The Gamaliel Principle

21 At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people. When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin – the full assembly of the elders of Israel – and sent to the jail for the apostles. 22 But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, 23 ‘We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.’ 24 On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were at a loss, wondering what this might lead to. 25 Then someone came and said, ‘Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.’ 26 At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them. 27 The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 ‘We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,’ he said. ‘Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.’ 29 Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than human beings! 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead – whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.’ 33 When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honoured by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35 Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: ‘Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37 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. 38 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. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.’ 40 His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.  (Acts 5:20-42)
When the apostles were released from prison by an angel, they immediately returned to preaching in the Temple courtyards. When the Jewish priests and rabbis discovered that they could not contain this church without walls, they grew even more nervous and arrested Peter and John again. They couldn’t agree what to do with them. Some wanted to execute them, as they had executed Jesus. Others pointed out that this would only turn the two men into martyrs. After all, they argued, crucifying Jesus hadn’t exactly put an end to his message!

One of the oldest and wisest rabbis in the Sanhedrin was named Gamaliel. He was the rabbi who discipled the Apostle Paul when he was still Saul of Tarsus, and he has a wonderful solution to the problem that is facing the Jewish council. “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 yourselves fighting against God.”
This has become known as ‘the Gamaliel principle’. It argues that, whenever God isn’t behind something, that thing will inevitably crash and burn. Gifted people might be able to hold it together for a season, but its eventual destruction is just a matter of time. On the other hand, whenever God is behind something, nothing in heaven or on earth on in hell can ever thwart or destroy it. It is rock-solid, because the Lord always protects and completes what he has begun (see Philippians 1:6).

I find this a massive comfort as we begin to gather back together and to rebuild our world after Covid-19. Certain things in our church and nation have been blown away by the pandemic. There are ministries that won’t ever restart. There are people who appear to have lost their faith in Jesus. There are things that we relied upon 18 months ago that just aren’t there any more. If that’s the case, the Gamaliel Principle teaches us, then it is proof that those things were never built by God. He may have used them graciously for a season, but they were our idea, not his. He wasn’t committed to defending them when the storm came in because his Word teaches us that he uproots whatever he didn’t plant (Matthew 15:13). If people have dropped out of church or if ministries have ended, then that’s a mark of God’s mercy. He has exposed things for what they were, rather than waiting for the Day of Judgment, so that we can act in accordance with his plan for us. If people were part of our church services but not truly saved, then it is better that both they and we discover that now than on the Final Day when it will be too late. God has acted graciously to reveal how things truly stand, so that we can now cry out to him in prayer for what has fallen.

Put more positively, much of what we have built together as a church has survived. I am genuinely flabbergasted at how spiritually healthy most people are across the church after 16 months of meeting together online, but not in person, as a result of Covid-19. We have seen with our own eyes that, whatever God initiates, he also protects and completes. That’s the Gamaliel Principle in action, and it should be a source of great encouragement for us as we regather back together. Our church has proved remarkably resilient because God planted it, not people. He has built his Church and he has been faithful to his promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
1)   What aspects of our church life do you imagine will not re-emerge from lockdown? How is the Gamaliel Principle encouraging to you in that?

2)   What aspects of our church life, or which specific individuals, have proved to be far more resilient during Covid-19 than you imagined? How does the Gamaliel Principle encourage you to worship the Lord for that?

3)  Looking at your own life, what has God exposed as manmade over the past year and a half? What has he revealed to be God-initiated by preserving it through the storm?
Father God, I thank you that we are nearing the end of the coronavirus crisis. I have been grieved to see a few friends drift away from church and I imagine that not everything about our church before lockdown will still be in place as we regather back together. I thank you that this is your mercy – you have shown us the true state of things while there is still time for us to change. Thank you also that so much about my church friends and my church itself has remained rock-solid throughout this storm. Thank you that you have protected what you initiated. Thank you for the Gamaliel Principle, Lord. Amen.
Today’s Everyday Devotions were brought to you by Phil Moore, who leads our team of whole-church elders.

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