The Wisdom of Gamaliel

By Seth Brown, Adult Connection Pastor

Seth Brown, Adult Connection Pastor

Here’s a confession: I am fascinated by culture – how it changes over time, how cultural beliefs have shifted, and how certain behaviors are deemed unacceptable one day and acceptable the next. In today’s culture what was once taboo is now openly celebrated and what was once renounced as evil is now pushed as truth. And sadly, our culture abhors respecting differences and publicly shames those who do not embrace cultural causes.

None of this should be surprising for believers in Christ. Romans 1 tells us where culture is always moving (spoiler alert: the opposite direction of a holy and righteous God). Yet I am often overwhelmed by cultural tides even as God’s Church has been at odds with culture since the Church humbly began at a wooden cross and an empty tomb.

In Acts we read how the apostles were constantly in the cross-hairs of Jewish leadership for preaching Christ crucified and raised from the dead. The Gospel made these men a threat to the cultural powers in that small sliver of the ancient world, and at one point the Pharisees were ready to kill the apostles for speaking the truth (•Acts 5:33). The apostles might have died had it not been for one Pharisee who truly understood Christianity’s power against the culture.

In Acts 5 a Pharisee named Gamaliel was smart enough to see this new religion – Christianity – as different than other movements of the day. Specifically, Gamaliel’s advice to his fellow Pharisees was to “be careful” about how they handled the apostles (•Acts 5:35), and this advice was based on two previous cultural movements (one led by Theudas and the other by Judas the Galilean) whose followers dispersed and scattered once these leaders were killed. Gamaliel knew Christianity was different.

Gamaliel’s argument is found in •Acts 5:38-39 – “So in the present case, I tell you, stay away from these men and leave them alone. For if this plan or this work is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be found fighting against God.” Amazingly, Gamaliel understood the power of God to grow His Church even after Christ’s death and resurrection. This was not a movement that would die with its leader.

On that day the Pharisees only flogged the apostles, ordered them not to preach the Gospel, and let them go. Yeah, good luck with that. Instead, every day in the temple, and in various homes, the apostles continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah. Centuries later, we still teach and proclaim this good news.

In closing, the culture will continue to do what it has always done. It will always fight against God and it will never stop trying to convince people not to believe in the Gospel’s message. As modern Christians, we ought not be overwhelmed by the culture’s direction but instead speak the Gospel as boldly as the apostles did. Because try as it might, the culture will soon find out that if our work is of God, it will never be able to overthrow us, the God in which we believe, and Christ’s bride known as the Church.