Don Knotts was a brilliant comedian who created many memorable characters. One of his best known, and loved, characters was Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith show. Barney was an expert on everything he proclaimed – just ask him to verify it. One of his greatest gifts was his expertise on child raising. He was a professional since he never had any kids. In talking with Andy about one of his son’s behaviors, he told Andy that the solution to the problem was to “Nip it in the bud.”
While Barney’s application may have been off, the best way to avoid trouble is to stop it before it starts. The powers that be in Thessalonica understood that. When Paul, Silas, and Timothy started preaching about Jesus there, those in power knew that they had to nip this thing in the bud and they had goons break up the revival service. When the missionaries journeyed to nearby Berea, things started off well, but the Thessalonian powers wanted to nip things in the bud. “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…But when the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, some of them went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up.” (Acts 17:11, 13)
The Thessalonian power structure realized that Christianity was contagious and that if it took hold in Berea, the message would filter back to Thessalonica. It was one thing to accuse Paul and his group of stirring up trouble – they were outsiders – but it would have been harder to stem the flood of Christianity if it filtered in from the next town over as they probably had lots of interaction between the two towns. The Bereans were not swayed by any reports from Thessalonica, they studied the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true, and many, Jew and Greek, were turning to Christ. This caused problems all the way back in Thessalonica and they sent trouble makers to stir up the people against Paul, Silas, and Timothy. Eventually, Paul was run out of town while Silas and Timothy stayed a while longer before catching up to Paul.
When understood correctly, Christianity is contagious. It should wreak havoc on a power structure designed to benefit the powerful by exploiting the weak and powerless. What’s happened is that instead of being contagious, and exciting, here in America, is that we have settled into the power structure and are happy with the status quo. We have it good, so why change things? The radical call of Jesus doesn’t allow us to sit back in comfort while anyone is oppressed. Jesus described His ministry like this: “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) As followers of Christ, we must work to do those things. That’s radical in a society that’s developed an immunity to the effects of the gospel.
Oh Lord, I’ve grown to accustomed to the oppression of those around me. I too easily accept the status quo when I should be working for the release of the captives. Remind me that sin has captivated far too many people and that my faith should be contagious, helping others to see the truth of the gospel.