Acts 26:29 Paul replied, “Short time or long–I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”
This is the conclusion of an absolutely magnificent, beautifully reasoned testimony. It obviously impressed the socks off of King Agrippa! The thing that probably impressed him the most was the fact that a chained prisoner would speak so boldly to those with legal authority to do almost anything to him. Like Peter at Pentecost, Paul was allowing the Holy Spirit to speak through him, and it was powerful indeed. In rather drastic contrast to Peter, Paul was highly educated and trained, probably in oratory as well as in theology. I find it interesting that verse one mentions that he “motioned with his hand.” I think that was probably a standard oratorical signal in those times to indicate that a speech was about to begin, since they didn’t have microphones and amplifiers to get people’s attention. However, it wasn’t oratorical training that came through most strongly, but the power of the Holy Spirit. I think the Greek here must say, “with little or with much,” because where the NIV says, “short time or long,” the Japanese says, “few words or many.” The point is that when it comes to testifying and speaking for God, quality matters much more than quantity. Sermon length has been debated for centuries, and Paul himself famously preached to the point of putting people to sleep. (Acts 20:9) Even Jesus, in the Upper Room before Gethsemane, kept going on for quite a while. However, the content of the Upper Room Discourse is some of the most magnificent in the whole Bible, so there was nothing wasted or irrelevant. We need to let the Holy Spirit be in control of both the accelerator and the brake when it comes to speaking, so that we will deliver precisely what our hearers need and can receive.
This hits very close to home, since as a teacher and pastor I make my living by speaking. I have had hearers go to sleep, both in the classroom and in the worship service. However, I strive to keep my output interesting and relevant enough to avoid that as much as possible. In both settings, I find that some people use sleep as a means of escape from information they find difficult or unwelcome. I have little control over that, but I can and do pray for my hearers that they would receive what the Lord knows they need from my words. Since I preach bilingually, interpreting for myself, I am constrained by people’s attention span, since everything takes twice as long to say. That makes it all the more important to deliver God’s truth in compact, penetrating form. I don’t have sufficient wisdom for that, but the Holy Spirit does, so I am to rely fully on Him.
Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You also for the message You’ve given me for tomorrow. I pray that I would indeed deliver it with Your words in the power of Your Spirit, so that it may accomplish that for which You send it, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!