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No Ministry Without Mess (Proverbs 14:4)

messy falling stationery

Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox. (Prov. 14:4 ESV) 

The nature of this fallen world is such that all fruit-bearing endeavours are cursed to be burdensome and painful. Due to the first man’s sin, it is only by the sweat of one’s brow that any labour results in fruit that nourishes life. Work which was supposed to be enjoyable and easy became backbreaking and hard. Sin did not just introduce moral filth into this world but also polluted the beauty of the original creation with thorns, thistles and decay. So difficult is the Sisyphean task of repeatedly toiling to plant, harvest and eat that the antediluvian Lamech after 182 years of life wearily poured out a plea of hope to God for relief from mankind’s labours in the naming of his son. The Scriptures tell us that Lamech “fathered a son and called his name Noah (after the Hebrew word for rest), saying, "Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands" (Gen 5:28 ESV).  

For all who have passed from childhood into maturity and experienced Adam’s curse, this proverb spoken by Solomon, the wisest of Israel’s kings, rings true. No gain in life comes from anything other than hard labour. No farmer finds pleasure in the dirty, foul-smelling task of cleaning out animal feces from the stable nor in restocking his animal’s feeding trough with fresh food. Yet, he does so because he knows that his very ability to break the ground and plant his seed is dependent on his oxen being strong and healthy enough to pull his plow. Certainly, a farmer could spare himself the agony of cleaning his barns if only he disposed of his cows! But such short-sighted thinking would leave him with not only an empty barn but an empty stomach as well. 

All this to say—there is no profit without pain, no gain without grief, and no ministry without mess. 

No one builds a monument to honor those who succeeded in living easy and comfortable lives devoted to their own pleasures. Those whom revere the most are those whose lives were characterized by selfless sacrifice and service to others. Likewise, for Christians, it is those who have laboured and persevered in their tasks despite their immediate circumstances that the Lord commends. As good soldiers of Christ Jesus, we are to share in suffering so that we might one day share in our eternal rewards. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits. It is only the hard-working farmer who will harvest his crops. An athlete is crowned only after he runs his race according to the rules. And so it is for us as believers. Only when we have persisted and run the race marked out for us in the stadium of life will we receive our imperishable, heavenly inheritance. 

And as we contemplate the necessity of perseverance as we seek to bear fruit amidst the mires and bogs of this life, is this not the example that our Lord Jesus Christ set for us? The Son of God left the splendor and beauty of his heavenly home and came to live in a world stained by the filth of sin. Though he himself was sinless, he waded through the muck of human wickedness and even suffered the penalty for it. He died in indignity on the cross to redeem us from the indignity that Adam foisted on us when he sinned in the garden. But, because our Lord cleaned the stable of our sin, the rocky ground of our hearts was plowed and broken, so that we could receive the Gospel seed. And for this, we are forever grateful! Praise be to God! 

Believer, do you labour at unpleasant work each day so that you might have something to share with those in need? Are you weary from the daily chore of cleaning food off the floor that your children have spilled? Do you agonize in earnest petitions before your God over those whom you love who are destroying themselves? Do you care for and serve those who offer you no gratitude because they either cannot repay you or appreciate what you have done? Do you persevere in the ministry the Lord has assigned to you despite the immensities of your physical pains? Oh, how messy and unpleasant at times the work of meaningful ministry is! 

A farm that has no animals will be clean and neat but will accomplish no good for those around it. So also, the person who keeps his own life clean and neat by ignoring the messes of others will also accomplish nothing of eternal good. 

Church, let us not grow weary of doing good, but in our exhaustion turn to our God for all-sufficient grace. Let us fix our eyes on the one who for the joy set before him endured the cross and despised the shame and is now seated at the right hand of God. And as we roll up our sleeves and work in the messiness of broken lives for our Master, let us remember that our work is not in vain, but that in due season we will reap a precious crop of souls who will live forever in eternity with us.  

Article by: Samuel Chua


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