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THE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES
OF BEING RAISED IN CHURCH

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Lord's Day Evening, December 5, 2004
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

"Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the Lord" (I Samuel 2:12).


It's a simple story. A woman could not have children. She prayed and promised God she would dedicate her child for lifelong service in the tabernacle if He answered her prayer. God did answer her. A son was born. She named him Samuel, and took him to the tabernacle, and turned him over to be raised by the priest, whose name was Eli.

Now the priest had two sons named Phinehas and Hophni. They were religious, but they were unconcerned about the things of God. On the other hand, young Samuel encountered God one night and was converted. But the two sons of Eli the priest went on, religious but lost. Finally God judged them,

"And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain"
    (I Samuel 4:11).

The account of Phinehas and Hophni is given in the Bible for a reason. And I believe that their story is given in the Scriptures as a warning to young people who are raised in a Christian home. Were you raised in a Christian home? If you were, there are many lessons in the lives of these young men, given by God to warn you.

"Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the Lord" (I Samuel 2:12).

I will draw two lessons from the sons of Eli.

I. First, think of their advantages.

They had an opportunity that few people had. They grew up in a godly home. They were subjected to the means of grace all their lives. They knew the Bible. They heard many sermons. They were habitually religious.   And yet, "they knew not the Lord."   They "were sons of Belial"  (I Samuel 2:12).

What does the Bible mean when it says they were "sons of Belial"? This is a Hebrew term that means they were "worthless." Keil and Delitzsch said,

Hophni and Phinehas were…worthless fellows, and knew not the Lord, sc. as He should be known, i.e. did not fear Him, or trouble themselves about Him (C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Eerdmans, 1973 reprint, volume III, part 2, p. 35).

Matthew Henry said,

Eli himself was a very good man, and no doubt had educated his sons well, giving them good instructions, setting them good examples, and putting up many good prayers for them; and yet, when they grew up, they proved sons of Belial, profane wicked men…they are spoken of as wholly ignorant of God; they lived as if they knew nothing at all of God. Note, parents cannot give grace to their children, nor does it run in the blood (Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hendrickson, 1996 reprint, volume 2, p. 226).

John MacArthur, though wrong on the Blood, is correct when he says, "Eli's sons had no personal experience of, nor fellowship with, the Lord" (The MacArthur Study Bible, note on I Samuel 2:12).

These two men grew up in a godly home. They were subjected to the means of grace all their lives. They knew the Bible. They heard the sermons. They were religious by habit. These are indeed great advantages, that the heathen people of the world never had. Even most Hebrews themselves never had the advantages of these two men, being raised up in the very tabernacle of God. And yet "they knew not the Lord" (I Samuel 2:12).

There are young people today who grow up in the church with many advantages that children raised in the world do not have. Those raised in the atmosphere of the local church have Christian parents. They are subjected to the means of grace all their lives. They have heard hundreds of sermons and Bible lessons. They know the Scriptures. They have been trained to be habitually religious. Being in church for the meetings is a way of life to them.

Children from non-Christian homes do not have these advantages. Their parents do not pray. Their parents do not read the Bible to them. Their parents do not bring them to church. In fact, their parents often discourage them from coming. They do not know the Bible. They have never heard evangelistic preaching before. They do not have the advantage of practicing Christianity by habit. When they come to the local church, it is all new to them. They don't know the hymns. They don't know how to find the right page in the Bible. They are bewildered and confused by a church schedule that conflicts with their former way of life.

And yet some of these young people who come in from the world become fine Christians, while those raised in the church often go on in their religious ritual without ever experiencing  a  real  conversion.   It can also be said of them,  "they knew not the Lord"  (I Samuel 2:12). For, you see, there is no difference. That's exactly what the Bible says,

"There is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:22-23).

There is no difference between a person raised in the church and one who has not been raised in the church.

"There is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God."

There is no difference.

"Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).

Yes, those raised in the church have many advantages, but there is no difference when it comes to sin, and when it comes to conversion.

"Ye must be born again" (John 3:7).

"Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).

I have been reading a book called, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys (Dr. Mark A. Noll, InterVarsity Press, 2003). It is an overview of the First Great Awakening in the 18th century. I have read this material many times, from various sources, but I found this to be an interesting synopsis of what happened during that remarkable time of revival.

Toward the end of the book, I came across the testimonies of a man and his wife who were converted under the preaching of William McCulloch in 1742, in Cambuslang, Scotland. The man and his wife were both religious. They had been in church all their lives. The man said,

I attended church mainly from custom…I had the advantage of being brought up religiously, was taught to pray twice a-day, and this I have continued…and the general consistency of my conduct induced the belief that I was in a good way [i.e. that I was a Christian] (ibid., p. 284).

But in February they heard William McCulloch preach, "after which they were in turmoil of soul" (ibid.). Finally the man was converted. Then, after a longer period of inner turmoil, his wife experienced conversion. Noll said, "A striking feature of their narratives is how readily a lifetime of familiarity with Scripture could be brought to the service of an intense period of evangelical conviction, struggle and reassurance (ibid., page 285).

Then Noll gives the story of Thomas Taylor (1738-1816). He "had a strong religious upbringing that included memorization of the Westminster Shorter Catechism by the age of four" (ibid., p. 289). This was strict religious learning indeed! But he was not converted. After reading Alleine's Alarm to the Unconverted, and Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, and hearing George Whitefield preach, Taylor came under great conviction of sin. Noll says, "Close to the age of twenty, during a period of direct combat with Satan…Taylor was transformed… [He said] 'I saw Him by the eye of faith, hanging on the Cross…I believed that moment'" (ibid., page 289). He was converted. Shortly afterwards he felt called to preach and became an itinerant evangelist. Noll says that he preached for a longer period of time than any other English Methodist.

During the course of this extraordinary life, he was attacked by mobs in Shropshire; several times he was delivered by special providence from the threat of death brought on by storms at sea, the collapse of a bridge, the stumbling of his horse; he mastered Latin, Greek and Hebrew as aids to his biblical study…he persevered in the face of antagonism…and always he…preached, preached, preached. What he preached was… repentance, faith and the new birth (ibid., pp. 289-290).

These three people, the man and his wife and Thomas Taylor, had all been religious for years before their conversions. All three of them were converted out of strict religious formality, underwent conviction of sin, and then found justification in Jesus Christ.

But the sons of Eli never experienced that. They "were sons of Belial; they knew not the Lord," nor did they ever come to know Him (I Samuel 2:12).

II. Second, think of their disadvantages.

I have showed you that there are many advantages in being raised in the local church. But there are also disadvantages. Two disadvantages come quickly to mind.

First, those raised in the church generally don't experience the loneliness that troubles young people who come in out of the world. I have no time left in this sermon to go into detail, but I will simply say that Samuel was left by his mother at the Tabernacle. She came to see him - but only once a year. The child must have experienced intense loneliness in the strange surroundings of the Tabernacle, with hardly anyone to talk to but an old man who was going blind. Eli's two sons don't seem to have had much to do with him. While they were off playing together, Samuel was left alone.

"And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see; and ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep; That the Lord called Samuel: and he answered, Here am I… and Eli perceived that the Lord had called the child"
      (I Samuel 3:2-4, 8).

Out of dark loneliness, Christ came to Jacob. Alone in the wilderness of Midian "God called unto" Moses. Travelling alone across the desert of North Africa, God spoke to the Ethiopian Eunuch. And here, once again, we read of a young boy named Samuel, alone in the dark, called by God, called out of that solitary experience, to Jesus Christ.

I say that it is often a disadvantage to be raised in the midst of a Christian family, in a good lively church several times a week. Some of you have never felt lonely. Some of you raised in the church have been as busy and carefree as Phinehas and Hophni. And so, you have never had the experience of Samuel. God call you in the darkness? Why, you've never experienced darkness in your whole life long! This is a disadvantage to those raised in the church. You have always lived in a Christian home, surrounded by Christian friends. This shields you from the aching loneliness that most young people experience in a secular society. "Come home to church"? Why, you have always been at home in church! "Come home to Jesus Christ"? Why, you have always known about Him! Ah, but do you know Him personally, for yourself? That is a question Phinehas and Hophni never dealt with, for you see,

"the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the Lord"
    (I Samuel 2:12).

They knew all about the Lord, but they did not know Him personally. Do you? That's the first disadvantage of being raised in the church, or of being in the church many years, without being converted. You just don't feel the existential loneliness that sometimes drives young people from the secular world to Christ.

The second disadvantage is that you have heard it all before. Let's say you are fifteen years old. If you were raised in this church you have heard me preach over fifteen hundred sermons, including Sunday morning, Sunday night, and other times of the week. If you are twenty, you have heard me preach over two thousand sermons. You have also heard other preachers. I think it is within the mark to say you have heard around two thousand five hundred sermons, not to mention other Bible lessons and Christian books you have read. If you go to a Christian school, or are home-schooled using Christian literature and videos, you have doubtlessly heard the gospel preached or explained well over three thousand times, perhaps even four thousand times, by the age of nineteen or twenty. What's the disadvantage of that? Well, if you are still unconverted it can be a terrible disadvantage. No matter what subject the preacher speaks on, you've heard it before! Man's natural tendency, when he hears things over and over, is to tune out, to think, "Now he's going to speak on depravity. Now he's going to speak on the atonement. Now he's going to speak on Hell. Now he's going to speak on the new birth. Now we are going to have evangelistic sermons. Now he is going to speak on sin. I have heard all this hundreds of times." And so you unconsciously tune out the preaching, which is the usual means of grace in converting the lost. I am very much afraid that Jesus is speaking to you when He said,

"In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them"
      (Matthew 13:14-15).

That was the condition of Phinehas and Hophni. They had heard it all before. Their ears were dull of hearing. Even when their old father Eli warned them again, one last time, they closed their eyes,

"Lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them" (Matthew 13:15).

Is that your condition tonight? If it is, God help you. You seem dangerously close to judicial reprobation. You seem as dangerously close to being given up by God as the sons of Eli were.

"Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the Lord" (I Samuel 2:12).

"And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain"
    (I Samuel 4:11),

and went to a godless eternity in Hell.

It is my prayer that you will suddenly awaken from sleep, as that man and his wife did in Scotland in 1742. The man said,

I attended church mainly from custom…I had the advantage of being brought up religiously, was taught to pray twice a-day …and the general consistency of my conduct induced the belief that I was in a good way [i.e. that I was a Christian] (Noll, ibid., page 284).

But then he heard one more sermon, the sort of sermon which he had undoubtedly heard many times before. But after William McCulloch preached he was "in turmoil of soul." Finally, the man turned then to Jesus Christ and was saved.

Will that be your experience, or will you continue as you are, and be reprobated by God, and in the end be cast into Hell fire?

"Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the Lord" (I Samuel 2:12).

"But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable…shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8),

whether they were raised in the church or not.

"Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:6-7).

If you fail to do that, it will be said over the mouth of your grave, that you were a child of Belial who knew not the Lord.


(END OF SERMON)

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan:

I Samuel 2:12-17; 3:1-10, 19-21.

Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:

"Have You Counted the Cost?" (by A. J. Hodge, 1923).

THE OUTLINE OF

THE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES
OF BEING RAISED IN CHURCH

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

 

"Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the Lord" (I Samuel 2:12).

(I Samuel 4:11)

I.   Their advantages, Romans 3:22-23; John 3:3, 7.

II.  Their disadvantages, I Samuel 3:2-4, 8; Matthew 13:14-15; 
Revelation 21:8; Isaiah 55:6-7.

You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.rlhymersjr.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."