People get angry when we try to follow God. Friends we used to party with, co-workers we used to make bad jokes with, anyone nearby who shared in our life of iniquity will inevitably push back when we allow God to clean up our lives.
The Bible says that we are the fragrance of Christ in this world. The sad fact is that many people hate that smell. It is the aroma of death to them. It reminds them of their sinfulness. The closer they were to us, the worse it can be. When we really lean into God and get our spiritual house clean, this is often when we get the iratest responses.
“What kind of Christian are you?” the man spat at me as he angrily pushed his finger into my chest. He added a few expletives before adding, “This is not loving at all. You Christians are so hateful”. He huffed and puffed his way out of the church yelling at everyone in sight. He then circled the building multiple times glaring at everyone with all the seething fury of an active volcano. It was a wonderful punctuation mark for that particular Sunday morning service.
What was our crime, you may ask? What hateful thing did we do to deserve the colorful language? We asked him to not trespass in areas of the campus that we did not rent. Yes, we are monsters.
We were renting a church space that was part of a larger structure and the landlord limited our access to what we were actually paying for. This fellow had come in after our service and was attempting to wander around the larger blocked off structures without asking permission. We politely asked the gentleman to come back into our building space and talk with the owner for permission to enter the rest of the property.
Sounds simple, right? Well, evidently not.
There was a deeper spiritual battle going on and it really had nothing to do with the lease terms. We were trying to literally keep our actions upright and clear of any questions. We were cleaning out a portion of our house and Satan hates when any Christian does that. When we set out to follow God, it guarantees a strong reaction from the enemy.
We can see the same cause and effect at play in the account of Gideon’s calling by God in the Book of Judges. The time of the Judges was a really rough time in the history of the Nation of Israel. Sin was everywhere and the nation suffered as a result.
Yet, each time the Nation was brought low in their iniquity, God in His mercy sent a Judge to save them. He loved them so much He gives them the opportunity to be free and to come back to Him. He sends a Judge to lead them out of bondage.
The judges are kind of like a mixture of a general, prophet and civil magistrate. They are the ones who carry out God’s rescue mission. They lead God’s army and hear the voice of God. They are called to clean out the House of Israel and set them back on track with God. Makes us think of this:
Gideon was one of these judges. Yet, when we pick up his story this great hero of Israel is…. cowering in the night from fear. Wait, what?
Mr. SuperBrave Warrior is showing how super and brave he is by hiding the bad guys. God chooses the leader of Israel to fight for Him while he is living in fear from the enemy. It seems like a strange beginning but God does not choose leaders and warriors by our standards. He does not call the brave and the noble, He calls the ones who desperately need to rely on His power.
Gideon is first directed to start his work of cleaning house in Israel close to home…really close at his actual home. He is to go to his family’s house and tear down the idols there and replace them with an altar to God. After destroying the altar, Gideon is to sacrifice a bull on the newly built altar to God.
To be who God wants him to be, Gideon must clear out the filth from his own house first. He must then dedicate that house to the Lord before he can be of any use to the people.
The same is true for our calling as leaders and warriors for Jesus. We are called to clean our own house first before being useful elsewhere to God. Leaders must be blameless or above reproach, Paul wrote to Timothy, they must have nothing in their lives which people can use as encouragement for their own sin. An altar to false gods in Gideon’s family home is a dramatic example but similar stumbling blocks are just as common in the church.
Gideon cannot honestly tell others about the joy of ridding their homes of idols if his home is filled with them. A pastor cannot righteously tell a person to abandon pornography when they are enslaved to it himself. A Christian cannot encourage dedication to the Lord alone when their career is what comes first in their home. A house divided does not stand.
Their words may be truthful and heartfelt, but their sin robs them of their witness and power.
We cannot effectively call others to repentance and holiness if our own house is filled with sin and compromise.
So returning to our hero, Gideon takes this order directly from God and immediately goes and does it? Yay!!!
Well, no, that is not what he does……….that would be too simple and too brave for Gideon at this point. This is an observation, not a condemnation as God chose Gideon and knows every bit of weakness in him.
Gideon waits until nightfall and does his altar demolition when his town is sleeping. Seems that hearing from God in person is not enough to drive away all the fears in poor human limited Gideon. He still needs more evidence.
In the morning, when the townsfolk wake up and see the altar to Baal destroyed they are outraged. Who would do such a thing? When Gideon is quickly discovered, they get together and seek to stone him to death.
These townspeople are Israelites who are supposed to worship God alone. Their Law says the punishment for worshipping a false god like Baal was supposed to be stoning. They are so lost at this point they find themselves defending an altar to Baal against a prophet of God. Gideon cleaning out his house and challenging Baal so threatens this that they set out to murder Gideon. It is a shocking picture, isn’t it?
Gideon is just trying to clean out the corruption of the world and follow God. The Israelites who should be applauding want him stopped and to kill him. They want to serve their idol in peace and wish to do so without hearing from God about it. Gideon’s housecleaning made their own homes look incredibly dirty. This, of course, was their own fault but who likes to accept blame when there is someone else around to lash out at.
Therefore though Gideon did not say a word to them, his following God’s direction made them see how twisted their own lives were and they wanted to make him pay for that.
It had to be an uncomfortable time for Gideon. He has already been established as not the bravest guy and now his whole town wants to kill him. There is a huge difference this time though. He is following God’s direction. He can, therefore, rely on Gods’ strength to deliver him even when his own is failing. This is where God provides the additional evidence that Gideon needs for his mission as Judge of Israel.
Gideon’s father steps in and defends him. This might seem logical but the only thing we know about Gideon’s father is he is the owner and likely builder of an altar to Baal. It was his house that the evil altar stood. Yet, as soon as Gideon destroys that altar the father is immediately changed. God has him speak up in Gideon’s defense and the entire crowd disperses…just like that. So a man so devoted to Baal that he has an altar to Baal in his house defends Gideon when that altar is destoyed leading to the angry crowd walking away from their murderous rage. It makes no sense, logically in human terms for this to occur. God is showing Gideon how He works.
Gideon doesn’t fight the enemies, he doesn’t argue with them and has nothing to do with saving his own life. Gideon just does what God told him to do and then God took care of the opposition. Gideon tore down the idols and God worked out the details in a surprising way.
God will defend His people when they are within His will for them.
Gideon goes on to destroy great armies of idol worshippers in his service to God, but it is here at the very beginning that he actually learned how to do it. God ultimately defeats the Midianites through His power with Gideon often a glorified spectator just relying upon God. He could not destroy the oppressing army of evil until he stopped embracing evil in his home and learned to trust God. We can’t either. Get our own house clean and seek to follow God no matter how scary it may seem. Then just watch God’s great power on display.
The world is in the grips of all sorts of idol worship and rebellion these days. At heart, these idols are really no different from the Baal worship of the time of Gideon. When God calls us, it is tempting to set off to take on the great political or social issues of the day that are oppressing our nations. This attitude again:
But we can never get to take on the Midianites until we first clear out our household idols and watch as God deals with the backlash. God chooses the foolish, the weak and the scared and uses us in amazing and surprising ways. We have to actually follow Him and trust in Him, though, to be used in His plans.