Bees are pretty cool. Directly or indirectly responsible for every third mouthful of food we consume, they punch above their weight when it comes to making the plant and animal kingdom go around.
It also turns out that bees can teach us plenty about the way in which God-centred communities should function.
This shouldn’t surprise us. Job says that: “in His hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind”. It would be entirely consistent that God’s Eden-intent for his kingdom might echo through nature and testify of his heart for us.
So, as I interviewed a bee rescuer for a story I was writing and saw cascading parallels between the functioning of a hive and what I understood about Jesus’ intent for His church, it was reason enough to write.
Seven’s a biblical number, so here are seven parallels about the function of bees in community and some ways we’re called to function as His church.
B1: You don’t conquer by dividing, you thrive within community
Hives don’t tend to divide because the number of bees becomes too great, they divide because the hive can no longer contain all fruit (honey) they’ve produced.
What causes a hive to divide is not the nuance of the nectar, nor a preference for producing a distinct strain of fruit, it’s an inability to release fruit beyond its context. Too much fruit within and not enough fruit beyond causes them to turn inward and against each other.
When a bee’s honey is collected and enjoyed beyond the hive, it makes room for more honey production and harmonious working conditions.
Yep, they’re blessed to be a blessing. They’re sustained by that blessing and, when it’s also used beyond their context, things are sweet.
We’re no different. When all our efforts are consumed within, we forget who we are. The church is a people who equip and encourage, love and restore, wrestle and worship together, but the overwhelming orientation is towards mission and redemption. Obedience to the Great Commission is a catalyst for propelling us upward (in worship), inward (with encouragement), and outward (as bearers of the good news about Jesus). Lose one of those three, and it won’t be long before we’re arguing about the colour of the carpet and the blend of coffee…and that bloke that just keeps putting too much milk in my short mac.
B2. You’re sustained within the hive
A bee’s honey is its food. Take away its food, and it quickly starves. Yes, it’s important for the fruit to go beyond the hive, but it’s important that that fruit sustains within as well.
If all the bee’s honey is enjoyed beyond the hive, they starve to death. Their fruit is intended to grow them as they get on with the business of honey production.
As part of the Body of Christ, we’re fruit producers, sure, but it’s unidirectional. If I make outward expressions of fruit production my primary orientation, I starve. It might be impressively sacrificial, but I’m meant to be located within a hive/community. No one who is whole is self-sufficient. We are not lone rangers on disintegrated Jesus’ crusades. If we are, we shouldn’t be. We’re designed for integration and wholeness.
Primarily, this perfect community is modelled in the Godhead, but it’s also expressed in the people of God. The encouragement I receive, the equipping and accountability I enjoy, they’re not selfish, they’re functional. And they make the most sense when my enjoyment of the gospel and Jesus’ work for me bears its natural responses of love, grace, fruit, and action.
B3. Sacrifice to serve
Here’s an amazing discovery: every bee in the hive is capable of becoming the Queen given the necessity, but each relinquishes their rights and their ability to ‘self-govern’ to serve the Queen. Indeed, all the siblings of the Queen are ready to assume the role of Queen at a moment’s notice, but they willingly lay aside that power and potential in order to serve the Queen and the Hive.
Where do you start with the expression of this sort of sacrifice within the Body of Christ?
Jesus made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2: 7-8)
Our King calls us to take up his cross and follow Him. We no longer self-govern, but seek the reign and rule of King Jesus in our lives.
Finally, within communities, there are some appointed to positions of leadership to serve the community through that anointing. This does not nullify the leadership giftings of every other member of the community, but it does call them to relinquish some facets of leadership to serve the vision of another.
B4. Many hues of good honey
As I looked at one of my bee rescuer’s hives, one thing was easy to spot. Within the same hive, there were channels of distinctly different honey. Completely different colours. Some streams like a pale Chardonnay, other streams as a rich as a pale cola.
When I asked about this, my friend told me that it was the result of their pollen source. Pollen from box trees, for example, produced a pale, sweeter honey. While this didn’t surprise me, I was amazed that the bees who collected from those box trees congregated in the same specific area of the hive and got busy producing their honey right there. Alongside them, another cohort was also busy, producing similarly valuable, but distinctly different fruit, fuelled by another pollen gift.
The parallel is obvious. The Holy Spirit resources the Church with a diversity of gifts for the purpose of producing gospel fruit, encouraging others, and revealing Jesus’ work in and through us. The fruits are not uniform; they’re different kinds of good. And we get to enjoy stewarding those gifts right alongside one another, working shoulder to shoulder – even though we might be producing different strains of goodness.
B5. Another thing about the queen
How do you relocate a hive or a swarm of bees? You identify the Queen, move her into the rescue box, then wait for all the others to follow. How do you know you’ve identified the Queen? Because all the others follow. Just look where they’re going, and you’ll know where the Queen has gone.
Yep, obvious enough. Jesus is our forerunner. The author, perfecter and finisher of our faith, the writer of Hebrews tells us. We go where He goes. We can’t do what He did, but we can follow Him into places of love, joy, sacrifice, and service. And how can you spot a Jesus-follower? They’ll point you to Jesus. Look where they’re walking, work where they’re working, look where they’re pointing, and you won’t see another man or woman, nor will you see a cause or concern or single issue, but you’ll see the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
B6. Largely oblivious
I doubt the bees know of the enormous part they play in the ecosystem. I’m not sure they’re aware of the full reverberation of their pollinating goodness. They’re just busy being busy bees. They’re not famous for introspection, but they’re very definitely playing a part of a bigger story in their kingdom.
We’re not oblivious as we go about loving one another, but the full reverberations of the work of which we’re part may never be understood this side of eternity.
That’s not a call to be oblivious to what we’re doing but a reminder that we will rarely understand the eternal echoes of our faithful obedience and service. Like the bees, do it anyway. There’s joy there.
B7. Keep dancing
Something quite incredulous happened as I was talking to the bee rescuer. He identified a pair of bees having a ‘chat’ together. I missed it, but my friend spotted what was happening. They were dancing, and their dancing had a purpose. They danced out directions to the best pollen in town. He told me that these instructions were tree specific – their wings would provide precise directions to the source of goodness. Left, second right, third left, fourth tree on your right and gold…right there…nectar gold.
Our worship points others to God. It declares His goodness and His steadfast love towards us. It testifies of the grace and mercy that continues to reach towards us and others in the redeeming, justifying work of Jesus.
Never forget to dance. We were born to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called (us) out of darkness into His marvellous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
It’s a good time of the year for honey right now. It goes particularly well with lemon and hot water. And it’s always a good time for stepping into what Jesus invites us into as His people. People set apart to declare his goodness as mercy-receivers in places of darkness and light. The pollen is plentiful and ripe for harvest.