Tag Archives: Wisdom

God’s People, part 237: Gamaliel

Read Acts 5:34-42

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“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.

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

PRAYER
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.

Our Existential Problem

Read Proverbs 3:5-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
For the LORD grants wisdom! From His mouth come knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 2:6, NLT)

EyeKnowIn the Garden of Eden story we learn that humanity’s downfall was in it’s desire to have wisdom and the ability to judge what is right and what is wrong. Humanity, in its infancy, sought to become independent of God and doing things for itself. Those things, in and of themselves, are not necessarily bad; however, the desire to have something NOW, rather than trusting that God will provide those things at the right time, is where the downfall begins.

The author of the Garden narrative saw the attaining of widsom as the downfall of humanity because the “wise” know, and what they know obligates them. In other words, once humanity could discern good from evil, people were then obligated to choose to do good over evil. But that knowledge wasn’t they only knowledge the ended up acquiring; rather, they also attained self-knowledge.

The story recounts how, following eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened and they saw that they were naked. They became keenly aware of themselves and became self-aware and self-conscious. In the feeling of shame of their nakedness, Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together in order to cover their private parts. Prior to them eating the forbidden fruit, of course, those parts were not private and there was no need to be ashamed of them.

This is where I believe the real fall took place. Prior to the deception of the serpent on the tree, Eve and Adam saw each other as one. They did not look at the other as an entity unto themselves. They did not see each other as being separate, distinct, unique or individual. Instead, they saw one another as complimentary parts of the same whole. Hence Adam’s reaction at the creation of Eve, “ “At last! This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh! She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken from ‘man.'” (Genesis 3:23 NLT)

Yet, when the forbidden fruit was eaten, man became separated from woman, and woman became separated from man. They hid their bodies away from each other, and then hid themselves away from God. This is important to note because, in this we see what was common understanding in the ancient world: God created us to be in community, to be one with each other, and when we fail to do so we not only separate ourselves from each other but from God as well.

What compouds this reality even more is the fact that humans, even though they had been separated from each other down gender lines (and many more lines that followed that), they still believed they had knowledge of each other. What’s more, humanity grew in confidence in its ability to discern right from wrong, except that it was no longer utilizing that discernment in self-reflective ways, but in ways of judgement against other human beings.

Whether we take this story literally or not is really beside the point. Humans were created to be subjects, in that we are under the dominion of our own personal thoughts,  and are subjective by nature. While we think we know, and we think we have the ability to grow in our knowldedge, the truth is that we are limited in our knowledge, if we know anything at all.

Thus, our discernment is really based more off of what we think as opposed to what we, strictly speaking, know. The best we can say is that we think we know, which betrays the fact that our knowledge is dependent on our thoughts which are processed through our own subjectivity. Confused? What should be pulled from is this, humans have the ability to discern what is right and wrong; however, as subjective human beings, we cloud our judgment of right and wrong with our own personal feelings and justifications. We do so to our advantage and often to the detriment of others.

We should NOT rely soley on our own ability to discern right from wrong, but we should rely on God’s. What that means is that we will envelope ourselves in communities of service and loving accountability (aka churches), we will study the Bible (and its historical contexts), we will model ourselves off of the life and teachings of Jesus, and we will begin to live in a way that truly reflects our TOTAL TRUST in God. Acknowledge your subjectivity, refrain from judgment, embrace humility, and allow God to guide you in your discernment.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
When the Bible says to seek and cherish Wisdom, it is pointing us to Jesus Christ who is God’s Wisdom personified.

PRAYER
Lord, fill me NOT with my understanding, but with your wisdom. Amen.

Understanding Paul, part 4

Read Romans 1:1-7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“HERE IS MY GREETING IN MY OWN HANDWRITING—PAUL.” (1 Corinthians 16:21 NLT)

PWPaulInPrisonIf you have ever gone through high school or college you will most definitely remember that there were strict rules and regulations set to avoid academic dishonesty. When it came to test taking you weren’t allowed to be sitting too closely to anyone else, there was no talking allowed, and if you even dared to look over at someone else’s desk,  your grade would be forfeit. When it came to writing research papers, those rules and regulations got even stricter. You had to work on your own, you had to cite every idea you paraphrased or quoted, and your work absolutely had to be your own. In other words, stealing the paper from the internet or someone else writing the paper for you in your name would be unacceptable.

While these standards hold true today, they are relatively new in the world of academia. It used to be common practice that students of great teachers would continue on the legacy of their teacher by writing new material in that teacher’s name. This was both a way to show honor toward one’s teacher; however, it was also a way of lending credibility and authority to one’s own teaching. One of the most famous examples of a student doing this is Plato, who wrote a series of “dialogues” wherein he wrote as the great philosopher. This was so common place and accepted that we even have a pithy statement that highlights the practice, “Mimicry is the best form of flattery.”

An even greater example of this being done is in the case of the Apostle Paul. Traditionally, Paul is credited with writing Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. Some even credit him with writing Hebrews, but that contention is rejected by most theologians and scholars across the board. What’s more, Paul’s ministry is detailed in the book of Acts which was written by the same person who wrote the Gospel of Luke. Some of the details are consistent with Paul’s own account, others are not exactly the same. Even more than that, Paul’s authorship is in dispute over Colossians and 2 Thessalonians and most mainline theologians reject Pauline authorship in regard to Ephesians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus. There are a number of reasons why these letters are disputed, including difference of style, structure and a lack of the central, theological components that were so vital to Paul.

What is likely is that someone who was either taught by Paul and/or who was from one of his communities wrote these letters, giving him credit for the authorship and lending authority to it as well. Whoever the people were that wrote these letters, they were writing from within the Pauline tradition, even if their views sometimes opposed that of Paul’s. What’s more, whether or not Paul wrote them does not take away from them being authoritative as the communities that they were written in and, eventually, the Christian church as a whole found divine authority within them.

It is impossible to have a full discussion on Pauline authorship in this limited space. There’s lots of scholarship on both sides of the authorship dispute. What I am hoping to impart here, is that there’s more to reading and interpreting the Bible than just simply reading it. It is absolutely important to our faith that we do read it as a part of our spiritual discipline; however, it is equally important to understand who’s writing, to whom they are writing, and the various contexts surrounding the writing. Once that understanding has been attained, it is then possible to apply the texts in ways that are both true to the intent of the author and transformative to us in our context. Next, to conclude this series, we will look at the authentic letters of Paul and gain an understanding of what he felt was vital to being Christian.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better.” (Philippians 1:21-22 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, as I discipline myself in reading the Scriptures, also give me wisdom and discernment so that I may understand and apply it. Amen.