One of the distinctive characteristics of a new covenant church is the hope we hold, of being the "Body of Christ" in a very practical way. Such a church seeks for every single member to be a fully functioning member of the body, because "...the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body..." (Ephesians 4:16). Everyone has a part to play!
It is so exciting to be such an active, functioning member of the Body of Christ, contributing to the growth of the body. But with this great privilege comes a great danger as well. As long as we aren't expected to contribute or "properly work" as an individual member of a church, there's little danger of touching the glory of God, or taking some of the credit for what God has done to ourselves (in other words, if someone is not doing anything for God there is little temptation to be proud about it!). But in a new covenant church, where each member is expected to contribute and diligently seeks to do so, there can be a real danger of unknowingly touching God's glory.
This is a danger because God is extremely jealous for His own glory (Isaiah 42:8). He will not share His glory with another.
And He is willing to go great lengths to ensure that He alone gets credit for His work. In Judges 7, we see the Lord actively reduce the size of Gideon's army to a laughably small band of soldiers because, as He says, "The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel would become boastful, saying, 'My own power has delivered me.'” (Judges 7:2)
God wanted to make sure that the army was so small that there's no way they would ever take credit for their victory over Midian. And this is a good picture for us in the new covenant church as well: the Lord wants to reduce us in our own estimation so that we never think that any victory we win is because of our own strength, numbers, might, etc., and so that we always give Him the credit that He alone deserves.
But as Gideon's story unfolds, we see a subtle danger that can afflict even those who are keenly aware of God's desire to receive all the glory for the work He has done.
After God grants Gideon's laughably small band of companions the victory, “Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, "Rule over us, both you and your son, also your son's son, for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian." But Gideon said to them, "I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you."” Judges 8:22-23
Gideon, obviously aware of God's jealousy for His own rightful glory, refuses to take the glory to himself. He knows God alone is responsible for the victory, having reduced his army to so few. But that's not where the story stops. After refusing the glory of ruling over the people, “Yet Gideon said to them, "I would request of you, that each of you give me an earring from his spoil." (For they had gold earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) They said, "We will surely give them." So they spread out a garment, and every one of them threw an earring there from his spoil.” Judges 8:24-25
Despite outwardly refusing to take any glory, Gideon is willing to accept "a small token of appreciation." It may not seem like a big deal after having refused such a great honor, but we see the danger of this decision in how these small tokens led not only Gideon to sin, but also the entire nation of Israel:
“Gideon made it into an ephod, and placed it in his city, Ophrah, and all Israel played the harlot with it there, so that it became a snare to Gideon and his household.” Judges 8:27
We see here that, even to one who was mindful of God's jealousy for His own rightful glory, and outwardly refused touching that glory, yet unbeknownst to him, he still touched it and destroyed himself.
And there's a lesson here for those seeking to be fully functioning members of a new covenant church. We should be careful, and judge ourselves, that even while we refuse to accept any glory outwardly, yet there be little ways in which we take some glory to ourselves. We should ask God to shine upon all our hidden motives, so we might be delivered from a snare in our churches. We should hate all honor seeking that we find in our flesh and repent of it every time the Lord reveals a dark, hidden motive in our hearts.
For myself, the warning of Gideon is clear: just because I'm aware of the danger of taking any glory that belongs to God (and ALL of it does), and just because I'm trying not to touch it in my conscious dealings, that doesn't mean I'm free from honor seeking and subtly taking some glory to myself. It's a real danger, especially as I seek to do my part as a fully functioning member of a new covenant church, and so I should seek more and more light on this, so that I might be delivered increasingly from any hidden, polluted motives that drive my service to the Lord.