Why are first impressions so important? Studies show that the opinions we form of someone during our first encounter with that person (no matter how long or short that interaction may be) can be almost impossible to overcome. Even if the view we form of someone during those first few moments is completely wrong, that’s still what will stick in our minds every time we see or think about that person. Needless to say, first impressions are crucial.
As long as your first interaction with someone goes pretty normal (and it’s not a job interview), you probably don’t give this much thought. However, if your first interaction goes horribly wrong, the reality of the impression you’ve made may haunt you for some time. You may even go overboard to try and change the way that person thinks of you.
When you read about an historical figure, you still get what you may call a first impression of that person. The only difference is that you can read additional details about this person to know whether or not the initial conclusions you drew were accurate. The only downside is if the person you are reading about has only a very small portion of his or her life documented, then you are left to make assumptions about that person from what may be only a single incident. That’s also true when you read about an individual in Scripture.
How accurate are these conclusions we draw?
Have you ever heard of Eutychus? That may not be a name that you are familiar with because it is only mentioned in one verse in the entire Bible. You may think there is no way we can draw a first impression of this person from a single mention in Scripture, but I bet when you hear the name Eutychus, you think the same thing as everyone else. Still not sure who he is, see if this verse sparks your memory:
“And in a window sat a certain young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep. He was overcome by sleep; and as Paul continued speaking, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.” [Acts 20:9]
Oh yeah. Eutychus. He’s the guy that fell asleep during church.
Talk about a bad first impression. As far as first impressions go, this one may be about as bad as it gets. For all of our life on this earth, the only thing we will ever know about Eutychus is that he fell asleep during Paul’s sermon and died because of it. Paul did bring him back to life, but that still didn’t change the fact that he fell asleep.
Are we being fair to Eutychus and his legacy? Before we forever condemn him for falling asleep during a sermon, let’s think about a couple things:
- Have you ever dozed off during a sermon? Now be honest. We all have. I’ve preached a few sermons myself, and I try to just assume that the few people sleeping aren’t doing so because my sermon is boring (and, yes, the preacher can see you sleeping). You may think you have a good excuse. Maybe you were up late with a sick child. Maybe you drove late into the night to get home from vacation just so your family can be at services. Maybe you work 3rd shift and haven’t been to bed yet for the night. But what about Eutychus? How do we know those same things are true for him in this situation? Maybe he is working 2 or 3 jobs, all manual labor, just to make sure his family has enough to eat. Paul had been in Troas for seven days when he preached this sermon (Acts 20:6), and maybe Eutychus had been with him the entire time. At least Eutychus had the excuse that this sermon lasted until after midnight, so it was well past everyone’s bedtime. He may have simply been exhausted.
- At least Eutychus was there. Acts 20:8 says that this sermon was taking place in the upper room (at least the 3rd floor, because that’s where he fell from). That tells me that this sermon likely didn’t have a huge crowd listening to it. Paul was about to depart the next day after spending seven days in this town. By this point, there’s a good chance that anyone who wanted to hear Paul speak had already done so. I imagine that the ones still sitting and listening to this sermon at midnight were the ones in Troas who desperately wanted to soak up as much knowledge from Paul in the short amount of time they had with him. How many of us would have still been there? How many of us would have already gone home at this point and called it a night? At least Eutychus was there.
We know very little about Eutychus and his life (even many of the statements above are assumptions or hypotheticals). Yet, he will forever be known as the one who died because he fell asleep during a sermon. I propose that we are being unfair to Eutychus and his legacy because his first impression to us wasn’t a great one.
If you meet someone for the first time and it doesn’t go as well as it could have, don’t write that person off. Don’t make assumptions about his or her life. Consider giving that person the benefit of the doubt, and allow the next encounter to go better. If you are someone who has made a bad first impression with someone else, don’t sweat it. At the end of the day, God knows who you really are, and He will not allow a single interaction that you had with someone else to define His impression of you.