The Dangers and Inadequacy of Success

Pastor Tom Ascol returns to the Book of Judges (8:1-35) to teach a message entitled The Dangers and Inadequacies of Success. We all recognize the tragedy in failure and work hard to avoid that. However, success comes with its own problems. Success sometimes has a price. Often God is given a position of less importance to successful individuals.

Chapter 8 puts forth a change in character in Gideon. Once humble and insignificant, he was used by God to rescue Israel. Gideon’s success provides a warning to Christians today. Five portions of the story offer five lessons. First, after Ephraim’s complaint, Gideon seems to diplomatically soothe their grievances. While diplomacy might be good (Proverbs 15:1), a closer look at Gideon’s response reveals a problem. He compares the exploits of the Ephraimites to his own exploits completely failing to give God the glory for the unbelievable victory of three hundred men over 120,000 Midianite warriors. Whatever success we may have is due ultimately to God’s grace. To claim success for ourselves sinfully diminishes God’s glory.

In the second vignette, Succoth and Penuel refuse help to Gideon. Despite the prospective victory, because the battle was not complete, these two towns “hedged their bets.” The lesson for modern Christians is not to fear possible outcomes but rather to make sure we are on the correct side of an issue. Even today, as non-biblical practices become more culturally acceptable, believers need to carefully discern biblical teaching and follow God’s plan rather than be concerned with social acceptance.

The capture of the two kings, in the third lesson shows Gideon acting from personal vengeance. There is no mention of God’s direction or will. We need to look to God for direction rather than living for self.

In the fourth vignette we find Gideon speaking rightly in turning down a kingship. However, his actions speak differently than his words. It is clear, from making of an ephod from spoils of war to the taking of a concubine, Gideon sought the status of a king. Discernment is needed when following a man. Actions must match words. Finally, in the fifth part of the narrative, we see the familiar pattern reemerge when Gideon dies. The “people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals” (v. 33).

Chapters 6 and 7 show a mighty man of God doing works of faith (Hebrews 11:32) for the Lord. Indeed, Gideon is recalled in Hebrews 11 as a man of faith. Chapter 8, unfortunately, shows another side of Gideon, a side impacted by success. This success tempted Gideon to forget God, His grace and His work in Gideon’s life and in the nation of Israel. This success tempted Gideon to use God, rather than be used of God. Gideon set up a worship center and place of seeking God’s will in his hometown of Orphrah rather than at the Tabernacle as God had planned. Finally, this success was inadequate for Gideon and the nation. Gideon was not the savior everyone needed and the golden ephod he made became a snare for him and his family. What a horrible legacy to leave behind. Instead of pointing to the one true God and Savior Gideon lead his family to become ensnared.

It is only in Jesus Christ that we can find an acceptable King and a worthy Savior. No matter how successful, none of us can stand before a holy God without an acceptable Intercessor. We all need Jesus Christ.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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