A Faithful and
Upright Saint Lives
a Life of Faithfulness Like an Ox
Proverbs 11:3, 14:4
After the liberation, 160 of my hometown classmates from Hwanghae Province defected to the South. One of them, living in Jeju Province, began to attend church with his wife after my words struck a chord in him ten years ago: “We are sojourners who come in and out of this world. Even if we live 100 years, it’s a blink of an eye compared to the eternal life of God. No matter how much we have in this world, it’s all brought to naught, so you must accept Christ into your life.” Two months ago, he called me and asked, “I’ll go to heaven when I die, won’t I?” When I asked, “Don’t you believe in Jesus?” He responded, “I’m trying to believe, but I feel broken.” I said to him, “Jesus is your Savior through and through. He came to this world for you, so sincerely and fervently repent for the sins you’ve knowingly and unknowingly committed. Jesus forgave your sins with His precious blood and gave you the Bible. Whether you understand it or not, read it every day.” Today, his wife notified me that he had passed away. According to his wife, after our phone conversation that day, he diligently read the Bible and gave church offerings through his children. He apparently said three years ago, “Hell and heaven clearly exist, but the fact that I am seeking God for salvation in my old age now, after doing all kinds of things in my prime, eats at my conscience.” The apostle James wrote, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (Jas 4:13-14). Believe that your attendance at church today is a reason for true thanksgiving and rejoicing. You cannot come to church if you are ill. According to human thoughts, it may seem that we have come out to church out of our own volition and time. However, let us realize that it is the workings of God’s grace behind the scenes that has enabled us to attend service today, and I pray in the name of the Lord that we are brought to thanksgiving for this.
Nothing more or less is stated throughout the Bible.
This year’s precept is, “Let us become faithful and upright Christians.” Nothing more or less is stated throughout the Bible. The faithful and upright saint lives life at a slow but sure pace: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Today’s scripture reading, Proverbs 11:3, says, “The integrity of the upright will guide them, but the crookedness of the treacherous will destroy them.” The ERV translation of the same verse says, “Good people are guided by their honesty, but crooks who lie and cheat will ruin themselves.” The other main scripture reading, Proverbs 14:4, records, “Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, but much revenue comes by the strength of the ox.” This verse emphasizes the striving of the ox. The ox is a symbol of faithfulness, diligence, and exertion. Laziness corrupts the heart so that sin is conceived. The rotting of the heart causes a stench. People must never be slothful. God certainly does not forgive scoundrels who do not work and take what is not theirs to take. People are meant to work faithfully and uprightly. Ecclesiastes 5:12 says, “The sleep of the working man is pleasant, whether he eats little or much; but the full stomach of the rich man does not allow him to sleep.” Labor is necessary for digestion. We don’t realize it when we’re young but our health begins to fail after our 30s.
After creating the heavens and the earth, God blessed man, saying, “Rule over creation, be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it.” He commanded that we devote ourselves to good works (Eph 2:10; Titus 2:14). Jesus died a wretched death on the cross for our sins because He desires that we become the people of God who endeavor to do good deeds. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going” (Ecc 9:10). You can’t take anything with you when you die. I’ve seen hundreds of the deceased throughout my ministry. People do not return to this world once they have passed. Parents, spouses, children, friends, even possessions are all lost. For believers, however, there is not only this present life but also the afterlife, an eternal realm. According to Revelation 21, there will no longer be any suffering, mourning, crying, pain or death. Angels will attend and minister to us.
Beloved saints, we must work faithfully like the ox. For what purpose did God send us into the world? To do good works for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31-33). In a God-centered life, there is no room for indolence, because God Himself is diligent. Jesus was perpetually diligent in His time here. Look at Apostle Paul. He worked day and night so he could share the redemptive gospel of the cross of Jesus. To not burden others, he rented a room with the money he earned, all the while buying meals and proclaiming the gospel to those he was evangelizing (Acts 28:30-31). Misunderstandings, tribulations, persecutions, and death confronted him everywhere he went, yet he did not grumble or resort to tricks, instead giving thanksgiving to God in prayer and praise. He felt rewarded even in the face of death. Why? He thought, “How could it not be worthwhile when a sinner like myself is honoring God as Lord and doing His glorious works?” That’s why he dedicated himself to sharing the gospel. At the same time, he diligently worked day and night, and with his earnings he supported his fellow brethren (Acts 20:34; 1 Cor 4:12; 9:15; 2 Cor 11:7; 12:13-19; 1 Thess 2:9; 2 Thess 3:8).
Learn from the faithfulness and uprightness of the ox.
Beloved saints, we must walk faithfully. It’s okay if we’re laughed at and compared to a cow. Cows may plod along, but they always go the distance, slowly but surely. Cows are simple, diligent, faithful, and honest. They possess subtlety and patience. There can be subtlety in turning a blind eye, in one’s choice of words, and in a quiet and sweet melody. The hanbok (traditional Korean attire) can also be subtly stylish. We must learn this quietness from the ox. Wily crooks with tricks up their sleeves lie easily. In contrast, cows do their share of the work, satisfying and delighting their owner. Oxen increase the wealth of their owners. Though they are slow and simple, they are tenacious. Past generations taught their children with old proverbs like, “Be honest like the ox” and “Long life belongs to the upright.” They’re referring to the providence of longevity. Even the philosopher Nietzsche said that much could be learned from cattle. Based on the meanings of its Chinese characters, “faithfulness” is that which is heartfelt and free of deceit, and “upright” signifies an honest and righteous heart; nothing twisted or crooked is found
Saints must live with an ox-like character of gentleness and graciousness.
Gentleness is to have a gracious and peaceable nature and way of speaking; It’s not speaking rudely, but graciously, quietly and gently. In our interactions with others, we must not speak sharply with words that cut like a razor or wound as weapons would. Look to Jesus, who was described as a sheep that is silent before its shearers (Isa 53). Christians must be mild-tempered and have virtues of benevolence and generosity, similar to cows. Chunwon Yi Kwang-Su described the ox as a humanitarian in his essay titled Woo-deok-song, which means “Celebrating the Cow’s Virtue.” It says an ox lacks the pride of a lion, the sneakiness of a tiger, the slyness of an elephant, the fickleness of a giraffe, and the cunningness of a fox. There are people who easily switch sides for their benefit. They draw closer if something benefits them, and quickly turn away when it doesn’t. Why do people live like that when they were created in the image of God? Is it right to live that way, considering the limited time we are given? Men should live their lives in a gracious way, and die after having lived a gracious life. In the old days, sages would say that one had to sell knives to buy an ox, and it was easy to spot oxen grazing leisurely in oriental paintings.
The biblical figure who personified the virtues of gentleness and serenity was Moses (Num 12:3). Jesus the Messiah is the embodiment of meekness (Matt 11:29). Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:23), and kindness is an attribute of love (1 Cor 13:4). It is the meek who will inherit the kingdom of God (Matt 5:5). Let us all be gentle like the ox. We are called to love our neighbors in peace, so as saints we must not say, “Who are you to me? We have no relationship, why would I sacrifice for you?” Jesus called us the light and salt of the earth. If we are the salt, then we must refine ourselves. Sacrifice protects against corruption. It is the same case with light. In order for light to illuminate a room, the wick and the oil must burn. The ox obey its owner without complaint. They’re upright, faithful and patient, heeding their masters’ commands. Though they seem slow, they follow wherever their handlers lead. It is written in Proverbs that those who are sly like the fox and act hastily like rabbits will ensnare themselves in the very traps they lay.
Are You Diligently Serving in Your Position Like An Ox?
Apostle Paul told the Thessalonian Church, “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either” (2 Thess 3:10). One must eat to live. Thus, he is essentially saying that those who abhor working are not worthy to exist. Are we like the ox, devoting ourselves to our assigned duties without complaint? Are we performing our tasks faithfully as a pastor, elder, or eldress? Eldresses are the mothers who tend to the church. Elders have to sacrifice many times more than laypeople. Those appointed as elders will be judged by the standard of elders in the kingdom of heaven. We are rewarded according to our deeds. Do not reject these words, but come to your senses. How many years will we live? There are some who die before they reach their 70s or 80s. We should depart after doing the work of God. Elders ought to be an example for the church. See how our pastors, evangelists, and church employees take on all the unpleasant tasks. Elders must work three to four times more than laypeople. At the same time they must persevere in their lives of faith, support the church, and carry out their family and work lives. Those who have been commissioned must study the Word, God Himself, twice as much.
“The sluggard buries his hand in the dish, but will not even bring it back to his mouth” (Prov 19:24). “The sluggard does not plow after the autumn, so he begs during the harvest and has nothing” (Prov 20:4). Pastors and evangelists, take heed! Do not become thieves. Have you prayed for your congregation? Did you love fervently? Or did you only look after your own families? Elders must pray several fold more than the congregation, and as fathers and older brothers, care for their souls.
Like the ox, there must be self-sacrifice.
In these times where all are busy taking care of their own, there must be a spirit of sacrifice that humbly offers oneself for others, like the ox. Cows provide people with labor, meat, milk, butter, oil, and leather. There’s a saying, “There’s a place where chestnuts were eaten, but none where the cow was eaten.” In their life, they serve with their labor and, with their death, they leave behind their entrails, bones, and hide. Our ancestors cherished cows so that though they were not family per se, they were considered to be as precious as human beings. Even in my childhood, I heard people say, “I hired a sturdy farmhand in exchange for an ox.” People were valued using the measure of the ox. When we live faithfully and sacrificially before God and people, we will be met with the same measure. Do not use shallow tricks. Look for things to do when you come to church. Let us not be like the fish that runs away after swallowing the bait.
Work that is done faithfully and uprightly with a spirit of sacrifice may initially appear to get the short end of the stick. However, when our efforts add up slowly but surely, God will open the storehouses of heaven and no treasures will He withhold from us (Ps 84:11). Isn’t this the secret to becoming wealthy? Do not lie saying that there are other ways. Starting today, work diligently before our Lord God. Even parents love unsparingly the children who show great devotion to their parents and do well. How much more would God be generous in His love? He will bless them both in the seen and unseen realms.
There must be prudence in rumination like an ox.
We must learn to “chew cud” like an ox, so that we may build up our composure and prudence to calmly meditate on all things. In the days of the King Seonjo of the Joseon Dynasty, a classical scholar named Jeong-tak went to bid his mentor Jo-shik farewell before going to his assigned government post. Jo-shik told Jeong-tak, “When you leave, take an ox from my house with you.” Jeong-tak was puzzled because he knew that not a single ox was to be found in the home of his upright mentor. Jo-shik said, “You’re quick and sharp in speech and will; you speak astutely and run with the best of them. But words are easily tripped over – won’t you go further if you slow down and consider what is trustworthy? ‘Tis why I instructed you to take an ox with you.” The ox Jo-shik offered was a figurative one. All the people came to know of Jeong-tak’s steady and reliable manner of dealing in domestic and foreign affairs after listening to his mentor so much so that he climbed his way up the ranks all the way to becoming the nation’s prime minister. He always led the ox in his heart, and it is said that he even passed down this ox to his descendants for generations in a will. Beloved saints, we must become those who support our families, friends, church, country, and nation with poise and circumspection. We must ruminate upon the given Word. We must ruminate upon the Word of God by studying it, remembering it, and praying about it within the Lord’s grace, so that it abides in our heart for all time. I pray upon you in the name of the Lord for you to possess that grace.
Like the ox ascending a hill, we must go forth with strength that is both fervent and tenacious.
An ox bearing a heavy load proceeds up a hill with tenacity. With eyes wide open, the ox grunts and digs in its hooves with all its might. Imagine the persistence of the ox doing all that it can to ascend the hill so that its cart doesn’t slip back down. That is how we must live our lives of faith. We must put into practice what we have determined to do. Though some may have resolved to attend church service, they find themselves making all kinds of excuses, like, “Oh, darn, it’s snowing,” or “It’s too cold,” or “It’s raining but I don’t have an umbrella.” While knowing they ought to go to church, they delay until it ends up being too late to go. Later, they phone their friends or others, requesting a copy of that day’s sermon. They are the ones who refuse to bear their share of the burden, instead making themselves part of the burden. In our life of faith, we must drive on, committed to the aspirations and dreams once we bear them. We ought to be unswayed by what others say, for the Lord tells us, “Do not turn to the right nor to the left.”
Look at Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate. Raised in an impoverished family, he worked as a mail carrier, and while doing so he memorized the door plates of all the homes he delivered to. Because the people who saw him acknowledged and chose him, he eventually became the king of a global steel empire. This did not all occur coincidentally; he pressed on bearing his heavy load. Believers should strive in this way as well. We must have that resolution and determination to be at the head, at the top, of our life of faith and in our respective workplaces.
In accordance with today’s scripture reading, “Good people are guided by their honesty, but crooks who lie and cheat will ruin themselves” (Prov 11:3 ERV), let us not live a life of complacency. We must eat after working. Even if we have to run errands for others, we must support ourselves. Do not seek to receive help by stirring feelings of pity in others. You may succeed at first by talking the talk, but that won’t sustain without not walking the walk. Just as the turtle overtakes the rabbit in the race, the faithfulness of the ox will overcome the craftiness of the rat. Remember that faithfulness triumphs over craftiness, and integrity over corruption. Christians must be faithful and upright.
“Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, But much revenue comes by the strength of the ox.” (Prov 14:4)
Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean and it remains that way because no grunt work is done there. But wealth can never be gained. People are averse to working menial jobs. “I graduated from so-and-so university, how can I work for that person who is not as smart as I am?” And their family members will slowly wither away from hunger, and they can no longer afford to live in the city. Stability is nowhere to be found in their life, only dread and anxiety. According to the Bible, even lowly work is a calling. Those who despise working are the stalls empty of oxen. Despite the filth and stench of cow dung, there is much to be gained from cattle. Those who work will be blessed with riches. Let us not attempt to become rich quickly through dishonest schemes. We must earn our way and enlarge our wealth, one coin at a time. If we save $100 a month, we will have $1200 after one year and $12,000 in ten years; then with interest, it’s an added $14,000. This is the way to go. Faithfulness, obedience, and diligence like an ox will glorify God and lead to an even more pious faith. They will be poised to meet the challenges of life and overflow with satisfaction, joy, and thanksgiving.
Paul said to the saints in Philippi, “According to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. To Live is Christ” (Phil 1:20). He is saying that he will take any work, either menial or prestigious, as long as it exalts Jesus. Outwardly, he was from the royal family of Benjamin, a Pharisee among Pharisees, who graduated from the School of Tarsus (comparable to Harvard) and was ought to live in a high position all his life, as he was educated under the prestigious school of Gamaliel. But because he believed in Jesus, he was despised by others, stoned, beaten, and busy running away from people in cold, naked, and hungry circumstances. Yet still he confessed, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Col 1:24). We must become such a pastor, such an elder, such an eldress, and such a deacon. We should not just take care of ourselves only when something difficult happens in the church.
“For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” (Rom 14:7-8)
We must believe in this Word and serve in diligence, devotion, and faithfulness for the glory of God. I pray in the name of the Lord, that the church, which is the body of the Lord, will shine the living history of the Word throughout the whole world. Although we are all slow in steps, let us go thousands of miles in the steps of the ox.
Rev. Abraham Park’s Sermon from August 1, 2004 (Lord’s Day)
*This post can also be read in 'Champyungan'. (http://champyungan.com/en/)