No, we are not talking of the declining birth rate in Western lands. Solomon said, “Where no oxen are, the crib is clean; but much increase is by the strength of the ox” (Prov 14:4).
Progress comes with a price; growth means some inconvenience. It may be nice to have a clean crib which requires no work. But if you have a clean crib, it is because you have no oxen. And if you have no oxen, you will not have any increase. So if you want to see increase in your assembly, if you desire growth, it is going to mean you may have a dirty crib which you will need to clean from time to time.
The implications of a proverb such as this are many. If assemblies are to see growth, it will mean labor. It may mean inconvenience and, at times, some growing pains. But the alternative, the “clean crib” state, means empty seats, no growth, and no increase.
Applied to family life, growth and blessing which attend the advent of children into a home are linked with lots of “inconveniences.” There will be sleepless nights with sick children, sacrifices to care for and provide for them, the broken hearts over their wrong choices – all of these are part of the price which is paid.
But assembly life is where we find the most problems concerning clean cribs. Labor by believers can lead to criticism from others. Whether as a means for salving consciences of those who are “armchair” laborers, or out of misguided zeal, it can be withering to those who are seeking to serve. Efforts among us which have been used by God, such as Seed Sowers, west of the Mississippi, or the individual labors of servants have experienced this from well-meaning believers.
Labor can also lead to competition among some. Paul knew this in his imprisonment recounted in Philippians 1. It tests the metal of all laborers; Paul passed with flying colors, his eye set upon Christ alone and not the acclaim of men. “Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, and will rejoice” (Phil 1:18).
But the “labor of the ox” often means that we will move or be moved out of our comfort zones. “Outsiders,” that awful pejorative term, can make us feel uncomfortable. They are not always dressed “properly.” They at times may have awkward questions – awkward because we don’t have the answers! And what about people of other cultures? Our comfort zone gets stretched to the limit when we have to accommodate other ways of looking at life which do not violate the Scripture. The crib can get very messy at times like these.
But spiritual growth, glory for God, honor for the Lord Jesus – all should make me a willing servant in the crib, thankful for the need to clean it and maintain it for those who labor.