Wednesday
Mar032010

After Midnight

It isn’t often that I can delight my son with a story he has not already heard, but which he finds thoroughly engaging on first audience.

Daniel in the lions’ den? Heard it. The time I crashed my bike flying down Boston Street? Heard it. Twice. “One small step for man.” He knows it by heart and is a member of the Neil Armstrong Fan Club.

Recently, though, I thrilled him with an absolutely true story from the twentieth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.

 

“On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead” (verses 7-9).

 

This story has everything but romance – and what seven-year-old boy cares about that anyway?

Does it also – inadvertently – suggest something to preachers about sermon length? We do not know at what point Paul commenced his preaching, but the text seems to indicate it was a particularly lengthy message – “prolonged until midnight.” It was about then that young Eutychus did the unthinkable – he dozed off in church, which is something that every preacher has probably witnessed at one time or another.

Certainly, we should not have the goal to preach so long that the majority begin falling asleep, but neither should we aspire to preach so briefly that the majority do not have time to get engaged in the material.

Clearly, there is no scriptural mandate regarding sermon length. Some men can do more with thirty minutes than others can do in seventy-five. A long lesson does not guarantee an effective one and some briefer lessons are brief because the preacher is skilled at presenting his material succinctly.

Judging the worth of a sermon based upon a glance at your watch is without scriptural precedent. Some crave short sermons because they are spiritually disinterested, but others actually want them long as a show of their endurance and to prove some point of pride. 

Sermons should be judged on their scriptural soundness and doctrinal effectiveness – whether they reprove, correct and instruct in righteousness, and whether they feed and nourish the flock of God (Second Timothy 3:16-17).

A meal at table need not be long to be nutritious, but spiritual malnutrition will always prove unhealthy in the end (First Peter 2:1-2).