The Sluggard Within: Defined and Defeated

The Bible says that the person who is guilty of sloth, belongs to the same family as the most destructive beings on earth. Proverbs 18:9 says, “Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys.” Yes, the one who is lazy and indifferent to his call to serve the Lord with zeal has more in common with the likes of Adolf Hitler and even Satan than he might first recognize.

We think of sloth as merely having to do with our work, but it runs deeper in our souls than merely that one outward expression. It is an expression of spiritual boredom and a passive “resistance to the demands of love” as defined by Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung. The English word “diligent” connects our work with our motives. It comes from the Latin “diligere” meaning to respect, esteem, or love.

How do we fall prey to and express this sin? Here are seven characteristics of the sluggard as presented in Proverbs:

  1. The sluggard has great desire and ambition. Proverbs 21:25-26: “The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor.  26 All day long he craves and craves, but the righteous gives and does not hold back.” He has a desire to get ahead and set goals. But he wants achievements at no cost. Spiritually, the slothful person wants to draw near to God, but doesn’t want to exert the effort.
  2. The sluggard begins on projects. Proverbs 12:27:Whoever is slothful will not roast his game, but the diligent man will get precious wealth.” He kills the animal but can’t get it to the plate. He is busy, but is he getting anything done? Spiritually, he commits to read through the Bible in a year, but gives up in February. He starts discipleship programs but fails to finish. Sluggards can be the busiest of people, but their busyness cannot conceal their sin. Peter Kreeft notes that “Relaxing is not sloth. The person who never relaxes is not a saint but a fidget.”
  3. The sluggard procrastinates. Proverbs 6:9-11:How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? 10 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,11 and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” Solomon begins with a question: “How long?” The implied answer is “Just a little bit longer.” The sluggard is willing to work and obey, just not now. Often, distraction facilitates this sin. Just one more check of email, one more cup of coffee. Blaise Pascal wrote in his Pensees, “Diversion amuses us and lead us unconsciously to death.” It leads to death because it leads us away from seeking God.
  4. The sluggard is given to comfort. Proverbs 20:4:The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing.” It’s uncomfortable to plow in harvest. The sluggard is willing to work, as long as it’s easy. Those given to sloth like avoid healthy confrontation to resolve conflict, because, let’s face it, it’s easier to avoid it and simply let the problem fester.
  5. The sluggard is given to excuses. Proverbs 22:13: The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!” We have lions here in Indianapolis where I live. They are at the Indianapolis Zoo. It is possible that tonight the zoo keepers could accidentally leave the gates open. When I step outside my door tomorrow morning, it is possible that the lion from the zoo could kill me in my driveway. Not likely. But it is possible. So, it would be safer for me to stay home, right? The sluggard knows that if he exercises physically, he might twist his ankle, break a bone, get an infection that travels to the heart and die. He knows that if he works to get to know people at church, he might be hurt later on. And really, who wants to subject himself to all of these unreasonable risks?! The safest and most comfortable places on earth are sometimes the riskiest and deadliest.
  6. The sluggard is self-righteous & self-wise. Proverbs 26:16:The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly.” He asks seven others for counsel regarding a difficult course of action in his life. When they all give the answer different than he wanted to hear, he concludes that he must be the most unlucky man on earth to have such idiots for friends. Spiritually, so many people who do not like the requirements of discipleship will flit from one relationship to the next always driven by an inner resistance to spiritual growth.
  7. The sluggard’s actions ruin his own life and contribute to the downfall of his community. Proverbs 24:30-31: “I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense,  31 and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down.”  His own property suffers and the property values in his neighborhood suffer; his neighbors see it as they walk past. No man is an island. The sluggard does not care about his own soul or the soul and spiritual pursuit of his friend. He is present in the community, but he is just as absent. In the church, the price of such an absent presence is just as great.

We could say that the final portrait of the lazy man comes in Proverbs 26:14-15: “As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed.  15 The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth.” After resisting the demands of love moment by moment, he reaps the harvest of what he sows. Proverbs 24:33-34 says: “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,  34 and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” This poverty is mental, physical, economic, and spiritual. Sloth is pregnant with other sin and after its gestation gives birth to gossip and grumbling (2 Thessalonians 3:11), to sexual immorality and murder (e.g. David and Bathsheba). Sluggishness in prayer on the Mount of Olives gave birth to the disciples’ denial of Jesus. This apathy takes down individuals, companies, churches, and nations.

What is the solution?

At the core, we need to understand that the sluggard seeks his rest in that which cannot comfort him. Augustine famously wrote in prayer at the outset of his Confessions “You have formed us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.” Perhaps initially a surprise, the solution to the sin of sloth is rest. Rest in Jesus Christ and his finished work.

Jesus said “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). To repent of sloth, we must repent of seeking solace in the rest and comfort we have sought to create for ourselves which is inherently selfish. Ephesians 2:8-10 reinforces the idea that we rest in Christ’s work first and then are able to strive with joy to do what God has prepared for us. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

The call to diligence for the Christian is never a call to merit God’s favor, but is rather a call to vigorous expressions of gratitude for and delight in God himself.

Our calling to serve and to seek God’s face is then patterned after the Savior’s example. He is the Creator who delights in his created work (Colossians 1:16). He longed to complete his work on earth and was reported to his Father that he had (John 17:4). Zeal for his Father’s house compelled him (John 2:17) to bring about a new creation in which sinners would be redeemed and creation would ultimately be restored to its purpose. Jesus is making all things new (Revelation 21:5), contrary to the destroyer and his brother the sluggard.

So, because of Jesus work we must respond by making “every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge,  6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,  7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (2 Peter 1:5-7). God’s promise is that “if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 8).

We must commit our affections, our wills, and our strength to pursue God. We must put sluggardly ways to death. We must seek the Lord while he may be found. We must serve him with gladness. Far too many in our churches are riding the spiritual coattails of others and are sluggish in their pursuit of God. May we recognize the destructive nature of our lethargy and be zealous and repent.

As we seek God and strive to please him, we will find him. Seeking leads to finding, and in finding the Lord himself we find joy. God promises that we will also be fruitful in this life, though life will necessarily be more difficult. The diligent will stand before kings (Proverbs 22:29), the one who used to steal from others will provide for himself and bless others with his giving (Ephesians 4:28), and ultimately, we will humbly submit ourselves to the Lord in Christ on the last great day. With diligent love we will return to him his talents recognizing that the fruit born is only the result of the good works that he had prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

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