Saturday, 7 June 2008

Lessons from Gideon on pride

This week, I had the final study of the academic year with the small group leaders at Lancaster University CU. It was our sixth study in the book of Judges.

For the past three weeks, we've been looking at the Gideon narrative in chapters 6-8. Chapters 6 and 7 were more familiar to me - the theme of grace screams loud. The LORD appears to a cowering Gideon and commands him to lead Israel into battle. Although Gideon is weak, the LORD promises to be with him - and God plus one is a majority. In the battle itself, famously Gideon's army is shrunk until it is 1/400th the size of the Midianite army - yet he still wins. Plenty of evidence, then, to show both Gideon and the Israelite nation that it's the LORD that delivers them, then?

Erm, no. As chapter 8 unfolds, the Israelite nation start a form of hero worship of Gideon (offering him to be the first king in a hereditary monarchy). Although Gideon declines, he shows himself to be proud. Perhaps he even started believing himself that his own efforts had led Israel to victory. And so he makes himself a golden ephod (at the best, over-stepping the authority he had a judge; at worst, condoning the hero worship) and, despite rejecting the kingship, starts living a kingly lifestyle. He assembles a harem and has plenty of children - a form of displaying affluence in the ancient world. Even worse, he calls one of his sons Abimelech - or 'my father is the king'. Despite having a form of godliness, Gideon confuses the LORD's power with his own. He takes the credit for the LORD's victory, even though he had so much evidence of his own weakness.

It appears that there's a big lesson to those in any form of Christian ministry. Our theological conviction might be that, without Christ, we can do nothing. Yet it's very easy to look at the fruits of our ministry and start patting ourselves on the back. Like Gideon, we forget our weakness and the reliance on God we once felt, and we become proud. The LORD, who has provided the transforming power, is forgotten. We're tempted to think we're worthy of a big golden ephod.

I remember one evangelistic talk that I gave a couple of years ago. I felt awful throughout the whole of the day I was due to give it, having not slept very well the night before. Prayer alone kept me going that night I think. Half way through the talk, I remember thinking that I should give up, so convinced was I that my efforts were in vain. I was weak and I knew it.

God used that talk to save people there that night. At the time, I was literally dumbfounded. God's strength was made perfect in my obvious weakness. Yet, two years later, I know that my heart is sometimes tempted to feel proud of my efforts that night. It's so easy to forget that which Gideon forgot: the LORD's power graciously given to weak people. At worst, my heart sometimes longs to be able to assemble a big golden ephod.

The lesson of Gideon is a sad one. He started well, yet ended badly and miserably. The ephod became a snare to Gideon and his family. In addition, Gideon's sin had prolonged effort - as we read in Judges 9 and the account of Abimelech. Much better to prayerfully realise that God alone saves and transforms. Much better to ascribe to him the power and the glory, and to be amazed that God uses individuals just like us. I've found Piper's APTAT acronym helpful to prevent my heart from getting proud. Let us not become like Gideon, but learn the lesson.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Like this pete. ta for your text. had a good couple weeks thanks, (although, knowing myself, I'll probably make myself an ephod pretty soon though so here's to future grace).

ps oyoywenham'd the man himself in tescos today (he's just moved to oxford) so had him round for dinner. very much on form. Also, in case your interested, me plan is to find a job in oxford during july, move to london @beginning of august and start on the 18th.