God’s People, part 237: Gamaliel

Read Acts 5:34-42

“Then Paul said, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today.”  (Acts 22:3, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

B5A3339D-AD12-4869-A636-08167F485670Part 237: Gamaliel. Gamaliel was a renowned Pharisee doctor of Jewish Law who was on the Sanhedrin in the first half of the first century C.E. In fact, he was not just “on” the Sanhedrin, but was a leading authority on it.  In fact, he may have even served as the president of the Sanhedrin, though that is up for dispute between scholars.

Regardless, Gamaliel was a well-known Jewish religious authority even without being mentioned in the New Testament by Luke; however, his being mentioned in the New Testament made him all the more well-known. In Acts, Luke records the fact that Gamaliel was a measured, thoughtful, and well-balanced man.

When the Sanhedrin was trying to find a solution in how to deal with the new sect of Jews following Jesus Christ, He suggested that they do nothing, but patiently wait on God’s will. He said, “If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God” (Acts 5:38-39, NLT)!

What’s more, Luke also goes on to suggest that Gamaliel was actually Paul’s mentor in Acts 22:3. Scholars debate this because Saul of Tarsus’ crusade to violently root out the early Christian church seems to stand in stark contrast with Gamaliel’s much more measured approach. I, on the other hand, do not doubt Luke’s account at all. His account would have been disputed at the time had it not been true and, more importantly, their reason for disputing it is weak. It is not uncommon for students to stray from their mentor’s teachings. Saul was simply a different personality than Gamaliel, and he had a youthful zeal that had not been tempered by the years of experience and wisdom that Gamaliel had.

When we feel passionately about something, we often allow our zealous convictions carry the day. This is true of many people, especially younger people, who are idealistic and want to see action happen now. What is remarkable about Gamaliel, and it surely speaks toward why he’s so highly-regarded and spoken of to this day in both Judaism and Christianity, is that he did not allow his zeal to carry the day and advised that others did not as well. Saul may not have heeded his mentor’s advice at the time; however, one day Saul would become Paul the Apostle and would eventually come to be measured, thoughtful and well-balanced.

Gamaliel has something to teach us as well. Like Saul of Tarsus, we can certainly allow our zeal, our convictions, and our emotions carry the day. Sometimes it is good we do; however, on the flip side, we can find ourselves doing more damage than good. What’s more, we can find ourselves fighting against God because we feel we are so right that we cannot even see God telling us we’re wrong. Gamaliel, teaches us, as God’s people, that we need to trust that God will work in us, through us, but also in spite of us. Let us be a people who, like Gamaliel, grow to be measured, thoughtful, and well-balanced.

Being right is not our end goal. God call us to be just, to be love, and to be humble.

Lord, help us to learn from your servant Gamaliel, so that we too can grow in our patience, our self-control, and our wisdom. Amen.

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