By Aude McKee
In recent years, we have heard a great deal about “Unity in Diversity.” This doctrine was designed to get people to ignore differing attitudes toward authority and was an appeal for religious unity in spite of fundamental differences. The purpose of this lesson is to show that God can take people of vastly different backgrounds, personalities, educational attainments, etc., and use such to accomplish His purposes.
The Lord’s apostles are listed in Matthew 10:24, Mark 3:13-19, Luke 6:13-16 and Acts 1:13. As you study these names you will notice some variations. Peter is also referred to as Simon and Cephas, Bartholomew is also called Nathanael, Thomas and Didymas are the same person, and Levi is another name for Matthew. You will also observe that there are two men listed as James. One is identified as the brother of John and the other is the son of Alphaeus or the less. Simon, to be sure we don’t confuse him with Simon Peter, is Zelotes or the Canaanite. Finally, the author of the book of Jude, is also called Thaddaeus and Lebbaeus.
About some of these men very little is known. James, the son of Alphaeus, was a short fellow and so was nick-named “the less.” We probably would have called him “Shorty.” But it didn’t matter to Jesus if a person was fat or skinny, tall or short, handsome or ugly. The Lord looks on the heart, not on the outward appearance (1 Sam. 16:7). Andrew, Peter’s brother, was a fisherman by occupation. He had been a disciple of John (John 1:35-42). The greatest recorded thing Andrew ever did was to bring his brother to the Lord. He was not one of the “inner circle” and yet there is never a hint of resentment in Andrew’s heart. Nathanael was a man of sterling character (John 1:43-51) and this is all the information we have about him. Jude is mentioned only in the gospels with the exception of the book he authored, and all we know about Philip we learn from John’s gospel. Philip was a very practical man. When he told Nathanael that he had found Jesus of Nazareth, the one about whom Moses and the prophetshad written, Nathanael’s response was, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip didn’t make any extended and complicated arguments to convince Nathanael but he simply said, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw a hungry multitude He asked Philip where they could buy food to feed them. Philip’s reply was that it would take a common laborer 200 days to earn enough to feed a crowd like that (John 6:1-14). Just here a question is in order. What role did these five little-known men play in the growth of the kingdom of God and the salvation of souls? If we are prone to answer “little” or “none” we could be making a sad mistake. The book of Acts is a record of some of the work of some of the apostles. We ought not to be guilty of assuming that those who received the most publicity were the most important. John 13:1-17 teaches us that the Lord does not measure greatness by the same rod we often use.
Other apostles were much more prominent and they better illustrate the diversity found among these men. James and John were fishermen by trade and this business was not an easy way to make money. Kingdom business also requires a lot of hard work, exposure to bad weather, etc., and so they were prepared for much they would have to face. These boys were from a well-to-do family (note “servants” in Mark 1:20), yet when Jesus called they left a profitable family business and became as poor as their master. James and John were part of what we have sometimes called the “inner circle.” These two, along with Peter, were allowed in the room when Jairus’ daughter was raised from the dead (Mark 5:2243), they were present at the transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-9), and were nearest the Lord in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:36-46). Of all the apostles, none had such a transformation of character as these two. They had an inordinate desire for power (Mark 10:35-45) and they had a fiery temperament. On one occasion, they were ready to bring fire from heaven and consume those who opposed their Lord (Luke 9:51-56), and so it is no surprise that Jesus nick-named them “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). James only lived about ten years following Pentecost – he was put to death by Herod (Acts 12:1-2).
Matthew was a publican – a tax collector for Rome. Natives of each province were appointed to collect duties on all merchandise and they were encouraged by Rome to overcharge, bring false charges in order to collect bribes, etc. When you consider that the Jews were at the mercy of their own countrymen and, in addition, convinced that they ought not to pay taxes at all, you can understand why tax collectors were so despised. Jesus met Matthew at the tax office (Matt. 9:9) and simply said, “Follow Me.” What a great thing it would be if the invitation of Jesus today was as effective in the lives of more people.
Simon was a member of a group of super-patriots called Zealots. This party was organized during the days of the Maccabbees and survived until 70 A.D. They adhered strictly to the law and endeavored, even by violence, to prevent violations of their religion by foreign powers. These were the people who continually advocated armed rebellion against Rome and were largely responsible for starting the conflict that resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem. As we think about these men making the decision to follow Jesus, we need to remember that they had no promise of material reward. They were converted to Christ. They left behind all that was sinful but retained the grand and noble traits of character that especially fitted them for service in the kingdom of heaven.
Peter was usually the spokesman for the twelve and it is interesting that his name appears first in the listings of the apostles. He is also the central figure in the book of Acts up to chapter 13. Peter was an impulsive man. He was as different from Philip and Thomas as day and night. Peter would speak or act and then think about it later. At the transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-9), when he walked on water (Matt. 14:22-23), at the feet-washing (John 13:2-17) and at the arrest of Jesus (John 18:1 -11), this trait of character can be seen so clearly. Then just before Jesus was arrested, He told the apostles that they would all be offended that night but Peter was quick to deny any such conduct on his part (Matt. 26:31-35). A little later, though, he had to “eat his words” with bitter tears.
Thomas was a cautious man. He was not one to believe or act without sufficient evidence. You can see this in John 14:1-6 and John 20:19-31. He is sometimes nick-named “doubting Thomas” but when the evidence was there, he was a staunch believer. In fact, at the time Jesus’ life was in real danger, Thomas was ready to die with him (John 11:8,16).
One man’s name lives in infamy. We can’t hear of Judas Iscariot without thinking of treachery, deceit and depravity. Judas and Esau must have been spiritual cousins. Both sold their “birthright” – Esau for one meal and Judas for about $24.00. Judas held a place of trust among the twelve. He had miraculous power (Matt. 10:1) and he was the treasurer of the group (John 12:6), but he allowed Satan to enter his heart (Luke 22:3). He voluntarily followed the devil and put teaching like Luke 12:15 and Matthew 5:8 out of his mind. But the great tragedy of his life was not his sins but his unwillingness to repent. It has been said that repentance is the most difficult command God ever gave, and no doubt that is true. In Matthew 27:1-5, we are told that when Judas saw that Jesus was condemned, he had second thoughts about his agreement but there was nothing he could do to undo the consequences of his action. If godly sorrow filled his heart, he would have taken the course Peter took. Peter went out, “wept bitterly,” and was forgiven, but Judas “went and hanged himself.” Someone has observed that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
Jesus’ apostles were fishermen, government workers, political activists. Some were respected members of the community and some were despised. They came from the rich and poor, from the lettered and the unlearned. But Jesus could take this diverse group and mold a body that could carry the gospel to the world. It is no less true today in the Lord’s church. It has been said that meekness is harnessed strength and often the very traits of character that get us into serious difficulties, can be harnessed and made to contribute to the salvation of souls. There is strength in diversity!
Guardian of Truth XXX: 8, pp. 225, 248
April 17, 1986