A Fly in the Ointment


One of the serendipities of our current itinerant ministry is having some Sundays open when we’re traveling and being able to hear fellow preachers.

Not long ago we were visiting the West Citrus church in Crystal River and I heard Michael Lusk preach a sermon entitled “A Fly in the Ointment.” I’ve thought about that lesson ever since and today’s post draws its inspiration from my notes that day.

“A fly in the ointment” is an English idiom that expresses something greater than what is actually said. It’s figurative, not literal. It speaks to a problem, issue or irritant that ruins something that would have been special, great, or important. While this idiom was probably used more by past generations, it is still found in books, movies and everyday conversation. What some folks don’t know, is that it ordinated from the Bible.

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.
–Eccl. 10:1

Ointment was used in Bible times for various purposes. It had medicinal use for the sick and was also used to anoint the bodies of corpses as well as the clothes in which they were wrapped. Some forms of ointment were used by the wealthy for cosmetic purposes. Luxurious ointment was a perfume that emitted a pleasing fragrance.

Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, anointed the feet of Jesus with an expensive ointment that “filled the house with the fragrance of the perfume. This raised the ire of Judas who complained it could have been sold for 300 denarii, which was about a year’s wages, and the proceeds given to the poor. Of course, his motives were corrupt because he was the treasurer and a thief (Jn. 12:1-7).

Now, suppose a fly got into the jar of ointment, died and rotted in it. The wonderful aroma now stinks. The ointment is ruined. A little fly has fouled up something wonderful.

The wise man’s analogy was that just a bit of foolishness can tarnish the reputation of who is otherwise respected and honored. A fly in the ointment.

This principle has many applications for Christians.

We may get a fly in our thinking. A spiritually minded person, who regularly reads the Bible, prays without ceasing, and attends every church service, may allow their thoughts to become negative, hyper-critical, or resentful. Their negativity about life, constant complaining about their circumstances, or their bitterness toward someone who’s wronged them becomes a “fly in the ointment.”

We may get a fly in our character. Think of the rich young ruler who apparently was a good, moral man who obeyed the commandments of Moses’ law. Yet, his greed and love of riches was the fly in the ointment that hindered him from following Jesus. His good deeds did not outweigh this character flaw.

It’s a good lesson for all of us. It’s easy to rationalize our shortcomings by citing either the good we do, or the horrible sins that we do not commit. But it’s appropriate to ask, “Do you have a fly in the ointment? “

Is your “fly in the ointment”….

…Greed, covetous, and love of money?

…Gossip, backbiting, and slander?

…Prejudice, partiality and a racial bias?

…Uncontrolled anger that explodes with the fury of a raging storm?

…An addiction to alcohol, drugs, or some other controlled substance?

…The “green-eyed monster” of envy or jealousy?

…A lack of concern for the poor, disenfranchised and “the least of the these”?

…Selfishness that refuses to share your blessings with others?

…A private lust of the flesh fed by pornography?

…A secret sin that you won’t let go of?

…Pride and self-righteousness that you’re not guilty of any of these sins?

“A fly in the ointment” will ultimately create a spiritual stench that will finally be found out. Its foul odor will negate our influence and diminish our good deeds.

Finally, neither the point of this passage nor this post is suggesting we can become sinlessly perfect. Flies will get in the ointment. But when they do, get them out. Don’t allow them to purify and create a stink.

–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman


Filed under character, Christian Living

2 responses to “A Fly in the Ointment

  1. Pingback: Weekly Recap: September 13-18 | ThePreachersWord

  2. diane crawford

    I was fighting fiys aii eveing,went to bed was concerned they would land on my face etc, jumped out of bed found it and killed it! then went back to bed,started thinking these flys have followed me around all day! what going on?. got up found this article and…asked myself whats the fly in my OINTMENT? I use to minister in churches statewide and aboard and sing and share Gods word,many years have passed and because my husband doesnt want to go to church or me to minister, I have been very unhappy, the FLY i believe is thinking, Ihave to do what he is doing, nothing


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.