Recently the Christian world has been rocked by the apostasy and abandoning of the faith by prominent men who at one time, it was thought, had a deep devotion to Christ. Worse perhaps is the revealing of prominent men “of faith” living hypocritical and double lives. If you are looking for me to name names, stop. I’m not interested in bringing yet more shame to either those men or their families, their staffs, their churches, and certainly not the gospel and the glorious Christ they “said” they followed.
Maybe they did. But I can’t help but think of a passage in 1 Samuel concerning the sons of Eli the prophet of Israel. They were priests, but only in name and function, not in heart. We are told that they were “worthless men and that they did not know the LORD” (1Sam. 2:12).
- They were stealing from the offering (vss. 13-15).
- They were brutal with people (vs. 16).
- And they treated holy things with contempt (vs. 17).
The end of verse 17 has always suggested something to me that the Hebrew construction did not intend. The verse ends in the NASB translation, “the men despised the offering of the LORD.” It clearly means and is intended to mean that the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, despised holy things. They simple used them for their own pleasures. But beyond that, I have always wondered about the effect of their behavior on the people who came, in good faith, seeking to make their sacrifices to God. I suspect that among them, the people of Israel, the despicable behavior of Eli’s sons, caused some of them to also despise holy things. Hypocrisy and wickedness always does that. It causes some to lose faith in what their leaders espouse to them as truth. Woe to us, any of us, if we cause others to despise the things of God.
This past week, I have been listening to the audio recording of John Piper’s A HUNGER FOR GOD. It is humbling. Pastor John tries to lay out the biblical case for desiring God through prayer and fasting and the treacherous temptations along that path. Here is a longer excerpt from chapter 3. [Color emphasis added]
Jesus warns us in Matthew 6:16 not to be like the hypocrites: “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men.” So the hypocrites are folks who do their spiritual disciplines “to be seen … by men.” This is the reward the hypocrites desire. And who has not felt how rewarding indeed it is to be admired for our discipline, or our zeal, or our devotion? This is a great reward among men. Few things feel more gratifying to the heart of fallen man than being made much of for our accomplishments, especially our moral and religious accomplishments.
This craving had infected the religious leaders of Jesus’ day in great measure. Concerning the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus warned the people that they “like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues, and places of honor at banquets, [and that they] devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers” (Mark 12:38–40). Oh, how strong is the love of the praise of men! We will dress for it (“long robes”), and strut our status in the marketplace for it, and posture ourselves for it at parties, and take up an important pose at church, and even lengthen our prayers to cover our heartless love of money with religious camouflage. All of this we are prone to do because of our seemingly insatiable appetite for the praise of men. We want to be made much of. We want people to like us and admire us and speak well of us. It is a deadly drive. Jesus warned us, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).
Piper, J. (1997). A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer (pp. 70–71). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.