1 Samuel 3:11-14 – 11 Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. 12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”
1 Samuel records for us the evil actions of the sons of Eli. Though Eli appears to have been a good and moral priest in his own right, his sons acted wickedly, abusing the people, stealing offerings, and basically dishonoring God at every turn. So, by the time Eli’s ministry is at an end in Israel, the wrath of God is about to fall on him and his family. God’s wrath falls on Eli’s sons for their wickedness. But what I find notable here is that God’s wrath also falls on Eli, for though he knew what his sons were doing, he did not restrain them.
We live in a world of privacy and autonomy. Many Christians believe that they live on their own to the Lord, and do not concern themselves with the actions and attitudes of others around them. We think to ourselves, “As long as I’m doing what I ought to do, I’ll not interfere with others.” And so we go on in life, living to ourselves, and we risk falling into the sin of Eli himself.
First, let me draw the immediate application. There is no place for a parent to allow his children to live however they decide. Parents who allow the children in their homes to select their own forms of entertainment without restriction are begging to be found guilty of the same sin as Eli. Parents who say things like, “Well, all the kids are doing this, and there’s no way I can stop mine,” are shirking their responsibility to do whatever is in their power to raise their sons and daughters in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).
Parents, to you I speak with concern, because I too am a parent. My children are still young, and I have not yet had to face some of the extreme challenges that are out there. But there is a standard that I must practice that is beyond my own wisdom, coming from God’s word. In Matthew 5:27-30, Jesus commands us to radically remove from our lives the things that cause us to sin. I must assume that, as a parent and the spiritual head of my household, I am responsible to also remove from my children’s lives the things that would cause them to sin. So, if my children desire forms of entertainment that lead to sinful thoughts or that glorify evil (Grand Theft Auto IV perhaps), it is my responsibility to remove those things from the lives of my children. If my children have friends who influence them toward evil, it is my responsibility to remove those friends from the lives of my children. And I must be willing to do whatever it takes. If I cannot remove my children from the dangers that tempt them in my local town, I may have to move to another town or another country. (I’m not here advocating isolationism as a solution to the sin bound up in my children’s hearts; but I am pointing out the fact that, as a parent, I am required to radically change my life and my home situation if necessary to restrain my children from sin for as long as I can.)
Now, let me draw the secondary application that originally got my attention. If Eli’s sin was true of him regarding his family, would it not also be true that Christians who do not speak out to restrain other Christians from sin are failing in the same way? I recognize that we, as brothers and sisters in Christ, do not live in the same sort of authority and submission relationship to one another as do parents and children. Yet, I also know that we live this life together, not as total individuals. We are responsible to warn, to admonish, to reprove one another when it is required (2 Thessalonians 3:15). Yes, I know we do not want to be judgmental, and that is a very large danger. But for most of us, the sin is not simply judgmentalism. We sit back, and we pass judgment on our brothers in our own minds (and it is possible that our judgment is correct if it is guided by a right understanding of the scriptures); however, we then hold our tongues and allow our brothers to continue in their sin, because we are more concerned about looking nice, tolerant, real, open-minded, non-judgmental, culturally hip, or whatever. The fact is, we participate in the sin of Eli, because we see our brothers and sisters in dangerous situations, recognize those situations, and do nothing to restrain them from sin. No, we cannot exercise the same sort of authority that a dad can over his son, but we are commanded by the Lord Jesus (cf. Matthew 18:15-ff) to reprove sinning Christians, to continue in the task, and to exercise church discipline if necessary. We are to be gracious and loving in our reproof (Galatians 6:1-2), but we are to be faithful not to simply watch our brothers and sisters hurt themselves and dishonor God.
Remember, being sinfully judgmental is when you judge others with a different standard than you judge yourself (Matthew 7:1) or when you think that you somehow have the right not only to say something is wrong but to also pass sentence on another when you have not been given that authority (Romans 14:4). It is not, however, sinfully judgmental to look at another’s life, see a sin, and call that sin what it is. Your attitude and spirit while doing this is very important, but there is a way in which we must lovingly admonish one another (Colossians 3:16).
So, which sin are you more likely to fall into? Are you more likely to slam your brothers and sisters, calling out sin in an unkind and unloving way? If so, stop it. Remember that you too are under grace and are no better than your brothers and sisters. But I’m guessing for many of us, the sin is more likely the sin of Eli. Are you more likely to see sin, acknowledge it as sin, and then turn your eyes elsewhere because you don’t think you can do anything about it? Are you more likely to ignore sin in the lives of your brothers and sisters because you want them to think you a nice friend? Even worse, are you likely to gossip about how terrible this thing is instead of confronting your brother? If so, stop it. Learn to love the Lord and to love your fellow believers by doing what you can to restrain them from sin.