The sons of Eli were wicked men. During the days of the judges, when Israel was decaying morally, Eli served as priest. But Eli refused to rein in his children.
The Sons of Eli violated the word of God even as they played the roles of priests in the temple. They committed sexual immorality. They stole offerings that should have been given to the Lord. They threatened people with violence. They dishonored the Lord.
And the Lord made it plain that his judgment, a very strong judgment, was going to fall on Eli and his household because of the sins of the sons as well as for Eli’s refusal to stand against what his sons were doing.
1 Samuel 2:11-14 – 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.”
We certainly see that the judgment of God is strong against what Eli had done. And we should also think well to understand why. What Eli did, what his sons did, these are sins that are prominent in our world today. We know God hates these things, and we need to be sure to avoid them.
Simply put, Eli’s sons violated the word of God and used the guise of religion to exercise their sinful desires. Instead of submitting to the word of God, these men abused their position, using a portion of the word of God to dishonor God. And Eli, as a man who knew the word of God, was too weak to put a stop to it. He complained about his boys, but he would not stand against them.
Today, in our land, we have men who have risen to positions of power in religious communities. Some of these men are prosperity preachers on brightly lit stages. They may hold a Bible in their hands as they make false promises of worldly blessings and bilk their followers out of their savings. God hates this.
Others may be conference speakers who appear conservative, but who eventually step away from the word of God to press forward their own agendas. They get caught up in a cause, and suddenly the faithful exegesis of the text of the word of God, what they were originally known for, takes second place to the speaker’s new pet cause. This cannot please the Lord.
How about a local pastor who simply refuses to handle the word of God faithfully? There are men in pulpits who rip Scripture verses out of context so that they can shape the local church to their own design. They will pull texts about the victory of Israel’s armies or the building of the temple, and they will make those texts the slogans for the building of fancy church buildings. In doing this, the local church believers will suddenly find that their giving and their serving to fund a building is as important as their worship and study and fellowship and the rest. This cannot please God.
Or perhaps we see men who will simply refuse to allow the Scripture to say what it really says. Leaders, authors, seminary professors, or local pastors suddenly find in the Scripture a loophole to participate in sinful behavior that is clearly, explicitly, unconditionally forbidden. These will pretend that they are compromising the word of God out of love for sinners. But in truth, they are neither loving God, whose standards are violated, nor the sinners, who are facing the judgment of God for their sin.
And many of us will say that we agree. We do not want men like this to have a platform. We do not want pastors who compromise the word of God. We do not want pastors who can give preaching short shrift. We do not want to see men tolerated who lie and bully and manipulate to shape the local church to fit their vision. Nor do we want to see famous denominational leaders or conference speakers allowed to get away with dishonoring the word of God with their preaching.
But, will we be like Eli? Eli complained. Eli did not like what he saw. But Eli simply sat back, bemoaned the sins of his sons, and did nothing to change the situation. Eli did not speak out in public against the evils of his sons. Eli did not rock the boat. Eli did not stand up, even if doing so would cost him friends or reputation. Eli, by his passivity, earned the judgment of God.
Christian friends, we must be willing to stand and speak. We must be willing to address and correct wrongs. We must be willing to oppose false teaching. We must be willing to hold pastors and elders and conference speakers and denominational leaders accountable for their words and their actions.
Do not get me wrong. Every leader has feet of clay. No pastor will preach every sermon or every series with perfection. And you and I should be gracious. We want to believe the best of our pastors. We want to encourage them. And we certainly do not start firing off nasty emails at the first sign of our local leader not being as thorough as a John Piper, a John MacArthur, or an R. C. Sproul.
But when we see a leader compromise Scripture—not just preach it in weakness, but actually turn it upside-down—we have to speak. When we see a leader living in sin through deceit, through intimidation, or through other forms of immorality, we have to stand. When we see a man or woman ignoring the word of God or using the word in a false way to get away with sin, we are guilty if we remain silent.
This is all hard. It requires love and wisdom to know how to speak. But the word of God shows us that tolerating sin in others, especially in those who are sinning with the word of God, is a big deal. Let us pray for our leaders. Let us love our leaders. Let us talk with our leaders privately if we see issues. But when a leader walks away from the word of God or begins to use his authority to abuse others, let us stand strong against that for the glory of God and the good of others.