‘As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honour.’ – Ecclesiastes 10.1By Martin Hayward
There are hundreds of phrases in the English language which have their roots in the Bible. One which we all use but which, until recently, I had not realised comes from the Old Testament is “A fly in the ointment” which is first coined in the book, Ecclesiastes. The book was written by King Solomon; you may remember that he was David’s son and when God promised to give him whatever he asked for he requested the gifts of wisdom and knowledge. Towards the end of his life he wrote down for our benefit some of the aspects of wisdom he’d learned over the years and Ecclesiastes is the result. In the last chapters of the book he turned the subject on its head by emphasising the alternative dangers of being foolish.
Solomon starts this section by likening the effects of foolishness to the result of allowing flies to die and rot and smell in a jar of expensive perfume. No matter how fragrant the perfume may be, the smell of decomposing insect will soon be so overpowering that the whole jar has to be thrown away! And so it is with our lives; one character flaw can utterly spoil our reputation for integrity.
A good example of what Solomon was getting at is contained in Jesus’ well known story about the “prodigal son”. You’ll remember that he had an elder brother who also features in the story, who was hard working, faithful and respectful to his father. But what do we remember him for? Simply for being bad tempered and jealous of his brother. That one bad side to his character wipes out all the good we might otherwise think of him.
Well, the elder brother was just a fictional character. But how about us? No matter how good the rest of our lives may be or how fine our words, people won’t listen to us if they hear us forever carrying on about our resentment for things long since passed or, perhaps, bursting into lapses of bitter tongue wagging and complaints about our hurt pride. And what about those actions which speak even lou
nder than words? How many people have ignored a wonderful witness to Christ because they know that the person relating it has a habit of fiddling his expenses or cutting corners in her work? What does it say in our current situation when we are careless of other people’s health by failing to use a mask or when we wilfully fail to follow government guidelines?
These things really are noticed and each one can be like a dead fly rotting away and tainting the perfume. Perhaps each one of us might pray this week that God will help us by shining his light on those tiny flaws which can taint our otherwise faithful witness.