The Bible is a book full of truth, able to completely equip the man of God for the work of the Lord (cf. 2 Timothy 3:17). The work of the Lord covers a wide range of activities (all of life), and thus the Bible must speak to us concerning matters that might seem at first trivial, but which upon contemplation prove to be highly useful in shaping our thinking, and thus our actions.
A case in point is the profound observation: “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox (Proverbs 14:4; ESV).” What might seem like a rather trivial thought, upon contemplation becomes a rather significant philosophical statement.
Approaching the statement at its most basic, Solomon is saying: If you want a clean barn, get rid of your cows, but remember that without any oxen to help with the work, you won’t get as many plants in the ground, and thus are more likely to go hungry. If we focus too hard on the aesthetics of a spotless work-place, we are very likely not going to be as efficient or as productive as the one who is willing to put up with the mess that cows and other livestock make. And make no mistake, as anyone who owns animals knows, animals can make a mess; and the bigger the animal, the bigger the mess it makes.
But life itself is messy.
A truly pristine, sterile environment is one without life. Introduce any life to a place and sooner or later you start to get clutter, refuse, and some amount of disorder. Trees shed their leaves, flower petals fall to the ground and begin rotting, animals eat and dig and leave refuse here and there. Mankind is no different, except in the fact that we can appreciate the aesthetics and benefits of an orderly area and thus have some motivation to clean up after ourselves. But on some level we must come to terms that if we are going to live, we are going to make some degree of a mess.
Likewise, work of any kind tends to create some degree of disorder. There is an old saw about a town with only two barbers. One barber has a very neat shop and a great haircut. The other barber has a messy shop, with a floor covered in hair-clippings, and a horrible haircut. The riddle is: which barber is the better barber and the one you should use? The answer is the barber with the bad haircut and the messy shop. His hair was cut by the other guy, and the mess is indicative of all the business he gets. In many, if not most occupations, a clean workspace is often the sign of no actual work getting done at the moment.
We need to keep a proper perspective about these things. There is some value to cleanliness, but contrary to popular opinion, God never elevated cleanliness to being up there with true godliness. Rather, God, who created us, knows that life is going to at times be messy, work creates mess, and while we shouldn’t let our messes get so out of hand as to hinder the work, we should be thankful for the ox that helps us plow, rather than cursing at it for the mess it has made in the barn.
Now, let us apply the principle more broadly… for instance to relationships.
Relationships, being an aspect of life, are going to sometimes get a little messy. We are all human, with foibles, weaknesses, quirks, and emotions. We all make mistakes and anytime you have a group of individuals gathered together, whether in a marriage, a family, a friendship, a team, a work-force, or any other sort of similar social arrangements, you are going to have complications, disagreements, sorrows, and other “messes.” The only way to avoid this sort of “drama” is to not have any relationships at all. But how lonely and empty such a life would be.
God created us to be social creatures. He gave us our families. God puts us, as His children, into the church of His son, a social structure. He ordains government, another social institution. And God does all of this for our benefit. We draw strength from being around others. We are better when we ourselves learn how to love, for in such interactions there is true godliness. But we must accept that whenever we get a group of people together, there are going to be complications and disagreements, and other such “messes.”
This is not to say we should not try to “clean up” our time together, with forgiveness, love, and patience; for we should. God teaches us how to minimize and overcome the difficulties that will arise from our interactions with other people, and as we and those around us put God’s word into practice, we will find our relationship improve in quality. But for us to forgive, or be long-suffering, or patient, or the like implies -of necessity- that there is something to forgive, or suffer, or be patient with. Yet, just as we should be thankful for the “ox” which makes our work more productive, we should be thankful for those people in our lives that, though they might make it more complicated at times, also make it richer and better for their presence.
The church of Christ would be thankful for your presence and invites you to worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis. Likewise, if you have any questions or subjects you would like addressed, please let us know.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.