God loves his church and loves individual Christians, including Christian leaders. So we can expect good things and great blessings from him. God promised this to Israel in Judges 2:1 “The angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you.”
However, entering into God’s blessing requires wise and courageous leadership. The Christian leaders must:
The Christian leader must not compromise with anything or anyone who would lead the church astray or prevent it entering into promised divine blessing.
God says to Israel soon after they entered the promised land: “You shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.” (Judges 2:2-3).
So the leaders must not let powerful, threatening people or church tradition or personal considerations (wanting a quiet life, preserving reputation etc) hinder the progress of the church.
Deborah’s song proclaims an important principle: “When the princes in Israel take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves— praise the LORD!” (Judges 5:2). The Christian leader must avoid two extremes. Firstly he must avoid dictatorship and authoritarianism. Jesus makes this clear: “Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” (Matt 20:25-26). An insensitive, harsh domination is not Christlike.
However, secondly, he must avoid weak, vacillating fear of man. The New Testament teaches that ministers do have authority. For example, Paul tells Titus “Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.” (Titus 2:15). So the Christian leader should be up front, showing leadership by example. He should not be afraid to exercise authority when he prayerful discerns it is required. Paul shows this will sometimes include correction and rebuke. Research shows that churches which grow have a strong leader.
It’s all very well to call for strong, courageous and, where necessary, authoritative leadership but it is a big challenge for every leader. The story of Gideon has some salutary lessons on this subject. In Judges 6:12 “The angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior” and Gideon looked round to see who the angel was talking to. He certainly didn’t feel he was a “mighty warrior”!
Gideon doubted the Lord’s commitment
“‘Pardon me, my lord,’ Gideon replied, ‘but if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.’” (verse 13).
We too can be tempted to doubt God’s commitment to us in our situation with all our problems.
The Lord’s response was quite direct: “Get on with it!” “The LORD turned to him and said, ‘Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?’” (verse 14).
Gideon knew his own weakness
“‘Pardon me, my lord,’ Gideon replied, ‘but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.’” (verse 15). Have you ever felt like that? The thing is that God can only use people who know their own weakness and are not full of human self-confidence which can easily get in the way of God’s purposes.
“The LORD answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.” (verse 16). What we need is not a sense of strength and competence but a sense that the Lord is with us.
Gideon was unsure he was hearing the Lord
“Gideon replied, ‘If now I have found favour in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me.’” (verse 17). We can be unsure if we are discerning the Lord’s will. But there are ways of checking it out: praying about it alone and with others, seeking advice, etc.
Then, when God confirmed it was he who was speaking to him, Gideon was afraid that he had heard the Lord! “When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the LORD, he exclaimed, ‘Ah, Sovereign LORD! I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face!’” (verse 22). We can seek God’s will but when we feel he has guided us there can be a “gulp-factor” when we realise the responsibility involved.
Gideon was afraid of other people
“That same night the LORD said to him, ‘Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old. Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. Then build a proper kind of altar to the LORD your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second bull as a burnt offering.’ So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the LORD told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the townspeople, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.” (verses 25-27).
Many of us can identify with that! But Gideon didn’t let his fear stop him – that is the crucial thing. It is not wrong to be afraid but it is wrong to let that fear lead us into disobedience.
Gideon needed much reassurance
He needed not one miraculous confirmation but two! One was not enough!
“Gideon said to God, ‘If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised— look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.’ And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water. Then Gideon said to God, ‘Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.’” (verses 36-39).
Gideon finally made it as a man of faith
Having at last got his large army, God then said he had too many men and, with Gideon’s co-operation, it was whittled down to a mere 300 men – against the Midianite hordes! But these 300 men with their surprise attack totally defeated the enemy. (Judges 7).
This is such an encouragement. God can take a church which is ordinary and weak and can mould it into an effective instrument of spiritual warfare which can fight against evil and unbelief and gain great victories for God’s kingdom.
Go for it!
Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™ . Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction