Cleanliness is not everything

“Where no oxen are, the trough is clean; but much increase comes by the strength of an ox” (Proverbs 15:4).

The great principle established by the simple proverb stated above is that nothing comes without some cost, but if we choose our efforts wisely, the extras that are required will be well paid. If a clean barn is one’s goal, it is easy to achieve – merely get rid of all of the animals. But realize, one can do a lot with a well-trained ox. Is a clean barn really the most important thing?

Some decades ago Churches of Christ made effective use of bus ministries. There was much criticism in some congregations, and it often had to do with the cleanliness and order of the church buildings. All of those children from different kinds of backgrounds were rather a shock to the tranquility of the congregation. But were they worth a little extra noise and aggravation? Do we even have to ask?

Missionaries are all familiar with the stresses and pressures of dealing with people of different cultures and expectations. They are constantly besieged with requests for financial help, advice, and sometimes unreasonable demands. Yet the alternative is to have no interaction with the very people whom they have gone abroad to teach. The stress can be solved, but only by neglecting the very purpose for which one has come. That is hardly a proper solution.

Obviously, the answer is balance. One may have an ox and also have a clean trough, but it requires effort and attention. The question is, “Is the ox worth the effort?” If one wants to plow one’s land, then yes it is. Problems come when we blame the ox for the dirty trough. When one resents the reason for extra effort he will soon come to the conclusion that it is simply not worth it. And that is usually a mistake.

Someone has said that all of life is a compromise. That does not mean a compromise of principles or standards – rather it is simply to say that we exchange one type of difficulty for another. Every decision brings on consequences to which we must adjust. The successful person chooses those which bring the greatest benefit relative to the effort required.

It is in reference to that principle that Jesus gave his invitation:

“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light”
(Matthew 11:28-30).

Relative to the rest which Jesus is able to give, the burdens he asks us to carry are easy and light. Whatever price we must pay for faith in him – whether it be lost relationships, persecution, or sacrifices of property – what we gain is of far greater value. Feed the ox and prepare to clean the trough. You will eat better when the crop is harvested.

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Michael Brooks

Since 1988 Mike and his wife Brenda have been involved in foreign missions in South America, Africa, and South Asia. Beginning in 1999 they devoted full time to missions, primarily in Bangladesh and Nepal.

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