Heroes are not what they used to be. The Disney movie “Toy Story” (it’s ok, my Baptist brethren—we can talk about it now) is a great example of shift that is marked in our heroes. As late as the 1970’s the cowboy might have remained a figure of heroism (rugged strength, determination, stamina, etc). Contrast the Lone Ranger with the Marlboro Man, though, you get a much different picture. Enter the Space Ranger. We live in the contrast of Rocket Man against Darth Vader. Back in my day, Luke Skywalker was the hero . . . what happened? Clearly, Lucas did not end up in line from where he began.
Who are the heroes? Who are the good guys, and who are the bad? Let’s ask it another way: if you had to run to someone for help, who would it be? Identify someone. Who is it and what do they do? I am curious to know who you identify. I am certain that a good number of my readers would identify someone in the ministry.
Let’s kick it up a notch. Who would your neighbor run to for help? Who do they look up to? I am not so certain that anyone in the ministry would even make their list of hopefuls.
I have held back saying this for sometime, but feel the need for it now: Christians can be the rudest people I have ever met. When I am out witnessing, I will occasionally cross paths with a fellow believer and, honestly, am treated more kindly by those who are condemned to hell than many who profess salvation in Christ Jesus. I will here underscore the word “profess” as I don’t believe that anyone who has truly met Christ would have the fruit of the flesh so prominent . . . but that’s another blog.
Consider what this means for upstanding people in the community: “Not long ago in our culture, the clergy were the most respected figures in any community. Not anymore. Widely publicized moral failures and financial scandals (especially by a few prominent televangelists) have given ministers as a whole a black eye. As a result, many people have grave suspicions about the motives and actions of religious leaders.”[i]
Each time I meet a person who wants to be a pastor or missionary or serve in some leadership capacity, I admit there are times when I wonder how he or she will turn out. Pardon mine unbelief, but I really wonder (I wonder about myself sometimes). I think that is one reason I enjoy witnessing so much, so when I ask people about their sin, they can freely point to me and say, “what about you” and I can give testimony. Keeps me honest.
Bishop J.C. Ryle wrote a wonderful book called “Thoughts for Young Men” because saw the need of godliness in youth. In his reasons for writing he states that there are few young men who seem to be Christian; all forget that death and judgment are coming; there is a future to be lived in the service of God starting now, not later; and finally, Satan does not want them to change. I would give each young minister Ryle’s book because he states exactly what needs to be said to young men: learn what sin is, what it does and how to be free of it; know the LORD Jesus Christ; guard the soul; serve God while young; stay in scripture.
I remember when I was in Seminary there was this one guy who not only irritated me, but I sought to avoid him when I saw him coming (as did a few others). This guy would not simply say, “hey. How’s it going. Nice day. Do you homework?” and other mundane things. No. He would walk right up to you, stick out his hand and say, “How’s your prayer life? What did you read in quite time today?”
I wish I knew where he was now.
1 Samuel 2:12–3:21 is a passage young people should get to know before going in the ministry or into leadership. It is a great study in contrasts. Eli’s sons on one side, Samuel on the other. Remember, Samuel was dedicated to the service of the LORD at Shiloh and Eli (in effect) became his father.
Eli’s sons: “Now the sons of Eli [were] corrupt; they did not know the Lord . . . the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord, for men abhorred the offering of the Lord.” (1 Sam 2:12, 17).
Samuel: “But Samuel ministered before the Lord, [even as] a child, wearing a linen ephod . . . the child Samuel grew before the Lord.” (1 Sam 2:18, 21).
God was so displeased with the Eli’s sons He wanted to kill them (1 Sam 2:25). God confronted the behavior of Eli’s sons by sending a man of God to deliver a word to them: they will die and a faithful priest will be installed who will do what is on God’s mind and heart. (1 Sam 2:27-36).
Samuel had an experience with God unlike the kind Phineas and Hophni were going to have. While Eli’s sons were mindful of everyone else’s business (for the purposes of exploiting for profit), Samuel was minding his own business. While Eli’s sons had their men ever watchful, never resting, Samuel was asleep. While God sent another individual to deliver His message face-to-face concerning Eli’s sons, God met Samuel personally, quietly. Eli could not believe it until he heard the message God gave Samuel, which confirmed what he already heard with his ears.
C.S Lewis wrote on distinction: “A Christian and an unbelieving poet may both be equally original and draw on resources peculiar to themselves, but with this difference. The unbeliever may take his own temperament and experience, just as they happen to stand, and consider them worth communicating simply because they are his. To the Christian his own temperament and experience, as mere fact, and as merely his, are of no value or importance whatsoever: he will deal with them, if at all, only because they are the medium through which, or the position from which, something universally profitable appeared to him.”[ii]
Clearly, Phineas and Hophi were in the way of God and themselves, drawing sin down on the people. There was no leadership there as they were functioning on and out of themselves. Samuel, on the other hand, participated in the plan of someone much bigger and greater than himself. Leadership needs to consider these examples!
Some great things here:
- God is above all and all knowing;
- God will punish evil and bless obedience;
- God calls whom He will to serve Him His way, according to His purposes.
The text mentions that Hannah went up year after year and brought things to Samuel, things related to His service to God (a great mother’s day sermon here). I wonder how the people must have felt going to worship knowing that Eli’s sons were there, but Samuel was there too. I bring this up because many people today equate church with money-hunger. All those preachers want is money, money, money. This has a touch of irony in it because isn’t that all anyone wants? People don’t want to give it, but they would sure like more of it . . . without working for it . . .for free . . . This is why I like Ray Comfort’s attitude. He gives money away. I like to give things away. People should not see the church as greedy, except greedy to distribute!
What is absolutely amazing is how Samuel could grow up in Eli’s care while Eli’s own sons were bezerking the place of worship. Talk about challenges to face! Man! As a parent, I think I have an idea of how this can work. First, we must recognize that God has His hand on Samuel, having called him from the womb (as it were. See Jer. 1:4-10). Second, we need to remember that Samuel had a clear, objective view of Eli and Eli’s sons. He could watch them and listen to them. He could see what the boys were doing and how it broke Eli’s heart. Third, remember that Samuel himself had heard the words of the LORD and knew exactly what God thought about what they were doing.
Now, as a parent of many children, I can imagine how the older child is like the prow of a ship, breaking waters taking the family places it has never been before. I can tell the oldest child what to do and she must decide what to do, living with the consequences. The siblings get to hear, see and watch and make a decision for themselves for the day they, too, must face the same situation. Perhaps Samuels’ growing up was much like that.
As an example of leadership, consider A.W. Tozer, “Lord, teach me to listen. The times are noisy and my ears are weary with the thousand raucous sounds which continuously assault them. Give me the spirit of the boy Samuel when he said to Thee, "Speak, for thy servant heareth." Let me hear Thee speaking in my heart. Let me get used to the sound of Thy voice, that its tones may be familiar when the sounds of earth die away and the only sound will be the music of Thy speaking voice. Amen.”[iii]
This should be a warning passage for young people going into ministry and for those who seek to be leaders. It’s not so much, “what kind of leader do you want to be,” but, “Who do you serve and how?” Moreso, what does this communicate to people who persist in sin, regardless of their position?
“If you have met with the frowns of providence, perhaps some way of sin in your life explains why. When you have received sore rebukes and chastisements, it is very probable that you’re practicing a sinful habit or tolerating an evil act is what has caused you the trouble. Sometimes God is exceedingly severe in His dealings with His own people for their sins in this world . . . . How harshly did God deal with Eli for living in the sin of not restraining his children from wickedness! Both sons were killed in one day, and Eli himself died a violent death. The ark was taken into captivity (chapter 4). Eli’s house was cursed forever; God Himself swore that the iniquity in Eli’s house would never be purged by sacrifice and offerings (3:13–14). The priesthood was taken from Eli and given to another line. And there never again was an old man in Eli’s family (2:31). Is the way of sin in which you live the reason for the rebukes of providence you have met with?”[iv]
“That so-called Bible religion in our times is suffering rapid decline is so evident as to need no proof, but just what has brought about this decline is not so easy to discover. I can only say that I have observed one significant lack among evangelical Christians which might turn out to be the real cause of most of our spiritual troubles. Of course, if that were true, then the supplying of that lack would be our most critical need. The great deficiency to which I refer is the lack of spiritual discernment, especially among our leaders. How there can be so much Bible knowledge and so little insight, so little moral penetration, is one of the enigmas of the religious world today . . . . If not the greatest need, then surely one of the greatest is for the appearance of Christian leaders with prophetic vision. We desperately need seers who can see through the mist. Unless theycome soon, it will be too late for this generation. And if they do come, we will no doubt crucify a few of them in the name of our worldly orthodoxy. But the cross is always the harbinger of the resurrection.”[v]
[i]MacArthur, John. 1 Samuel : How One Godly Man Changed a Nation. MacArthur Bible studies, Page 13. Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2000.
[ii] C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), "Christianity and Literature"
[iii] Tozer, A.W. The Pursuit of God. Camp Hill: Christian Publications, 1982. p. 82-83.
[iv] MacArthur, ibid.
[v] Tozer, A.W. We Travel and Appointed Way. Camp Hill: Christian Publications, 1988. p. 111-112.