Gary B. Swanson is associate director of the General Conference Sabbath School and Personal Ministries Department.

The English language hasn’t been very kind to ants. At the expense of this small insect, we use the expression “ants in your pants” to describe a slightly irritable, unsettled feeling. We describe a fidgety, impatient person as being “antsy.”

Yet the close study of ants has led researchers to respect and even admire these industrious little creatures. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward O. Wilson, an ardent admirer of the way in which ants work together, describes them as one of dominant forces in the natural world. Even Solomon, the wisest person ever to have lived, showed great respect for the ant with his famous reference to the insect’s hard-working characteristics: “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!” (Prov. 6:6, NIV).

Representatives of the 8,800 known species of ants can be found anywhere on earth except the polar regions. With a population of 10 million billion, they outnumber mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians combined.

Without knowing it, the human race depends on ants in many ways. With the help of termites, ants turn most of the world’s topsoil. They spread plant seeds and scavenge and consume more than 90 percent of smallanimal corpses. But perhaps most impressive is the way in which ants assume roles in their communities. There are soldiers, builders, nurses, farmers, and hunters. And all contribute some specific talent to the welfare of the colony

Desert ants of North Africa carry back to the colony 15 to 20 times their weight in food. There is no time to waste for these creatures, because in only six days, most get lost or are eaten by larger insects.

Christians, too, are supposed to work for the good of those around them. The Christian church is described as a single body, each of its parts working for the good of the whole. In this context we can learn a great deal from the hard-working cooperation that goes on in an ant colony. These lowly insects can teach us some valuable lessons about fellowship, one of the central characteristics of a healthy congregation and especially exhibited in Sabbath School.

Ants look out for and provide for one another. This is the absolute essence of fellowship. It is a characteristic that church members must actively emulate. Commenting on the troubling issue of recidivism in the Seventhday Adventist Church, James A. Cress points out that “a lack of fellowship [is] the strongest factor influencing personal decisions to leave the church.” Sabbath School is one of the most obvious aspects of church life in which this issue may be addressed. It is a natural place and time for members to encourage and pray for one another.

Ants fulfill a role based on their specific gifts. This concept of individuals working as a whole resonates with Paul’s concept of the optimal working of the Christian church: “The body is not one member, but many” (1 Cor. 12:14, KJV). Each member of the Sabbath School should be exercising his or her spiritual gifts in the interest of the gospel. There are surely spiritual equivalents for the ants’ roles as soldiers, builders, nurses, farmers, and hunters. What would these roles mean in terms of Sabbath School?

Ants work together almost as a single, living organism. Bestselling science author Loren Eiseley, impressed with the organized and selfless ways in which ants cooperate, describes a colony in terms of a whole. Similarly, Sabbath School members, working in openhearted cooperation, must become a harmonious force for the optimal development of the church and the effective witness and service to its surrounding community.

Ellen G. White sums up the need for unity in this way: “God wants His people to be united in the closest bonds of Christian fellowship.” If a simple creature like an ant can live out this kind of unity and thrive in a fiercely competitive natural environment, Sabbath School leaders and members would do well to “consider [and implement] its ways” (Prov. 6:6, NIV).

1 James A. Cress, You Can Keep Them If You Care (Silver Spring, Md.: Ministerial Association Resource Center, 2000), 40, emphasis supplied.
2 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, 4:446.

Gary Swanson
Associate Sabbath School Director for the General Conference