fence sitting is uncomfortable

I’ve been working on Sunday evening’s sermon, which will be on the second-half of Acts chapter 5. This is the occasion when the apostles were hauled in front of the religious authorities and so infuriated them with their teaching about Jesus that a majority of people there want to put them to death. However a Pharisee named Gamaliel intervened with these words: “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.”

I have heard people speak in reverential and hushed tones about Gamaliel’s wisdom here. The prevented bloodshed by stating that there was a clear choice: either this Christianity lark was from God or it wasn’t. If it isn’t then it will fall apart in due course. If it is then you run the risk of offending the Almighty.

To an extent I think he did demonstrate wisdom because he had a sufficiently open mind to recognise that what was happening might be from God. But he also missed the glaringly obvious – if there is a clear choice then surely you have to come down on one side or the other, there is no room for fence sitting. Gamaliel wanted to have his cake and eat it (insert further clichés here, as appropriate).wood fence in nature 1

“Wait and see” is not a particularly adventurous or godly response when we are faced with a choice like the one before Gamaliel and Co. It is risk averse and lacks faith or discernment. Certainly we do not want to get it wrong and be on the anti-God side, but I have a sense that is God would much rather we made a stab at discerning his will and got it wrong than that we sit on the fence. When Jesus told the parable of the talents the servant who did nothing was the one who was castigated and it was his inactivity that was condemned.

This is not saying that we should not seek to discern God’s will. Exactly the opposite is true. But we should not be paralysed by fear of getting it wrong – he is a God of grace after all and will forgive us if we ask: 2nd chances are his stock in trade.

Sitting on the fence is uncomfortable at best and only really makes sense in jokes about what time it is when an elephant sits on your fence.*

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*Time to get a new one

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One thought on “fence sitting is uncomfortable

  1. I’ve always thought that Gamaliel was taking a political risk. The Pharisees had recently condemned Jesus and might have dismissed his argument out of hand in the same presumptuous way they treated Nicodemus (John 7 50:52)
    It was perhaps his respected status and debating ability that influenced the outcome.
    Was Gamaliel really sitting on the fence? Or was he confident that God was not on the side of the Christians and that therefore nothing would come of their movement?

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