This writer has met thousands of Christians from numerous backgrounds during his 62 years. Many have had a close relationship with God, learned by extensive study of His Word and received miracles at His hand. This is wonderful! May God bless many more people with these kinds of relationships! May He also help them to realize that everyone's experience with God is not the same. They differ in which truths they learn and when, types and frequency of miracles, spiritual gifts, missions, service, evangelism, etc.
Furthermore, God works with unbelievers—providing even greater diversity to His great work. We will never understand all He does:
Then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out (Ecclesiastes 8:17, ESV unless noted).
Those were the words of King Solomon, the wisest man of all time (1 Kings 3:5-12). A quest to personally understand all that God does would be fruitless; a healthy dose of respect for the diversity He uses is most valuable. If we begin to think we understand all that God is doing, we ought to consider the advice of Gamaliel, a Jewish sage speaking to the Sanhedrin. That body had represented God to the people for centuries (Mathew 23:1-3), but could not accept the new teachings and miraculous power of the Spirit-emboldened disciples of Jesus.
“So in the present case I [Gamaliel] tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice (Acts 5:37-40).
It was not just the entrenched Jewish leaders who had trouble understanding God's vast and changing work. Christ's own disciples sometimes struggled among themselves:
Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed... (Acts 15:37-40).
But when Peter came to Antioch, I [Paul] had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn't eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision (Galatians 2:11-12 NLT-SE).
A disciple is a student who is still learning. We need to think of the disciples and ourselves as ones who will always be learning about the splendor of God, not ones who have “arrived” and understand God's will for the world.
"I [Jesus] still have many things to say to you [the disciples], but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come (John 16:12-13).
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food (Hebrews 5:11-12).
But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them... (Acts 15:5-7).
It is so easy for believers in God—who have experienced some of the love, grace, forgiveness, knowledge and wisdom of God—to begin thinking that everything they believe about God therefore must be right. The brethren who taught circumcision was necessary for salvation continued to be a divisive force throughout the New Testament (Galatians 2:12; 5:1-4; Philippians 3:2-3; Titus 1:10). They did not have a clear understanding how God worked different ways with different people at different times. They did not understand that salvation through Jesus was bigger than the physical circumcision covenant with Abraham. On the other hand, some Christians today have difficulty understanding why a person who believes he is a descendant of Abraham would want to be circumcised for that reason—not for salvation.
God clearly prophecies some things hundreds or thousands of years in advance. Other things He announces years in advance. Some things, nobody knows in advance—not even the angels or Jesus Christ:
It was revealed to them [the prophets] that they were serving not themselves but you [Christians], in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look (1 Peter 1:12).
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” ... And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last (Mark 15:34-38).
But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only (Matthew 24:36).
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:6-8).
Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it,...the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals (Revelation 5:1-3, 5).
From the above verses, it appears Jesus did not know that God the Father would leave him when he died or when He would return. Does he know His Return date after opening the seals? We really are not sure: we need to be doing what He commanded us to be doing when he returns, not checking up on Him to see if His return agrees with our prophetic interpretation! (Matthew 24:45-47; Luke 18:8)
This short article cannot contain all of the Scriptures where God declares multiplicity of methods He uses in dealing with mankind. Even so, here are a few:
When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God (Deuteronomy 32:8).
...the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men (Daniel 4:17)
For it [the Kingdom of Heaven] will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.... Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them (Matthew 25:14-20).
So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory (Romans 9:18-23).
Christ works in His Church through the Spiritual gifts that he gives—different gifts to different brethren. Most Christian churches recognize these gifts: Administration, Apostleship, Evangelism, Faith, Giving, Helps, Hospitality, Knowledge, Leading, Love, Mercy, Ministry, Pastoring, Speaking, Teaching and Wisdom. Other congregations also believe God is still giving these other gifts today: Discernment of Spirits, Healing, Interpretation of Tongues, Miracles, Prophecy and Speaking in Tongues (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12-14; Ephesians 4:1-16; 1 Peter 4:9-11).
If one is not familiar with them, the Spiritual Gifts chapters, above, are well worth reading. Most of the verses are not about the Spiritual Gifts and how to use them! They are about brethren recognizing the diversity of God's gifts and not becoming divided over who has which gift. Brethren today desperately need to understand this to be unified as the Body of Christ. Simply because we, individually, or our entire congregation is lacking in many of the spiritual gifts does not mean we are not part of His Body. Similarly, if others do not have our gifts—maybe do not even believe in them—that does not mean they are not part of His Body!
While God has explained how creative and diverse He is, we often learn best from real examples:Most Christians know that the Old Testament authorized man to carry out the death penalty for murder (Genesis 9:6;Exodus 21:12-14; Deuteronomy 17:6-7). Yet God did not have Cain or Lamech put to death for murders, but rather banished Cain and put a mark on him so that others would not put him to death (Genesis 4:8-16; 23-24). Christ forgave the soldiers who crucified him (Luke 23:34), but promises death to armies and evil-doers in the book of Revelation. He knows what He is doing!
God commanded ancient Israel to give a double portion of inheritance to the firstborn son, even if he was from an "unloved" wife. Yet God accepted Abraham giving everything to second-born Isaac (Genesis 21:10-12; 25:5-6). Later, Esau was Isaac's firstborn, but he was given only the mountains of Seir as a possession while Jacob received the entire birthright land of Canaan after going through Egypt (Joshua 24:4-5). Reuben was the oldest of Jacob's children, but the birthright was given to Joseph (son of Rachel the "loved wife"), while the kings (including Jesus) descended through Judah, Leah's fourth son (1 Chronicles 5:1-2). There are several more times when God determined it was best to go against this general rule He gave to ancient Israel.
While God speaks to most prophets in dreams or visions and sometimes in riddles, He spoke to Moses face to face (Numbers 12:6-8). Yet Moses does not appear in the list of most righteous men: Noah, Daniel and Job (Ezekiel 14:14, 20).
Ezekiel and Daniel prophesied about the same time—at the beginning of Judah's captivity to Babylon. Both wrote important books in the Bible. Daniel was in the Babylonian government nearly all the time and was third ruler in the Kingdom for a while (Daniel 5:29). Yet Revelation 18:4 tells believers to “come out of Babylon”. Ezekiel was one of the lowly “captives” (NKJV) near the River Chebar. Their personal positions were opposites, but they were serving the same God!
When Joseph and Mary were directed how to take care of baby Jesus, angels always appeared to Joseph in a dream (Matthew 1:20; 2:12-13), but appeared in person to Mary, Zechariah and the shepherds (Luke 1:11, 13, 18; 26-38; 2:9-15)
John the Baptist came to prepare the way for Jesus (Matthew 3:2-3). Jesus ate and drank with many people and performed numerous miracles, whereas John was an austere man who did none of those things (Matthew 11:18-19; John 10:41).
The Samaritans had a corrupt form of the Jewish religion; Jesus told them “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). But Jesus plainly told a Samaritan woman He was the Messiah while his disciples are not present (John 4:25-26). It is not till much later in His ministry that Jesus asked His disciples "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" and Peter received a revelation from God that He was the Christ. (Put into today's perspective, could we accept that God might divinely reveal some things to unbelievers before he reveals them to us? The disciples did not understand why Jesus s even spoke with the woman—v 27.)
The physical things Jesus did to heal people varied exceedingly: touching people, spitting, making mud, letting them touch his fringe, simply speaking the word, etc. Yet James 5:14 teaches believers to anoint others with oil, something Jesus never did. Peter's shadow caused healing in some people and Paul sent out handkerchiefs or aprons to heal others. Should we limit the means God might use to heal to only these?
After Jesus cast the “Legion” of demons from a man, hen wanted to follow Jesus as a disciple. Jesus declined his offer (Luke 8:26-39). Yet He also cast seven demons out of Mary Magdalene, who was with him often in his ministry (Luke 8:2).
Several women, one of them wealthy provided financially for Jesus ministry (Luke 8:2-3). Lydia, a merchant, provided a place for Paul and other believers to stay (Acts 16:13-40). These women were never told to sell their goods and give to the poor. Yet Jesus asked a rich man to sell all he had and follow him to have “treasure in heaven” (Matthew 19:16-22).
What do Judas Iscariot, the High Priest Caiaphas and Pilate all have in common? Sure, they were all involved in the killing of Jesus. They also received divine prophecies warning them of their actions:
After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”... Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him (John 13:21, 27-28).
But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad (John 11:49-52).
For he [Pilate] knew it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream” (Matthew 27:18-19).
Many years ago, when this writer first read these three scriptures, they were troubling. Many Christians would like—even pray for—divine messages from God. Why would God give them to His enemies? He is God! He cares for everyone! He knows what is best for each!
In John's Gospel, Jesus' last words for Peter tell him how he will be killed, but say of John: “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” (John 21:18-23). Why treat the apostles so differently?
In the end of the Bible, Christ dictated to John seven letters for seven churches. Each church had different strengths and different weaknesses. Individual believers were instructed to repent and overcome to receive a reward—different for each church. Nobody was told to leave a “bad church”and go join a “good church”.
Even with all of this diversity in working with mankind, God, throughout Scripture, is shown to be a righteous judge (Gen 18:25; Job 8:3; Psalm 58:11; Ecclesiastes 3:17; Revelation 16:5, etc.). How can He treat so many people so differently and still judge them fairly? He can—because He is God. We can have faith in His justice and goodness, even though we do not have the mind to grasp it all.
Some Bible students may well be able to explain some the purpose of God in these puzzling verses mentioned in this article. They may have spiritual gifts of knowledge and prophetic revelation. There are also sincere Christian mistakes—not all Christians have the same understanding on these deep matters. To most of us, it seems that God works according to His will in a way that is not always immediately clear. So we should be slow to judge others and not expect God to do things the way we would do them. The apostle Paul warned about people who feel that they understand more than other Christian teachers:
Oh, don't worry; we wouldn't dare say that we are as wonderful as these other men who tell you how important they are! But they are only comparing themselves with each other, using themselves as the standard of measurement. How ignorant! We will not boast about things done outside our area of authority. We will boast only about what has happened within the boundaries of the work God has given us, which includes our working with you (2 Corinthians 10:12-13, NLT-SE)
Christians sometimes have trouble working with other Christians as soon as they come to a single point of disagreement. Jesus and the apostles apparently taught in every synagogue they found (Matthew 4:23; 9:35; Acts 9:19; 14:5;17 2). They also met in the Temple, in houses, a lecture hall and outside (Matthew 5:1; Mark 12:35; Acts 3:1; 16:13; 17:17; 19:9; Romans 16:5). There were cast out of some of those places because of their teaching, but there is no part of the New Testament that tries to list "good" or "bad" places to meet.
Christianity suffers more from Christians and their groups quarreling with each other than it does from the erroneous teachings and practices existent among all believers. May God bless all of His people with respect for His great and diverse work, and tolerance for one another!
— Norman Edwards, March 2019