Church can feel like a confusing and frustrating place in our culture. It seems like all the time we hear of a minister falling into sin or major doctrinal divides among denominations. Hypocritical, thievish, immoral, judgmental, these are some of the horrific words that are often used to describe the Church. And for many, even the “good” churches do not seem all that necessary. After all, I can download sermons and praise songs on my phone and have an entire worship service in my living room, right? It certainly beats sitting in a large room full of people I don’t like while pretending not to feel awkward until it’s over. Who needs church?
This isn’t a new problem. 1 Samuel 1-2 records one of the worst church experiences most of us have ever faced. Elkanah and Hanna are a very sweet couple, and they are barren. Hanna desperately wanted children. So when she and her husband came to the temple (church) to offer the annual sacrifice, she prayed earnestly that God would give her a child. And this is where their bad church experience begins.
- Unhelpful Pastor
Hanna prays sorrowfully and silently for a child. “Hanna was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard” (1 Sam. 1:13). Eli, the priest (pastor) saw her praying and somehow took her silent prayer for drunkenness: “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you” (vs. 14). Put yourself in this story. There you are, a God fearing woman (or the husband of a God fearing woman), bearing your soul before God, trying to trust Him, but also broken and frustrated. And the pastor judgmentally accuses you of being drunk. How would you react? Hanna’s response was humility. “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit… I have been pouring out my heart before the Lord.” Finally, Eli blesses her, (doesn’t apologize, mind you), and prays that she would have a child.
- Ungodly Church Elders
Hanna made a vow that if God would give her a child, she would give him back to the Lord. God showed Himself faithful and blessed her with a son whose name was Samuel. She kept Samuel until he was weaned and then brought him to the temple to be raised as a minister to the Lord. Samuel would live at the temple with the priests for the rest of his life. That’s quite a vow for a mom to make. Chapter 2 tell us about some of the other priests Samuel would be influenced by—the sons of Eli. “Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord.” (Can you imagine if God called you worthless)? It goes on to explain why these men were worthless. First, “the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt” (verse 37). They had no fear of the Lord and did not care about the people, so when worshippers would come to offer a sacrifice, they bullied the people and disrupted worship just to eat some of the sacrificial meat. Second, they were sleeping with the female temple servants. If you were Samuel’s parents, would you leave your kid with these guys?
- Unmet Expectations
So Hanna and Elkanah kept their vow and gave their child to the Lord. They have remained gracious and unoffended with their Pastor’s accusation of drunkenness, they have chosen to trust the Lord and leave their child in the company of these wicked church elders, and now they have gone back home where they are practically left with no children, yet again. What unmet expectations might they have experienced? Have you ever grown bitter with God thinking, “After all I’ve given to Him, why isn’t He being faithful to me?” But this was not their heart. God had, as of yet, given them no more children. Their circumstance had not changed. But they still came faithfully every year to give the annual sacrifice, and 1 Sam. 2:19 says, “His mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.” It was after they came faithfully to worship that they were finally blessed with more children.
So is church really worth it? Why would this couple pour so much of themselves into being committed to the Church after such a terrible experience? There are at least three reasons we should never give up on the Church.
- Because God is Faithful
When Hanna brought Samuel to the temple and showed him to Eli she said, “I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him. So now I give him to the Lord.” Nothing in this life is truer than that when we obey God He abundantly blesses us. We remain faithful to Him, and therefore to His people, because He is faithful to us.
“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things,” (Romans 8:32)?
- Because Jesus Loves the Church
The Church is the Bride of Christ. When we give up on the Church we are giving up on Christ’s wife. He paid a high price for her, and I promise He knows her flaws much better than you do. You have no right to give up on the Church until He does, and He never will.
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,” (Ephesians 5:25-26).
- Because YOU are the Church
We have all seen hypocrisy, we have all been hurt by someone in the Church, and probably more often than that, we have all felt the fakeness of “playing church.” Honestly, sometimes it does feel easier to just stay home. But may I encourage you not to give up on the Church? Church isn’t just a place to be blessed and filled up, it is also a place to be a blessing and to pour yourself out. When you walk into a congregation and become frustrated that no one is kind enough to meet you and invite you into their circle of friendship, you be the Church and reach out to someone you do not know. When you see hypocrisy, you be the Church and live an example of godliness. When you see fake Christianity, you be the Church and show others what it means to be genuine. Where you see the Church not acting like the Church, you be the Church.