when others thrive. We hurt when our rivals hurt. Our platform exists to make God’s name great, not our own. … Humble leaders understand their true rivalry has nothing to do with their “competitors” and everything to do with themselves”.
So, today, we do well to reflect on who is “Beroea” for us: people, churches, expressions of worship and mission we regard as “rivals” that we’d rather incite others to oppose than rejoicing in their thriving. To what extent are we willing to root for our rivals, to cheer on our competitors? Ultimately, if we are serious about praying and working for the kingdom of God it really ought not to matter who gets the credit. Rather we should rejoice wherever God is at work changing lives and communities.
This golden anniversary year of our denomination is a good opportunity to be challenged afresh to “praying and working with all our fellow Christians” rather than inciting opposition to those who are not “us”.