On preaching about Eutychus

I preached for the first time as an employee of a church yesterday. It was so big a milestone that my gran and my mum and my wife came to watch. My wife would have been there anyway I guess.

We’re doing a series on Acts at church at the moment and when Andrew asked what I wanted to preach on I naturally said “Acts 20”. Because I wanted to talk about Eutychus. Acts 20 isn’t really about Eutychus, he’s a peripheral figure. And I actually ended up preaching a mammoth passage from Acts 18:18 to the end of Acts 20 – Paul’s whole mission to Ephesus.

I would much prefer preaching a mammoth passage to preaching a mouse sized passage – it’s far better to have to leave stuff out than it is to have to make stuff up.

Here’s what I said about Eutychus. For the record…

And in verse 7 we have possibly my favourite story in the Bible. If you’re going to go down in history for something it may as well be being bored to death by the world’s most famous evangelist. And Eutychus has that honour.

Because in chapter 20 of Acts Paul preaches what could still be a world record for the longest sermon. From dusk until dawn Paul is preaching his passion – the Ephesians might have been able to fervently chant for two hours [in Acts 19] – but chanting six words over and over again has nothing on being able to preach ALL NIGHT teaching.

Paul could have spent hours talking about tent making – and you can bet there would’ve been more fatalities – he could have spoken at length about his travels. If you’ve ever watched a friend’s holiday slide show you’d be aware just how excited some people can be about where they’ve been and what they’ve seen… but that’s not what Paul is excited about. He just wants to talk about Jesus.

Scots Presbyterian in Clayfield enjoys a visit from the boarders from the local Presbyterian Girls’ school about once in a blue moon – and yesterday happened to be it. So between the morning service and the night service I removed the flesh from the skeleton of my talk and reshaped it into something almost purely evangelistic. This is surprisingly easy to do when you’ve put some hours into exegeting the text and figuring out the ways to point people to the gospel – so Gary Millar’s advice was invaluable.

Eutychus played a more prominent role in this talk… just thinking about his story made me aim to not bore my audience of teenage girls. I was glad there were no open windows because I’m not sure how many of them would have tottered out.

My sermons still suffer from slightly trite application (as trite as urging people to live for, and preach, the gospel can be) and I’m always left wishing I’d dug the knife in a bit deeper to cut some real change into people… hopefully that’s something I can work on. Memorable application is important. I feel a tension between creating a memorable understanding of the text and a memorable application of the text – though I’m not actually sure the two should be separate.

One of the bits of preaching I find most memorable was a refrain from an NTE talk on Ezekiel from many years ago where I think Donny Kwan spoke and kept saying “God will be God, and you will know it” is the big idea of Ezekiel. A mantra like that is helpful – but it hasn’t really been profoundly life altering.

So, preachers who read this blog, how do I move my application from the general “live like Jesus” to the specific “live like Jesus by…”, any tips? My guess is that I need to understand the people I’m preaching to and what they’re struggling with so I can metaphorically push their buttons. But even that seems a bit apply by the numbers.


David says:

I've always liked (part of) David Cook's advice. Find the 'impossible' application — Ask yourself, in light of this passage what you could you not possibly think/do? Chances are, that's what most people are actually thinking/doing. His example is Jesus words "No one can serve two masters". The impossible application is to say, "I'm the exception — I can serve God and money", which is of course how most of us think!

David says:

And while, I'm passing on other people's stuff, here's Packer's advice, borrowing from a puritan:

“Perkins in his Arte of Prophecying distinguished the different classes of people that the preacher could expect to be addressing in any ordinary congregation:
the ignorant and unteachable, who needed the equivalent of a bomb under their seats.
the ignorant but teachable, who needed orderly instruction in what Christianity is all about.
the knowledgeable but humbled, who needed to be given a sense of sin
the humbled and desperate, who needed to be grounded in the gospel
believers going on with God, who needed building up, and
believers who had fallen into error, intellectual and moral, and needed correction

To Perkins classfication of types of people we must now add the list of types of applications that the Westminster Directory for Publick Worship gives. … In form they are inferential and logical, being structured thus:
‘Since this is true (‘this’ being the truth just taught), you must
(1) be sure of the following further truths which it implies;
(2) abjure the folllowing errors, which it contradicts;
(3) do such-and-such good things, which it requires;
(4) stop doing, or avoid doing, such-and-such bad things, which it forbids;
(5) take to yourself the encouragement which it offers;
(6) ask yourself where you stand spiritually in the light of it, and how far you are living by it.’
The quality of a preacher depended ulitmately, in the Puritan estimate, on the clarity, wisdom, authority and searchingness that hearers found in his application.” (from his "A Quest for Godliness")

Stuart says:

There's no short 'technique' for this. You need to learn how to do ethics!

Tim Adeney has done a great short introduction (with a five-step process in 200 words) of how to move from text to application here: http://timadeney.wordpress.com/2009/11/11/teachin

(As an example, Mark Driscoll is especially good at points iii–v; less good on i and ii)

If you're after a more long-winded, overly theoretical, and less useful thing, you can see my post here: http://leslumieres-au.blogspot.com/2008/02/framew… (and the earlier posts in the series, if you're a masochist)

Nathan says:

All good advice – a further clarification if I may – to my request for advice. How do you do these things in 25 minutes? I think I can do the framework thing (and it certainly seems to resonate with my approach to blogging on some serious issues) but how do you sketch an ethical doctrine as well as preaching an expository sermon on a passage…

I like the impossible application too – but I don't think it works every week. I like the Perkins quote.

Al Bain says:

Great post Nathan. And possibly the most spectacular blog I've seen for a while. I couldn't find how to post a comment at first. But here I am.

Application is hard. But I ask myself the same questions each time I preach – what is the human depravity factor in the original audience that the author is addressing in this text. And how is Jesus the answer to that problem.

Build the tension with the problem. Make me as the listener feel it. And then relieve the tension with the answer – Jesus.

The application will usually be the same – turn to/trust in/believe in/love/follow Jesus. But the difference will be in the thing that we are turning from.

I think I am following Jesus perfectly. But I'm not. So I need the preacher to identify those things or people in my life that I'm yet to turn from. That's where the idolatry stuff which Keller et al bang on about is helpful. What or who is replacing Jesus as my object of desire/worship.

Nathan says:

Hi Al,

Thanks for stopping by. I enjoy your blog – and having visited almost daily for a while finally added it to my pile of subscriptions this week.

Love the factoring in depravity idea.

gjware says:

Making the transition from occasional preacher to sequential expositor helps application.
Not so much that you know the people to which you're preaching better (which I think is not as important as is often made out to be) but that you get more into a rythm of letting the text talk for itself.
If I had to think about what the Congregation needed to hear each week and then find texts that said that I'd go nuts.
Instead I know that we're working through Scripture together building up our understanding of revelation. Trusting the Holy Spirit becomes a big part of that. So is recognising the cumulative mature of pastoral ministry.
Al's point sounds like Bryan Chapell's 'fallen condition focus' motif from Christ centered preaching. It's brilliant.
I'm trying to work away from people's take away point being 'What do I do?' , but rather 'This is what God's done for me in Christ, how am I receiving and depending on that work?'
BTW, I thought Chris Perona did a nice job of this talking to 1000 students at a local pentecostal school a couple of weeks ago. The audio's on God's Gap.

Nathan says:

Hi Gary,

I'm not worried so much about a timely word to the congregation's needs – which I agree would be a pretty crazy thing to aim for – I'm more interested in being able to remove my "just go and evangelise" blinkers that seem to come out in every sermon I give. Perhaps I only ever get to preach on passages that are actually urging people to evangelise…

For the record – here is the text of my sermon from the weekend – http://docs.google.com/Doc?docid=0AWOncFHgCpAEZGN

Here, for those who can't be bothered reading the whole thing, is my application part (well the substantive part, I had application points the whole way through)…

But this morning I want to challenge you on three things – firstly – do you know the gospel? Apollos, the twelve men in Ephesus, the sons of Scheva and Demetrius all thought they had the message right. And they were wrong. For some, like Apollos, the correction was gentle. The sons of Scheva had to have the truth was beaten into them painfully and embarrassingly – and Demetrius and his idol makers will ultimately face their maker – who looks nothing like Artemis. Knowing the gospel is important. The gospel is powerful to save. If you don't know Jesus – then the message is simple – Jesus Christ is not just an interesting historical figure. He's not even a wise teacher or some normal human leader. Jesus is God made flesh, he came to earth to guide us back into a relationship with God. None of us can earn that relationship on our own. Through his death and resurrection we can, by believing, restore our relationship with him and have the hope of eternal life.

Secondly, I want to challenge you this morning to ask yourself: is the gospel my passion? Do you recognise the power of the gospel? Perhaps this morning you're more like Demetrius – passionate about your profit and loss columns. Perhaps you're worshipping an idol and not really recognising the power of the gospel. If this is you then you need to repent – you need to turn from those idols and follow the living Lord Jesus.

Perhaps this morning you're a person of conflicted passions – maybe you know the Gospel and it's power. Maybe you trust Jesus – but are you showing your passion? Do people look at you and know that you have been bought at a price by God through the blood of Jesus? If the answer is no then you need to rethink your priorities. If the answer is yes – then that's terrific – because it's in people living with Jesus as Lord and the gospel as their priority that others come to know God. We see that in this passage as people are lovingly introduced to the power of the gospel – and while we can't expect that power to manifest itself in the same way that it did for the people in Ephesus – we can expect the gospel to have a powerful effect on people's lives – and in the long term it has the power to save people from everlasting death.

The gospel is powerful to save – but in every case in our passage today it had to be taught first. Living with the gospel as your passion is hard – it would have been much easier for Paul to talk tentmaking – nobody was ever stoned almost to death for talking about tents, nobody has, to my knowledge, ever caused a riot by suggesting that one form of canvas stitching was superior to another… living for the gospel is hard – but it's worth it. If we're to love the people around us like Paul loves the Ephesians – weeping and working with our all so that they may be saved – then we need to be living examples of Jesus' love. This is a matter of life and death. The people around us need the gospel in order to be saved from eternal punishment. They need the gospel in order to meet Jesus – the risen saviour of the world.

Al Bain says:

Hey Gary. Fancy meeting you here.

You are spot on with the FCF from Bryan Chapell.

Tim says:

Nathan is it just me or do these comments seem all over the place like ordered wrong?

Nathan says:

I think it's just you. They're threaded by my comment platform – if you're logging on using your iphone they degrade nicely into their original wordpressy self – which may do something with the threading.

But if things are working properly – each of my replies (if I hit reply on the comment I'm replying to) will come in under the comment I am replying to.