Proverbs 6:6-11; 10:4, 26; 12:24, 27; 15:19; 19:15, 24; 20:4, 13; 21:25-26; 22:13; 24:30-34; 26:13-16
The book of Proverbs warns frequently about the danger of the sluggard. It is one of the major themes of the book, because human nature tends toward this sin and it results in great and manifold evils. We all tend to be slothful by nature, especially in spiritual things, and we need frequent warnings against sloth.
1. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE SLUGGARD
a. The sluggard is slothful and not diligent; he does only what he has to do. He deals with a slack hand (Prov. 10:4). He hides his hand in his bosom (Prov. 19:24; 26:15). He does not even roast that which he takes in hunting (Prov. 12:27). Money, though earned by the sweat of his brow, simply slips through his fingers. On the spiritual side, the Christian sluggard gets baptized and joins the church but he doesn’t dig in with all his strength to serve the Lord. He deals in spiritual matters with a slack hand.
b. The sluggard is one who wastes time and opportunities and doesn’t plan ahead and work hard to fulfill wise objectives (Prov. 6:6-8). He is not self-motivated and diligent in the important issues of life, but he must have someone ruling over him and telling him what to do. When out from under this authority and when left to himself he puts off and neglects the important things.
The sluggard is exhorted to follow the example of the ant (Prov. 6:6-9). God has imparted wisdom to the little ant, and He is ready to impart much greater wisdom to the individual who loves God’s Word and wants to serve Him.
(1) The ant works without oversight. She doesn’t wait until someone tells her what to do and when to do it. She doesn’t have to have somebody standing over her at all times, encouraging her and exhorting her and guiding here. She is self-motivated and self-ruled. The Christian must also be self-motivated to serve Christ regardless of whether or not he has proper oversight and proper help. God has ordained that the church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15) and the church is to be ruled by biblically-qualified pastor-elders (Titus 1:5-9) and teachers (Eph. 4:11-12; Rom. 12:7). But sometimes there is no proper church in an particular area and many times there are not qualified and godly and wise pastor-elders and teachers. Sometimes there is not as much spiritual fellowship as we would like. This is not an excuse for sloth. I must serve the Lord diligently regardless of the situation and regardless of whether I have proper spiritual oversight and help. I should read and study the Bible regardless of how many teachers I have and regardless of how good they are. I should walk in fellowship with Christ and pray effectively regardless of how much encouragement I get from others. I should try to win souls to Christ regardless of whether my church provides the right training and example.
(2) The ant works while there is opportunity. She goes about with a stedfast purpose to store up her food in the summer in preparation for winter. She knows that it will not always be summer. She looks ahead with discretion and lives in the present with the future in mind. The Bible often warns that this life is brief and what is done for Christ must be done now or it will be too late. The harvest will soon be finished, and we will not be able to turn back the clock. Childhood has its opportunities, but it is short. Youth has its opportunities, but it is short. Young adulthood has its opportunities, but it is short. Midlife has its opportunities, but it is short. Old age has its opportunities, but it is short.
(3) The ant works to do her part without regard to what others might be doing. Many professing Christians are “pew sitters” and little else. They are not zealous in learning the Bible and teaching others and trying to win souls to Christ. Some think that the work is being done by others, so why should they labor, but the Lord’s Harvest requires all hands and the body of Christ requires the participation of every member. A good question to ask myself is, “If the whole church were like me, what would the church be?” “The Christian world is busy, and there are thousands working: some preaching, some praying, some teaching, some writing; but not one can do thy work” (Thomas).
(4) The ant works without regard to her small size and seeming insignificance in the larger scheme of things. The ant doesn’t stop to think that she is too little to do much and that compared to an elephant her work is practically useless. Instead she gets right to work and accomplishes amazing things. Many professing Christians seem to think that since they don’t have great talents and abilities and opportunities that they should not do anything, but this is to despise what God has given them and to dishonor the God who has given it. The Bible exhorts us not to despise the day of small things (Zech. 4:10). The body of Christ requires the labor of every member, regardless of how seemingly feeble or insignificant (Rom. 12:5-9; 1 Cor. 12:12-27). Even a cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple of Christ will be rewarded (Mat. 10:41-42).
(5) The ant works because it is God’s will for her to work. And it is God’s will for all of His creatures to work, particularly those made in His own image. “Say not, God is good, and He will provide. He has provided for you richly, but He only grants the provision on condition of the right employment of your powers. There are great rewards for the saints, but only on the condition of being earned. There is a heaven of knowledge, but only for the student; there is a harvest of blessedness, but only to the diligent husbandman; there are scenes of triumph, but only to the victorious warrior” (David Thomas).
c. The sluggard uses many excuses to get out of work.
(1) Proverbs gives three examples of the sluggard’s excuse making:
He uses difficulty as an excuse (“The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold,” Prov. 20:4). If it’s too cold or too hot or otherwise uncomfortable or too inconvenient or too difficult, he will find a way to bow out. While the diligent man finds a way to work regardless of the circumstance, the sluggard is busier finding an excuse not to work than to find a way to accomplish the work.
He uses fear as an excuse (“The slothful man saith, There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets,” Prov. 22:13). Whenever a difficult project is considered there are always the sluggards who attempt to stop it through fear. “We can’t build that tunnel or that bridge; it might fall in.” “We can’t go across the sea in a ship; we might drown.” “We can’t build an airplane; we might crash.” The same thing happens in the spiritual realm. There are always naysayers who use fear to try to stop the progress of the Lord’s work. “We can’t support those missionaries; we might not have enough money.” “We can’t build that building; we might go bankrupt.” “We can’t preach in public; someone might not like it.” Through the years several people have tried to discourage me about building Way of Life Literature. One pastor said, “You won’t ever get support for a literature ministry.” I’m glad that I listened to God instead of these fear-mongers.
He uses lies as an excuse (“The slothful man saith, There is a lion in the way; a lion is in the streets,” Prov. 26:13). This is a mythical, lying excuse. There were no lions in the streets of Israel in Solomon’s day. That was just a pure lie or an extreme exaggeration to avoid work. In 1976 in Tracy City, Tennessee, my wife and I tried to witness to a man who was talking downtown, and he replied, “I can’t talk; a leopard is coming,” then took off. There were certainly no leopards in Tracy City that day! The sluggard is not above lying and exaggerating in his enthusiasm to escape work. He calls in sick at the slightest “pain” and stops working at the slightest inconvenience. He doesn’t get things done because he just “doesn’t feel like it.” The sluggard thinks success is 99% genius and 1% sweat, whereas it is more like 1% genius and 99% sweat. Success makes it own way through diligence and persistence. The same is true in the spiritual realm. We are saved by God’s grace without works, but we are unto good works (Eph. 2:8-10), and doing the will of God requires great dedication and diligence.
(2) By spiritual application the sluggard Christian uses many excuses to avoid serving the Lord. He doesn’t read his Bible because he doesn’t have the right study Bible or he needs glasses or he doesn’t have the right place to study or it’s too hot in his room to study or whatever. He uses excuses to avoid prayer and going to church and witnessing for Christ and tithing. He’s too busy; there are too many other things he has to do; it’s not convenient; it’s too far to walk or drive or take a bus; he doesn’t want to be a religious fanatic; he doesn’t know how to talk to people. The sluggard Christian will even use lying excuses to avoid doing what he knows he should be doing for the Lord.
d. The sluggard loves sleep (Prov. 20:13; 26:14). This can refer to actual sleeping or to just lazing about, “a little folding of the hands,” talking about things of no value, watching television, endlessly collecting rock CDs and MP3 files, playing video games, golfing, being consumed with professional sports, fishing, snowboarding, surfing the Internet, you name it. The sluggard is diligent toward folly but he is lazy toward wisdom.
e. The sluggard has many desires and plans and covets many things, but he will not work hard to attain these things and thus he is frustrated (Prov. 21:25-26). It’s not that the sluggard doesn’t have any ambition. He is going to do a lot of things whenever he finally gets around to it. He is going to have a lot of things one day. He hopes to win the lottery so he will have everything he wants to have and can do everything he would like to do. If he is a Christian he plans to start reading the Bible and having a daily devotional time; he thinks it would be nice to be a prayer warrior; he intends to get to church regularly. But “his hands refuse to labour” (Prov. 21:25). He desires; he covets; but he doesn’t carry through.
f. The sluggard is conceited and refuses to face the reality of what he is (Prov. 26:16). The sluggard could change, but he won’t listen to anyone. He really thinks he will change one day and that there is no hurry. In the mean time, he knows what he is doing and won’t listen to anyone who tries to correct him.
2. THE PAIN ASSOCIATED WITH THE SLUGGARD
a. Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep (Prov. 6:9-10; 19:15). It only takes a little sloth to start the individual on the path to poverty. Laziness produces more laziness. “Always, therefore, look at sloth, not as an infirmity, but as a sin, affecting the whole man, growing upon us with unperceived power. Allow it therefore no rest, no time to root itself. Resist it in all its forms--bodily, mental, spiritual: indulgence of sleep and appetite: self-pleasing in all its subtle and plausible workings. Live by rule. Have your time strictly arranged. Be employed in early work for God” (Bridges).
b. Slothfulness results in things not being maintained (Prov. 24:30-34). The sluggard’s field grows over. His automobile falls apart. His apartment or house deteriorates. His tools are rusty. His roof leaks. His hedge isn’t trimmed. Weeds have taken over his yard. His computer is slow because it has all sorts of viruses and old programs that haven’t been removed and outdated programs. His things are misplaced. His Bible is torn and broken because he hasn’t taken care of it.
c. Slothfulness brings one under tribute (Prov. 12:24). It is the diligent that beareth rule. The slothful employee doesn’t advance to become the boss. The slothful Christian doesn’t become a prayer warrior or a soul winner or a Sunday School teacher or a deacon or a church leader. He remains under tribute while the diligent advances.
d. Slothfulness brings one to poverty (Prov. 19:15; 20:4; 20:13; 24:33-34). The one that travelleth is the one who roams about with no settled job, the drifter; and the armed man is the armed robber. Thus the sluggard’s poverty comes unexpectedly as when a traveller arrives unannounced, and it comes with irresistible force as when one is robbed by an armed man.
(1) This warning is true in physical life as well as in spiritual. The individual who is not willing to work hard at a job and to plan ahead and stay on top of his obligations and pay his bills and keep things properly maintained will become poor. Likewise, the individual who is not willing to work hard in serving Christ, in prayer and Bible study and church life and evangelism will become spiritually poor and backslidden. If he is saved but lives a slothful spiritual life he will loss all the rewards, fruit, and honor that he could have obtained by serving Christ diligently (1 Cor. 3:13-15; 2 Tim. 4:8; 2 John 8). “Laziness brings ruin. Intellectual laziness brings intellectual ruin; commercial, brings commercial ruin; spiritual, spiritual ruin. This is a law” (Thomas).
(2) The Bible says that now is the time of Christ’s great harvest in all of the nations of the earth (Mat. 9:37-38; John 4:35-36; Acts 1:8). Each believer has been called to be a minister in this harvest (2 Cor. 5:17-21), and the son that sleepeth in harvest causeth shame to his Father (Prov. 10:5).
e. Slothfulness is frustrating to the sluggard (Prov. 15:19). It’s a hedge of thorns. Every way the sluggard turns he is pricked by the hedge that hems him in, the thorny hedge of his own sloth. He is frustrated because he can’t fulfill his objectives and because things are falling apart and because he can’t pay his bills and because he can’t seem to get ahead.
f. Slothfulness is frustrating to others (Prov. 10:26). The sluggard is not only frustrating to himself; he is frustrating to those who must depend on him. To send the sluggard on an errand or to depend on him to accomplish a task is like vinegar to the teeth. It is unpleasant because of its acidity and sourness. The sluggard is also like smoke to the eyes. The smoke burns and irritates. It is a very unpleasant experience to gargle vinegar or to get smoke in one’s eyes, and it is equally unpleasant to have to depend on a sluggard, because he doesn’t get the job done in a timely and satisfactory manner. The slothful servant is also frustrating to Christ and will be rewarded for his sloth (Mat. 25:26-28).
3. THE GREAT EVIL OF SLUGGARDISM
Sluggardism is not only painful; it is evil. It is as evil as active wasting (“He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster,” Prov. 18:9). The waster is one who spends his inheritance like the prodigal son described by Jesus in Luke 15:13. Both the sluggard and the waster are sinning before God, one by profligate living and the other by laziness and neglect. Both bring to poverty. When it comes to the Lord’s work, the sluggard wastes souls because all hands are required for the great work of world evangelism and getting the gospel to every person (Mark 16:15). Every believer has been appointed a minister in the work of reconciling men to God (2 Cor. 5:17-20). Yet the Christian who is slothful does no more for the furtherance of the Gospel than the waster.
1-6. What are the six characteristics of the sluggard?
7. What creature does Proverbs use to challenge the sluggard?
8-10. What are three types of excuses that the sluggard uses?
11. Why does the desire of the slothful kill him?
12. The sluggard is wiser in his own ------- than seven men that can render a reason.
13. Laziness produces ---- --------.
14. What is a waster?
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Way of Life Literature
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Publisher of Bible Study Materials