The Proverbs of Solomon – Proverbs 14:23

 

In Matthew 20 the Lord Jesus gives us one of the Kingdom of Heaven parables. “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard….” This is a parabolic lesson about various professing Christians and serving God. “When even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.” What if this was NOT a parable and we were asked to take the lesson at face value?

Is Luke 10:7 from a parable when it says “The labourer is worthy of his hire”? Again the Lord is talking about His servants, but this verse is in the midst of clear instructions – there is no parable involved. What if Matthew 20 was not a parable at all, but a plain statement about the nature of God’s kingdom? “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard….”

The Bible from Genesis to Revelation says much about hard work. And Proverbs includes many thoughts about this subject, two of which are found in this chapter. “In all labour there is profit: but the (empty) talk of the lips tendeth only to penury.” “Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox.”

In all labour there is profit.

Is that the sort of statement upon which we can hang our hats and coats? Is that a true statement in every case? In this case, does “all” mean “in every case”? I believe that it does.

And that is even so, when we dig into the definition and meaning of the word “labour.” The Hebrew word is relatively rare, and it is translated “labour” only twice. The rest of the time it is rendered in some form of “sorrow” or “pain.” In other words, this is hard work. This is the sort of which God spoke to Adam, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou east bread, til thou return to the ground” from whence you came.

Is the statement always true even when we understand the word “profit”? Of course. And again the word “profit” is relatively rare, found only three times in the Hebrew Bible. And it is rendered three different ways – “profit,” “gain” and surprisingly “preeminence.” “Preeminence” has a different connotation than “profit” and“gain.” Doesn’t it speak of elevation, honor or fame, rather than wealth and profit? Perhaps right there lays one of the keys to the lessons in this subject.

It goes without saying – the more we work the more product we will produce, assuming all things are equal. If I work slowly and carefully, manufacturing one widget which I can sell for $10, I may gross $10 an hour. But once I know how to make widgets and can work twice as fast, I’ll earn twice the income. And, if by the sweat of my brow, I am able to make 3 widgets an hour, I will profit even more. “In all labour there is profit,” and in the more labour there should be more profit.

Or let’s say that I have a 100 acre truck farm, in which I’ve planted a variety of vegetable seeds. Now I sit back and asking the Lord to water my garden, while I watch the sprouts grow and mature. I might be able to feed my family with the produce of that garden. But if instead of sitting back and waiting, every day I am weeding the garden, keeping the birds away, killing the moles, fertilizing and irrigating the rows, I should expect a greater profit. Aren’t these lessons obvious?

But what if we expand our perspective just a little bit. “In ALL labour there is profit.” All my work raking, hoeing, moving of hose and other parts of tending that garden, might be strengthening my back and my arm muscles. I might be losing weight and gaining general health. My 100 acre garden is profiting my health and even my sense of accomplishment. Are not these things also profitable? And in addition to being able to take my surplus tomatoes to the farmer’s market and coming home with some cash, I am also able to set some aside for the widow down the road, for which my profit is only a smile and a genuine “thank you.” That also makes me feel good, knowing that I have been a blessing to someone.

When Paul was speaking to the elders of Ephesus for what he thought would be the last time. He said, “I have shewed you all thing how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.” And even later in his letter to the Ephesians he wrote, “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.” Remember that “profit” doesn’t have to be limited to financial gain. Is there no reward in being a blessing to someone?

I can picture some of those old-time Baptist preachers who worked their farm five days a week, then rode 20 miles on Saturday to the next village to preach the gospel before riding home again late Sunday night. Many of those preacher 200 years ago, received no salary for their service to those people. But there was profit when a child was born again, or a sinner was restored to the service of God. And then again, how many times, after months of fruitless preaching to those unconcerned villagers, did he return to his field, and look back to see that he cut a straight furrow down his field and a few healthy plants? Sometimes there was spiritual profit to the preacher, and sometimes there was physical profit on the farm.

There is also a profit in the realization that God is pleased with our labors – whether temporal or eternal. “Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work,” and then in the seventh, or at the end of your life, you will sit down with the Lord to enjoy the rest which He has ordained for you. At the end of the day in the Kingdom of Heaven, the divine householder will come with rewards in His hand to distribute to all His servants whether they have labored through the day or just one hour. “In ALL labour there is profit” – in physical labor, spiritual labor, labor at home and labor away.

The other verse in this chapter which speaks about labour approaches the subject through the back door.

Much increase is created through the strength of the ox.

It is said that during the French Revolution the queen, Marie Antoinette famously uttered, “Let them eat cake.” Actually it was “Let them eat brioche,” which is a actually a rich bread, but the point was it same. Supposedly the woman was so out of touch with the people of her country that when she was told that they didn’t even have cheap crusts of bread to eat, she thought they could eat cake instead. “Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox.” Do you suppose that Solomon was so out of touch with his people that he thought everyone must have had an ox out behind his house? I seriously doubt that. He was simply making a point. An ox may be expensive to feed, and it may require work to maintain and keep healthy, but it can be quite profitable.

An ox, where available, was used in many ways on the farm. It could be hooked to a plow for the preparation of the garden or field. It could be used to carry the stalks of grain to the threshing floor. The ox might turn the wheel which was used to separate and then grind the grain. And it might pull the wagon which carried the grain to the town market. An ox was only one type of animal which could be used in this way. Other people or other societies have used horses, mules, donkeys, even goats and dogs.

Can we apply this ox to suggest that God is not averse to our use of tools and other means of labor? I saw a few minutes of a documentary the other day, where a man was talking about his passion for building pianos – from scratch. Everything was done by hand – but with the use of planers, power saws, sanders and so on. He completes about one piano per year, but he sells them for $50-60,000 each. They were beautiful. He may have worked in an air-conditioned shop, with vacuums and air-movers to keep him healthy. But it was still “by the sweat of his brow” so to speak. It would seem to me that God would be pleased with the kind of work the man was doing. Despite his use of tools.

I wonder if the Lord deliberately created the coincidence of the ox. He could have spoken of donkeys or camels, or whatever, but he pointed to the ox. And elsewhere he said “muzzle not the ox when he treadeth out the corn.” That servant should be blessed through the service he provides. He also sharply condemned those employers who cheated their workers.

The Lord keeps His own account books. He knows your labors and efforts. And He measures not only the sweat on your brow, but the warmth of your heart. He meant every syllable, when He said, “The laborer is worthy of his hire.” And also – “In ALL labour there is profit.” He also said, “Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.”