There is a word used in the New Testament which, of itself, is of no great import. It is the Greek word poikilos and it is the word commonly used to describe “divers” diseases (cp Mark 1:34). The word is also used of the divers miracles of God (Heb 2:4) and of divers and strange doctrines that were beginning to emanate in the first century (Heb 13:9).

In secular Greek, poikilos basically means many-coloured or variegated. It is frequently used of animals. For example, a leopard skin was said to be poikilos, many-coloured. The plumage of birds was said to be poikilos because of the multi-coloured sheen of its plumage. Plants with variegated leaves were also described using the same word.

Barclay in his work entitled, More New Testament Words tells us that the word was also used to describe objects manufactured by man; particularly things wrought in different hues or cunningly made. Taken a step further the word was used to describe anything intricate or complex, for example an elaborately compounded medicine or a complex law. By a further extension it was used of people who were artful, clever, resourceful.

Despite the fact that the word doesn’t stand out in any great context in the New Testament, there are two interesting places where the word is used, just a few chapters apart. These are:

1 Peter 1:6 – Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold (poikilos) temptations:

1 Peter 4:10 – As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold (poikilos) grace of God.

In the context of Peter’s words there was a wonderful principle expressed in the way the spirit gifts were distributed. They were given as an undeserved gift by God to suit the character of the individual who received them. Peter was exhorting them to take the variety of gifts they had received and utilise them by ministering to others. He called the believers “good stewards”, that is, good house managers, who were able to distribute the Word of God and work on behalf of the ecclesia to the glory of God through Jesus Christ (v11).

But that same principle can be seen in a broader context. There is a delightful truth hidden in Peter’s usage of the word. Firstly, God brings upon us a variety of trials. They are many-coloured and multi-faceted. Each believer in Christ has a different character makeup and God knows just the type of trial we each need to receive so that we can be transformed into the image of His Son. These trials come in a variety of tones but together they “work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28).

This is why different believers face different types of pressure, because God knows just the right circumstances to bring to bear to produce that precious fruit in us all.

But alongside that there is no colour in the human situation which the grace of God cannot match and answer. Our heavenly Father is resourceful to the extent that there is no possible crisis, no potential demand that His grace cannot find a way to help us overcome. The vivid idea of poikilos leads our thoughts to the multi-faceted trials being ably countered by the multi-faceted acts of grace.

James speaks of “diverse (poikilos) temptations” (James 1:2). Some face trials of a moral nature, others are bewitched by money and status. Some find temptation in higher education, others keenly feel the peer pressure of accepting the world’s philosophies. Some are consumed with technology, others grapple with the sports culture. Some find gravitating to evangelicalism a trial, others grapple with the allurement of business and status. Some are drawn to the pleasures of the world, others are unable to combat mocking and ridicule.

They are all part of the many sides of trial. But when we examine the diversity of God’s grace, we find that every kind action by God to mankind, and especially to believers, is undertaken as a gracious, undeserved gift. Not even the most faithful of men, like Noah or Moses or David, deserved anything they received from God.

For example, Noah found grace in the eyes of Yahweh (Gen 6:8). He was looking for mercy and found it. When Moses spoke to the angel face to face as a close friend and was granted a glimpse of God’s glory, it was only because God decided to show mercy. “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious,” He said, “and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy” (Exod 33:19). When David sought forgiveness all he could say was: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions” (Psa 51:1).

In each of these cases the manifold grace of God was evident. Interestingly, Peter concludes his epistle by stating that all the suffering the ecclesias were experiencing was evidence of the “true grace of God wherein ye stand” (1 Pet 5:12).

When we trace through the idea of the variety of ways God’s grace is seen, we can begin to appreciate the way God works with us. Hence, we find that when Paul and Barnabas were sent forth from Antioch to preach, they were “recommended to the grace of God” (Acts 14:26). The Greek word for “recommended” is paradidomai1 which means to surrender, to yield or to entrust. Every step of the way, every diverse encounter, every opportunity provided to preach was a surrender to the mercy of God. Nothing was done in their own strength. They simply entrusted their lives to the goodness of God.

When Paul expounded the consequences which flowed from Adam’s transgression, he built a series of contrasts between the effects of Adam’s sin and the outworking of grace. Adam’s offence had brought death, but God had more than compensated for that by providing a super-abundance of mercy, leading to everlasting life (Rom 5:15-21). Sin might be a monarch reigning unto death, but grace is a more powerful sovereign, reigning through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 5:21).

Paul had a deep appreciation of God’s mercy towards him. He described it as being “exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 1:14). Mercy, mingled with faith and love was ever present in his mind. So much so that he said, “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Cor 15:10). Labouring in God’s mercy is what we need to attain to as well. It is a case of being strong, not in one’s own capabilities, but “in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 2:1).

On a practical level, the grace that we have received must now be exhibited to others. We are exhorted to ensure that “no corrupt communication proceed out of [our] mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Eph 4:29). Similarly, when we sing praises to God, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col 3:16).

In our marriage relationships, let us remember that husband and wife are “heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered” (1 Pet 3:7). In times of trial and difficulty we are encouraged to “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16).

And yet with the abundance of mercy shown to us in Christ, we must never take this for granted. It is possible to live a life that frustrates the grace of God (Gal 2:21). It is conceivable to fall from grace (Gal 5:4) and to count the blood of the covenant as an unholy thing and do despite unto the spirit of grace (Heb 10:29). The word “despite” used in the last quote means to insult or treat with contempt!

Yahweh is the Father of mercies. He is good to all and His tender mercies are over all His works. Let us never forget that forgiveness is an expression of the riches of His grace (Eph 1:7) and how much more wonderful it will be when our Lord returns to reward us with “the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:7).


  1. W. Barclay – New Testament Words