Samson and Team Ministry

~ Taken from Vincent Cheung, Samson and His Faith. Footnotes excluded. ~

Christian leaders who base their confidence in the number and the loyalty of their supporters are deceived. They do not really have the support that they think they have. Those who place their trust in the crowds may be disappointed when the group faces pressure, or when the organization suffers persecution. Of course, it is possible that some people will remain faithful. The point is that not all who say that they will remain faithful will in fact remain faithful. Ultimately, one can only trust in God, since only he is pure in intention and unlimited in ability: “This is what the LORD says: ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD'” (Jeremiah 17:5).

This is not to say that no professing Christian will remain faithful to God and to Christian leaders under pressure, but it remains that not all professing Christians are genuine Christians, and as people who have never undergone spiritual regeneration and sanctification by the Spirit, they can be extremely fickle. On the other hand, a mind regenerated by the Spirit and renewed by the Scripture is also one that is being transformed into the likeness of Christ, enabling one to be bold to stand for the truth in the midst of pressure and intimidation. Scripture teaches that you should never overestimate yourself, and that it is right to test yourself and examine your commitment. Employ the means that God has granted you to grow in faith, so that when tests and trials come, you will be ready for them.

Samson was aware of the people’s weakness, but he had enough confidence in God’s power working through him that he did not require their assistance. He only asked that they would not try to kill him themselves, but just hand him over to the Philistines:

They said to him, “We’ve come to tie you up and hand you over to the Philistines.” Samson said, “Swear to me that you won’t kill me yourselves.” “Agreed,” they answered. “We will only tie you up and hand you over to them. We will not kill you.” So they bound him with two new ropes and led him up from the rock. (Judges 15:12-13)

There has been much emphasis on “team work” in recent years, and this emphasis has influenced the thinking of many Christians, generating much hostility against the so-called “lone ranger” mentality. However, it really depends on the quality of the team, so that a greater number of people does not always translate into greater success. The effectiveness of any team has much to do with the competence and character of the team members, so that one “Samson” is better than an army of fools.

Now, it is true that God generally desires Christians to work together, and that each person has something meaningful to contribute: “As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Corinthians 12:20-22).

Nevertheless, it is unbiblical to say that one person is always insufficient. An insistence on “team work” without exception comes more from secular social and business theory than from valid biblical exegesis, and shows little confidence in God’s sovereignty and the Spirit’s power. David said, “You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall” (Psalm 18:28-29). In another place, he wrote:

O LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” But you are a shield around me, O LORD; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head. To the LORD I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me. I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side. Arise, O LORD! Deliver me, O my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. From the LORD comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people. (Psalm 3:1-8)

Although Jeremiah experienced much inner turmoil during his ministry, God had called him to face the rebellious nation alone, and God enabled him to fulfill his mission: “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty. I never sat in the company of revelers, never made merry with them; I sat alone because your hand was on me and you had filled me with indignation” (Jeremiah 15:16-17).

We should reject every secular theory that undermines the believer’s individual potential in Christ, so that we may imitate the faith of Paul, who wrote:

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:16-18)

Although everyone left him, it was sufficient that God alone stood by him and strengthened him. He believed that God would deliver him “from every evil attack,” and would bring him “safely to his heavenly kingdom.”

Can we say with the apostle Paul, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13)? Or, do we say, “We can do all things only through team ministry?” It is better to have a small team made up of spiritual giants rather than to have a large group of spiritual cowards who are psychologically dependent on one another, and where no one individual is truly strong. Otherwise, one is probably better off working by himself.

Samson was depending on God’s power, and anything else could not have saved him. Many preachers say that this was precisely his problem – Samson trusted in God and not in people! They say that Samson would have been better off if he had worked with other people. But God himself called Samson to work alone. Besides, those people whom he was supposed to work with were the very ones who had surrendered him to the Philistines. Some falsely infer from Samson’s story that if you work alone and trust only in God, then you are going to fail because you are not working with other people. Rather, a more proper inference would be that if you work with people, then you better trust in God to protect you from those people. The point is not that “team ministry” is wrong, since some variations of the concept are biblical, but the point here is that many people make false inferences from the life of Samson to support their ideas on “team ministry.”

Samson’s willingness to face an army of Philistines by himself reflected his faith in the power of God, although his attitude toward God was far from perfect, as we will see below. Nevertheless, to the extent that he did trust in God’s power, we must imitate his faith, and learn to trust in God’s power at work in our ministries: “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1:28-29).