“Paul was preaching, and since he was leaving the next day, he kept talking until midnight…Paul continued talking until dawn, then he left.” (Acts 20:7))
“Paul was preaching, and since he was leaving the next day, he kept talking until midnight…Paul continued talking until dawn, then he left.” (Acts 20:7)
I used to be a big fan of the twenty-minute sermon. I still am, in fact—when someone else is preaching, that is. But the longer I preach, the longer I preach, if you get my drift. After many years of pastoral ministry, now twenty-minutes is just a good introduction. I’m joking of course—my intros are no more than eighteen minutes?
Few aspects of the preacher’s preaching are more prominently discussed than the length of his sermons. In seminary, we are taught how to “get ‘er done” in fifteen minutes or so, twenty minutes at the most, and violating that rule of thumb is a good indication that our sermon preparation had been sloppy. A friend of mine says if you want to preach a twenty-minute sermon, prepare twenty hours; a forty-minute message will take you ten hours of prep time, and an hour-long sermon means you’ve spent about twenty minutes preparing.
In my earlier pastoral ministry I worked years with a phenomenal preacher. But he was an hour-long kind of guy. He had great stuff, he just didn’t know how to bring the plane in for a landing, so to speak. He’d get to the end of his message, and then just circle the airport looking for a spot to bring ‘er down. If he would have cut that hour in half, his sermons would have gone from good to great. His preaching kind of reminds me of the story I heard about a man who went to the dentist to have a tooth removed. He asked the dentist what the cost for removing his tooth would be, and the dentist told him it would be $90. The guy told the dentist that 90 bucks seemed like a lot of money for a few seconds work. The dentist said, “If it’d make you feel better, I can pull the tooth out real slow!”
Well, I am here to defend the long-winded sermon—since I now qualify as long-winded. And I am in good company. Paul, the greatest theologian in the New Testament, perhaps in human history, preached so long that a young man in the audience named Eutychus fell asleep while sitting on a window sill and fell three stories to his death. Amazingly, that didn’t put a damper on the service. Paul, without skipping a beat, went downstairs, healed the man, then came back upstairs and talked from midnight until dawn. You go Paul!
Here’s the deal: It’s not the length of the sermon that makes it good or bad, it’s the content of the message…it’s the passion of the preacher…it’s the heart of the shepherd out of which the sermon flows that makes it effective or not. If you read this entire passage in Acts 20, you get some great insights into the heart of Paul, the long-winded preacher:
- Paul was full of faith and confidence in the Lord—“don’t worry, he’s alive…and the young man was taken home unhurt.” (Acts 20:11-12)
- Paul earned people’s respect through his suffering for the Gospel—“I have endured the trials that came to me…” (Acts 20:19)
- Paul was fearless in his preaching—“I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear.” (Acts 20:20)
- Paul was Christ-centered and cross-focused—“I have had one message…repent from sin and turn to God…the work of telling others the Good news about the wonderful grace of God.” (Acts 20:21 & 24)
- Paul was purposeful—“My life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work the Lord Jesus assigned to me.” (Acts 20:24)
- Paul was faithful to God—“I declare today that I have been faithful.” (Acts 20:26)
- Paul passionately protected his flock from danger—“Guard God’s people and feed and shepherd God’s flock…watch out…” (Acts 20:28 & 31)
- Paul was pure in his motives—“I have never coveted anyone’s silver or gold or fine clothes…I have worked with my own hands to supply my own needs.” (Acts 20:33-34)
- Paul practice what he preached—“I have been a constant example…” (Acts 20:35)
- Paul was selfless—“I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard.” (Acts 20:35)
It’s no wonder that when he had finished speaking and was getting ready to leave, “they all cried as they embraced and kissed him good-bye.” (Acts 20:37)
How long is the perfect sermon, you wonder? When the preacher exhibits the same qualities that we see in Paul, his sermon can be a long as it takes!