Shelby G. Floyd
Today, the first day of the week is my favorite “coming together” time of the week. Our lesson today involves a man who fell asleep in a window. How many of you have ever fallen asleep during worship? I know I have to raise my hand of being guilty. Falling asleep during worship has been going on since the beginning of the church.
This goes on today when politicians stand up to speak before an audience. In 2008 at the Martin Luther King Day speech in Harlem, New York, Bill Clinton was on the podium and during the speech he fell asleep. On the next day the New York Post stated, “Like Martin, Clinton had a dream.” Many of us have observed Vice President Joe Biden falling asleep behind the speaker of the House.
I have had my share of experiences of people going to sleep during my sermon. At my first preaching assignment in a little southern town, there was an elderly doctor and his wife who was a very faithful member of the church. For some reason the doctor never attended a Sunday morning service, but always came for the Sunday evening service to eat the Lord’s Supper.
On this particular occasion while I was speaking a young man and his wife were conversing with each other and laughing. I could not figure out what was going on. So after the service I asked him what all the commotion was about. He said that he kept telling his wife to wake their young boy up because he was snoring. But after a while she told him that their boy was not snoring, but it was the doctor.
And the next thing that happened was really disturbing to the whole congregation. As they passed the fruit of the vine the doctor was still asleep. When they woke him to take the Lord’s Supper, he was startled and knocked the communion tray all over the place. I hope that experience will never be repeated again. It was not pleasant.
It is not a sin to fall asleep in church. There are a lot of different reasons why people fall asleep in church and we are going to examine some of these reasons today.
A WINDOW INTO WORSHIP
Our lesson today is about a “window into worship.” If someone did not know what was involved in our worship at Heartland Church of Christ, and they could look through one of the windows as we worshipped, they would have an idea what New Testament worship looked like. When I use the expression “window into worship” I am using that expression figuratively, since the Bible opens up for us a panoramic view of a New Testament worship service. Our lesson today involves one of the few portions of Scripture that outlines some of the items prescribed by the Lord for his first day of the week worship. God has not outlined all of the items on the Lord’s Day worship in one portion of Scripture. We are obligated to search all of the New Testament Scriptures to define what the Lord has prescribed to worship him in spirit and truth (John 4:24). Then we must combine all of the items of worship together.
We Came Together
We have in Acts 20:7-12 a window into New Testament worship. Let us notice this section of Scripture given to us by Luke,
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. There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. 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. Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.
Years ago up in Indianapolis we had a gospel meeting with Foy E. Wallace Jr.—a great preacher who preached three hour sermons. And I remember him saying from the pulpit, “If I am 80 years old and can stand up here and preach for three hours, then you can listen to me for three hours on those padded pews.” And the amazing thing was that even the young people came every night to hear him because he was so interesting. And we had a wonderful series of lessons that week.
Paul Preached On and On
Now let us think about the apostle Paul. We do not know what time this worship service started. But he preached until midnight and after the interruption was over, he went back up to the third story meeting place and spoke again until daylight. That was probably one of the longest sermons that anyone has ever heard.
THE ESSENTIALS AND INCIDENTALS OF WORSHIP
Now the Bible clearly outlines the essentials of the New Testament worship in the assembly. The items of worship that are essential are those that God has commanded and bound upon our part. They are: the Lord’s Supper, the contribution, prayer, preaching and singing. Those are all essential and binding.
However there are matters of judgment that I would call incidentals—essentials and incidentals! The New Testament does not have a lot to say about incidentals, because they are not binding as a matter of law. God sometimes leaves it up to us to use our own judgment as to how we carry out his commands if he hasn’t told us exactly how to carry them out.
Things That Took Place at the Troas Worship
Now I want you to observe everything that happened in this worship service at Troas from which we have just read in Acts 20:7-12:
• Paul and his companions waited seven days until the first day of the week congregational worship
• Paul preached
• Paul preached until midnight
• A young man was sitting in a window
• The young man Eutychus fell into a deep sleep as he sat in the window
• Eutychus fell down from the third story room
• Eutychus died from the fall
• Paul went down and brought Eutychus back to life
• There was great joy and consolation in having his life back again
• The church assembled and “broke bread” by taking the Lord’s Supper
• Paul preached until daybreak
Now those are all the things that I have observed during that worship service at Troas. And then finally, Paul and company departed and went forward on their journey.
Incidentals That Took Place at the Troas Worship Assembly
Next, I want you to take notice of the incidentals or the matters of judgment that are involved in this worship service:
- The time of the day for worship. Has God told us exactly what time of the day we are to come together to worship? No! The time is whatever time is expedient on the first day of the week. When we started the Heartland congregation we did not have a building to meet in, so we met at the Signature Inn around 1:30 in the afternoon. That time worked very well under the circumstances. But now that we have our own building, we meet early on the first day of the week.
- The length of the sermon. We have no instructions as to how long the sermon should be, so I just preach until I am done with the subject. Sometimes it is longer and sometimes shorter.
- Where someone should sit. God has not told us where we are to sit in the auditorium. I humor some of our ladies because they practically disrobe themselves taking off their garments and laying them on the seats for their family—they are “sisters save a seat!” God has not told us where we should sit, but I would encourage all of our people to move closer to the front and save the seats at the back for visitors and families with little children. But we are not telling anyone where they are to sit in worship.
- How many lights should be lit! God has not instructed us as to how many lights we should have in our worship. That is a matter of judgment.
- The use of a building. We do not know what the building at Troas was used for on a regular basis. They worshipped on the third floor, probably because of cheap rent. We do not read in the New Testament of the church owning any buildings in which to worship. In that culture it was not a priority.
- Which floor should they meet on? It does not matter. It is incidental.
- Going to sleep during a sermon. This has happened on occasions down through the ages. Jonathan Swift of Gulliver’s Travels fame has left us a sermon printed in 1745 entitled, “Sleeping in Church.” We do not have that going on here at Heartland, but it could happen!
- Falling out of a window. That happened at Troas, but would not apply with us. Here, someone could only fall out of a chair.
- Someone dying during a worship service. I have never witnessed that to happen, but I have heard of preachers dying while preaching the word of God. That is not a bad way to go!
- The exact time to take the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week. That is incidental, but it is to be done when Christian people “come together” on “the first day of the week.”
- Overwhelming joy over someone being restored to life. We all rejoice when good things happen to our friends, family and brothers and sisters in Christ. A-men
PAUL’S EVANGELISTIC TRAVELS LEADING UP TO THE TROAS GATHERING
Now I want us to look at the context of Paul’s travels. Paul traveled all over the known world at that time. I would encourage all of you to buy the little book, The Greatest Salesman in the World, by Og Mandino. This reading of Paul’s evangelistic journeys will help you to understand the extent of this one man’s work under the grace and providence of the Lord.
We note in Acts 20:1-6 that Paul left Ephesus and came to Troas, but because Timothy had not brought him word of the welfare of the Macedonian and Achaean congregations, he backtracked from Troas to Philippi and then down to Corinth. His intention then was to sail to Palestine, but because of a plot by the Jews to kill him, he retraced his steps back the same way he came, and that is how he arrived at Troas in Acts 20:7.
We Should Encourage One Another
While reading about Paul’s travels over this area we are struck by Luke’s statement, “He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people, and finally arrived in Greece” (Acts 20:2). Paul was an encourager—gave courage to God’s people. Life is made up of relationships. It is wonderful when we create encouraging relationships with each other in the church. The members of the church should be our best friends. It is good to have friends outside of the church also, but our best and closest friends should be our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Paul Always Trained the Next Generation
Paul was always traveling with some young men to help him and to learn from him. One of the best ways to learn is by associating with older people. This past week my grandson Evan and I along with the help of a neighbor redid our sidewalk. We replaced it with gray Tennessee flagstone. Having never done this before I learned a lot and I reminded my grandson that he would now know how to do a project like this later on in his life. This is especially true if you want to be a Bible school teacher or a preacher.
I got my start as a preacher of the word by associating with a man who had been preaching for several years. Bill Lambert came out of Mississippi to preach in Franklin, Indiana. I went with him for Bible studies in several homes. After a while he told me I should go to Freed-Hardeman College and prepare to be a preacher. He turned my name in and immediately I started receiving brochures from the College. I broke out in a cold sweat because he wanted me to go immediately that fall. “I have a wife and a child, give me one more year and I will be in better shape financially,” I replied. Then he told me something I have never forgotten and which has changed my life forever. He said, “Shelby, if you wait for everything to be perfect you will never go.” That made sense to me. If we wait for everything to be perfect we will never accomplish anything. So we sold the only new house I have ever owned, and left with $500 in my pocket along with a wife and child and moved to Henderson, Tennessee. And we have never looked back. That was the best advice I have ever received.
And so Paul had these seven young men traveling with him, “He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. These men went on ahead and waited for us at Troas” (Acts 20:4-5). They are observing, listening, learning, and helping Paul in whatever way they could. The relationship these seven men are forming with the apostle Paul will help them later on when they go out to evangelize the world without the apostle Paul being with them. That is a good thing.
THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK WORSHIP ASSEMBLY
Next, we observe that the worship at Troas was on “the first day of the week.” That day of the week is what we call Sunday. Why was worship at Troas on Sunday and not on Saturday or any other day of the week? For 1500 years the Jewish people had been worshiping God on Saturday—the seventh day of the week. This was their Sabbath and the word Sabbath means rest. Just as God rested on the seventh day from all of his work in creation, so he gave the Jewish people the seventh day as a day of rest for them.
But all of a sudden when we come to the New Testament, the worship day is on Sunday, the first day of the week—the day that God started the creation of the universe. Why? Well, the answer is our key verse for this topic. “Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight” (Acts 20:7). We hope every member of the church and every visitor feels at home at the Heartland church of Christ when we come together on the first day of the week.
We love to come together for different events and times. We like coming together on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, and anniversaries. But how much more do we love coming together to break bread on the Lord’s Day like we did this morning? We love to remember the Lord Jesus Christ and the sacrifice that he made for each one of us. We come together and that is really the theme of our lesson today. They came together for at least three things. 1. They came together to break bread. 2. They came together to hear the word of God preached by the apostle Paul. And 3, they came together to receive God’s comfort after a man died and was raised to life again. Those three reasons ought to be enough to make us want to come together and be together every first day of the week. During my life of 76 years I have missed very few worship services on the Lord’s Day. I never plan or expect to miss communing with my fellow Christians and with the Lord unless I am sick or providentially hindered from being present on each first day of the week.
So why did the New Testament church worship on Sunday instead of Saturday? Because Jesus sanctified the first day of the week as the day from which he arose from the dead. Scripture says, “Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared” (Luke 24: 1). You know the story. When they got to the tomb it was empty. There was nobody in the tomb. Jesus Christ appeared to his 10 disciples after his resurrection on the first day of the week (John 20: 26). On the first day of the week the 12 apostles were baptized in the Holy Spirit and were able to speak languages they had never studied. This was the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11). This was the birthday of the church. The church started on the first day of the week in the city of Jerusalem (Acts 2:1-47).
THE LORD’S SUPPER WAS CELEBRATED EVERY FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK
The church at Corinth was commanded to take up a financial collection upon the first day of every week when they came together: “Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made” (1 Corinthians 16: 1-2 NIV). And in the Greek text and most modern translations, the collection was to be taken upon the first day of every week. This indicates that the New Testament church was in the habit of meeting 52 weeks each year on the first day of the week. The Holy Spirit put into the text a redundancy in order that we might not misunderstand that the church is to meet on the first day of every week throughout the whole year. And Acts 20: 7 teaches the same thing because the definite article “the” is used in order to show that it was something that was done consistently on “the first day of the week.” The definite article demonstrates that what they were doing was done consistently and habitually every first day of every week. If John Adams had said that our country was to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence on a fourth day of July, then it could be observed yearly, every 50 years or whatever. But when he suggested that it was to be observed on the fourth day of July, then our country follows suit and we remember our beginning each year on “the fourth day of July!”
And we know that Jesus himself established the observance of the Lord’s Supper in memory of his death, burial and resurrection. Before Jesus died he took the unleavened bread and said, “Take eat, this is my body which is broken for you.” And then he took the fruit of the vine and said, “This is the blood of the New Testament which is shed for many for the forgiveness of sin.” He then said, “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you do this in memory of me and you do proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again” (Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22). We love to remember our loved ones who have gone on before us. You can go out to the silent city of the dead and remember all of the wonderful things that went on in the lives of your loved ones when you were young. But it is not necessary to go to the graveyard in order to remember them. We show respect to the dead when we remember them in our thoughts, prayers, the things we do and the things that we say.
And so it seems to me that if we are a Christian we would want to meet with the Lord’s people every first day of the week to remember the Lord and what he has done for us. It really is not optional, for he has commanded us to do so and if we are faithful we will not disappoint him or ourselves. We remember him each Sunday with two simple items—unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine. They are inexpensive and can be purchased anywhere around the world. The memorials of great men and women are often not accessible to most of us and in order to go there it is very expensive to remember and observe them. Not so with the Lord’s memorial meal. Jesus wants us to remember him each Sunday when we partake of the bread and the cup.
THE MINISTRY OF THE WORD IN AN ALL-NIGHT SERMON
Next I want us to remember the importance of the ministry of the Word of God with an all-night sermon presented by the apostle Paul. On the first day of the week, they came together to break bread and Paul spoke to the people and because he intended to leave the next day he kept on talking until midnight. If I thought that I was going to leave this old world tomorrow, I might continue this speech until midnight. I have so many sermons on so many topics that if I live to be 125 I would not be able to repeat some of them that I have presented over the 53 years of my career. When one has spent his whole life presenting the gospel, then you are full of the word of God and it must come out. But as some wise preachers have observed, a farmer should not give all of his hay to the cows at one time. Or as another preacher said, “If you can’t strike oil in 30 minutes, quit drilling.” That is the reason we break the word of God down into lessons each week, so we will have time to digest, understand and absorb the plain teaching.
But notice that Paul could not stop preaching because he intended on leaving them the next day. He had to give it all out at this time. But then observe that Eutychus has fallen into a deep sleep, because Paul just kept on talking on and on. We all have heard speakers who did just that. And after daylight Paul left them to continue his journey to other places.
There are four reasons why Eutychus probably fell down from his window on the third floor of the building. One, it was a very late hour. For most of us it is very difficult to stay awake after midnight when our body clock has been set to go to bed much earlier.
Two, there were many lamps in the room where they came together. I remember as a boy I would visit my grandparents in southeastern Kentucky. They did not have electricity, but it was something that was enjoyable for a young boy. They would have a fire in the fireplace and the room would be kind of semi-dark. There would be several oil lamps scattered around the room and you could see the reflection of different faces in the glass globes. Everyone would sit around and talk and have some popcorn. There was something about the smell of those lamps that made you sleepy. So after a while around nine or 10 o’clock someone would say, “I think it’s time to blow the lamps out and go to bed.” Back then it was early to bed and early to rise.
The third reason was that Eutychus had a window seat. That is not the best seat in the house. When he became sleepy it would be very difficult for him to keep his balance while sitting in a window. Therefore he just lost his balance from being so drowsy and fell to his death below.
The fourth reason is because of the long sermon. Preaching is what makes the church. We need strong preaching today with force and conviction on all of the vital topics in God’s Word. A weak preacher might present his lesson on repentance like this: “Brethren, unless you repent in a measure, and be converted as it were, you will I regret to say, be damned to some extent.” Wouldn’t it be much more forceful to just repeat what Jesus said, “Repent or perish!” Much of the preaching today is beating around the bush instead of coming to the point. Paul said to the Galatians, “Have I become your enemy because I tell you the truth.” Paul’s charge to young Timothy is still good advice to all young preachers today, ” I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Timothy 4:1-3 ESV).
IT IS NOT A SIN TO FALL ASLEEP IN WORSHIP
In the book of Romans we have a passage of Scripture that tells us that it is a sin to spiritually fall asleep in the church: “And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” (Romans 13:11). We have all fallen asleep in church at some time. It is not a sin to fall asleep in worship. But it is a sin if we fall asleep spiritually. And that is much more important than just falling asleep in worship. But God wants us to wake up from any spiritual slumber and sleep. Paul declared to the church at Ephesus, “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14 NIV). He was not talking about somebody like Eutychus who fell asleep and fell out of a window. He was talking about members of the church who had fallen asleep and were dead spiritually.
When Jesus wrote seven letters to the seven churches of Asia, he told them first all the good things that they were doing. And then he would tell them the bad things that they were doing. And then at the end of the letter he would give them a warning. For instance, to the church at Ephesus he described all the many good things that they were doing, but then he chided them because they had left their first love and had grown cold and indifferent in their service to the Lord. And finally he warned them by saying, “You need to be careful and repent or you will die spiritually.” Basically the Lord said the same thing in all of the seven letters to these churches. Paul had spent three years working with the church at Ephesus, and then it was necessary for him to write them a letter to wake them up from their lethargy. So the application for us today is to wake up and start doing the Lord’s work and build up the church! That is what God wants us to do. Many churches today are drifting along and not fighting the current of worldliness and lukewarm commitment.
Friends, we do not know exactly why Eutychus fell asleep during Paul’s sermon and fell out of life. We never know when our life is going to come to an end. We all have a personal hourglass and the Sands of Time are falling down. Life is brief and it is uncertain. The wife and I were at our favorite eating place a few days ago, and Sarah asked, “I wonder what happened to that little oh gray-haired man that we would see all the time?” I replied, “Well, maybe like Eutychus he just dropped out of life.” And then I looked at her and smiled and said, “You know, they are going to be saying that about us one of these days.” Life is brief; time is running out for all of us. We all have an expiration date written upon our heart. We are only going to go this way one time and we better be busy in the Lord’s kingdom. Because when we drop out of life like Eutychus, we do not have the apostle Paul to wake us up to life again.
But when we do die, if we are faithful we have the promise of the Lord Jesus Christ, who said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” If you are not a Christian, will you respond to heaven’s invitation and by your faith turn from your sinful life and be baptized into Christ. We plead with you in Jesus’ name!*
Copyright © 2013 2017 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved.
*Shelby G. Floyd delivered this sermon August 11, 2013, at the Heartland Church of Christ, 1693 West Main Street, Greenwood, Indiana. *Shelby G. Floyd delivered this same sermon under the title, A New Testament Worship Service, with a different arrangement, October 22, 2017, at the Heartland Church of Christ.
Shelby G. Floyd
Heartland Church of Christ
1693 West Main Street