I was not raised in the
evangelical tradition. My folks were Lutherans--honest, hard working, and upright, but not
born-again believers as I later came to understand it. No one ever told me I needed to
personal relationship with Jesus. I knew little of a Christ-centered life. Bible teaching
was reserved for the entertainment of children in Sunday School. The preacher was a good
man but his sermons put most of the men to sleep. Church was clearly a social club, where
a few self-important families ran the show, pushed the pastor around, and tried to make
the rest of us feel like second-class citizens. It was not the vibrant, power-packed place
I came to know as a charismatic believer some years later.
After I was saved I began to meet, from time to time, people
who were raised in Spirit-filled homes. Many of these had been Christians since they were
seven or eight years old. They had been hearing the whole truth of God's Word as long as
they could remember. The things of the Lord were no strangers to them... in fact they were
so familiar that there was little fascination left at all. They loved their parents (as
many of my friends didn't), but didn't seem to respect them. They knew God, but didn't
fear Him. They went to church regularly but were able to goof around, giggle, and pass
notes during some of the most anointed preaching I had ever heard. They were, it seemed,
even less respectful than I had been in the Lutheran church; though I was a thoroughly
unconverted hoodlum, and they were born-again Christians who had never been in trouble in
Of course, not every so-called second or third-generation
Christian is like some of those that caused me to stumble as a young believer, but the
above paragraph is only too descriptive of a great percentage of them. Here are young
people who seem to have everything going for them in the Lord, every opportunity to plug
in and be fruitful; and yet somehow they fail to ignite, and even worse, start to become
"Christ despisers." Oh, they don't necessarily fail away and blaspheme the
Lord--they just don't respect Him. Familiarity has bred contempt in their hearts for the
Fairest of Ten Thousand. They don't see Him as beautiful and terrible, but somehow have
come to think of Him as weak and easy to be ignored, someone who will always forgive them
and be there to comfort them when they turn to Him in their own sweet time. These are
"Christ despisers" just as surely as the drunken scoffer, though they would
shudder to think of such language as applying to themselves.
Hophni, the Sons of Eli
They are like Phinehas and Hophni, the sons of Eli. These two
were raised among the sacred things of the tabernacle, and trained for the priesthood from
the time they were children. Their father was a man of God, who no doubt felt he was doing
as well as could reasonably be expected towards his kids. After all, the ministry kept him
pretty busy... and he trusted the Lord that somehow his boys would turn out all right,
even though at times he wondered.
They didn't turn out all right, but became "Christ
despisers." They stole meat from the people's offerings to the Lord, and after awhile
they didn't even bother to be secretive about it, but did it right in front of their
faces. Certain cuts of the meat ended up on the priests' plates by Law anyway--Phinehas
and Hophni just chose some of the nicer portions before all the tabernacle ceremonies that
they despised had spoiled the meat's freshness. I'm sure they told themselves that they
were still following the "spirit of the Law." They didn't want to follow God to
the letter and be legalists!?
This looseness soon became evident in other areas of their
lives, too. They always had a "weakness" for the young ladies of the
congregation, and because they failed to check and discipline their hearts in this area it
soon turned into blatant immorality. They seemed to be getting away with it, too--Eli
uttered a few words of reproof, but they didn't much care about hurting their father by
this time.. or their wives, for that matter. They continued to "lay with the women
that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation" (I Sam 2:22).
"Wherefore, the sin of the young men was very great
before the Lord," (I Sam. 2:17). They had been offered the rare opportunity to be
raised in a godly home by godly parents, to be well-versed in the Holy Scriptures, to
enter into the ministry at a young age, perhaps to turn into some of the heroes of the Old
Testament... and they blew it!
God sent to Eli once and again to warn him by the mouth of
faithful prophets. "Them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise
me shall be lightly esteemed," (I Sam 2:30). Yet, for a long time the hand of
judgment seemed to linger. Eli, Phinehas, and Hophni continued unchecked in their
lifestyles as "Christ despisers." (Yes, Eli had been exposed as a despiser by
this time, too, for "his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not,"
-- I Sam. 3:13. He had heard the warnings, despised the prophecies and done nothing
One day the inevitable occurred--the judgment of God fell upon
the house of Eli. The household that had held the spiritual leadership of the nation for
years, that had demanded the submission of the multitudes and lived high-on-the-hog from
their offerings to the Lord, and had even used their women, came crashing down in a single
day. I Samuel chapter four records the details of what happened the day that God's
patience came to an end and the glory of the Lord departed from Israel for a season.
Phinehas, Hophni, Eli, and even Phinehas' poor wife were killed; and thirty thousand other
Israelites paid with their lives for the sins of the leadership. "Be not deceived;
God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap," (Gal. 6:7).
The sad thing is, in such case, that the foolish and undiscerning often reap judgment
right along with the primary offenders.
The Story is Repeated
The story is being repeated over and over again in our own day
and in our own churches, though perhaps not with such drastic consequences. Many children
growing up in Christian homes are learning to despise the Lord and their parents, because,
like Eli's boys, they're not being restrained. Some will fall away completely during their
teen years and enter into the forbidden delights of sin with a vengeance. Then everyone
will rejoice and quote Proverbs 22:6 when he or she returns to the fold. But all too
often, the root problem hasn't been dealt with even then--there is still no fear of God in
their hearts. They come and go as they please. They know the language so well that they
deceive even themselves, but the Lord knoweth the hearts.
"My child certainly isn't a Phinehas," you may say.
"She's a little self-willed sometimes, and not as zealous for the Lord as I might
like her to be, but she definitely isn't in the same league as the sons of Eli."
Remember that Eli's sons were already in the priesthood--that is, at least thirty years
old--and married before their behavior became so manifestly evil. Even then I'm sure those
closest to them were able to make excuses and justify what was going on. Let's not take
the warnings of the Scripture lightly, but let's take it to heart and see what can be
What About Daniel?
And the king spake unto Ashpenaz... that
he should bring certain of the children of Israel, and of the king's seed, and of the
princes; children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom,
and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability... among
A second or third generation Christian is something like
nuclear power--there is incredible potential, and it can be used for good or evil.
Phinehas and Hophni illustrate that potential developed in the negative. Daniel is a good
illustration of the other side of the coin.
As a teenager he was the cream of the crop of Israel. The
above verses tell us he was wealthy, very good-looking, and intelligent. All of these
things could have worked against his ever being very spiritual. Jesus said it is harder
for a rich man (not to mention handsome and intelligent) to enter the Kingdom of God than
it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. To make matters worse, Daniel was
taken prisoner by the Chaldeans and carried away to Babylon. He had every reason to be
bitter against the Lord, and every conceivable pressure upon him to conform to the heathen
world around him; but somehow he not only stayed true, but actually excelled to become one
of the greatest men of God in history.
"Daniel purposed in his heart," (Dan. 1: 8).
It wasn't that he was born with a better heart than the average kid. It wasn't as though
he wasn't tempted by the world. He knew all about peer pressure, and how terrible it felt
to be "weird." He was attracted to the opposite sex, and they were attracted to
him as well. He didn't have more will power than everybody else. He just made a decision
He decided to follow the Lord all the way. He was smart enough
to see that is the only way to be a believer--to sell out completely. If you try to be a
Christian and still be accepted by the world you don't get the best of both worlds, you
get the best of neither. You feel out of place at a Bible-study, and you feel too straight
at a party. (And when you're compromising like that, you eventually start leaning more
towards the party.)
He purposed in his heart to keep himself undefiled. He
purposed in his heart to find out what the older saints were so excited about. Too many
kids his age have a studied cool about them--they want everyone to know that they're not a
part of all this hand-waving fanaticism... "That's for little kids and grown-ups; I'm
not gonna play their little game." Daniel saw that it wasn't a game and decided
to jump in and enjoy it. He refused the world's dainties (chapter 1:8) and sacrificed a
little comfort. He developed a lifetime habit of earnest prayer (6:10) even though he was
ridiculed and even persecuted for his faith.
Let me emphasize again, he wasn't more spiritual or
strong-willed by nature than any other teenager; God is no respecter of persons. If you're
a young person, you can be a Daniel, too. Most of the biblical greats were young in age.
Statistics show that most Christians get saved before the age of twenty-five. God has been
using young people for a long time. God uses second and third-generation Christians, too;
you don't have to go out and experience the wages of sin firsthand, you have the rare
opportunity to have a truly pure and undefiled heart. You don't have to be like Phinehas
and Hophni, you can be like Daniel!
A Note to Parents
Children are largely what their parents
make them to be. Eli loved God and wouldn't have wanted to raise evil sons for anything;
he loved his children and wanted them to turn out good. Yet he was a major reason for
He failed in two critical areas, example and discipline. Eli's
example was not all it might have been; it was a little sloppy around the edges. In I
Samuel 3:3 we read of how he let the lamp of God go out in the temple. In Exodus 27:20,21
the Lord had given special command to keep that lamp lit day and night. It may seem like a
small thing, but this is just one indicator of Eli's approach to his ministry and his
family. He was casual rather than obedient, and he didn't pay attention to details. He was
quick to find fault with others--as exemplified in the case of Hannah, (I Sam 1:14)--but
careless in his own life and household.
He exercised very little discipline in his house, as the Lord
Himself points out twice. I might venture to guess that Eli was motivated by the same
sentimental humanism toward his children that has gripped our entire generation. We seem
to have swallowed the parental philosophy of wimpy, emasculated fathers portrayed on the
television set. We have equated discipline with mind-control, and are deathly afraid of
"breaking their little spirits," whatever that means. Spanking is looked upon as
child-abuse, the vengeful response of a frustrated, immature parent. (Real child abuse is
probably the result of not enough discipline and spanking--the parent feels helpless and
unable to correct the bad behavior of the child and finally blows up!)
Love (in its present-day definition) is not the answer.
Parents do love their children. The problem is that they love them more than the Lord (I
Sam. 2:29), and that they love them to death! They can't bring themselves to take any
serious action to check their kids' bad behavior. They don't want to hurt them or alienate
them, but by being too lenient they do both.
Parents, quit modeling yourselves after this world's ideal of
the modern family, and get back to the tried and true parenting methods of the Bible.
Juvenile delinquency and wild, disrespectful children were not a problem in our culture
until we discarded the child-rearing methods that had been proven effective for thousands
of years--why did we attempt to fix something that was not broken. Who were we listening
to? Rule your household well, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). Avoid
the error of Eli, and run a tight ship, taking great pains to form the character of those
little ones entrusted to you.
And kids, quit goofing off and start getting serious with the
Lord. You may never recover yourselves from the snares and sins and carelessness of your
youth. If you can despise the things of God now, it will be much easier when you're a
little older. Take heed to the example of Hophni and Phinehas, and purpose in your heart
to be a Daniel.
© 1999 Kim Harrington, Masterbuilder Ministries. All rights reserved.