I recently started a new Bible study by Beth Moore called Entrusted: A Study of 2 Timothy. It chronicles the life of Paul and how he began to pour into a young man named Timothy – a relationship that would ultimately become a barometer for Christian discipleship for the Church as a whole.
In one of the days of study, Beth took her readers to Acts 5, a chapter where the apostles were sharing their stories about this man Jesus who had not only been an incredible teacher, but died and then was raised back to life just as He said.
The problem was, their stories weren’t appreciated by the religious leaders of the day. I guess “appreciated” probably isn’t the right word, more like “vehemently opposed” would be more fitting. Because as their stories grew in popularity, the religious leaders grew more and more furious. So furious that they arrested the apostles, met with their high council to determine the appropriate punishment for them, and threatened them, telling them to leave or be silent.
The apostles humbly dissented, saying, “‘We must obey God rather than human authority… We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit who is given by God to those who obey Him.’ (Acts 5:29-32)”
The next verse, verse 33, is where the story turns quickly. It says, “At this, the high council was furious and decided to kill them.”
Tensions rise when we feel passionately about something. I read this passage in the midst of the rise of righteous indignation throughout our country. This past week, a man, George Floyd, was killed by a police officer who restrained him improperly and for far too long. I don’t claim to know all of the details and haven’t said much on social media because I like to take some time to learn all the facts surrounding such heartbreaking loss and improper use of force before stating my opinion.
But here’s where this passage of scripture really hit me, tensions right now are rightly high among persons of color and our nation as a whole. Looking at this situation from any angle doesn’t seem to make any kind of sense. And in Acts 5, while under vastly different circumstances, tensions were also incredibly high, and those in authority were acting crazy. Time and perspective allow me to sit and read the accounts and Acts 5 and see that clearly.
Enter Gamaliel. In verse 34 of Acts 5, the story shifts again and we see a new voice rise. It says of Gamaliel, “But one member had a different perspective.” See, he was part of the high council. He had all the same training and background as the rest of the Pharisees and Sadducees. He likely held a lot of the same convictions and passions as the rest of the men in authority here. But he “had a different perspective.” Scripture says that he was an expert in religious law, he was popular with the people, and as a member of the high council he had the respect of the people around him.
At the end of verse 34 it says, “He stood up…” These men were likely seated at a table, full of anger and disgust, debating what should be done to this group of apostles they so despised. But Gamaliel stood up. He wanted his voice and his perspective to be heard in a different light. He wanted to make sure that his opinion was shared in a place where it would actually bear weight and make a difference. He urged his cohorts to “take care” and be careful how they moved forward. He reminded them of history and how they could do something drastic in reaction to their frustration or they could allow things to putter out.
Here’s what he says in verse 38:
So my advice is, leave these men alone. If they are teaching and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. But if it is of God, you will not be able to stop them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God.”Acts 5:38-39
“The council accepted his advice. (Acts 5:40)”
One “different perspective” calmed the chaos among a group of impassioned men.
That’s what has stuck with me in this passage all week. I don’t have a seat at a high council like Gamaliel. I don’t have a podium or the ears of governmental authorities. My voice is small and doesn’t carry with it the same weight that someone like Gamaliel had.
But I do have a voice, small as it may be. I do have influence with my friends and family. I do have a perspective and the ability to observe situations around me and speak up when I see injustice. I want to be more like Gamaliel and just take my pitch in places where my voice may carry a bit more weight.
So that’s what I plan to do. I know that things don’t change by a declaration made by one man or woman. They change through little decisions made each and every day by each and every person. I want to be part of that change, and I’m determined to teach my kids to stand up and speak up for those without a voice.
Here’s what I prayed in my journal this morning:
“I don’t have a platform like many who are speaking out, but I do have a voice. When you lead, Lord, cause me to speak. When it’s necessary, cause me to stand up. When I can, put a passion inside my soul to do something to make a difference. I don’t want to remain silent, but I also don’t want to just add to the noise
You’ve given us righteous indignation and anger, help us to channel it so it doesn’t cause us to sin.
Here as it is in heaven, Jesus.
Unify, restore, bring joy and peace.
Come and heal our hearts and our land, King Jesus.”
If you’d like to read the story of Gamaliel, you can find it all in Acts 5. Let’s all use our places of authority to stand up and see change, wherever that may be.
Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I have found. I have found that it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk, that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love.Gandalf, The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien