Eli was derelict in his duties as high priest. He did not keep his sons in check. Working as priests under Eli’s supervision, his sons Hophni and Phinehas stole offerings from God, threatened worshippers with violence, and fornicated with women (I Sam. 2:12-17, 22).
While Eli told them not to act as they did, he did nothing more. Eli allowed his sons to continue in the office of priest even though they were blaspheming God (I Sam. 3:13). Eli’s sons did not fit God’s requirements for the office of priest, yet he did not remove them from the office. Therefore, God accused Eli of scorning God’s sacrifices and offerings, and honoring his sons above God (I Sam. 2:29). God said Eli should have restrained them. It was not enough to rebuke them. Eli should have stopped their evil practices and removed them from office.
Eli did not, and God punished Hophni and Phinehas and they were killed in battle (I Sam. 4:11). Upon hearing the news of the battle, Eli fell over and broke his neck (I Sam. 4:18). God swore to Eli that his house would be cut off (I Sam. 2:31), that the iniquity of his house will never be atoned for (I Sam. 3:14), and that He would punish his house forever (I Sam. 3:13). The Israelites suffered defeat in their battle with the Philistines, 30,000 men died, and the ark of God – the throne of God’s gracious presence with His people – was taken by the enemy.
God punished Hophni and Phinehas. God punished Eli and his entire household. God punished all of Israel for the sins of Eli’s sons. The entire nation suffered because Eli failed to restrain the evil of the priests he was called by God to supervise.
For the New Testament office of pastor, God has also given requirements that a man must meet in order to be fit for the office. We also have ecclesiastical supervisors who are called not only to rebuke, but also to restrain and remove from office those ministers who have shown themselves unfit for the office.
According to I Timothy 3, a pastor is to be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, and must not be a recent convert. He must also be well thought of by outsiders. Titus 1 has a similar list.
Ecclesiastical supervisors must not be derelict in their duties, even if they are immensely difficult. Those pastors who do not fit God’s requirements are to be restrained. Those who teach contrary to Scripture are not just to be rebuked, but silenced. “They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.” (Titus 1:11)
Divorced and remarried men are disqualified from the office by God. So are drunkards, heretics, those who are quarrelsome, those who are not above reproach, and new converts. Ecclesiastical supervisors have no right or authority to allow such men into the office or to remain in the office if they become disqualified while in the office. It is not a matter of rebuking, but a matter of restraining and removing from office.
We do not know better than the Lord of the Church who is fit for the office of public ministry. When we allow men to serve in the ministry who are disqualified by Christ, we are showing that we think we know better than He does. We are acting like Eli and honoring men more than God.
Let Eli be our warning. Faithless pastors will be punished by God. Derelict ecclesiastical supervisors will be punished by God. Our whole synod and country will suffer if false teachers are permitted to teach and evil practices are not restrained.
Christ gives strict standards for His ministers of the Gospel because He doesn’t want the sin of the man in the office to be harmful to His Church. Christ doesn’t want scandals that bring shame and disgrace to His body. Christ wants the light of the Gospel to shine in the Church, and no man is above Christ’s instructions. No man is so gifted or talented that he is indispensable, as if Christ cannot give the means of grace without him. Let us heed this warning lest our dereliction of duty cause the throne of God’s gracious presence with His people to be taken away from us.