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©Douglas Beyer 2000

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7. SLOTH

I read the other day that ambition is a poor excuse for not having enough sense to be lazy. Hard work pays off in the future. Laziness pays off now. As James Thurber said, "It is better to have loafed and lost than never to have loafed at all."

Lots of sermons have been preached on the sin of sloth, but they are usually preached by mothers, fathers, teachers, or employers. They may be the professionals and I the amateur on this subject. I have more than a little fear in writing this chapter. My fear is not that the lazy people will rise up in wrath and do me bodily harm. Though their numbers may be great, their enthusiasm is so small they can't get it together to threaten even me.

No, my real fear is that the wrong people will read and respond. I am afraid lazy people will take a fantasy trip to the beach or ballpark while hyperactive hustlers will read everything I write, feel guilty and become more compulsive than ever.

On the other hand, lazy and industrious people are not that sharply distinguished. Even the most diligent among us usually have some areas of laziness in their lives. There is certainly no pleasure in having nothing to do. The real pleasure is having lots to do—and not doing it! We are all lazy — only in different ways! Some are physically lazy, others are mentally lazy and others are spiritually lazy. And still others are just plain lazy. Period!

PHYSICAL SLOTH

In the Old Testament we read: "Go to the ant, O sluggard. Consider her ways and be wise, which having no chief, officer or ruler, prepares her food in the summer, and gathers her provision in the harvest. How long will you lie down, O Sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? 'A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest' — and your poverty will come in like a vagabond, and your need like an armed man" (Proverbs 6:6-11).

In the New Testament we read: "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep aloof from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we might not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have a right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, that you might follow our example. For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: If anyone will not work, neither let him eat. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread" (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12).

I have discovered that California has two different reputations. Some people think Los Angeles is a fast-paced jungle of "Type A" workaholics. Others think Los Angeles is a laid-back, hang-loose playground. Both reputations are true. And both are false. The pace of life is set by what is in us, not what is around us. Everywhere I have lived there have been lazy people who never got things done and diligent people who tried to do more than was good for them.

Laziness is a sin against God who called us to work. One of the ten commandments says, "Six days thou shalt labor and do all thy work." It is a violation of the ten commandments to rest six days and work the seventh. God means for us to work six times more than we rest. He gives us work till our life is done and life till our work is done. Everyone to whom God gives breath he also gives something to do. The fact that a Christian is on earth instead of heaven is proof that there is something important for him or her to do. Jesus didn't save us just to get us to heaven, but to change us into the kind of people who make a difference in the world. What on earth are you doing for heaven's sake? That is, what are you doing on earth for the sake of heaven? You are not saved to sit; you are saved to serve. God hasn't called you into his vineyard just to eat grapes, but to get busy and hoe. "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin" (James 4:17). It is the sin of omission.

It is bad when business, government, and industry is crippled by laziness, but it is worse when God's work through the church limps along in apathy. Some people know how to make such good excuses they don't try to do anything else. Just suppose God made people as sick as they pretend to be… or took away the talent they profess they don't have… when they are asked to do something! Any Christian, regardless of his or her vocation, who is not working at some enterprise of the Kingdom of God has broken his or her labor contract and is on strike against the Almighty.

Busyness is not necessarily the cure for laziness. Socrates said, "He is not only idle who does nothing, but he is idle who might be better employed." That reminds me of the foreman who asked the worker, "Why are you carrying two bricks while all the others are carrying four?" The worker replied, "I don't know, boss. I guess they're too lazy to make two trips!"

He is idle who might be better employed. Are you carrying two bricks while others carry four? The Bible offers three great guidelines for the best employment: "In all things, whatsoever you do…"

1. "Do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31)

2. "Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Colossians 3:17)

3. "With all your heart as though working for the Lord" (Colossians 3:23).

Consider what you did last week and plan to do this week. Ask yourself, "Am I doing this to the glory of God, in the name of the Lord Jesus, with all my heart as though working for the Lord?"

MENTAL SLOTH

Johann G. Seume said, "Idleness is the stupidity of the body, and stupidity is the idleness of the mind." One may be physically ambitious and mentally lazy. I remember seeing this sign: "When I works, I works hard; when I sits, I sits loose; and when I thinks, I falls asleep." Some Christians get bedsores on the brain. They haven't read anything weightier than the morning newspaper or worked through a fresh new thought in years. Their ceaseless activity may actually be a false escape from the horrors of mental sloth. With empty hearts and vacant minds they cram their lives with mindless busyness. They refuse to stop for quiet moments when the hollowness within rings with an echo of despair. They are busy because restful contemplation terrifies them. They are physically active and mentally slothful.

Mental sloth wears many disguises. Sometimes it takes the form of tolerance that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, loves nothing, hates nothing — and only remains alive because there is nothing to die for.

Sometimes mental sloth takes the form of conviction that jumps to conclusions instead of digging for facts. Lazy thinkers save time and effort by simply parroting what someone else has said. They are intellectual sluggards.

SPIRITUAL SLOTH

Use-it-or-lose-it is the solemn option for every human capacity. G. K. Chesterton said, "I do not believe in a fate that falls on men however they act; but I do believe in a fate that falls on them unless they act." Just as lazy muscles and lazy minds atrophy, so lazy souls become spiritually flabby from lack of exercise.

The ancient Latin theologians called this the sin of Accidia or Tristicia (despondence). It is the kind of indolence which comes from indifference to the good. It is the mood in which when good tries to play on us we have no string to respond.

We have no right to expect great things from God unless we are willing to attempt great things for God. Remember the choir director who dreamed he died and went to heaven. He told the archangel, "I'd like to have 10,000 sopranos for my choir."
"Certainly, whatever you please!"
"And I'd like to have 10,000 altos"
"Of course! No problem!"
"And I'd like to have 10,000 tenors."
"Anything you want!"
Then he turned to leave. The archangel asked, "What about the basses?"
"Oh," said the choir director, "I'm going to sing bass myself."

If God is truly your partner, you need to make your plans big!

The effective antidote for the poison of sloth is faith, hope and love (1 Corinthians 13:13):

  • faith in God's sure word,
  • hope in God's firm promise, and
  • love for God's eternal kingdom.

Paul concludes his great chapter on our final resurrection with these words: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Those who believe there is nothing beyond this life could easily despair of human effort and fall victim to sloth. "What difference does it make?" they might ask. But those of us who believe heaven awaits our coming have an unshakable reason for diligence. Nothing we do for God is in vain.

Let none hear you idly saying,
There is nothing I can do!
While the souls of men are dying,
And the Master calls for you.
Take the task he gives you gladly,
Let his work your pleasure be;
Answer quickly when he calleth,
"Here am I; send me! Send me!"
(author unknown)

 

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