ave you ever bought strawberries, dutifully put them in the refrigerator, and then the next day when you’re grabbing some to eat for breakfast, you find a moldy one at the bottom? Right then you just know that the whole thing is inevitably going in the trash in a matter of hours. You can take that one out, but probably the ones it was touching are all going to be moldy the next day. And then you’ve basically wasted $4.


Solomon introduced the idea of a “fly in the ointment” in Ecclesiastes 10:1. He applied it to the destructiveness of even a little bit a foolishness, but it’s an image that’s so broadly applicable that it has become a cliché that has spawned other clichés: one bad apple (or strawberry) spoils the whole bunch. We all know what it means—that a small amount of bad can ruin a large amount of good, whatever those things may be.

But it is more than that. The deeper truth here isn’t just the potential of the dead fly putrefying the expensive ingredients the perfumer relies on to create something beautiful. There is an air of vigilance that is called for by this text, too. A fly simply landing in the ointment doesn’t ruin it. The ointment becomes worthless when the fly is left there to die and fester. If the perfumer cares well for his product, he removes the fly long before it becomes an issue.

This sure sounds like life. You could liken the fly to a root of bitterness, by which a whole life, and even a whole community, can be upturned and “defiled” (Hebrews 12:15, ESV). Bitterness, when caught early and handled, doesn’t grow roots and likely causes only short-term damage.

This has a huge part in conflict resolution as well. Anger becomes an issue when left unchecked. Ephesians tells us sure, be angry. Who’s never angry? But “do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26). It goes on to express that it’s the festering of anger that leads to sin and destruction.

Temptation, too. Martin Luther described it as a bird flying over your head. He reminded us that we can’t necessarily control that bird, but you certainly can keep him from nesting in your hair. Remove temptation when it lands, and long before it grips you, and the job is so much easier!


The core takeaway is pretty simple: handle the hard things while they are still small and you’ll save yourself a lot of heartache, wasted time, and loss.

What flies do you need to remove? What small thing could cause damage if you don’t take care of it? It could be a temper that gets the better of you, a habit of overspending your money, a rude word said to a loved one that has left hurt feelings, or being too proud to accept help.

Maybe start here instead: What flies have already spoiled something in your life? What can you learn from that experience?