James M. S. Tait, Lerwick
Twice in the Acts of the Apostles this unusual compound word is applied to God.
In chapter 1. 24, the disciples acknowledge that the "heart-knowing" Lord is able to detect a difference between two men who, to the eyes of their brethren, appear to have identical qualifications for an office to which only one of them can be appointed. Moreover, the disciples believed that God could make His mind known on such a matter.
All this is still true. The occasion in Acts i. 26 is the last time in which lots were cast to ascertain the Lord's mind, but He has many other means for making apparent who are the men of His choice for leadership amongst His people. Not infrequently. He permits some situation of difficulty to arise in the life of a local church, calling for the exercise of patience and foresight. The different reactions of different men to such a situation may indicate very clearly to their brethren which is the true shepherd.
If in chapter 1. 24 we learn that the heart-knowing God can read the differences between the apparently identical, then in chapter 15. 8 we see Him disclosing the inward identity which sometimes underlies outward differences. Perhaps no other cleavage between man and man was ever more deep, more apparently unbridgeable, than the gulf which separated Jew and Gentile. Accordingly, when the gospel first reached the Gentiles, the young church was confronted with a problem of immense difficulty. Even when a Jew and a Gentile had each come to know the Lord Jesus Christ, did that fact bridge the gulf, or (to use Paul's metaphor) break down the wall of partition, between them? For Peter, the question was decisively settled by the events in the house of Cornelius. God, who knew the hearts of all men, had given the Holy Spirit to the Gentile believers just as He had done to the Jewish believers. If God saw no difference, then obviously no difference existed.
The Lord, when making His mind known with regard to the various problems of the early church, not only answered the immediate question troubling the minds of His people, but also disclosed principles for future guidance. We may conclude that such is the case here. There is, unhappily, in our fallen natures a perverse urge to invent distinctions where God recognizes no difference. We draw demarcation lines between "us" and "them", and with the passage of time these artificial boundaries become ever more deeply marked. Whenever the "us-them" mentality makes its appearance in a company of the Lord's people, that local church is in danger. Whenever, as individual believers, we find our own minds becoming preoccupied with trivial distinctions rather than with the basic unity between our brethren and ourselves, we should recall the words of Peter: "God . . . made no distinction between us and them", R.v.