“if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail;
39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—
in that case you may even be found fighting against God!’
Gamaliel, a Pharisee who believes in the afterlife, stands up and speaks into the tempest raging in the Sanhedrin, as the Sadducees who did not believe in resurrection or life after death argue about what to do with Peter and the apostles. The differences between the Jews and the Followers of Jesus is coming to a head. The Temple crowd is angry enough to kill. Gamaliel speaks up and gives the above advice. “I advise you to leave these men alone.” He reasons that plans rising from human reasoning will die out but if the apostles are God inspired and empowered, then the leaders would be fighting God.
How do we determine if something is of God or mere human thinking? That is a good question. I think Gamaliel’s response is patience, give it the test of time. We might say, “Count to ten!” Note that Gamaliel traces back over Jewish history and over a largish piece of time. He is stepping back and looking at the big picture.
As I ponder his advice and whether it is good spiritual growth advice, I keep coming up with questions. As missionaries, we were not allowed to mention money because the philosophy was that if the Lord wanted us on the field, He would make it happen. And indeed, before we were even accepted, our support was pledged. It is also true, though, that just because a program is successful and popular, it does not mean it is of the Lord. Many cults have followers and advocate things we would not approve of. Success does not mean God is on your side or you are doing his will. Time has taught us that lesson too.
So today’s reading leaves us pondering and perhaps that is not a bad place to be. Gamaliel slowed down the crowd from killing the apostles with the word “if.” The followers rejoiced at “being found worthy of disgrace for the Name.” Some days the way forward is not so obvious and feels like a big “if.” That does not mean that God is absent or that we are in the wrong. Stepping back and trying to understand the big picture and the driving principles in a situation and committing it to prayer is always wise. Lord, we need your perspective and your wisdom in the challenges we face today!