Diligence and Unity
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“Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no chief, overseer, or ruler, provideth her bread in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest” (Proverbs 6:6-8 ASV).
In the above text, Solomon brings attention to the ant. He points to the work ethic of the ant and directs those who waste their time to consider how productive this small creature is. He refers to the ant again in Proverbs 30:25 (ASV), which reads, “The ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer.” As Solomon suggests, we will consider the wisdom in the example of the ant and look for spiritual lessons to apply to ourselves.
The number of different ant species thus far discovered and classified exceeds 12,500. Successful under a variety of living conditions, these creatures are native to almost every land region on earth. Ants form and live in colonies. Colony sizes can vary from very small (a few dozen ants) to extremely large (millions of ants). Ants are very social insects. Within the colony, they communicate with each other using sound, touch, and scent. Most ant colonies are organized with divisions of labor and with different types of ants serving unique roles. The social and organizational structure of ants and their colonies makes them a compelling study for our consideration.
Work While There is Opportunity
Ants have long been admired for their work ethic. Aesop told of the ant’s productiveness in one of his fables — The Ant and the Grasshopper (or Cicada). As the fable goes, the cicada spends all summer and harvest singing its time away while the ant works diligently collecting and storing food for the winter. When the cold and harshness of winter come, the ant retreats into his nest with the bounty of food he has collected. The cicada, though, finds itself starving and comes and begs for food from the ant. To this request, the ant replies that since the cicada sang all summer, it should dance during winter.
The fable clearly highlights the virtues of hard work and diligence. It is these qualities that Solomon observed in ants during the summer months and why he advised the slothful person to study this creature. Research has shown that the typical yearly cycle for an ant begins when they wake up in spring. They spend the spring, summer, and fall months of the year collecting food, working on the nest, and caring for the colony. When winter comes, they enter into a dormant phase called diapause, which is much like hibernation. They resume their activity the following spring. Ants work while they have opportunity.
The diligence of the ant reminds us of a lesson from our Lord. Jesus said in John 9:4, “I must work the works of Him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.” Like the ant, Jesus recognized his hour of opportunity and the work he had to do during his first advent. He knew it was the work of God — “of Him that sent me” — and he set his focus on carrying it out promptly. Jesus also realized that the time to carry out his work was limited. So he, like the ant, worked diligently — ministering to his disciples (John 17:6-8), healing and performing miracles (Luke 7:22), and humbling himself to the death of the cross (Philippians 2:7-8). Following in our Lord’s footsteps, we have a work set before us as well — fulfilling our consecration vows (Romans 12:1-2), sanctifying ourselves (John 17:17, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4), and developing Christ-like characters (2 Peter 1:4-8). Our hour of opportunity is now. We recall how the ant ceases from its work during winter, when there is no more food to collect. We are working during the harvest of this Gospel Age, helping to gather the wheat. This time of opportunity will not last forever. So let us be encouraged to continue working diligently while we still have opportunity (2 Timothy 2:15, Galatians 6:9).
Every Member Has a Role to Play
Ant colonies organize their workers in groups. This is part of what makes ants so successful and prolific. The typical colony consists of one or more queen ants, a large number of worker ants, and seasonally, winged ants. The queen’s role is to produce offspring. The winged ants venture out to establish new colonies. The worker ants make up the majority of the colony and perform several different jobs. Some worker ants stay in the nest and care for the queen and the young. Some dig out and maintain the nest. Some worker ants become foragers and venture out to find food to collect and bring back to the colony. There are many different jobs to do, and the health of the colony is dependent upon the cooperation of all the ants working together toward a common purpose.
Along similar lines, there are many ways in which we can serve God in the prospective body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, the Apostle Paul brings this out using a different analogy, that of the human body. Among the points that Paul makes are that the body of Christ contains many members with different abilities and talents, that God places these members as He sees fit, and that all members are necessary and have their own roles to play. In looking at the ecclesia arrangement, some of the ways we can serve are similar to how the worker ants contribute to the health of their colony. Like the ant that takes care of its young, we train the children of our ecclesias in the principles of God through youth classes and seminars (Proverbs 22:6). Like the ant that builds and maintains the nest, we build and maintain the ecclesia through our relationships based on a shared faith and love of the truth (Ephesians 4:15-16). Finally, as the ant which forages for food for itself and the colony, we search the scriptures for spiritual nourishment which benefits ourselves and our brethren when shared with the ecclesia in study comments, testimonies, and encouragements (1 Corinthians 14:26).
Learn from Each Other
Ants learn from each other. One example of this is the ant trail. Foraging ants are sent out to find and collect food. Upon finding a food source, the foraging ant navigates the most efficient path back to the colony using its sense of direction and smell. As they return, they lay a chemical trail for other ants to follow to the food source. More and more foraging ants follow the trail to the food source. As they return, they reinforce the chemical trail so that it is stronger and easier to follow. Another example of how ants learn from each other is called tandem running. This is where a foraging ant with knowledge of a food source leads an unknowledgeable fellow worker ant. It has been observed with one particular ant species that the mentor ant led the way and was sensitive to the progress of the follower ant. When the follower ant lagged behind, the mentor ant slowed down. When the follower ant was close behind, the mentor ant sped up.
In a similar way, we learn from each other in the ecclesia arrangement. When we congregate, one of our goals is to learn more about God’s plan through the study of the scriptures. For this purpose, we frequently conduct topical and verse-by-verse Bible studies. As each member brings thoughts from their own personal study and shares them with the ecclesia, the collective discussion nourishes us spiritually. Another way in which we learn from each other is in the passing down of spiritual knowledge and truth heritage from one generation to the next. Like the more experienced ant leading the less experienced fellow ant, mentoring has its place in the ecclesia as well.
Those who have been in the way for many years probably remember dear brethren who have gone before and have been mentors to them. We have an example of successful mentoring with the Apostle Paul and Timothy. In this example, we find that Paul first made a connection with Timothy. He knew Timothy’s family well and referred to Timothy as his own “son in the faith” (2 Timothy 1:5, 1 Timothy 1:2). Next, Paul encouraged Timothy. He advised him to not let his youth keep him from being a Christ-like example to others (1 Timothy 4:12). Third, Paul gave Timothy responsibility. He left him in Ephesus to aid the brethren there (1 Timothy 1:3, 4:13).
Unified and Selfless
Ants in the same colony work together in a unified and selfless manner. This is why the ant colony is viewed as a superorganism. A superorganism is “an organized society that functions as an organic whole” (Merriam-Webster). Working in unison as a superorganism, it is possible for an ant colony to take on a challenging task that would evidently be too much for an individual ant to handle. An example of this is the Weaver ant. Weaver ants construct their nests in the leaves of trees. Weaver worker ants pull together several leaves to enclose a space for a nest. Sometimes they build bridges using their individual ant bodies in order to accomplish this. Upon pulling the leaves together, other worker ants use silk making larvae to glue the leaves together. The result is an aboveground leaf-enclosed nest for the colony.
Like the ant, we are to work toward unity and practice selflessness in the ecclesia. The Apostle Paul encourages us along this line in Ephesians 4:1-3: “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The Greek word rendered “unity” means oneness.
We do not strive for unconditional unity, because we have basic doctrinal and essential moral standards that must be followed. But with these satisfied, one of our goals within the ecclesia is to have this oneness of Spirit. The Apostle Paul lists character traits of a selfless disposition that works toward this unity of the Spirit, such as lowliness, meekness, longsuffering, and love. In John 17, Jesus prayed for our oneness three times. In verses 21-22, he prayed that the oneness of his followers might be the same as the oneness of Spirit and disposition that he shared with the Heavenly Father. This is a very high ideal that Jesus sets before us. We do not expect that we will achieve such a perfect oneness while still dealing with the fallen tendencies of our degraded human nature. But that is the goal which our Lord gives to us.
The ant, with its relationship to the colony, is a compelling illustration of the Christian’s role within the ecclesia. God’s intricate wisdom is found even in one of His smallest creatures.