These words are found in 1st Corinthians 15:33, where Paul was quoting from “Thais” by Menander, an Athenian poet. It is one of six occasions in the N.T. where a secular author is quoted. The word translated “customs” is elsewhere used in the sense of “ethics” or “morals.” (Greek = Ethos)
A very valuable object lesson is found in Biblical history in the life and attitudes of the Judaean King Jehoshaphat, which exemplifies the above quotation. We are told that the King started his career very well, and God gave him resounding victories. But he was very concerned about the rift between his Southern Kingdom and that of the North, under the leadership of Ahab. “After all”, I hear him say, “they are our brethren. We are all sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What better task is there than drawing us all together again?” As a result he made three profound errors of judgement.
1. He became friendly with Ahab, whose wife was Jezebel, a very wicked and idolatrous woman from Tyre. The ways of Ahab should have warned Jehoshaphat, but the drive for unity was stronger than the drive for holiness before the Lord.
2. He married one of his sons to Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, and Athaliah was as wicked as her mother.
3. He joined with Ahab in naval pursuits at Ezion Geber.
These associations wreaked havoc on the Kingdom of Judah, and the evil persisted down to the fourth generation.
1. The navy was wrecked by a freak storm, as predicted by the Lord through His prophet.
2.Athaliah avenged herself on the house of David, by destroying the entire seed royal, which nearly prevented God’s word from being fulfilled. Were it not for the quick action of the High Priest in hiding baby Joash in the Temple, and keeping his presence secret for six years, it would have been the end of the royal line of Judah.
3.Joash began his reign well, under the tutelage of the High Priest, but later became a true son of his wicked mother. His son, and grandson were equally wicked kings in the sight of the Lord, and their names were expunged from the genealogy in Matthew’s gospel.
Please excuse the extreme brevity of this account. It is good to read the whole story, and ponder on each part of it. Jehoshaphat’s thrust at Unity might have been popular and praised by those of his day, but what a price was paid for this attempt at unity.
How utterly necessary it is for us to seek the Lord’s guidance before striving for a “unity” that is not of His will, but based on a mistaken concept. In the days of the divided kingdom, although the Lord forbad warfare between the tribes, the split was of His own doing. To try to patch it up was fatal. God was not in it. Neither is He in any of today’s efforts to make all Christians “one” in a purely human sense. No doubt the world would applaud such an action, saying that it is long overdue, and many Christians are taken in by it, believing it to be an action that would please the Lord. But a personal walk with God, obeying His directives, is the only safe course. If certain brethren adopt doctrines or practices which are offensive to our spirit, then to form an alliance is to court disaster, whatever other brethren may say.
Forgiveness is not optional. We are all bound to this principle by the Lord’s word. But today it seems that amongst the brethren, an insidious device from Satan has crept in to blur the edges of truth and honesty, to blur the antithesis that should exist to distinguish between right and wrong, black and white. So Christians mistakenly believe that unity is feeling happy with one another irrespective of truth and God’s word. Jesus’ words that He came to bring a sword seem to be ignored in favour of unity at any cost and the lessons from the Scriptures ignored in favour of the comfortable feelings of human unity.
Paul said, “Endeavour to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3.) But what about believers who hold to doctrines or practices which cause us to withdraw either in silent or vocal complaint? How does one maintain the “unity of the spirit” in such cases? First of all we need to appreciate that this UNITY has already been created by God, and not by ourselves. Our unity is in Christ Himself. The “household of faith” embraces many different people, of varying social and moral backgrounds, living under differing forms of teaching, and of varying degrees of maturity in the faith. Regardless of all these differences, we are enjoined to “keep” the Unity. And the Greek word for “keep” means to guard, respect, and honour, because it is of God’s creation. All true believers are part of this Unity.
Our problem seems to be in how we handle our brethren who are washed in the same precious blood as ourselves, when we come to a place of severe disagreement? Do we push it under the carpet and go on with the relationship for the sake of keeping the peace and unity? We are told to guard that unity in Christ, we are told to forgive. Are both possible and yet within the context of a separate walk with the Lord? We believe it is not only possible but part of the way the Lord takes us at times.
Reconciliation is quite another thing altogether and must not be confused with forgiveness and God’s unity. This may not be possible in this life, and often the Lord forbids it, as He did between the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. It is impossible for all to be of one mind. We can have forgiveness in our hearts, we can recognise that those we can no longer walk with are part of the Unity in Christ and so keep the “bond of peace”. But to brush important differences under the mat in an endeavour to create a false “unity”, is not only heading for disaster, but flies in the face of God.
The Lord will have reconciliation amongst the brethren, in His time and in His way.