You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.
This is part of what my Bible labels as “Sundry Laws”. This is a pretty decent title for the section. There have been logical flows to other portions where like laws were grouped together, but this section goes from how many lashes can be assigned as punishment to not muzzling an ox and on to something equally unrelated to what preceded it. It’s like Moses gets to this point and he’s thinking, “What have I not told you guys that God told me? Oh! That’s right.” And we’ve all been there at least once.
What caught my attention about this verse, aside from it being sandwiched between laws that are unrelated to it, is that Paul will reference it later when speaking about preachers receiving their living from preaching. He couples it with another verse—the workman is worthy of his wages—but the comparison of a preacher or apostle to an ox just makes me smile. The comparison is smile-worthy because an ox was a beast of burden; an animal used for heavy labor. The implication being that apostles and preachers and such will labor long and hard for God’s kingdom. So Paul’s point, I think, is that those who toil for God’s kingdom are worthy of whatever support they receive from those who benefit from that toil.
I think, though, that there is a broader application. The verse implies that an ox might snatch up tidbits while it was working—a barley kernel here, a sheaf of wheat there—and that those snatched bits of grain are the ox’s due for the labor. I’ve served in various ministries over the years—youth, children’s ministry, parking attendants, drama, puppeteering—and can say that every ministry has dropped kernels for the workers. I’ve never made my living from any of those ministries and, considering my temperament, I’m not sure I’m cut out for it. But I have enjoyed friendships that bless me still and I have been taught while teaching others (just try teaching a Sunday school class and see if the kids don’t teach you a thing or twelve). I have received blessing in many forms and no one has ever begrudged me those blessings. I have not been muzzled while I worked and I have enjoyed blessing upon blessing.
My personal application of this verse is this: I should enjoy the fruits of the labor that God has set before me. I currently work with junior high youth and enjoy rich blessings from that labor. None of those blessings are monetary and that is, I think, as it should be. But there are others; so many others.