A Word from Gamaliel

“You might even be found opposing God!” [Acts 5:39]

In my various travels around the internet this week, I came across some very similar words to those above. It can be curious how different that declaration can sound depending on who is saying it, and at whom it is being aimed.

The words as they are found in Scripture, are spoken by Gamaliel, a Pharisee, and a very respected teacher. The words are being spoken to a council of Jewish religious leaders including the high priest.

In other words, Gamaliel was speaking to men with authority who had every right to believe that they were favored men of God.

These words spoken to them were a warning.

They had all seen what Jesus had done, and now some of these odd occurrences, some might call them miracles, were cropping up around those who had followed him.

They weren’t about to start jumping on the “Jesus for Messiah” bandwagon, but there was enough of the fragrance of Yahweh in the breeze that a wise man rose up with a message of caution about these men. God may be working through them in a way that they do not yet understand.

In short, the words of Gamaliel were a caution to those in authority to be very wary of exercising it. There is at least a momentary admission that their authority is delegated to them, and that there is a higher authority that must be answered to if they were to abuse this authority.

These words from Gamaliel have a very different flavor when they are being spoken by men who claim authority, in order to strengthen their grasp on power rather than to temper their own lust for it.

Gamaliel could have just as easily have said;”We are men of God. The Lord himself has chosen us to be his leaders. If these disciples of Jesus choose to oppose us, they are truly opposing God!”

He would have ruffled exactly zero feathers in doing so.

Those are not the exact words that I came across earlier this week, but the sentiment present in them is the same.

These men do not have authority delegated to them, they take it by force. They are men who use the name of God for their own vain purposes.

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Greek mythology tells us that Prometheus stole fire from Mount Olympus as a gift to mankind.The type of men who utter such phrases steal into the holy mountain of God to seize power for themselves in order to lord it over God’s own people.

‘But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”’ [Matthew 20:25-28]

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11 thoughts on “A Word from Gamaliel

    • There is a level of coercion within many churches which I think it’s counter to the gospel. If at any point there is a feeling that we need to manipulate or force people to do anything then the Spirit essentially amounts to nothing. There can be open discussion and convincing argument (in the non pejorative sense) but the oppressive tools of worldly authority have no place in the body.

  1. Wow, the context changes those words completely, doesn’t it? They can either be words of wisdom, caution and humility, or they can be words used to manipulate and silence – to “lord it over” – others.

    Funny how I’ve only ever heard the sentiment used to do the latter… 😛

    • I’m going to try to be a little balanced (it’s hard for me) but I think that when we teach the word there is generally going to be an attitude of seeking God’s will, so there is the idea that we are constantly trying to avoid opposing God in what we do (though that’s an admittedly odd way of saying it). The problem comes up when there is some kind of disagreement about what side God is on… and rather than just sit down and ponder what we are to do, trying to grasp onto the mystery of it, we need certainty. Our all to human impulse is to say that my way is God’s way, any other way is a highway to hell, follow me or perish.

      We need certainty.
      We need to do something.
      We need to justify our existence.

      All of those things leave us open to manipulation and tempted to manipulate.

      • “…and rather than just sit down and ponder what we are to do, trying to grasp onto the mystery of it, we need certainty. Our all to human impulse is to say that my way is God’s way, any other way is a highway to hell, follow me or perish.”

        Yes, that’s the trap we fall into time and again. We crave certainty because we haven’t yet learned to live with the mystery of God – we want to put him in a box so that we can feel safe in our control of him. Inevitably, that leads us to obsess with ‘wrong’ vs ‘right’. It seems we are too immature to live in the place where we are open to differing perspectives without labelling them that way.

        We are like the blind men with the elephant. Each of us touching a different piece and certain that it is the entirety of the animal – unwilling to accept the others’ pieces as being valid, and therefore denying ourselves the understanding of what the whole elephant actually looks like.

  2. when it comes to being an adversary, perspective is everything..

    think C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters where God is referred to as “the Enemy”..

    also, in Numbers 22:22 we literally read of “the Angel of Yahweh taking His stand in the way as a śāṭān against” Balaam..

    that’s the word, but what I find peculiar about this scene is the response of the Angel of Yahweh to the actions of Balaam which appear to be in line with Yahweh’s instruction to the prophet.. right?

    well, maybe not..

    the children of Israel were encamped upon the plains of Moab and all of Moab were in fear of them for what they had done to the Amorites—Israel had put them to the sword and inhabited their cities..

    so Balak, king of the Moabites, sent for the prophet Balaam to curse the children of Israel..

    then God came to Balaam and said, “You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” And Balaam sent the delegates away with these words, “Go back to your land, for Yahweh has refused to give me permission to go with you”..

    then Balak sent a large delegation of princes to persuade him, and again Balaam sought Yahweh for direction..

    that night God came to Balaam and said, “If the men come to call you, rise and go with them; but only the word which I speak to you—that you shall do.”

    so Balaam rose in the morning, saddled his donkey, and went with the princes of Moab..

    then the anger of God was aroused because he went, and the Angel of Yahweh took His stand in the way as an adversary against him..

    it’s like the subtext of what God said to Balaam was completely missed..

    here’s my suggested possible subtext: “What did I tell you? My word doesn’t change! Go ahead, Balaam, disobey Me and see what happens!”

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