Today we are beginning a new sermon series on the lessons we can learn from the lesser known folks we read about in the Bible. These are individuals, that unless you really know your Bible, you’re probably not going to know who they are. You might possibly recognize their name, but not know exactly what they did to make it into the Bible. You don’t get into the Bible unless you did something significant. That in itself teaches us that we can have a significant life and not be well-known. A significant life is not always the most noticed life. In the Old Testament there’s the Big Three significant figures. There’s Abraham. There’s Moses. And there’s David. Everybody knows about them. There are probably a few more well-known folks, like Noah and Jonah and Daniel. You probably know about Job and some of the prophets. But what about all those other folks in the Bible who didn’t get a book named after them. Those lesser knowns. There are hundreds of them who lived significant lives and they can teach us some great lessons.
Gideon was one of those lesser knowns who can teach us some great lessons about how to live a significant life. Who was Gideon? Well, he was not the guy who went around leaving Bibles in motel night stands. I know some of you were thinking that. But he did inspire some men who do that, so much so that they named their organization after him. They saw something in Gideon that they want to emulate. Gideon was a man who was willing to do exactly what God wanted him to do, regardless of his own judgment as to the plans or results.
What can we learn from Gideon about living a significant life?
FIRST, Gideon teaches how important it is to DISCOVER YOUR GOD-GIVEN POTENTIAL. The fact is: many people never discover their God-given potential. They use excuses like, “I’m not smart enough,” or “I’m not strong enough.” Winston Churchill once said, “Continuous effort, not strength or intelligence, is the key to unlocking our potential.” That’s very true. You have to put forth the effort if you’re going to do something significant with your life. You can’t use your circumstances as an excuse for not trying. That’s where we find Gideon. The Bible says, The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites… Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel…. Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help… [so] God sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land. I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live. But you have not listened to me.’”
The angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon (while he was threshing wheat in the winepress to keep it from the Midianites) and said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior!” (Judges 6:1-3, 6-12)
Think with me about where Gideon is when the angel of the Lord comes to him. He’s down in the pit of a wine press thrashing wheat. Why would he be there? A wine press was for extracting the juice from grapes, not grain from stocks of wheat. Gideon was hiding his wheat for fear of the Midianites.
In the spring, barley and the wheat would be harvested; crops that were planted in the fall. In the summer, grapes and the olives would be harvested; crops with a spring-summer growing season. In a good year, when the grain was great, the harvesting of wheat would overlap the harvesting of grapes. But this wasn’t a good year for Israel. The Midianites had invaded their land and destroyed all their crops all the way to Gaza. They had killed many their livestock, too. Gideon had managed to hide his wheat from the Midianites while it grew and now he was hiding down in the deepest chamber of the wine press to thrash it—separating the wheat from the chaff, hoping he would be able to keep his harvest from being destroyed by the Midianites. That was the circumstance Gideon found himself in when the angel of the Lord came to him and said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior!”
From Gideon’s perspective, God was anywhere but with him. Now he was being challenged to rethink what he was doing with his life. He was being made to rethink his potential. God saw a greater potential in Gideon to live a significant life, and Gideon had to make a choice. Was he going to look at his circumstances? Or was he going to listen to what the Lord had to say about his potential? That’s the question we all have before us: Are we going to look at the circumstances we find ourselves in or are we going to listen to what God says about us—about our potential?
The angel of the Lord said, “YOU, GIDEON, ARE A MIGHTY WARRIOR! GOD IS WITH YOU!” But that’s not how things looked to Gideon. Gideon had to stop looking at his circumstances and start listening to what God had to say about him. If you want to discover your God-given potential, you have to STOP LOOKING AT YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES AND START LISTEN TO WHAT GOD SAYS ABOUT YOU! That’s your choice. Are you going to live by sight or by faith? Are you willing to consider that there is something deeper going on than just what you can see? God sees a potential in you that you don’t see. He wants you to discover it.
SECOND, Gideon teaches how important it is to LEARN YOUR GOD-GIVEN PURPOSE. And before you can learn your purpose, you’ll have to work on your doubts. That’s what Gideon had to do and he had a lot of doubts. Listen to what he says to the angel. “Pardon me, Sir,” 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.” (Judges 6:13) Can you hear the frustration and anger in Gideon’s response? It just spills out of him, feelings of being abandoned by God. I’m so impressed by how polite and controlled Gideon is as he responds: “Pardon me, Sir.” It’s always a good thing to be polite and Gideon realizes it’s not the messenger who has failed him, but the God who sent the messenger. That’s a great message right there: don’t kill the messenger. Keep your response polite and focused on the one who sent the message and here that would be God. Gideon finds fault, not with the messenger, but with God.
As he’s complaining, Gideon completely misses the fact that God wants to use him to be the solution to everything he’s complaining about. Do you ever do that in your life? Do you ever get caught up in complaining about what isn’t right instead of listening to God and how he wants to use you to set things right? I know I do. I’m guilty of that all the time. When we complain about what isn’t right, we’re really complaining about God and how he’s failing us. The buck stops ultimately with God. He’s the One who’s let all the bad stuff happen. You complain and complain that God has abandoned you, and you completely miss the fact that he wants to use you to be the solution to what you’re complaining about. That’s what Gideon is about to learn. We read, “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?” (v. 14) That’s your purpose, Gideon! I am sending you to save Israel out of the hand of Midian. Go in the strength you have. Don’t wait for more strength. I’m calling you to serve now. Go with the strength you have. That’s the choice you have before you every day of your life. WILL YOU WAIT FOR MORE STRENGTH OR GO WITH THE STRENGTH YOU HAVE? Gideon is learning that he has to trust God and go with the strength he has. If God is sending you, he will also give you the strength you need to fulfill the purpose he has given you. “I’ll be with you,” says the Lord. Don’t wait for the strength you don’t have. Go with the strength you do have.
Gideon has a little trouble hearing that message because he’s too busy complaining. Listen to how he responds. “’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.’” (v. 15) He’s telling God, “You don’t even know who I am and how insignificant my family is.
Isn’t that what we all do. We find excuse. I’m not gifted enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not old enough or young enough. I’m not experienced enough. I’m not knowledgeable enough. God can’t possibly use me in any significant way. I’m not something enough.
So the angel of the Lord repeats God’s message to Gideon about his God-given purpose. Verse 16 reads, “The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.” (v. 16) That’s my purpose for you, Gideon. I’m going to use you to save my people from their oppressors.
Gideon is starting to understand what God wants to do through him. He prepares the required sacrifice of a goat to
THIRD, Gideon teaches how important it is to DETERMINE YOUR POWER SOURCE. What’s it going to be? Are you going to trust in your own strength to do what God is sending you to do, or are you going to trust in God’s strength to be successful? Are you going to rely on yourself for success or are you going to rely on God? That’s a choice we have to make step by step through life. Are we going to go in our own strength or in the strength of God? Gideon teaches us to trust God and go in his strength, not our own. We have no strength compared to the mighty power of God. We are to go in his strength so that he can receive all the glory.
Gideon hadn’t really learned this lesson as he prepared to do battle with the Mideanites. He called together a great army from all the surrounding clans of Israel. It was very impressive. But the Lord had something else in mind. “The Lord said to Gideon, ‘You have too many warriors with you. If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength.’” (Judges 7:2) God wants us to win victories in his strength, not our own. God wants us to give him the credit, not ourselves. He wants us to give him the glory, not ourselves. So “God tells Gideon to announce to the army, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’” God gave those men an easy way out and they took it. The Scripture says, “Twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.” (Judges 7:3a) Those twenty-two thousand who left were not cut out to be warriors. Only ten thousand remained in Gideon’s army. They were the warriors. They were ready to fight. But that was not God’s plan.
FOURTH, we learn from Gideon that GOD SHOWS HIS STRENGTH THROUGH OUR WEAKNESS. So God commands Gideon to put those ten-thousand men to a test. Those who pass the test will be the army Gideon is to use to battle the Midianites. Only 300 men pass the test, so Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home. Now you know why Gideon made it into the Bible, and why so many people strive to be like him. He was willing to do exactly what God wanted him to do, regardless of his own judgment as to the plans or results. God was teaching Gideon, and all those who would come after Gideon, the His strength is shown in our weakness. We think we have to have it all together and do everything in our own strength. Here’s the thing: not one of us has it all together. We all have our weaknesses. God wants to show his strength through those weaknesses. Instead of hiding our weaknesses, we need to let God work through them.
That’s exactly what God did with David. The Bible says, “David defeated the Philistines with only a sling and a stone.” (1st Samuel17:50a) God used a shepherd boy to defeat a giant warrior. God showed his strength through David’s weakness.
In John’s gospel we see how something so small, a little boys lunch, could become something so great, enough food to feed five thousand men, when in the hands of Jesus. John writes, “Andrew came to Jesus and said, ‘Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’ …Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks [to his Father in heaven for them], and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.” (John 6:9, 11) This story teaches us how little is much when God is involved. He shows his strength through our weakness. He shows how limitless his power is through our limitations. We need to be open to God using our weaknesses to demonstrate his power. Your disability becomes an ability for God to demonstrate his power. Here’s the problem: we think that when we get rid of our weakness, that’s when God will be able to use us. But God says, “My plan is to use you in your weakness so I can show my strength to the world.”
In his 2nd letter to the church in Corinth, Paul talks about having “a torn in the flesh”—some physical illness that tormented him. Paul writes, “Three times I begged the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” (2nd Corinthians 12:9) Earlier in that same letter Paul writes, “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2nd Corinthians 4:7) We have the knowledge of Christ within us, but we are like clay pots, easily chipped and broken. We’re cracked and damaged. But God’s plan is to show his strength through our weakness.
The FIFTH lesson Gideon teaches is that GOD WORKS THROUGH US TO ACCOMPLISH HIS WILL. He involves us. He includes us in his redemptive work in the world. God didn’t have to use Gideon and those 300 warriors to defeat the Midianites. He could have said, “Gideon, stand there on top of the winepress and watch me wipe out your enemies for you.” Instead, God chose to work through Gideon to accomplish his will. God wants to work through us. That’s his MO, his method of operation in the world. He works through us. Are we going to respond to God like Gideon did at first? “’But Lord,’ Gideon replied, ‘How can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!’ The Lord said to Gideon, ‘I will be with you.’” (Judges 6:15-16a)
You want to live a significant life? Then let God work through you to accomplish his will. Let him use you, weaknesses and all, for in our weakness he is strong.