Text: Acts 20:7-12
Normally, sleep is a good thing. God created our bodies to need sleep because sleep allows our bodies to repair damaged cells and to replenish energy. However, sleep can sometimes be a bad thing, as this article will illustrate.
In Acts 20:7-12, the Bible recounts an incident where the Apostle Paul had evidently been preaching several hours. (Verse 7 says “until midnight.”) While he preached, a young man named Eutychus was sitting in a window. Back in these days, windows were simply open spaces without screens and glass panes. As Paul’s long-winded sermon prolonged, Eutychus became drowsy, nodding off to sleep, and eventually falling out the window from three stories to his death. However, Paul ran down, and with his gift of healing, revived the life Eutychus once again.
The Bible discusses sleep in three different ways, and each of these ways can be demonstrated through this incident with Eutychus.
1. Natural Rest
First of all, we know that sleep is the body’s natural way of resting. Just as Eutychus got drowsy and fell asleep, our bodies often need this natural sleep. We don’t know why Eutychus fell asleep. We don’t know if, like many young people, he got bored with Paul’s sermon, or if he had had a long day and was tired. Or, if it was just simply the warm upper room that was filled with “many lamps” and people that made him drowsy. He had no idea that he would be the miracle that day that Paul performed.
God made us to need sleep. Even Jesus needed sleep. (Mark 4:38)
When we read passages like Matthew 14, and Mark 1:35; and Mark 4, we can see that Jesus had to sleep after long days of rising early in the morning, preaching, healing people, walking, and climbing mountains.
While sleep is a good thing for our bodies, too much can be a bad thing.
“How long will you slumber, O sluggard? When will you rise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep,–so shall your poverty come on you like a prowler, and your need like an armed man.” (Proverbs 6:9-10)
“Do not love sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will be satisfied with bread.” (Proverbs 20:13)
2. Physical death
The Bible also refers to sleep as meaning physical death. For example, in Matthew 9:24, Jesus describes a 12 yr old girl who had died as “sleeping.”
After Lazarus died in John 11, Jesus also describes him to be sleeping. (John 11:11)
When Stephen was stoned to death, the scripture says he “fell asleep.” (Acts 7:60)
Likewise, Eutychus not only fell asleep in natural slumber, but in death as well.
Why would the Bible speak of death as sleep? Because for Christians, we believe that physical death is only temporary. We have faith from God’s word that just as Christ was resurrected, so shall we be one day.
“But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 4:13-14)
“But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. “ (I Corinthians 15:20)
3. Spiritual Death
Other times, when the Bible speaks of sleep, it is alluding to spiritual death.
In discussing the spiritual condition in which one should be when partaking of the Lord’s Supper, the Apostle Paul says, “For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.” (I Corinthians 11:29-30)
When God commanded Jonah to go preach to the people of Ninevah, Jonah disobeyed God and tried to run away from God, hopping on a ship to another land. He not only fell asleep in slumber on the ship, but he became sleepy as in spiritual decline as well, bringing a curse on himself and all those with him on the ship. The other ship mates called him a “sleeper.” (Jonah 1:1-6)
In Matthew 18:22, Jesus describes spiritually dead people burying physically dead people.
So, not only can we sleep or die physically, but according to the Bible, we can sleep and die spiritually.
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron.” (I Timothy 4:1-2).
To sleep spiritually means that God cannot get our attention. It is possible that Eutychus fell asleep in the window because he was also sleepy spiritually. He may very well have been bored with Paul’s preaching about spiritual matters. However, I would like to think that after Paul raised him from the dead that he decided to be born again spiritually as well. Surely such a dramatic experience would have influenced him greatly!
4. How to prevent yourself from falling asleep spiritually
It is inevitable that we will sleep many times naturally in our lives, and it is also inevitable that we will all sleep (or die) physically, but we have a choice in whether we die spiritually or not. We sometimes tend to think of physical death as a sorrowful finality, but if we are born again into Christ, the grave is not final because we have hope of rising from the dead to live forever with Him. On the other hand, to die spiritually offers no hope for this bright future. So, what can we do to prevent ourselves from falling asleep spiritually?
For one, Jesus emphasized many times the importance of being watchful. (Mark 13:33-37) If you don’t want to nod off, you know you have to pay attention to what is being said and what is going on around you. It is the same spiritually. Jesus wants us to pay attention to Him and to what He is telling us through His word.
When Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples were sleeping, and Jesus said to them, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38)
Just as activity keeps us from falling asleep physically, we have to busy ourselves with Godly activities to stay awake spiritually. Being active in God’s work means praying, studying the Bible, teaching and encouraging others spiritually.
“Therefore, let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet of the hope of salvation.” (I Thessalonians 5:6-8)
“Awake to righteousness and do not sin.” (I Corinthians 15:34)
“And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” (Romans 13:11-14)
Therefore, the most important thing we can do to prevent ourselves from sleeping and dying spiritually is to put on Christ, to accept Him as our Lord and Savior, and to strive to live our lives serving and imitating Him.