Eutychus is a rare name in the Bible found only in Acts 20:9; an unknown individual, with no recorded history. There are no books written on his life and rarely would one have heard a sermon concerning him. An insignificant person perhaps, but yet holding and important lesson for each of us.
In Acts 20:9-10 we read, “And a young man named Eutychus was sitting in the window. He 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. But Paul went down and bent over him, and embracing him said, ‘Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him’”.
This brief incident of Eutychus in Scripture is put there I believe to illustrate a very important and practical truth. Let us begin by asking ourselves the question, “Why did Eutychus fall from the window?” Our immediate answer would be, “because he fell asleep”. This seems to be the obvious answer, for it is easy to understand his loss of balance when asleep. Next we might say, that Paul’s long sermons put him off, causing him to fall sleep. Probably all of us have experienced dozing off ourselves when a sermon was too long. It is therefore customary to blame the preacher for our attention deficit. After all, the verse clearly states that “he was sleepy and as Paul talked still longer, he was overcome by sleep and then fell down and died (v 9).
While a boring or long sermon can put the listener to sleep, this was definitely not the case with the Apostle Paul. Paul as we know was as special vessel chosen by God to communicate the majority of the New Testament Epistles to the Body of Christ. Secondly, as the Word of God testifies, he never spoke in plausible words of (men’s) wisdom, but always in a demonstration of the Spirit and of power (1 Cor 2:4). It is impossible therefore to lay the blame for Eutychus’ fall upon Paul’s preaching.
Look closely now at what is happening. The reason he fell from the window was not because he fell asleep, nor because of Paul’s preaching. He fell from the window because he was sitting on the edge! If he had not been sitting on the window edge he would not have fallen down. It was his “position” that led to his “downfall.” If he had been seated with the others in the main body, he would have been safe even if asleep.
From this simple story we can see why Christians backslide into the world. Many times it is because we are living on the edge, or sitting on the fence! So often we attempt to live as close as possible to the world without being a part of it. From this precarious position on the edge, it only takes a little sleep and one finds himself falling, slipping right back into the clutches of the world. We want to be counted as Christian and at the same time not offend the world. So we try to walk the spiritual tightrope with one leg in the body of Christ and one leg in the world. Schizophrenic Christianity is the result and back-sliding the reward.
How close are you walking to the world? Is it your practice as a Christian to get as close (flirt with) to the world as possible without being stained (James 1:27b)? Is your music like the world’s, but with different labels? Do you dress like the world, but just a little less revealing or suggestive? Are your priorities similar to those of the world? Does your career take priority over Biblical principles? Would your stage plays / choreographed dances put up in the name of God, be pleasing to Him? Are your friends also those who live near the edge of the world (see Prov. 13:20)? Is your attendance at weekly prayer meetings / Sundays (what we call commitment) based on a firm clear love for God, or are we just marking our attendance. Do you view pornographic material when no one is looking? Is your language close to that of the world? Do you laugh at the world’s off-colored jokes? Are the world’s standards your standards (see James 4:4)? Finally, does the world accept you as part of them, or do they shun you as “different” because of your Christian values [See Mt 5:10-12 & 1 Pet 4:14 for God’s answer].
Let’s move over to another biblical character who was well known and useful unlike Eutychus. In (1 Kings 19:19-21), Elijah (a type of Christ) calls Elisha (a type of you and me). This story is significant as it typifies Christ’s call to you and me to be His disciples. “So he departed from there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing, with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his mantle upon him. And he left the oxen, and ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” And he returned from following him, and took the yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah, and ministered to him.”
We see here, that Elisha receives the call to follow Elijah, just as the apostles and we receive the call to follow Jesus. Instinctively knowing the implications of such a calling, there are first the excuses of duty to be performed that are given by Elisha. But finally when he is finished with his niceties, he does something very remarkable that would serve us well to emulate. He takes his oxen and kills them and then cooks them using the wooden yoke of the plow as fuel and distributes the food to all. What is remarkable is that the oxen and the wooden plow were symbols of his trade and livelihood as a farmer. By putting and end to them, he was burning his bridges behind him, leaving himself no option to return to his earthly pursuits. He was preparing to answer the call of Christ in a way that would be permanent. There would be no turning back and no sitting on the edge. It was all or nothing, as the song goes, the world behind me, the cross before me. Because of his genuine discipleship which was learned and lived in the centre (and not the edge) of God’s will, his commitment was total and he became a useful instrument of God.
Have I burned my bridges with regard to the world and forsaken all to follow Christ? As genuine Christians, we should be “testing” all that we do and say in the light of the Judgment Seat of Christ. Will the life that I am presently living as a Christian, and the ministry that I am undertaking for God, be able to stand up in the face of Christ on that day, or will it be burnt up as useless wood, hay and stubble. [It is interesting to note that St. Augustine in his Enchiridion Ch. 68 refers to wood, hay & stubble as an attachment to worldly things that will be burnt up]. Am I in the centre of God’s will, abiding in Him, walking in the Spirit, thus available as a useful instrument to Him? Or am I like Lot (the carnal Christian), whose compromise with the world caused him to live on the edge (Gen 13:10-11) of Sodom & Gomorrah and would have been destroyed except for the mercy of God who directed his escape as by fire (1 Cor 3:15).
Coming back to the story of Eutychus, there is still hope for the backslider and the fence-sitter. As Acts 20:10 states, Paul went down and embraced him (prayed for him in faith) and said: “Do not be alarmed, for his life is still in him”. Just as Eutychus escaped the jaws of death (by God’s mercy and grace), the backslider too is still loved and wooed by God who is always merciful, patient and long-suffering towards us. The indwelling Holy Spirit will never be taken away (Eph 1:13). Further, He has promised, a bruised reed I will not break, and a dimly lit wick I will not put out (Isa 42:3). In short, if you are a fence-sitter, or lived on the edge and have fallen, He promises, that if you will confess your sin, He will forgive you and cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). So like the prodigal that we all are, by faith, let us rise up beloved, and return to the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls (1 Pet 2:25).