When Paul arrived in Troas, he waited there for a whole week, probably so that he could be present with the disciples at a worship service on the Lord’s Day.
On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together (Acts 20:7-8).
This is the passage we long-winded preachers use to berate the audience for not indulging them! But, in all seriousness, the second half of Paul’s third missionary journey had the flavor of a farewell tour. Paul had much to say to encourage these disciples, whom he would not see next Wednesday night or next Sunday morning, in fact, might not see ever again (Acts 20:25, 38, 21:5). What Paul had to say was worth hearing, and he wanted to pack as much as he possibly could into their time together. They probably asked him a lot of questions, too. Thus, he kept talking meaningfully all the way until midnight.
Suddenly, the meeting was disturbed:
There was a young man named Eutychus, sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor and was picked up dead. But Paul went down and fell upon him and after embracing him, he said, “Do not be troubled, for his life is in him” (Acts 20:9-10).
This is the passage that we long-winded preachers use to scold those who drift off in a pew! But I believe Eutychus gets a bad rap.
I personally like to think that perhaps Eutychus was a slave, as were many Christians in Paul’s day. He was probably in his late teens or early twenties: “young man,” neanias, usually describes men from 20 to 40, but “boy” in verse twelve, paida, suggests the early edge of this range. I don’t want to assume too much that Luke doesn’t reveal, but Eutychus could have worked hard all day, and was faced with the prospect of getting up the next morning and doing it all over again. Yet, Eutychus was there, assembled together with the disciples in Troas, to hear the apostle Paul’s teaching. He was not home relaxing or out partying. Despite his ache and exhaustion, he still managed to walk himself to worship. When Paul talked until midnight, with the dim oil flames causing shapes to flicker and dance lazily on the walls, Eutychus remained. Maybe he sat in the window to get some cool air to help him stay alert.
When slumber overcame him, he fell three stories to the ground. The disciples rushed down and he “was picked up dead.” Paul rushed down too, and rather than lecture on the judgment due to folks who can’t keep their eyes open in services, Paul embraced him and comforted them with words of life. They went back to the upper room, broke bread, and continued talking until dawn (20:11)! “They took away the boy alive, and were greatly comforted” (20:12).
Let me draw two conclusions. First, the story of Eutychus provides no comfort to those who stay awake until 4:00AM playing video games, who then drift off during worship. Participating in teaching and preaching is an act of worship (Acts 2:42, 1 Timothy 4:13), and nodding off during a lesson is not an insult to the preacher, but an insult to God. Make worship enough of a priority that you give God the best you can give, even if that means limiting your activities on Saturday night.
Second, Eutychus reminds us how important worship is. It is uplifting when brethren defy the world to show up at services. Some families have many responsibilities, must find ways to arrange shift work, must compromise with extracurricular activities, must wake up an hour early to get kids breakfasted and dressed. Assembling for worship helps us learn the difference between what is merely urgent and what is truly important.
What does assembling together provide? Hebrews 10:24-25 says,
Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
Our “assembling together” stimulates the body to love and good deeds. It encourages the whole church. In a world that’s against us, it reminds us that there are like-minded people. When we “greet the friends by name” (3 John 15) it fills us with love and acceptance. When an elderly brother struggles to get in the door on Sunday morning, it edifies the rest of us who see his faith. When we take our “meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46) we draw closer to one another. Our songs and prayers teach and admonish (Col. 3:16-17). Worship should be a non-negotiable priority in our lives! –John Guzzetta