HOW CLEAN IS THE MANGER?
Last week I posted that I was pondering Proverbs 14:4. After pondering for awhile, this bulletin article emerged.
Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean,
but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox. –Proverbs 14:4
Everybody—well, most everybody—likes a clean house or office. In the kitchen we like the pots and pans put away, the counter wiped up.
The farmer, too, likes a clean barn. It’s satisfying to look into the stall and see order and calm. And, as with the proverb, if the oxen are gone then there’s no reason to worry about having to do the job again. There’s no spilled food or water. There’s no (very) unpleasant manure. What is clean and orderly will stay that way.
But what happens if you want to cook a meal in that clean kitchen? Or what if the farmer decides that his purpose isn’t to have a clean and orderly manger, but rather to produce a bountiful harvest?
We have a common saying that I believe parallels what the proverb is getting at: If you want to make an omelet you have to crack a few eggs. The purpose of a kitchen isn’t to be clean, the purpose of a manger to be orderly. The purpose a church isn’t simply to have a calm veneer.
Now we understand that, as the oft quoted passage states, that “all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40), and that “God is not a God of confusion” (14:33). These are verses that regulate corporate worship, however. The proverb is speaking of something else.
People, especially people dealing with sin and temptation, are messy. There are complications—life happens. If we want, as Jesus came to do, to seek and save the lost, then we’re going to find a lot of messes to deal with. If we want to plant and water (1 Corinthians 3:6) and go to harvest (Luke 10:2) there’s going to be some mud tracked in for those abundant crops to be produced.
I have seen churches where everything was calm, predictable and very, very dead. Nothing happened…ever. But the manger was clean, and that made some people happy. Those churches lost their goal. They were good at cleaning house, but not very good at building one (1 Corinthians 3:10f). Yes, neatness and order is good, but not at the expense of inhibiting the harvest that is the purpose and lifeblood of any church.