Gamaliel: Discerning

Graceful Leaders - Biblical Encouragement for Leaders

Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men!”  The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead – whom you had killed by hanging him from a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

 When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a while. Then he addressed them, “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.

Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourself fighting against God.” Acts 5:29-39

Change is hard. Imagine being a conservative Jewish leader and hearing some brash uneducated followers of Jesus of Nazareth charging you with murder and threatening to destroy your traditions. Peter and John were “in your face” witnesses for Jesus Christ. They had taken no seminars in political correctness or leading change with finesse. Their message went down hard. The Pharisees, true Jewish conservatives with a heart for preserving their traditions, were ready to pounce on the apostles and put them to death.

Then the Pharisee Gamaliel stood up and spoke. Highly revered in his time as one of the greatest teachers of Judaism, Gamaliel had instructed Saul (later Paul) in Jewish laws and traditions. Now he stood against the tide of his fellow Pharisees and counseled patience with the apostles. If their claims were human fabrications, he said, their cause would fail. If, on the other hand, God was behind the new Christian movement, who among them would dare to fight against God?

Gamaliel’s patience with the apostles teaches church leaders that discernment is not always crystal clear and easy. Sometimes cutting through to the truth takes time. Before we seize an opportunity, let it go, or squelch it, we may want to wait and watch it unfold. In time discernment will come. Hasty action can yield more regrets than success. 

But there is something else, too. The true test of discernment among Christians comes when we ask, “Is this something we want, our creation and our cause, or is it from God?” To answer that question calls for knowledge and understanding of God’s Word and the wisdom to apply it. It calls for prayer that seeks God’s will and the good counsel of people who know the Lord and His heart. True discernment, according to Gamaliel’s example, also requires a grace that leans to the gentler side of our nature, replacing a rush to judgment with a deep desire to know and follow the ways of God.

Graceful Leaders is a series of meeting devotions designed for staff and lay leaders of Christian congregations. The series uses Biblical leaders as embodiments of grace-filled leadership in the church. The series is written by Dean Nadasdy, President, Minnesota South District, The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Copies may be made and distributed within local congregations.