If there is anything in life I find annoying, it’s a preacher who doesn’t know when to shut up and sit down! Amen?
There is the famous (surely apocryphal) story of a preacher who went on and on, far past his allotted time. The audience was growing terribly restless, and finally after about 70 minutes of the verbal torture, a man in the second row stood and hurled a hymnal at the loquacious preacher. The parson was able to duck it, but not so for a lady in the front row of the choir. She caught the hymnal at about the same anatomical location that Goliath caught David’s slingshot stone. As she was losing consciousness, she exclaimed, “Hit me again, I can still hear him!”
This did not happen in Troas in a meeting of the first century church, but it could have. The famous missionary, the Apostle Paul was visiting, and in Acts 20:7-12 it says …
On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. 9 Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. 10 Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” 11 Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. 12 The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.
Eutychus was a common slave name (recall that about half the Roman world lived in this social situation that we might picture as a type of indentured servitude). Likely he had come to the late-day / early evening serving after many hours of labor. The upper room of the house (typically the largest room in homes of the time) was said to have had many lamps (that detail given to explain what will follow). These torches added to the oxygen-deprived, crowded conditions; and Euthycus, sitting in an open window, succumbed to the conditions and found himself in a freefall.
His experience was one of intimate fellowship with the ground, and he was dead. How dead was he? Or is this just an exaggerated description? Well, the writer of the book of Acts said he was dead-dead. Who wrote Acts? Luke! What was Luke’s profession? Yes, a doctor.
But our interest in this passage is to see what it tells us about what the gathering of the early church was like and what we may take away from it. Without a doubt, both then and now, a reason for gathering relates to growing in the knowledge of the truth through the teaching ministry. There was a dedicated time given to reading the Scriptures and having a teaching given on the passage(s). This happened earlier in the synagogue; recall the time Jesus said of the passage from Isaiah that foretold the coming of the Messiah … that it was fulfilled in their sight. And the early church also featured the teaching and instruction from God’s Word.
Looking back at the passage above, you will see where I have noted the words about verbal communication in red text. There are three different Greek words used here.
The first is a term that speaks of a reasoning-based communication. I would take this to mean that it involved a prepared teaching from the Apostle Paul … a sort of sermon, if you will.
The second and third times speak more of a systematic review of a body of truth, picturing probably something that was more like a class to review a written document for examination.
The final word involves a normal type of conversation. This word was used in the Greek writing of Luke 24 about the travelers on the road to Emmaus, two men who were conversing as they walked about all of the events that had taken place in Jerusalem in recent days.
So, Paul probably gave a sermon, did some teaching in a systematic way, and then hung around and talked all night.
A major reason for getting together in the church and gathering weekly and as much as possible is the need every one of us has for instruction. We need to be lifelong learners. You never completely arrive. Yes, probably the bulk of teaching that those who have walked with the Lord for a while is in the category of truth reminders — which are still very appropriate. But you never get to the bottom of what the Scriptures teach and can instruct for daily living. After all these years of education, preaching, teaching, etc., I still regularly find myself hearing something and thinking, “I didn’t know that.”
So it is appropriate for us to keep talking, talking and talking … and also listening, listening and listening, for that is the only way to grow, grow and grow.