This is a stunning story about Paul’s preaching. To say he could be long winded is a huge understatement. I enjoy listening to someone dig into the word of God but Paul is the winner here. It seems odd in comparison to our carefully timed ministers today. We have to get out in time for the Sunday football game. Don’t want to go too long; we’ll lose interest.
I must get my head on straight about the power of God’s message. Getting lost in the sermon should be a good thing. I can’t tell you though, how many times I’ve nodded off during a relatively short sermon.
On the first day of the week, we assembled to break bread. Paul spoke to them, and since he was about to depart the next day, he kept on talking until midnight. There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were assembled, and a young man named Eutychus was sitting on a window sill and sank into a deep sleep as Paul kept on talking. When he was overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was picked up dead. But Paul went down, bent over him, embraced him, and said, “Don’t be alarmed, because he’s alive.” After going upstairs, breaking the bread, and eating, Paul talked a long time until dawn. Then he left. They brought the boy home alive and were greatly comforted. | Acts 20:7-12 (CSB)
Paul was not able to make it to Jerusalem for the annual Passover celebration, so now his goal was to arrive there at least by Pentecost. Note the pronoun change to “us” and “we,” for Dr. Luke has now joined the party. He had probably been ministering at Philippi where he joined Paul for the last leg of the journey. Paul must have rejoiced to have Luke, Titus, and Timothy at his side again. The men remained at Troas a week so that they might fellowship with the believers there. Perhaps they were also waiting for the departure of the next ship.
Luke gives us a brief report of a local church service in Troas, and from it we learn something of how they met and worshiped the Master Jesus. Consider the elements involved.
- The Master’s Day. To begin with, they met on the first day of the week and not on the seventh day which was the Sabbath. The first day came to be called “the Master’s Day” because on it the Master Jesus Christ arose from the dead. We should also remember that the church was born on the first day of the week when the Spirit came at Pentecost. During the early years of the church, the believers did maintain some of the Jewish traditions, such as the hours of prayer. But as time went on, they moved away from the Mosaic calendar and developed their own pattern of worship as the Spirit taught them.
- The Master’s people. The church met in the evening because Sunday was not a holiday during which people were free from daily employment. Some of the believers would no doubt be slaves, unable to come to the assembly until their work was done. The believers met in an upper room because they had no church buildings in which to gather. This room may have been in the private home of one of the believers. The assembly would have been a cosmopolitan group, but their social and national distinctions made no difference: they were “all one in the Messiah Jesus”.
- The Master’s Supper. The early church shared a “potluck” meal called the “love feast” (agape), after which they would observe the Master’s Supper. The “breaking of bread” in Acts 20:7 refers to the Master’s Supper, whereas in Acts 20:11 it describes a regular meal. By sharing and eating with one another, the church enjoyed fellowship and also gave witness of their oneness in the Messiah. Slaves would actually eat at the same table with their masters, something unheard of in that day.
- It is likely that the church observed the Master’s Supper each Master’s Day when they met for fellowship and worship. In fact, some believers probably ended many of their regular meals at home by taking the bread and wine and remembering the Master’s death. While Scripture does not give us specific instructions in the matter (“as often,” 1 Cor. 11:26), the example of the early church would encourage us to meet at the Master’s table often. However, the Communion must not become routine, causing us to fail to receive the blessings involved.
- The Master’s message. The Word of God was always declared in the Christian assemblies, and this included the public reading of the Old Testament Scriptures as well as whatever apostolic letters had been received. It is sad to see how the Word is neglected in church services today. Knowing that this would probably be his last meeting with the saints at Troas, Paul preached a long sermon, after which he ate and conversed with the people until morning. It’s doubtful that anybody complained. How we today wish we could have been there to hear the Apostle Paul preach!
- The Word of God is important to the people of God, and the preaching and teaching of the Word must be emphasized. The church meets for edification as well as for celebration, and that edification comes through the Word. “Preach the Word!” is still God’s admonition to spiritual leaders. According to Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “the decadent periods and eras in the history of the church have always been those periods when preaching has declined” (Preachers and Preaching, Zondervan, p. 24).
- The Master’s power. Whether it was the lateness of the hour or the stuffiness of the room (surely not the dullness of Paul’s sermon!), Eutychus (“Fortunate”) fell asleep and then fell out the window, and was killed by the fall. However, Paul raised him from the dead and left him and the church comforted. God’s power was present to work for His people.
- How old was Eutychus? The Greek word neanias in Acts 20:9 means a man from twenty-four to forty years of age. The word pais in Acts 20:12 means a young child or youth. Dr. Howard Marshall, an eminent Greek scholar, says he was a “young lad of eight to fourteen years. Since the word pais can mean “a servant,” Eutychus may have been a young man who was also a servant. He may have worked hard that day and was weary. No wonder he fell asleep during the lengthy sermon!
- Let’s not be too hard on Eutychus. At least he was there for the service, and he did try to keep awake. He sat near ventilation, and he must have tried to fight off the sleep that finally conquered him. The tense of the Greek verb indicates that he was gradually overcome, not suddenly.
- Also, let’s not be too hard on Paul. After all, he was preaching his farewell sermon to this assembly, and he had a great deal to tell them for their own good. Those sitting near should have been watching Eutychus; but, of course, they were engrossed in what Paul was saying. Paul did interrupt his sermon to rush downstairs to bring the young man back to life. His approach reminds us of Elijah and Elisha.
- Perhaps each of us should ask ourselves, “What really keeps me awake?” Christians who slumber during one hour in church somehow manage to stay awake during early-morning fishing trips, lengthy sporting events and concerts, or late-night TV specials. Also, we need to prepare ourselves physically for public worship to make sure we are at our best. “Remember,” said Spurgeon, “if we go to sleep during the sermon and die, there are no apostles to restore us!”
- Christian Standard Bible. (2017). (Ac 20:1–38). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
- Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, pp. 484–485). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
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Bruce Cooper said:
Excellent post Michael, thank you. I’m thinking that the preciousness of the amount of time that was available was a factor in how long Paul spoke. That and the Holy Spirit’s desire to impart wisdom and blessings on the hearers through Paul. I’m thinking we all could use one of these all night sessions. God’s grace, peace and blessings on you and yours.
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Fascinating to see the details of the local church in the book of Acts
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