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Scripture Focus: Ecclesiastes 10:1-3

“(NIV) As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor. The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left. Even as he walks along the road, the fool lacks sense and shows everyone how stupid he is.”

Introduction: Computer Bug
Mars has been a subject of fascination for centuries. Scientists are intrigued about the possibility of life and the possibility of water beneath the surface. One recent spacecraft to visit the red planet was the Mars Climate Orbiter. Its incredible to me that scientists can calculate the gravity of the moon, the effects of the sun and planets, the orbit of the planets, and plot a course that will take a comparatively small spacecraft with very limited fuel and send it on a trajectory to intercept Mars. Two years and a billion miles later the spacecraft reaches it’s target.

Unfortunately, for the Mars Climate Orbiter, something went wrong. It made the journey all the way to Mars but then in its final moments disaster struck. Initially, scientists were not sure what happened, but contact with the spacecraft was lost. Later, as scientists tried to pinpoint what went wrong, they discovered that it was not a mechanical error, but a human one that doomed the spacecraft. Among the thousands of lines of computer programming code someone made a mistake. A small mistake, but a mistake with a very big consequences — one programming team used English units (e.g., inches, feet, miles. . .) while the other used metric units. When the spacecraft fired its engines to take it into orbit, its calculations were off and its journey and a large portion of NASA’s resources were wasted.

A similar rocket failure took place on a Venus probe a few years back. In that case it was a simple hyphen in the computer program that resulted in the rocket’s failure.

A mistake in a computer program is called a “bug.”… In comparison to the whole, the “bug” may seem small — but a “fly in the ointment”. But that small “bug” can lead to disastrous consequences. Assumptions and the decisions based on those assumptions may be miscalculated. Our resources may be wasted and our destination may be forever changed – all on as a result of a fly in the ointment.

Let me read Ecclesiastes 10:1-3 again… This time from the New King James Version.

(NKJV) Ecclesiastes 10:1 Dead flies putrefy the perfumer’s ointment, And cause it to give off a foul odor; [So does] a little folly to one respected for wisdom [and] honor.


In Old Testament times, ointments were highly prized and extremely valuable.

  • Treasure – Hezekiah displayed them in his treasure house to the representatives of the King of Babylon. (2 Kings 20:13)
  • Tribute – They were used for payment of tribute (Hosea 12:1)
  • Jesus Feet – In the New Testament Judas complained that the ointment poured on Jesus’ feet might have been sold for a large sum of money (Matthew 26:9)
  • Anointing and consecration – Ointments and oiled were used to anoint and consecrate priests, the tabernacles and furnishings. (Exodus 30:22-33)
  • Birth of Christ – Two of the three gifts mentioned that the kings brought to baby Jesus were ointments – frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11)

Not only was ointment valuable, but it was also practical.

  • Hygene – The anointing of the hair, face, and exposed skin was an important act of hygiene and grooming in the arid regions of the Holy Land. Water for baths was scarce. Oils also provided protection against the scorching desert sun.
  • King David – In II Sam. 12:20 we can read of King David, washing, putting on his lotions, and changing his clothes.
  • Ancient Egyptian – Historical documents reveal an incident of workers going on strike because of a lack of food and “ointment” for their skin (“Ointment” – Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia).

Ointment was used for medicinal purposes.

  • Ointments & cremes – Even today, many of our medicines are applied in ointments & cremes.
  • The “Balm of Gilead” referred to an ointment with medicinal value – (Jeremiah 8:22)
  • Wounds – Isaiah 1:6 and Luke 10:34 indicate oil was used on wounds.
  • Burial – Ointments were also used in embalming and wrapping a body, in preparation for burial.

Ointments were valuable, practical, and medicinal.


Ointment was made by an apothecary (chemist/perfumer). He usually created the ointment by skillfully mixing precious spices, scents, herbs, or medicinal extracts into an olive oil base. The fragrance from these additions to the oil naturally attracted pesky flies. These unwitting flies then became entrapped in the miry, oily substance.

Decay/ stench: 
Not only did the flies corrupt the ointment by their simple presence, but their decaying bodies caused the ointment to spoil and stink. Flies are quite commonly used as a symbol of decay, of corruption, of ruin. We’ve all seen flies drawn to dead animals and spoiled fruit.

Wherever there are flies, ruin is sure to follow. 

  • In Egypt: God used a swarms of flies as one of the 10 plagues that devastated Egypt. Of that event, Exodus 8:24 reads “And the LORD did this. Dense swarms of flies poured into Pharaoh’s palace and into the houses of his officials, and throughout Egypt the land was RUINED by the flies.”
  • In Malaysia: A couple months ago, while I was on a short vacation in Malaysia I was working on this sermon. I ordered mixed vegetables and as I began to scoup them onto my spoon a fly fluttered his wings and said “hello.” I guarantee that from that point, he may have been smaller but he now had a much bigger appetite than I did. It ruined the mixed vegetables for me. I couldn’t eat them. I didn’t even go back to that restaurant again.
  • It may be a small fly, but it has great potential
    • to ruin something very valuable,
    • to render something essential as useless
    • to corrupt something used for healing into something that is putrifying.


Word Usage: This situation in which dead flies putrifed the perfume was such a common occurrence that the term “Flies in the ointment.” came to be mean anything that spoiled pleasure of the whole. Interestingly though, this verse is actually being misused today. This is true of many Biblical verses that have found their way into common usage. Either someone misinterpreted the phrase or meaning has changed over the last 3000 years. The issue being discussed is not some isolated blemish (or blemishes) that detract from the pleasure of the whole. The issue is that the dead flies have caused the ointment itself to stink. The fly is merely a precursor to a more serious problem… The ointment is now putrified. The result may be just as nauseating, but the distinction is extremely important. Dead flies can be fished out, but when the ointment has been ruined simply removing the fly does not remove decay and stench.

Yet we often say to ourselves – It’s Just one fly? – Its just a little sin.

Sin brings a noisy clatter where once was a symphony
Sin replaces the Bread of life with moldy breadcrumbs
Sin replaces springs of living water with stagnant pools of decay
Sin replaces delectable fruits of the spirit with worm riddled fruits of the flesh.

Each of these starts small, but the consequences are great.

One un-tuned trumpet in the orchestra,
One spore of mold on the bread,
One polluted water source,
One rotten apple in the fruit basket,
One fly in the ointment.

Small but not insignificant.

One hyphen in thousands of lines of computer programming
One unit in feet among hundreds in metric.
One fly in the ointment and the ointment begins to give off a foul smell.

One hyphen, one bug, in a thousand lines of computer programming is a mistake. The programmer didn’t intend to do something wrong. Yet even with something so small, that wasn’t even a moral decision, the potential for disaster was enormous. How greater is the potential danger of intentional sin – one little sin can lead to potentially disastrous consequences. And the loss of a soul is so much more painful than the loss of a spacecraft, a piece of equipment.

Biblical Examples
It was one bite of the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden. (Genesis 3)
It was one golden calf that doomed the Israelites to a 40 year holy Land tour. (Exodus 32)
It was one man’s sin that led to Joshua’s defeat in the battle of Ai. (Joshua 7)
It was one little lamb, a woman named Bathsheba, that tempted King David into adultery. (II Samuel 11)
It was one moment of Anger that prevented Moses from Entering the promised land.
It was one kiss that betrayed our Savior. (Mark 14:44)
If only it had been but one sin that nailed our Savior to the cross. Yet for us, we could be lucky if we only had one sin since we woke up this morning… no for us, one is too small a number…
Yet it was the one Son of God died on the cross and took away ALL OF our sins.

Small but not insignificant. 
A virus is the tiniest of living things. But when we have one, we do not consider it a small thing.
One small virus and our nose becomes a stream,
our stomach begins to churn,
all our muscles begin to ache,
and our head begins to throb.
For one virus grows and infects the whole body. The trouble with little sins is that they don’t stay little.

Principle: It has been said,
sow one thought, reap an action
sow one action, reap a habit
sow one habit, reap a character
sow one character, reap a destiny

Watch Out for Those Tadpoles

I read about an incident that took place at a college campus, located in a valley between two mountains. The water tower for that college was located up on one of the mountains. One morning while the guys were taking their showers, the water went off. They thought the girls were playing a trick on them so they quickly got dressed and ran to the girls’ dorm, only to find that the same thing had happened to them.

When they realized that it wasn’t a trick, they called the maintenance crew. When the maintenance crew arrived, they were perplexed. They could find no pipes that were burst or valves that were turned off, so they began the tedious task of following the pipe all the way back up the mountain. Piece by piece they took it apart to see if there was any blockage. Finally, they came to the last piece of pipe that went into the water tower. They opened it, and found an enormous bullfrog stuck in the pipe.

They could not understand how a bullfrog could have gotten into the water tower. There was just no way. Then they realized that it hadn’t come in as a big bullfrog but as a tiny tadpole. It had worked its way in and lived off the algae in the water until one day it was swimming too close and was sucked into the pipe, cutting off the water supply to the whole campus.

So many times, something may seem to us only
a small “indiscretion.”,
a little mistake,
a minor infraction,
a short lapse of judgment,
a momentary loss of control.
But in time, if not removed, that little sin will grow, and before we know it the flow of the Living Water into our lives has been choked off. Our relationship with God becomes stale and stagnant.

Like in the movie “Gremlins”, sin starts out small and cute like the Mogwai (spelling?). But if we feed it, it becomes a demon, and we don’t control it, it controls us, and the result is destruction and ruin.

A fly in the ointment is a picture, an image of sin in the life of a believer. 
I imagine the apothecary represents God.
The ointment and spices represent our lives, our actions, how we live.
And, the sweet smelling aroma or fragrance is the testimony produced by our lives.
In 2 Corinthians 2:15 our life and testimony are similarly described as an aroma. But that aroma can be spoiled by the flies, by the sin in our lives..

New Testament Comparison: Salt Losing its Saltiness.
In The New Testament Jesus speaks of a similar metaphor when he speaks of Salt losing its saltiness.

  • In Matthew 5:13 we read, “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses it’s saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.”
  • Similarly, In Luke 14:34 we read, ” Salt is good, but if it loses it’s saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is neither fit for the soil nor for the manure pile.”
  • Furthermore, in Colossians 4:6 we are told “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

The common principle – Salt, like ointment, was used for healing. We can’t be a source of comfort and healing to a hurting world when our lives have been contaminated and our witness has been corrupted.

  • What is the fly in the ointment for you?
  • What is the sin in your life that is now destroying or has the potential to destroy your witness?
  • Maybe you are thinking.. its just a little sin.. But one little sin can have great consequences.
  • What is it that brings about putrification and stench in your life instead of a fragrant aroma of Christ?

It seems the world today doesn’t like to talk about sin.
“Sin” is one of those words that isn’t “politically correct.”

Now when discussing various questionable activities, we replace any references to “sin” with terms like “moral failure,” and “momentary lapse.”

Lilian Holcomb, a grandmother in Pueblo Colorado, tells her grandchildren a bedtime story from the Bible story every night. One night she said, “Tonight we’re going to talk about sin. Do you know what the word sin means?”
Seven-year-old Keith spoke up. “It’s when you do something bad.”
Four-year-old Aaron’s eyes widened. “I know a big sin Keith did today.”
Annoyed, Keith turned to Aaron. “You take care of your sins, and I’ll take care of mine.”
[Christian Reader, “Kids of the Kingdom.”]

Some of you may be thinking the same thing now, “You take care of your sins and I’ll take care of mine.” But we often have no intention of taking care of our sins – we are merely upset that someone else has discovered them.

Fly Collector?
Cockroaches as pets?
If you read the Singapore Straits Times (August 19, 2000), You might have noticed the story about some special pets of students in southern China. They are the latest rage and are even seen as status symbols. The wholesale price of these pets are about S$13 per 250mg. The most prized specimens are said to be from the United States and Australia. What are these treasured pets?

If you read the story you would know that they are cockroaches. Apparently there was a popular Hong Kong television series in which a couple raised a cockroach (named Xiao Qiang) as a pet. Since then pet shops have been cashing in on the demand as students buy the creatures. Personally, I have a hard time seeing a cockroach as a pet. As matter of fact, my natural tendency when I see one is a heavy foot and a satisfying crunch.

When I was a youth I did have a few insects I collected, almost as pets. I raised Monarch butterflies, and I collected beetles. I think that if I had ever brought a cockroach home as a pet mom would have sent me to the nearest psychiatrist and given me roach killer for aftershave.

Even with my relatively benign insects, Mom was always quick to inform me when any of my live specimens escaped, usually with a loud scream that “something was loose and crawling across her foot.”

They have a special name for people who study insects. They are known as entomologists. Unfortunately many of us as Christians have become entomologists ourselves. Not only do we have a fly in the ointment, but we have chosen to become collectors.

But I wonder, what it is you have chosen to collect?

You don’t need to raise your hands on these:
If I were to peer into your collection, what would I find?
Is it anger, bitterness, jealousy, gossip, worry, gluttony, harmful habits or addictions, sexual lust, envy, materialism, little white lies, big black lies, a divisive spirit, an unforgiving heart, a critical spirit, selfish ambition, fear, real or imagined guilt, discontentment, pornography, depression, quarreling, impatience, complaining, deceit, arrogance, self-righteousness, unholy thoughts.

A recent survey of Discipleship Journal Christian readers ranked areas of greatest spiritual challenge to them:

  1. Materialism
  2. Pride
  3. Self-centeredness
  4. Laziness
  5. (Tie) Anger/Bitterness
  6. (Tie) Sexual lust.
  7. Envy
  8. Gluttony
  9. Lying

C.S. Lewis – Surprised by Joy (Chap. 14)
“For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose. And what I found appalled me;
a zoo of lusts,
a bedlam of ambitions,
a nursery of fears,
a harem of fondled hatreds.”

Saving some for later?
A primary 2 student went to his first confessional in his catholic church. He confessed one or two small items and the priest, knowing he was a very mischievous boy, asked, “Do you have any more to confess?”
“Sure” the youngster replied, “but I am saving some for next time.”
[Joseph Young, Saint Cloud (Minnesota) Visitor.]

Pet Sins?
I must confess, as I was preparing this sermon, I had to come to terms with the fact that I have more than one fly in my life. I guess we all do. I also must confess that there are a few I am not really keen about giving up. I have a few I want to save until later. Some of them have become pets. I wonder if you also have a few pets?

Growing Up, I lived in the Texas countryside, surrounded by ranches and farms. The nearest city was 7 miles away. My best friend lived about 14 miles away. While we didn’t live on a farm, we did have a large house on a large piece of land. We had lots of pets.

We had cats and dogs. We also raised ducks, geese, turkeys, chickens and rabbits. Mom also took great joy in feeding the birds and the squirrels. There was even an albino squirrel, one that was all white, that mom considered her pet, even though it was wild.

Because we were so far from the city we had our own well from which we received our water. Water was pumped out of the ground into a large storage tank and then it went through several filters and arrived in the house. We not only used it for the animals and watering plants, but we used it for drinking, cooking, washing clothes and taking showers. On one afternoon I remember mom, who had the most sensitive nose, commenting that the water had a unusual smell to it. In time the smell worsened. Dad was convinced to check the water system and filters and see if something was amiss. He checked the pipes and filters all the way back to the large storage tank. When he climbed the ladder to the top of the tank and removed a cover to look inside, the stench just about knocked him off the ladder. It seemed that one of mom’s pet squirrels had somehow climbed inside to get a drink and took an unexpected swim. Unfortunately, he failed his swimming lesson and drowned. Dad reached in to scoop him out and when he picked it up by its tail, it was so rotten that the fur and skin came right off. And this was water we had been drinking. Obviously we drained the tank, and added a good dose of bleach to purify it before we refilled it with water. We also put wire over the openings to prevent a similar occurrence. A few years later, however, the wire rusted through and another squirrel went for a final swim. It was just one squirrel, but the the results were quite disgusting.

While the water filters helped remove some of the smell, in a sense they only made things worse because it took longer to identify the problem. The problem wasn’t solved until the squirrel was removed and a good cleansing took place.

The same is true in our lives. We can try to clean up, what comes out of our lives, our actions, but the actions will only become clean when the source of the contamination, when the heart is cleaned up.

There is always an emptying before the new life can replace the old. A good cleansing or confession must take place.

Then a little extra protection in those weak spots would be prudent, as well, in order to prevent a return of the pesky little problem. In time, our “pets” get us into trouble.


Avoid flies
FLEE – “Flee the evil desires of youth…”
FOCUS – “pursue faith love righteousness and peace”
FELLOWSHIP “With those who call upon God from a PURE heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22).

Remove the flies– if you sin, then repent and confess it immediately.
“If you confess your sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and CLEANSE us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9)

Use Insect repellent– saturate yourself with the Word,
“Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” (Psalm 119:11)

Remember that Survey?
Survey respondents noted temptations were more potent when they had:
* neglected their time with God (81 percent) = (LACK OF FOCUS)
* when they were physically tired (57 percent).

Resisting temptation was accomplished by
* prayer (84 percent),
* avoiding compromising situations (76 percent), (FLEE)
* Bible study (66 percent), and
* being accountable to someone (52 percent). (FELLOWSHIP)
— Discipleship Journal, 11-12/92. “To Verify,” Leadership.

If you do these things, then your life will be “a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour”- well pleasing to the Lord. (Eph. 5:2)

Remember the Mars Climate Orbiter that was lost as a result of using feet instead of metric units. There was something I didn’t tell you about it. When NASA officials were asked about the error, they responded that the error wasn’t the biggest problem. People sometimes make mistakes… that’s common. The biggest mistake, according to NASA officials, was the failure of the system of checks and balances to detect the error and correct it.

I John 1:9 “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse (or PURIFY) us from all unrighteousness.”

A FLY IN AMBER. (object Lesson)

I have here a piece of amber. I am an avid rock and mineral collector.

Growing up, my mother, remarking on the vast number of stones and minerals that filled my closets, my drawers, my cabinets and overflowed onto the floor of my room, once told me if I brought one more rock in the house I was going to have to move out to make room for my collection. Of course now she is quite fond of my rock collection as long as it includes rubies, opals, jade, and other stones she can wear.

This piece of amber is one of the prized stones in my rock collection. If you have seen the movie “Jurassic Park” or “The Lost World” you might remember the walking cane with the amber pommel. Amber is actually a prehistoric resin, secreted from a tree. Many of our ointments and medicinal cremes are made from such resins. In the case of amber, the resin has fossilized and hardened. Anything caught in the resin is preserved. The resin becomes a miniature time capsule displaying its contents for all to see. The most prized amber are the specimens like this one that contains a fruit fly – a very long time ago, it was merely A FLY IN THE OINTMENT, a fly that became trapped in the resin of a tree. Now it is fossilized and encased in stone.

Too often our lives are like this piece of amber. Instead of removing the fly in the ointment, we allow it to harden and become fossilized.

For some of us the fly has become a prized treasure.
Some of us have become entomologists – insect collectors.
The closets, drawers, and cabinets of our lives are overflowing not with stones but flies. Flies that over time are becoming hardened and fossilized.

What’s the fly in your life?
What is the sin that prevents you from being the fragrant aroma of Christ the Perfumer, your Creator, intended?
What is it that has entered your life and is slowly putrifying your relationship with God?
Let’s take a moment of silent meditation? Let God speak to you…

Where is the stench coming from? 

  • For some of you, this may be the first time you realized the danger of sin in your life… You’ve seen the decay first hand, you’ve experienced the stench, and you’re aware of the destruction one little sin can cause. You’ve looked at your life and you’ve become aware of more than just one fly. But the ONE SON of God came to cleanse you, to save you. I John 1:9
  • Other’s of you, have experienced the cleansing, but over time, the screen rusted out, the little pet sins have crawled back in, and you are starting to smell the stench again. Your testimony isn’t what is should be. Your relationship with God has become stagnant and corrupted. Will you let the fly become fossilized, hardened or will you remove it by confessing before God today. I John 1:9 is for you too.

Let’s confess and Let God purify us today, so that we might experience his presence, his fragrance in our lives. Don’t wait. God can restore you, so that you can be an ointment of healing to a hurting world. I know that truth personally as one small fly completely sidelined me from ministry for a time and cause a lot of pain for others. But God CAN restore! One small sin can be a cause of great destruction, but as Jesus showed us on the cross, God can use one life, clean and pure, yielded before Him, to undo that same destruction.

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