Acts 15 and 20 record two instances of ministry in the early churches that many Christians and churches today think would not be proper for believers in most cases. In many churches, such ministry would be strongly unwelcome, and many people would not tolerate it if their pastors or other ministers would choose to minister to them in this way.
A close look at these accounts, however, suggests that such ministry would be highly profitable for all believers in every church. The following treatment of these passages examines whether the lack of such ministry is one key reason that many Christians and churches today are weak.
Following the Jerusalem Council, the church at Jerusalem sent Judas and Silas along with Paul and Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 15:22). They sent with these men a letter that related the Council’s determinations (Acts 15:23-29).
Arriving in Antioch, these men gathered with the congregation there and brought joy to them through the encouragement that the letter provided (Acts 15:30-31). Because Judas and Silas were also prophets, they further ministered to the brethren (Acts 15:32).
Luke specifies that these two men “exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them” (Acts 15:32). Through proclaiming a lengthy message to the congregation, these ministers encouraged and strengthened them.
In many churches today, however, long messages are not welcome. Some church leaders even assert that if you cannot say what you have to say in a fairly short amount of time (for example, some say messages should be about 30 minutes long), you are not properly ministering the Word to people.
The example of Judas and Silas in Acts 15 refutes such viewpoints and supports holding that believers today need lengthy messages to encourage and strengthen them. An account of Paul’s ministry in Acts 20 confirms this assessment about what we need as believers today.
In Troas, Paul and eight other men who had accompanied him (Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Timothy, Tychichus, Trophimus, and Luke; Acts 20:4 cf. “we” in Acts 20:6) met with other believers on the first day of the week to observe the Lord’s Supper (“break bread”; Acts 20:7a). Paul began preaching to them, with the intent that he would leave the next day (Acts 20:7b).
Paul prolonged his message until midnight (Acts 20:7c). Undoubtedly, Paul, therefore, preached to them for at least more than an hour and probably for much longer than that.
A young man named Eutychus fell asleep during Paul’s lengthy message and fell out the window from the third floor (Acts 20:8-9). Although the believers thought that he had died (Acts 20:9), Paul “fell on him, and embracing him” assured them that he was still living (Acts 20:10; cf. 20:12).
Amazingly, Paul then returned back upstairs to observe the Lord’s Supper with the brethren (Acts 20:11a) and then continued to minister to them “for a long while, even till break of day” (Acts 20:11b) and then departed (Acts 20:11c).
In most churches today, if a preacher were to preach for an hour before observing the Lord’s Supper with the congregation, many people in the churches would complain about the length of the message and many likely over time would stop coming to those churches. Paul, however, did not just preach for more than an hour before observing the Lord’s Supper with them—he continued to preach to them for quite some time after eating the Lord’s Supper with them!
What’s more, the near tragic fall of a young man in the congregation who fell asleep because of the length of Paul’s initial message did not deter Paul from further ministering to the believers after the young man had fallen. In most churches today, the occurrence of something even remotely similar to what happened with Eutychus would be prime evidence that many believers would use to argue strongly that the preacher should not preach so long that young people in the church fall asleep because of the length of the message.
Christians Today Need Lengthy Messages to Encourage and Strengthen Them
The scriptural record in Acts 15 and 20 of preaching ministry in the early church shows that the apostolic company believed that Christians back then needed lengthy messages to encourage and strengthen them. Similar indications of an apostolic viewpoint that people need lengthy ministry include the following:
(1) “And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation” [Acts 2:40], which shows that Peter continued preaching for a long time after preaching the message that we have recorded in Acts 2:14-39.
(2) “And I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation: for I have written a letter unto you in few words” [Heb. 13:22], which reveals that the writer of Hebrews considered the entire book of more than 300 verses to be a brief message! What, then, must he have thought would comprise a lengthy message?
Based on this biblical data and the widespread consensus that the Church has great needs among its people today, I believe that a key reason that many Christians and churches are weak today is because they are unwilling to endure lengthy preaching of the Word. Let us allow these passages from Scripture to renew our minds so that we will eagerly embrace lengthy ministry of the Word to us from God’s appointed ministers whenever He directs them to minister in such a way to us!