What Is So Wrong About Straddling The Fence?

Grace For The Journey


thumbnailActs 5:34-41 is a very interesting passage.  Most people see it as a “God Thing” that helped get the disciples back out on the street again to preach the gospel – that Gamaliel, was a good man with a good conscience who helped the disciples – and certainly God used it to further His purpose.  But have you ever wondered about Gamaliel, himself.  Where did he stand on the issues at hand: Jesus Christ and the gospel?  What was his reasoning concerning his proclamation?

Gamaliel was revered as a great teacher, as a liberal reformer somewhat ahead of his time – a moderate middle-of -the- road man, having a centre-right position politically speaking.  And it is true, his intervention did seem to calm the fury of the council – for a short time, but in the next chapter (Acts 6) we see the same council – the Sanhedrin, condemning and stoning Stephen.  Gamaliel was an appeaser, not an opposer.  Gamaliel was an apostle of compromise, unlike Peter and John who boldly proclaimed in Acts 5:29 & 32, “We ought to obey God rather than men” … And we are His witnesses to these things …”  Think about this, Gamaliel was a witness of the things Peter and John talked about, as well.  He must have been in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified, maybe even one of those who voted for His death and a witness, of such.  He knew the Scriptures, the prophecies concerning the Messiah, for he was a great teacher; He should have known better than try and remain neutral or straddle the fence when it came to Jesus.

Agnosticism is NOT a viable option.  There is a Chinese proverb which states: “He who deliberates fully before taking a step will spend his entire life on one leg.”  The great philosopher Dante said it much more vigorously: “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality.”

Gamaliel was a fence straddler.  So, where did he go wrong?  Let me suggest three things.  My prayer is that we will not find ourselves doing the same thing.  May we stand with the likes of Peter, John and those throughout history who have boldly and unashamedly proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  1. Gamaliel’s first mistake was that HE MADE A FALSE COMPARISON.

The Bible says in Acts 5:34-37, “Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while.  And he said to them: ‘Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men.  For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him.  He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered ad came to nothing.  After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him.  He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed.”

In his speech Gamaliel made some telling points about two men, their movements, and their fate – Theudas & Judas.  But in fact . . .

He was comparing the apostles, the Gospel,

And ultimately Jesus Christ with these men.

He was suggesting Jesus was like them,

And suggesting tolerance for a moment.

He put Jesus into a pigeon-hole,

A category with other revolutionaries

Whose causes have been long since discredited.

Or he is suggesting that Jesus was just

Another reformer, philosopher, teacher, or guru.

He dismisses Him with:

“We know all about such characters.”

He is just like anyone else.

That is so much like the thinking in our day.  I recently was cleaning out my files and came across a newspaper article from 1999.  It said, “Inter- faith dialogue is very fashionable in some Christian circles today … In quest of religious tolerance, Geneva’s St Pierre Cathedral is to welcome the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet’s Buddhists, to preach at a Sunday service.  Between 10,000 to 15,000 worshippers are expected to attend the service at the 12th-century building in Geneva’s Old Town, which in the 16th-century became the church of John Calvin, the most influential thinker in Reformed Christianity. This is the latest event in a series which indicates a growing role for the cathedral – one of the most important places in Reformed church history – as a center for inter-faith dialogue.”  Evidentially the cathedrals’ proprietors felt that their message concerning Jesus and the Dalai Lama’s message of Buddhism were of equal weight.  Sadly it has gotten even worse today.

But Jesus is unique –

He cannot be set

Alongside Theudas, or Judas,

Or Gandhi or anyone else,

For that matter.

And one must take a stand concerning Jesus.  C.S.Lewis so poignantly pointed out that Jesus is either crazy, corrupt or the Christ!

Exclusive claims of Christ

Go against the grain –

It is not acceptable,

So the temptation is

To soften the message,

Make it more palatable,

Hence making false comparisons.

Gamaliel was straddling the fence, and that is both dangerous and uncomfortable.

Are you making false comparisons about Christ and straddling the fence when it comes to Jesus?

This just set Gamaliel up to make another mistake,

  1. Gamaliel’s second mistake was that HE SUGGESTED A FALSE CRITERIA.

The Bible says in Acts 5:38-39, “And now I say unto you, keep away from these men, and let them alone: for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it – lest you even be found even to fight against God.”  He began by using success as criterion – we will measure this movement by its success – time will tell if it is of God.  Success is a standard gauge of the world in evaluating men, movements, and merchandise.  Someone once said, “Nothing succeeds like success.”  But earth’s yardstick does not apply to Christ and Christianity.

In fact, look at Bible record and you will see many apparent failures:

  1. Abraham leaves wealth and comfort of Ur to become a nomad in desert.
  2. Moses gives up Pharaoh’s palace to become a shepherd then suffers with God’s people for 40 years in wilderness.
  3. Nehemiah gave up a well-paying job as a highly placed government official to build a wall around a ruin.
  4. Jeremiah was imprisoned at the bottom of a stinking muddy hole for proclaiming the Word of the Lord.
  5. And worst of all, the Founder of Christianity Jesus Christ, died a shameful death on a cursed cross.
  6. The world’s idea of success is an improper criterion.

Gamaliel followed this logic by suggesting that durability is a viable criterion.  There are many false religions and philosophies that are centuries old and some older than Christianity itself.  The Buddhism we spoke about earlier started 500 years before Christ was born.  There is the story that is told about Donald Soper, also known as “Soap-box Soper,” a Methodist preacher, who did open air preaching at Tower Hill in London for 65 years.  As he was preaching about Christ one day an objector, a rather scruffy, unkempt sort of individual, yelled “Look how long Christianity has been around – 2000 years – and what good has it done the world?”  To which Soper replied: “Look how long soap has been around -+3000 years – and what good has it done you?!”

It is not about how long something is around,

But the truth and foundation under it,

To say nothing about

The appropriation of it for oneself!

By and large, Christianity is still a minority faith in most parts of world.  Success has never been the true criterion for judging Jesus Christ.  Not time but eternity will tell.  If you are postponing a commitment to Jesus Christ on the basis of His success or durability in other peoples lives, or whether or not it will be of any long-term advantage to you – to see if it will make you happy, healthy and wealthy – you may live and die with Gamaliel straddling the fence.  And that is not a good thing!

What is your criteria?

Having made a false comparison and suggesting a false criterion, Gamaliel made his third mistake


The Bible says in Acts 5:40, “And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.”

Their thinking was, “Leave them alone, warn them to keep them quiet; let them go; we don’t have anything to worry about.”  Sounds like good advice – even indicating slight sympathy for Christianity.  I believe today this would be considered astute political thinking i.e. let the Romans look after them if they are trouble-makers, disturbing the peace, etc.  It seemed like a safe compromise – let’s not be hasty, not make any definitive judgment, or take any decision we might live to regret – leave them alone.  He figured, “It’s ok, its no big deal.”

This is where many otherwise reasonable people find themselves – in the midst of non-committal.  Clements wrote – “But that is one thing no intelligent or responsible person can possibly do with Christianity.  If the apostolic message is true, it is the most important thing that has ever happened in the history of the world.  If it is false, it is the most outrageous lie ever perpetrated on the general public.  You cannot adopt a non-committal position. The claims of Jesus Christ demand a verdict.  During the time of the reformation there were many great minds, two of which were Luther and Erasmus.  Erasmus was always the appeaser.  The moderates throughout Europe, the gentlemen of the courts, the semi-skeptical intelligences of the universities told the golden-mouthed apostle of compromise that he was in the right.

But the heart of Christianity beat with Luther.  Erasmus would never commit himself to what he professed – maybe he did not have the courage to say with Luther when called on to renounce his heresies: “Here I stand, I can do no other.”  Coming to false conclusions will leave you straddling the fence like Gamaliel.  No where do we ever hear of Gamaliel making a profession for Christ – he may have straddled the fence one second to long and ended up impaling himself with hell forever.  Don’t wait, coming to the wrong conclusion, that you have all the time in the world; thinking it really doesn’t matter anyway, could be eternally disastrous.

Gamaliel and the Sanhedrin may have agreed to let them go but there was still a lot of frustration, anger, hatred, and unrest within themselves concerning the disciples, but not about them specifically – it all boiled down to the person of Jesus and the Gospel of Christ!  But not so with the disciples, look at what the Bible says in Acts 5:41, “And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.” 

They were rejoicing!

They were not straddling the fence –

They were committed whole heartedly.

And thank God, that Gamaliel had one pupil who was no appeaser, or compromiser, or straddler.  Paul, first known as Saul, did not take up his mentor’s lead when confronted on the road to Damascus.  He did not say, “Well, let me wait and see how your movement goes, then maybe I’ll join up.”  Before he was saved, he was 100% for against Christ; after being born again, after seeing the light, he was 100% for God.

How about you today?  Jesus told the church at Laodicea, because they were lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, He would spue them out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16).  You don’t want to be lukewarm – you don’t want to be found straddling the fence!  Are you?  Please make a decision for Christ: it may be for salvation or if you are saved, it may be a complete commitment of yourself to Him.

This is God’s Word For Today … This Is Grace For The Journey

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.