8Then Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim. 9So Moses said to Joshua, "Choose men for us and go out, fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand." 10Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought against Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed. 12But Moses' hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set. 13So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.
- Exodus 17:8-13
This particular event occurred soon after the Israelites left Egyptian captivity and it was one of their first military encounters during their time in the desert. Now the Amalekites were a nomadic people who lived in that area of the desert, and of course it would be natural for them to feel threatened by such a large mass of people in their territory.
We know that they became traditional enemies of the Jews later on continually forming alliances with the enemies of the Jewish people. Now the Israelites had spent four centuries in captivity. And therefore had no experience in organized warfare. The Egyptians didn't give them any training in military strategy or military might. So they had no organized army. They had not even selected and trained any to serve as soldiers by this point in their history.
In verse nine, we see Moses giving instructions to Joshua to select men to go out and face the Amalekites and he makes only one guarantee. The one guarantee he makes, is that he will stand before them with the staff of God in his hand. That's the only thing he promises that he will do for them. Now the staff or the shepherd's staff had been used by Moses to part the Red Sea and also to bring forth water from a rock in the desert so it was a significant symbol of power and strength and of God's intervention on behalf of his people.
And so Moses was asking his people to go face an enemy and trust in the Lord for the victory. No training, very few weapons, no strategy. His only promise was I'll be there with you, with the staff of God, but you go ahead and fight this experienced people, this experienced soldiers, and everything will be fine.
Then we read how when Moses held up his hand, meaning that he held up the staff, the Israelites would gain the upper hand in the battle. However, with time, Moses grew weary and he could not hold up the staff and consequently, the people would begin to lose ground. I don't believe that there was less power going on. It's just that when the people didn't see the staff, they felt discouraged, perhaps, and started to back away and be frightened. And when they saw the staff, the Lord's with us, and they would take courage.
So upon seeing this, Joshua and her sat Moses down and they supported his hands to enable him to keep the staff up until the battle was won by the end of the day and the Israelites had secured the victory.
A little bit of what is depicted here in this painting. You know, in this very brief, but colorful account, we learn some very important things about leadership and about how to honor that leadership. And I'd like to share very brief lesson tonight, but I'd like to share a couple of lessons on leadership that we learn from this episode.
Lesson #1 - Leaders are necessary
Nothing happens without leadership. The first thing that God did when he decided to release his people from Egypt, was to raise up a leader: Moses. Now when you saw him, you might not have thought he'd be a great leader. He was rather reluctant at the beginning, but we know that God was confident in his choice. In this first military challenge faced by the people it was the leader who made the decision. It was the leader who set the plan in motion.
It was the leader who remained before the people until the victory was won. I repeat, nothing happens without leadership, and this is especially true in the church. Unless someone says I will do this, unless someone says I will take care of that, unless someone steps up and says I will lead others in order to complete this task or this ministry, nothing happens.
Until leaders take ownership of certain ministries. Whatever it is, visiting the sick and the widowed, or delivering food, or working with the youth, or taking care of the building. Nothing happens unless someone steps up to the task. You can dream up all kind of projects and good works that you want to do, but without a leader, they rarely get done. And I'm not talking simply about elders. I'm talking about people who will demonstrate leadership in a particular area or for a particular task.
The most important thing ever done in this congregation in its 80 year history here at Choctaw is that elders were appointed at a very early stage in the church's development. And it is because of that leadership, that constant, consistent, faithful leadership decade after decade, and some among us who have served for a very long time, but we've had many good men and their wives, men who served as elders in this congregation. This congregation did not stagnate. When a problem arose, the leaders stepped up to care for it. When it was time to expand the building, or change the building. The original church was in downtown Choctaw. When that was no longer suitable, the leaders stepped up and said we've got to do something about this. And then secured the land at this corner. Then it was leaders who said, let's raise the money to build the building here because of the future. It didn't look that promising when there was no building here. This was just grass. There was nothing here. But those who were leaders at that time saw into the future and they inspired the congregation to follow their leadership. And so a building was built.
We know It's not just about the building, but the building represents something. It represents confidence. It represents hope for the future. It says to the community, we're here to stay. We're going to do something here. We're going to preach the gospel from this place. We're going to minister to people. People are going to get married here and they'll have their burial services here. And small children will grow into becoming teenagers here. And people will marry here and have families here. All these things take place somewhere. And the building where the church meets is important in this sense. And it requires leadership to say when we are going to do this and how we are going to do this or who is going to do this.
And so we've had, and continue to have, good leadership in this church. I think of leaders like Moses here. In other words, leaders who actually lead. These kind of leaders make the difference between success and failure in any organization including the church.
In Ephesians chapter four verse 11, Paul says that God gives gifts to the church. And then he describes these gifts and here are the gifts he describes that God gives to the church. He says God gives apostles to the church and prophets to the church and evangelists to the church and elders and teachers to the church. Those are the gifts that God gives to his church.
Note if you will that every gift that God gives to the church is a different form of leadership. Each of these roles provides a different form of leadership for the church. It's a sorry thing when a church has no leadership. I mean I've worked in the mission field for many years and one of the more difficult things in any mission church is to raise up leaders. It takes a long time, decades at times, but when you finally have them, it's amazing the growth and development of the church when someone is able to say, when a group of men are able to say, we're going to go this way, we're going to do this, we're going to invest in this.
Instead of having you know a congregational meeting where it's so difficult to make a concrete decision or to launch out in something that is difficult. Another important thing about leadership that is taught in this brief story is this.
The quality of leadership often determines the degree of success that peoples have. The quality of leadership often determines the degree of success. I have witnessed churches that have had leaders, and those leaders have run the church into the ditch. And I think you've seen this happen in different places. Even in Oklahoma City. We won't name any names, but I've seen congregations that had tremendous promise, tremendous resources, you think they just can't miss.
They've got everything they need. But the weak leadership among them led to the destruction of several congregations here in the city. And so the quality of leadership often determines the degree of success that a church has.
Lesson #2 - Leaders carry a heavy responsibility
Moses' staff represented God's authority and as the story shows, it was a heavy burden to carry. It's not that the stick was heavy. The idea was that leadership is marvelous if it's entrusted to you. It's a wonderful thing that God has called you to be in a form of leadership, but it's a heavy thing as well. It's a difficult thing. It's a burden. And this story demonstrates the burden that it is to a great man like Moses.
Leaders in any enterprise have the final responsibility which ultimately decides the success or the failure of that organization. I mean just look at the fall of companies and even nations because of corrupt leadership. But worldly leaders, well they're over things and their responsibility and authority are only temporary. In the church however, leaders carry the responsibility for souls and souls are eternal. And because souls are eternal, the burden for souls is very heavy. It's very important. It's serious business.
This is what makes the burden so difficult and heavy. It's what makes the responsibility so awesome. You know I think we forget this idea when we become impatient or frustrated, when things don't move quickly enough in the church, or when our leaders are perhaps too careful or too conservative or overly prudent in certain matters and certain decisions.
We forget that what is at stake for the leadership is not just the immediate project or the immediate results of what we say or do as a church. What is at stake are the souls and how every decision that the leaders make will affect every soul over which God has made the leaders responsible. And so they have to take their time. They have to think things through. They have to imagine how will this affect everybody? Not just one interested group. But how will what we decide affect all the groups? The children as well as the seniors. In the end, leaders have to answer to God for the church and for the souls and for the unity of the body that they have been entrusted with. You know it's easy to play fast and loose or take chances with something that you don't have to answer for.
That's easy. But leaders, especially elders, they don't have that luxury. I appreciate the kind of men who have been elders for many years and in that time have managed to serve this church in such a way as to keep this congregation from dividing and has maintained in this church sound doctrine and sound teaching.
The one thing that we are known for, my advantage here is I and Marty and those who work in ministry, we get to travel a little bit. We get to go to other churches and the thing that they say about this congregation over and over again, what a wonderful family this is. People who visit here always remark on the idea that they felt so much love among the members. Not just love you know welcoming guests. I mean everybody does that. Every body welcomes the guests. Their comment is the kind of attention and love that they witness between the members. People have said to me you people you like each other. You like each other. You enjoy being together. Well that doesn't just happen by accident. I've often said, and I don't say it certainly as a challenge to God, but in the years that this congregation has existed, as I say this Fall will be 80 years, there's never been a division in this congregation. Nobody has rounded up 25 people and said you know what we don't like the way things are handled over here. We're going to go over here to this place over here and buy a little piece of land. We're going to start our own church. That's never happened here, and I pray to God it never will happen. But it happens a lot at other places.
There's a reason that that never happened. And the reason that it's never happened is that the leadership has always been very sensitive about the unity of this congregation. Nobody just gets their way 'cause they want to get their way. We try to follow the scripture. We try to do the things that love would do in various situations. The greatest proof of that from my perspective, I don't get my way every time. And I think that that's probably a good thing. This is no easy task over a long period of time. You can do it over a couple of months or a couple of years, but to do that decade after decade, especially in this world, very difficult.
It's one of the great blessings that we have. It's also one of the attractive things about our congregation. Again, I'm talking of our congregation as if I'm boasting. Well, I'm boasting in our love. I'm boasting in the things that have happened over the years that we can see.
Are we perfect? Well, of course not. We fuss. We have disagreements. But doesn't that happen in every family? You know you can't take 400 sinners and pack them together in one building and think that there won't be any fallout at any time. Of course. But every one here understands that the goal of the instruction from the pulpit and the classroom is that we love one another with a clear conscience. And that we understand that God requires of us that we love one another.
Why, because men will know that we are sincere disciples of Jesus, how? In the way we treat one another. If we cannot treat one another in loving and kind and forgiving way, how can we treat people on the outside of the church in that way? And so not to get too far away from my idea, church leadership has a great role to play in maintaining the unity of the body.
Lesson #3 - Leaders need the help of the congregation to do their jobs properly.
Leaders are necessary, absolutely, and they do carry a heavy responsibility and it's good for them to understand and be reminded of this fact. But they can't lead in a vacuum. You know it doesn't all happen at the elder's meeting. The church must cooperate. Although Moses was the chosen leader and he knew what to do and he was ready and willing to do it in the end he was still only a man. A weak and sinful man in the need of support and help. His work and duty was right and holy, but his ability to accomplish it was limited and so God provided others to help him. Note the way that Joshua and her assisted Moses.
Very interesting. They didn't criticize him for his weakness. Why did we get this old guy to hold the staff up? We've got plenty of young guys here who are plenty strong enough who could hold that thing up with one finger for a day. Why are we asking this guy? He can barely stand up. They didn't criticize him for his weakness. They didn't despise him because he was not able to hold the staff up alone. Could you imagine that type of criticism? Here he goes again. Getting way ahead of everybody. Saying he's going to hold the staff up, and now we're going to lose the whole battle because he decided he was going to hold the staff up. He should've delegated. Notice also that they didn't try to take over his position because of his weakness. Get out of there. Move over. It wasn't about the stick being up in the air. Notice also that they provided help and support to enable him to both keep his position and complete his task. If there was ever a time where there was a temptation to usurp authority, to undercut authority, I mean the guys are out there, they're fighting.
You notice every time he lets the staff down, we're going to lose the battle to the Amalekites. Well, certainly God wouldn't want us to lose the battle to the Amalekites. Ruin his plan. No, no, no, no, no. Let's just take it away from him. You know, we can do a better job. They didn't do that. The enabled him, Moses, to keep his position and to complete the task as it was set forth. Leaders cannot lead effectively if others refuse to follow. And also if others refuse to help. The Hebrew writer exhorts those who follow in the following way. He says obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.
Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. Hebrews 13:17. If a man devotes his life and resources to caring for your soul, and we do not cooperate or help or respect them for their effort, we are fighting not only against them, we're also fighting ourselves and will ultimately answer to God for our actions.
Yes, leaders have a heavy burden of responsibility that they need to discharge properly, but we also have a responsibility to follow and support them in the task that God has given to them. Churches that are unified and filled with love and growing and serving are churches that have leaders who work hard at leading and followers who work just as hard at following.
There's nothing more discouraging as a leader to be leading a people who will not follow. More elders quit their job because the sheep just will not follow. You know in our society, we find ways to honor actors and athletes. Even people who live on an island for a month or so. We will give them a million bucks if they can survive on an island. And that's fine. That's entertainment. It's all good. I think however it's more important for us to honor our church leaders who because of their love for God have accepted the responsibility to lead and care for our Christian family.
They deserve honor as well. Let us therefore value their role and respect them for it. Let us also pray for them, recognizing the burden that is uniquely theirs. Have you ever thought, why is it that man has to leave his family after supper and go to the hospital to see sister? Why that man? Why not that man and that man and that man and that man and that man? Why him? Let's be ready to hold up their hands in their work so we can all share in the victory when Jesus comes.
And so I ask, if you're one of those souls, in the care of our elders, and you are in the need for spiritual encouragement or prayer or perhaps you need to confess Christ or be baptized, whatever. Or you're a soul who needs to be restored or you're a soul who needs prayer for illness or strength or you're a soul who wants to identify with this congregation. Our elders, you ever notice when we do the song of invitation we have the song leader leading it. We have the preacher down there you know looking at everybody seeing if someone is willing to come forward but you ever notice all of our elders are standing in front as well? Why? Because it's an opportunity for them to minister to the church in some way.
Not the only opportunity. They have other responsibilities and opportunities. But at that particular moment, they are ready as the shepherds, as the leaders of our congregation to minister directly to the congregation. Don't ever go home and say oh I don't know nobody cares about me. Nobody cares about my problems. I wish the elders would care more about me. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Well they're calling on you to come and tell them what you need. Three times a week. And are ready to follow up if necessary. Let's never denigrate our leaders for what they are not doing or what we perceive they may not be doing. Let us instead include them on a regular basis and their families in our prayers that they may continue the good leadership that we have had here for many, many years.
And I would encourage all of us also to begin praying that God raises up more leaders in the future. Like we see younger men are stepping up to lead singing, to teach classes, and so on and so forth. We want this congregation to continue for decades to come. And for that to take place, we need to raise up younger men. Other men who will step forward to be trained and to be nurtured and mentored in the role of leadership for this church. Let that be a topic and subject of our prayers and our supplication before God.In any case, if anyone here at the moment this moment, needs ministry, encouragement from our shepherds, they are here. They are ready and willing to meet the needs of anyone who would want to come forward at this time.