A Pastor’s Commentary on the Book of Acts
Lesson 38 Sleeping in Church
Acts 19:21- 40
In I Corinthians 15:32 the Apostle Paul makes an interesting reference to his time in Ephesus. He says, “I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus. As a Roman citizen Paul could not have literally been thrown to the lions in the Colosseum, so we are safe in assuming that this is a figurative reference. But what a realistic description of the frenzied riot he and his companions had just endured at the end of chapter 19.
This incident took place when Paul was wrapping up his time in the city of Ephesus and getting ready to complete his second missionary journey. In verse 24 of chapter 19 we read that
About that time there arose a great commotion about The Way. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen called them together with the workers of similar occupation, and said, “Men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade (26)”Moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands. “So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship.
As with all propaganda these claims were wildly exaggerated. But also, as with most propaganda plenty believed it. So, all this leads to the tumult in verses 28 through 34. First there was panic in verses 28,29
Now when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” (29) So the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul’s travel companions.
They probably seized Aristarchus and Gaius because they couldn’t find Paul. That theater still exists. It can seat 25,000 – so it is no small matter. But notice Paul’s peace
(30) So when Paul wanted to go in to the people, the disciples would not allow him. (31) Then some of the officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent to him pleading that he would not venture into the theater.
There was so much mayhem and confusion that most of didn’t even know why they were there, verse 32 says. Then the Jews put forth their greatest orator to try to calm the situation, but nothing worked! Verse 35 says that the chanting went on for two hours! Finally God provided for the taming of the situation. Not with the Cavalry or a high Roman official, but with the city clerk!
(35) And when the City Clerk had quieted the crowd, he said: “Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple guardian of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus? (36) therefore, since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rashly. (37)”For you have brought these men here who are neither of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess. (38) therefore, if Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a case against anyone, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another (39)But if you have any other inquiry to make, it should be determined in the lawful assembly (40)For we are in danger of being called in question for today’s uproar, there being no reason which we may give to account for this disorderly gathering. (41) And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.
What happened here? As if He were playing Chess, God moved a pawn into the right position to block Paul’s opponent. And the same thing is true in our lives – sometimes He uses unexpected events and unlikely people. The trick is waiting for Him to make His move! Why do we have so much trouble with that? Because we want to be in charge of our own lives! But the trouble is that we can’t! We have absolutely no control over unexpected situations.
But with peace established and the church growing and safe, Paul now decides that the time is right to move on. And chapter 20 gives us another “photo album page” from his travels.
And as we look at it we will see three segments:
- The Ministry in Macedonia – verses 1 through 6
- The Miracle at Midnight – verses 7 through 12, and
III. The Message at Miletus – verses 13 through 38
So, let’s look at the ministry in Macedonia as it is recorded in verses 1 through 6. And verses 1 and 2 record the that the first aspect of it is fellowship:
After the uproar had ceased Paul called the disciples to himself, embraced them, and departed to go to Macedonia. (2) Now when he had gone over that region and encouraged them with many words, he came to Greece.
After three years of ministry in Ephesus a sizable number of disciples had been raised up. His first trip through this area had focused on evangelism. But evangelism isn’t what is crucial now. This time it is exhortation. And we base that on the key word “encouraged” in verses 2. It is a translation of the word that is usually translated “exhort” or “exhortation.” Let’s take a closer look at this familiar term which is so easy to take for granted or overlook. Chuck Swindoll says it means “the ability to apply truth to life.” The Greek word is “parakaleo,” a word which means, “to call alongside to help.” It is fascinating to know that the Holy Spirit is called a “parakletos,” a helper or comforter, in John 14:26. An exhortation can be a warning, a comforting statement or an encouraging comment. And value is inestimable. Exhorting others is sometimes like lighting small fires in other peoples’ lives. Sometimes the fires illuminate sin, drawing people, drawing people toward repentance. Sometimes they awaken sleepers, sometimes they warm failing hearts, encouraging them with hope. Do you think you might be an exhorter? Perhaps the Holy spirit has given this spiritual gift to you and you need to develop it. If so, you can have no better teacher than Paul in the above examples. Think them through carefully and pray that the Holy Spirit will give you the opportunity to light the fire in the right place at the right time.
Paul apparently spent about a year in Macedonia and possibly used this time to preach the gospel as far west as Illyricum, an area which was known for many years as Yugoslavia and was sucked into the Communist political machine, and was famous for a few years in the mid 1990’s was known as “Bosnia-Herzegovinia as the communist USSR was falling apart. Also during his stay in that area he probably wrote two of his epistles – II Corinthians and Galatians.
Out of that background of “fellowship,” with his dream of reaching Rome still fresh in his heart, Paul heads for the next step in his journey; Greece. And it is there that the second characteristic of his ministry in Macedonia is demonstrated: farsightedness. Look at verse 3:
(2) he came to Greece (3) and stayed three months. And when Jews plotted against him as he was about to sail to Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia.
Paul then had a fruitful three months stay in Greece, during which he wrote his doctrinal masterpiece, the epistle to the Romans. However, when he is ready to leave, his plans for an ocean crossing to Syria hit murderous swells,
According to Stanley Toussaint, apparently the vengeful Jews were planning to kill him on board and then dispose of the body at sea. But when Paul found this out he wisely set a different course back up through Macedonia the way he had just come.
Now the question might come, “does this mean that Paul didn’t trust god to protect him on the ship? Did he show a lack of courage by changing his travel route? Not at all. Paul would have been foolish to board that ship. God had informed him of the plot, so he could escape the murder attempt, not so his courage could be tested. Paul trusted God, but he also knew when to retreat from danger. Verses 4 through 6 bring out a third aspect of ministry among the Macedonians, and that was his fellow travelers. Look at verse 4:
Sopater of Berea accompanied him to Asia; also, Aristarchus and Secundus of the thessalonians, and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia In his choice of traveling companions Paul revealed that there is no rank or hierarchy in the family of God. Ray Steadman brings this to light for us in his commentary on Acts. The man whose name was Secundus, which meant “the second,” was obviously a slave. Slaves did not bother to name their children, the just numbered them – “The First, “the second,” and so forth. It may be that “Tertius or “number three” to whom Paul dictated the letter to the Romans, was this man’s brother (Romans 16:22) Secundus’ slave status made as little difference to Paul as the fact that Sopater had a noble heritage and a famous father. Even timothy, was half Jewish and half Gentile, yet Paul freely accepted him too. Some of the men were from Asia, some from Europe, Paul treated them all as brothers in Christ. Some of the men were from Asia some from Europe. He lived out the truths he wrote to others There is another “fellow traveler” here who is not mentioned by name, and that was Luke. This is indicated by Luke’s use of the pronouns “us” and “we” in verses 5 and 6. The other “we” sections are (16:10-17; and “we” in 21:1-18)
(5) These men, going ahead, waited for us at Troas, (6) (But we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days joined them at troas, where we stayed seven days.
This brief seven day visit in Troas must have been nostalgic for Paul, for it was here that God had given him the vision of the Macedonian man calling “come over into Macedonia and help us.” (16:9) Now he had the opportunity to minister in the city that had so significantly impacted his life. The first segment of Paul’s trip involved “Ministry in Macedonia, but in the second segment, verses 7-12, we see a miracle at midnight. The setting for the miracle is in verses 7 and 8
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.
In describing the events at Troas, Luke provides us a rare glimpse of first century church life: four facets stand out of their worship are brought out in this one verse. First, notice on what day of the week the early church met for worship. The Jews observed the sabbath on the seventh day, Saturday, but the Christians met on the first day of the week, Sunday, in honor, we assume of the day of Jesus’ of the day of Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 28:1) Second, the phrase “we were gathered together” implies that the church service was primarily a time for believers. On Sundays Christians would meet to spiritually “tune up” for the week ahead when they would be in the world witnessing for Christ. Third, the Lord’s Supper was an integral part of their worship. Luke simply writes “we were gathered together to break bread.” This phrase gives us no details about how they celebrated communion, which is a good thing. Because now we are free to remember Christ’s death in a variety of ways. We do not have to be in a church building; the “Clergy” doesn’t necessarily have to administer it. As long as there is a worshipful spirit, a body of believers can partake of the Lord’s supper anywhere and in any format.
The final glimpse of early church life Luke shows us is the presence of Biblical teaching. Paul began talking to them and he talked and talked and talked. In fact, he kept teaching until midnight (showing that an adequate feeding of the saints can sometimes require a significant amount time.) And that formed the situation calling for a miracle. Look at verse 9
And in a window sat a certain young man named Eutychus, who was sinking down into a deep sleep. He was overcome. And as Paul continued speaking, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.
But even more embarrassing, though, is that Luke records this event for every future generation across the entire world to read about. Why do people fall asleep in church? Well, there are all kinds of reasons, and they are not all bad. Church leaders who have the opportunity, such as when constructing, expanding or remodeling facilities should think about good lighting, ventilation, heating and air conditioning, and comfortable seating. (as in the case of Eutychus) sometimes people are already tired when they get to church.) Let’s go ahead and say it: Sometimes it is the fault of the pastor. If he is poorly organized, too much or rambling material, a monotone delivery, and so forth.
Thankfully, as in Eutychus case, his sleep was not permanent. In verses 10 and 11, we see the satisfaction with the miracle.
But Paul went down, fell on hi m, and embracing him said, “Do not trouble yourselves, for his life is in him.” (11) Now when he had come up, had broken bread and eaten and talked a long while even till daybreak, he departed. (12) And they brought they young man in alive and they were not a little comforted.
The passage closes with another of the Bible’s understatements in verse 12
(12) And they brought they young man in alive and they were not a little comforted.