Lessons from the Lazy
After a message on “Grit” last week and knowing many of you as I do, I want to confess that this feels like the wrong message at the outset. I know that many of you have jobs with long hours. In fact I did the math–if you work 40 years, 50 hours per week, with three weeks off per year that equals 98,000 hours. Stay-at-home moms can roughly double that with less years, but more hours.
Many of you put in long hours, and then on top of that you play a sport or work out in the gym to stay in shape. So it seems a bit ridiculous that I would be bringing a message on laziness to you. We tend to think of the lazy person as the person who refuses to work. We tend to think of the lazy person as fat and out-of-shape.
I first began to study on this because of things that I’d seen in young men in our culture, and even in our church. But as I studied the sluggard, I realized that the issue has far greater relevance for me and for us than simply to apply to the younger generation. As I read Proverbs, I learned that Scripture paints a very different picture of laziness.
When I watch a home improvement show, I see one of the biggest lies on television. It tells me that I can build a rocking chair or add a room to my house in thirty minutes. I will not make a mistake. I will have all the right tools and supplies. And it will look like something out of Restoration Hardware when I’m done, right? But what happens? It takes a full day of work and more trips to Lowe’s than you want to remember, and the cabinet is torn apart and parts are everywhere. It’s not at all like the home improvement show.
Then you smell it–dinner’s ready, so you clean up. At dinner, you say, “It’s tougher than I thought. I’ll finish it up next weekend since tomorrow is church and after that, the game is on. Just don’t use that cabinet till next week.” And the weeks turn into months, and eventually your wife stops asking about it.
You can work out and still be lazy. You can put in long hours and still be lazy. You can try to do home projects and still be lazy. And that’s because laziness is rooted in the heart. It’s rooted in idolatry. The lazy person is most concerned with serving himself/herself. Here is the core of the sluggard. He loves himself more than any other. I know I said he, but laziness can be an affliction of men and women alike, regardless of age. And when you work long hours, you can read about the sluggard and think, “Not me.”
There are over twenty proverbs written about the sluggard. I want to look at some of them with you, and hopefully change your perception. Our great temptation is to read Scripture and identify others, and not ourselves. That’s true in general, but particularly true about laziness.
Proverbs says that the sluggard helps us see ourselves in chapter 24 verses 30 to 34: “I passed by the field of the sluggard and by the vineyard of the man lacking sense, 31 and behold, it was completely overgrown with thistles; its surface was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. 32 When I saw, I reflected upon it; I looked, and received instruction. 33 ’A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,’ 34 then your poverty will come as a robber and your want like an armed man.”
The temptation in listening to sermons is to think of others. Like an overweight PE teacher, the lazy person doesn’t naturally see their own laziness. They live a comfortable life. In fact, it seems easier and safer than some foolish friends. They don’t have all that they desire, but are happy with their priorities. They are independent thinkers, because they will not be moved by the opinions of others.
As Christians, we are not responsible for changing others. We are responsible for our own lives before God. And we see in Scripture that there are aspects of the sluggard in each of us, and God wants to root those out of us–to identify the weeds and pluck them out. So today we’re going to look at 1) how identify a sluggard, 2) what happens to a sluggard and 3) how to change a sluggard.
1. How to Identify a Sluggard
There are many proverbs that describe the life and mind of a sluggard. I’ve chosen a few here that are wonderfully descriptive.
a) Proverbs 12:27 He doesn’t finish things—“A lazy man does not roast his prey, but the precious possession of a man is diligence.”
The sluggard is pictured here as a man who goes to all the trouble of hunting. He gets up early, even before dawn. He gathers his hunting gear together. He goes out where his prey can be found and lies in wait. With skill, he captures or kills his quarry. But then, rather than go to the trouble of gutting, skinning, and roasting it, he takes a break. He lets it alone for so long that it goes to waste.
He doesn’t finish what he starts. The lie of every home improvement show is that a project only takes a half hour. But over time, men learn–it always takes longer than you think, you don’t have the right tools, you’re missing a part, it doesn’t come together the way it should. And so, strewn about many homes are partially finished projects.
The man went hunting but didn’t get around to roasting his prey. He started the house project but never finished it. He submitted the job application but never followed up on it. He got the girl’s number but never got around to calling her. The sluggard doesn’t finish what he starts.
b) Proverbs 13:4 He lives unsatisfied—“The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the soul of the diligent is made fat.”
On the surface, everything is okay and he couldn’t be happier. Underneath, in his soul, he feels unfulfilled and unsatisfied. He moves from one object to the next, trying to find fulfillment. He wants the fruit of hard work without the hard work that accompanies it. He wants to overcome his bad habits, but without any changes to his life. He desires everything good, but is unwilling to do anything.
This is the single man who talks to girls about the things he wants to do and the jobs he wants to get, but is taking one class per semester while working 20 hours per week at Starbucks. He craves, but he gets nothing. He’s not a hard worker. He’s not a provider.
He says that he’s a victim, his family didn’t help him, his teachers treated him unfairly, you weren’t there for him when he needed you. He’s a sluggard. His life is marked by unsatisfied discontent.
c) Proverbs 15:19 He lacks progress in life—“The way of the lazy is as (like) a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway.”
This verse shows the contrast–to be lazy is harder and more difficult than righteous living. Have you ever been to a rose garden? (There is a great one in Balboa Park, San Diego, with row after row of roses, some short, but many tall ones.) They have concrete paths to walk along so you can stop, smell and look at the flowers. Try to imagine crashing through about eight to twelve rows of tall rose bushes, planted tightly together.
That’s similar to the way of the lazy. It’s painful, slow, not the right way, and you make hardly any progress. In contrast, the righteous walk quickly and easily, unhindered. The sluggard doesn’t change, doesn’t grow, and doesn’t progress. He finds reasons to detour. He finds cause to swerve off-course. It’s too hot out. It’s too late. I’m too tired. It’s all a dead-end.
In spiritual matters, the lazy know that they need to change. They even make an effort to pray or read a book, but it never lasts. They’re heart is not in it. It’s too hard. Other things are distracting. A sluggard makes no progress in life, whether in relationships, work, or spiritually.
d) Proverbs 19:15 He is difficult to motivate—“Laziness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle man will suffer hunger.”
I wake up when the sprinklers come on in the morning. I wake up when Abby opens her door in the middle of the night. I wake up when the refrigerator makes new ice cubes. Beth wakes up when I wake her up. Beth wakes up when Abby comes and jumps directly onto her. I sleep lightly. Beth sleeps deeply.
This Proverb uses sleep as a picture of laziness. When you’re lazy, hardly anyone can awaken you. No matter the crisis, you are difficult to motivate and move to action. Whether it’s positive encouragement or a strong rebuke, you remain unmoved. You may play it off and say, “I don’t live for what other people think,” or “I’m just not a morning person.” But the truth is, you’re lazy. No one can motivate you.
In fact, when the boss isn’t looking you’re often messing around. When the boss is away, you come in late and leave early. You do the minimum amount of work necessary to stay out of trouble. You’re in a deep sleep and other people can’t get you out of it. You suffer hunger. There are things you want, but you’re not moved to change.
When Erick talks about reading through the Bible in a year, you don’t even want to try. When Chris talks about change in your marriage, you think that it’s impossible. When we talk about church events, your weekend trips to the desert or lake always come first. You do what you think is required, but that’s plenty. You are difficult to motivate. You are in a deep sleep.
e) Proverbs 19:24 He does not care for himself—“The sluggard buries his hand in the dish, but will not even bring it back to his mouth.”
I love this picture. This is the guy sitting on the sofa with a game on the TV, a drink sitting next to him, and a bowl of guac resting on his gut. The bag of chips is open and he has one in his hand. He got stuck mid-dip and now, in a daze, he watches TV with a chip stuck in the guac and his mouth slightly open.
That is such a great picture. It’s what every girl dreams of for a husband, right? No–he’s a sluggard. He doesn’t take care of himself. He doesn’t exercise. He doesn’t even feed himself well. Now understand–every overweight person is not a sluggard. There is not a scripturally-defined BMI. Likewise, to be thin or to exercise is no indicator that you’re not lazy.
Here’s the point of this proverb. The habits of the lazy go beyond what happens at work. Their laziness extends even to their own care for themselves. Maybe they don’t shower often, or they don’t shave except when they have to. Maybe they don’t exercise or watch what they eat. Maybe they don’t pray or read the Word, or ask others for input in their lives. Maybe they don’t think about the relevance of a sermon for their own life. The lazy do not take care of themselves.
f) Proverbs 22:13 He makes excuses—“The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion outside; I will be killed in the streets!’”
The lazy make excuses. Whether real or imagined, there is always a reason why something didn’t happen. Lions did exist in Israel during biblical times. Violence did happen in the streets. The sluggard would not say that he is shirking responsibility–he’s a realist, just being cautious. But these reasons are not justifiable.
Lions didn’t enter towns and villages. Violence rarely took place in the streets. I’ve been on safari. I’ve gone looking for lions. They’re not that easy to find. They don’t tend to hang out around populated areas. In fact, they sleep through most of the day. He’s making excuses.
Do you not have time for exercise? Are you just big-boned? Do you call in sick when you don’t feel like going in? Did your computer crash and lose all your homework? Was there traffic on the road–you know, during rush hour? The sluggard makes excuses to justify his inaction.
Here’s the test–when you fail to meet expectations (being on time, completing an assignment, forgetting something important), do you:
1) offer reasons why you weren’t on time
2) tell them everything that happened that caused you to forget, or
3) simply say, “I’m not going to make excuses. I didn’t get it done. I’m sorry.”
Be resolved, don’t make excuses. The sluggard makes excuses. In fact his greatest initiative and work ethic is in finding possible excuses.
g) Proverbs 23:16 He thinks he’s smarter than the rest—“The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can give a discreet answer.”
This is the sad plight of the lazy–most do not know that they are. The sluggard has no true understanding of himself. He doesn’t know that he’s lazy. Sure he sleeps in through the morning, but he was up late the night before. And he has good reason for it, if you ask him. He’s not going to change just because people say he should. He’ll stick to his guns because they don’t really understand his situation.
He believes that he is wise and has life figured out. And notice that it’s not just wiser than another. It’s wiser than seven men. In other words, he believes that he is much wiser than the vast majority of men. He has figured out how to do less and he can explain why it’s better that way.
The sluggard does not find significance in his vocation. Work is seen as something evil to be avoided. But he’s really dodging the work because he’s not in the job that he’d enjoy. The sluggard does not know that he’s lazy. He believes himself to be smarter than most men.
He doesn’t see these evidences of laziness:
1) He doesn’t finish things
2) He lives unsatisfied
3) He lacks progress in life
4) He’s difficult to motivate
5) He does not care for himself
6) He makes excuses
7) He compares himself to others and comes out ahead in his eyes.
Those are some of the ways that Proverbs identifies the sluggard. But more importantly, let’s look at what happens.
2. What Happens to a Sluggard
Proverbs 24:30 to 34 is written on the top of the front of your notes. It provides a summary of what happens to the lazy. “I passed by the field of the sluggard and by the vineyard of the man lacking sense, 31 and behold, it was completely overgrown with thistles; its surface was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. 32 When I saw, I reflected upon it; I looked, and received instruction. 33 ‘A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,’ 34 then your poverty will come as a robber and your want like an armed man.”
One of the lies that the sluggard tells himself is that no harm will come from the delay. The writer of this proverb walks by a field and notices its decay. Likely knowing the owner, he reflects on what brought it to this point. It was the sluggard, lacking sense and thinking–there’s no harm in a bit of delay. A little sleep, just a short nap–there’s no harm in it.
In many proverbs, we learn what happens to a sluggard. Here are the most commonly mentioned results:
a) Proverbs 10:26 He loses friends—“Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the lazy one to those who send him.”
I’ve had smoke in my eyes, but I haven’t tried vinegar on my teeth. All the same, we can easily understand the point of this proverb. If a fire needs putting out, if medical help is required, if an urgent message has to be delivered, you find the most reliable, most dependable, fastest person you can find. You don’t choose the lazy guy. The lazy guy causes trauma and pain to people who rely on him. It’s not the kind of thing that will kill you, but it’ll make you cry and your mouth pucker. The sluggard is a pain to those who are around him.
His own parents may complain about him. Proverbs 10:5 says, “He who sleeps in harvest is a son who acts shamefully.” The actions of the lazy bring shame to his family. If you are in bed when your family is awake and you don’t work nightshift, then you are sleeping during the harvest. If your wife is the primary wage-earner while you try to get a record deal, then you are asleep during the harvest. If you play more than ten hours of video games a week, then you’re likely missing the harvest. A sluggard is a pain to those who rely on him. A sluggard brings shame to his family.
And in 2 Thessalonians 3:6 and 14, Paul says that Christians are to separate from him, “We command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness/unruly [lit., undisciplined, cf.11] and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. . . . 14 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.”
Christians are made to work. It’s how God made us and what He commanded us to do. Not everyone is able to work, but we are to be willing and hard workers. You may be injured to the point that you’re unable to work. You may be unemployed and looking for work. But we are made to work, and when someone professes Christ, they are called to work hard.
Christians are to separate themselves from the lazy. Too often we ignore, laugh at, and dismiss Paul’s words here. But if we obey them, this is what will happen. A sluggard will lose friends. Christians will separate from him and only call him to repent. There will be conflict in his family due to their shame at his lifestyle. He will cause pain to those who rely on or trust him, to the degree that they will simply stop. As a consequence of his laziness, he will lose friends. According to Proverbs, the most common result is:
b) Proverbs 23:21 He loses wealth—“For the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe one with rags.”
There’s a beautiful bit of irony in this–the one who does the least, the one who’s least likely to wear out his clothes . . . that one will be covered in rags. Similar to the man who spends all his money on alcohol, or the man who spends all his money on food–the lazy man will lose his wealth also. Not because he goes and spends all his money, but because he doesn’t earn any.
We saw this earlier in Proverbs 24, “30 I passed by the field of the sluggard and by the vineyard of the man lacking sense, 31 and behold, it was completely overgrown with thistles; its surface was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. 32 When I saw, I reflected upon it; I looked, and received instruction. 33 ‘A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,’ 34 then your poverty will come as a robber and your want like an armed man.”
Owning a field was a ready source of income for the man who was willing to work. But the sluggard was unwilling, so his income dried up, and unexpectedly, surprisingly, poverty struck. Perhaps his car broke down, maybe he got sick and had medical bills, or his investments failed. The lazy man has not been working. He didn’t expect to be broke. He thought that everything would be okay. But to his great surprise, he’s flat broke. He’s got no money left for food, so he was dependent on others. He’s got no money left for clothes, so he was dressed in rags.
It may be that he was simply unwilling to work. Or it may be that he was kept so busy mastering his Xbox that he didn’t notice what happened. Proverbs 28:19 says, “He who follows worthless pursuits will have poverty in plenty.” Poverty isn’t just the result of sleepiness, but of investing time into the wrong things. This could be fantasy football, video games, or scrapbooking–but it could equally refer to the pursuit of unprofitable occupations or business speculations.
It is the man who desires missions work, but keeps adding $10,000 per year of schooling. It is the musician no one will hire as a tutor who is just waiting for a big break. A consequence of laziness is poverty. Similar to Proverbs 24, many of the proverbs assume that the sluggard begins with some measure of wealth. This is not a picture of a man born into poverty who’s unable to escape. This is a picture of a kid born into your home who has an education provided and some means available, but squanders them both.
A man who is idle, a woman who is idle–they will lose their friends. They will squander their wealth. God desires this to happen so that they might repent. God disciplines sluggards by allowing them to experience the consequences of their inaction. Solomon says that poverty can bring wisdom. Proverbs 16:26 says, ”A worker’s appetite works for him, for his hunger urges him on.”
Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat either.” For those unable to work, their families, their friends and the church are to care for them. For those unwilling to work, God says that poverty is a consequence intended for their good. And the reason for the loss of friends and the loss of money is that they might repent and be saved from the most severe consequence.
c) Proverbs 21:25 to 26 He ends in destruction—“The desire of the sluggard puts him to death, for his hands refuse to work; all day long he is craving, while the righteous gives and does not hold back.”
Here we see the final consequence to the truly lazy. He is so enslaved to his own pleasures and leisure that it kills him. He is no longer pictured as the brother whom Paul describes in 2 Thessalonians 3. Instead, here the sluggard is contrasted with the righteous. The righteous works hard, and gives what he earns away, as a steward of God’s wealth.
The sluggard is unrighteous. He keeps what he has. He craves to have more and spend it on himself, but he is not even willing to do the work required. He believes that he deserves better. He is not righteous. He is so enslaved that it kills him. And here’s the terrifying part . . .
d) Ecclesiastes 10:18 These things happen slowly—“Through indolence the rafters sag, and through slackness the house leaks.”
The house used to be in fine shape. It was built well. It was new at one point. But through laziness, things began to fall apart. It happened incrementally. At first the roof had a leak, then another and another. Slowly the rafters began to rot and shift. Then the winds began to be felt just a bit inside the house, and then more and more.
These things happened slowly. Friends drift away over time. You slowly lose touch. Poverty is slow and long in coming. Money was plentiful and only now the end is in sight. You’re not sure where it all went. Proverbs 24:33 describes it, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest.”
Derek Kidner put it this way, “The sluggard is an ordinary man who has made too many excuses, too many refusals, too many postponements. It’s all been gradual, almost imperceptible, and as pleasant as falling asleep.”
It’s the guy I heard at Panera this week. “I was taking 8 am classes and just couldn’t get there on time. So next semester I switched to 9:30 am, and still kept being late. I don’t know how I ever woke up at 6:45 am.” His latest frustration, expressed to his coworker, was that he got woken up at almost 10 am when he was trying to sleep through the whole day.
Too many excuses, too many delays–it’s all been gradual and incremental. And if this is what happens to a sluggard, then what hope does he have? Here’s what the Word says can change a sluggard.
3. What Can Change a Sluggard
Proverbs 6:6 to 8 says, ”Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise, 7 which, having no chief, officer or ruler, 8 prepares her food in the summer and gathers her provision in the harvest.” The first instruction given to the sluggard is to:
a) Look at God’s design in nature
Proverbs 6:6 to 8 commands the lazy to look to the ant. Ants need no one to tell them what to do. They know the seasons and work accordingly. Look to God’s design. In fact, if you look at nature you’ll see that all of God’s creation has cycles of work and rest. I don’t think there is anything God made which is permanently at rest. Even the molecules and atoms in a piece of charcoal are buzzing around. Animals, the environment, the sun and moon–all of nature is at work. God designed it that way. And it should convict and provide lessons to the lazy.
b) Observe the lessons of the lazy
Proverbs 24 says that the wise will reflect upon the lessons of the lazy. When you see the descriptions of the sluggard in Scripture, do you see yourself? Do you feel the Spirit of God convicting you of habits of laziness? When you hear the consequences that a sluggard experiences, do these seem familiar? Over twenty proverbs deal with laziness. If you read through them, you’ll often see a positive character quality also presented. Read through them. All you need to do is a little search online or in a concordance for sluggard.
Paul addresses laziness in the church. If he is serious about separating from the lazy, do you need to change some relationships? Take the Word of God seriously on this. Be concerned when the sluggard is contrasted with the righteous. Pay attention to the biblical lessons on laziness. Most importantly . . .
c) Understand God’s desires for you
This is the root problem–the sluggard has set his sights too low. He is far too easily pleased with himself and his situation. He lives at ease, believing that comfort in this life is the most desirable thing. He sacrifices eternal gain for the pleasure of the moment. His comfort and ease are his gods. He loves himself more than any other. Laziness is rooted in idolatry.
God’s desires for you are far different. In God’s plans, He designed work to glorify Him. Work is the means of His provision for you. Loving Him makes you a hard worker, for your employer is made in the image of God and your work is a means of His glory. Laziness is a waste of a life.
You were created for something far greater than your own pleasure. You were created to bring glory to God by working. That has been His plan since the beginning. He worked for six days and then rested for one. You were made in the image of God—you were made to work (Genesis 1:27). God made man and commanded him to work in the garden before the fall (Genesis 2:15). Work is not the result of sin–sin just made work tiring and back-breaking.
As a Christian, you’re being transformed into the image of Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18, Romans 8:29). Jesus worked, almost twenty years of carpentry (likely stone masonry). Jesus worked, even in ministry to the point of exhaustion.
In heaven you will work, serving God there. Heaven is described as rest, but it’s not a La-Z-Boy and 3D Plasma TV with Pay-Per-View. Heaven is a place where you will still work to the glory of God, but without any weariness or pain, only joy.
Here’s what happened:
1) man was made in God’s image and made to work
2) he was corrupted by sin and made to hate work
3) he was redeemed and remade by Jesus to work now and rest later
First Thessalonians 4:11 to 12 says, “And to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, 12 so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.”
The way that a sluggard changes is by recognizing that Christ brings the change. Sitting all around you are people who lived to please themselves. They may have worked hard or hardly worked, but their ambition was the same—to please self. When they saw their sin before God, and believed that Jesus had died for their sins, their ambition became to please God first. It’s a battle, and sometimes we want to be lazy. But now we work hard because its pleasing to God and brings Him glory. The cure for laziness is the Gospel.