On Sloth and Diligence (Part 2)

21 Oct -- sloth header 2

Samuel shared this recently with the youths at their weekly youth meeting. Our youths are working through the book of Proverbs now, and looking at how this book has wisdom for life. In this study, they considered what Proverbs has to say about sloth and diligence. This is the second of two parts, and part one can be found here.


We’ve seen five characteristics of the sluggard. Now we’ll look at what the Proverbs say are the consequences of being a sluggard. Continue building the sluggard in your head and now, add on to the sluggard, the situation, or the state, that he is in because of his slothfulness.

A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.

(Proverbs 10:4)

It’s simple. It’s the way things work. You don’t work, you don’t get anything. A slack hand causes poverty.

The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor.

(Proverbs 12:24)

The diligent person who has shown to be able to handle responsibilities, will be given more responsibilities, and more authority. While the slothful, who has shown that he cannot be trusted with things, will not be given responsibilities and authority. He will always be put under others.

The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor. All day long he craves and craves, but the righteous gives and does not hold back.

(Proverbs 21:25-26)

Unfulfilled desires. We all have desires, don’t we? From the simplest of desires that all humans have, like the desire for food and water. What do we call that? Hunger and thirst.

Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger.

(Proverbs 19:15)

We all have these basic desires, but because the sluggard will not work, he will suffer hunger.

But we also have desires for other things, sometimes it’s physical things that we can buy or obtain, but other times it’s non-physical things, like friendship. But the desire of the sluggard kills him. Because he desires things so many things, but he just can’t bring himself to work to get what he desires. So, what ends up happening? He just craves and craves all day long! He is in this state of unfulfilled restlessness. He is complaining all the time that he needs this, or he needs that. He wants this and he wants that but he won’t get it because he’s not going to put in the work required to get it. Those desires grow and grow, and the sluggard craves and craves. How bad can it get? The Proverb says that the desire of the sluggard kills him, his unfulfilled desires.

Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to those who send him.

(Proverbs 10:26)

Who likes smoke in their eyes? Nobody. It’s irritating, it causes tears, it’s painful. Vinegar also damages the surface of teeth as it corrodes the enamel, the thin protective outer covering of the teeth. This proverb says that the sluggard is like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes to those who send him. Not only does the ways of the sluggard cause trouble for himself, but he also causes trouble for other people. You might have experienced this in some way. You tell someone to help you do something, but because of their laziness, not only did they not get the job done, but they create a bigger problem for you to solve. They are a burden.

Here's how it can be all summed up.

The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is a level highway.

(Proverbs 15:19)

Notice who the sluggard is contrasted to in this antithetical parallelism. The sluggard is contrasted with the upright. The life of the sluggard is not an upright life.

Create an image of this proverb with me. There’s one pathway of life for the sluggard, and one for the upright. The path of the upright is a level highway. Imagine this path like one of the expressways in Singapore. Smooth, wide, level (which means there’s no bumps, no potholes or anything.). Travelling on it is a breeze.

In contrast, the pathway for the sluggard, the proverb says, is like a hedge of thorns. Picture that in your head. This path full is of barbed wire, thorn bushes, shattered glass, whatever obstacles you can imagine, alllllll the way, as far as the eye can see. The journey on that path is going to extremely unpleasant and extremely painful. But that’s what the Proverbs say is the consequences of being a sluggard.

So what? I hope you have a good picture of the sluggard of the Proverbs in your head by now. But what does all this mean for us? What is the sluggard in the book of Proverbs trying to teach us?

The sluggard in Proverbs is such a silly figure but also a sad figure. The sluggard in the Proverbs is this really comedic, but really tragic figure. We laugh at the sluggard because he really is so silly but we also feel so sad for him because he’s so tragic. And I don’t think any of us want to be seen or known as anything close to this sad and silly figure.

But, it’s painful to think about the fact that the sluggard that we built in our heads from the Proverbs is actually not a fictional character. There actually are people like that in this world. You might have come across someone exactly like what the Proverbs describe. Perhaps it might even be a family member, someone you are close to, or related to.

Isn’t it so painful to see in people like that what sin has done to God’s glorious, perfect, and wonderful creation?

I think that’s the first thing we are meant to see from the sluggard in the Proverbs. We’re meant to see just how much sin has ruined God’s good creation. We are meant to see just how far Man, the pinnacle of God’s creation, has fallen. From being created as this glorious image of God, a reflection of the perfect, magnificent God to be reduced to this tragic, comedic figure that is so pitiful.

It’s heart-breaking.

God is a worker. Genesis tells us that He worked for days creating the heavens and the earth, the sun and the moon, and the land and the seas, and trees, and plants, and birds, and land animals, and insects, and sea creatures. Every day that He created, at the end of the day, it says God looked at what He created and saw that it was good.

And on the sixth day, when He created man and woman, it says God saw that it was very good.

And then, on the seventh day, he rested.

God is a worker, and the result of His work was beautiful, glorious, very good creation.

We were meant to reflect that.

We were meant to work, like God, and rest appropriately, like God, and produce beautiful and wonderful fruit of our labour that we would enjoy, like God. Genesis 2 tells us about how God created this stunning, beautiful garden, with every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. Genesis 2:15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Later the Lord makes woman for man, as a helper, to help with the work. Work was part of God’s original, perfect creation.

Look at Proverbs 6:6-8 -- "Go to the ant, O sluggard;
 consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief,
 officer, or ruler,
 she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest."

In this Proverb, the sluggard is told to go and look at the ant. Go to God’s creation! See how work is imbued in creation. Go to the ant and consider her ways and be wise. The ant doesn’t have any chief or officer or ruler, no one to tell her what to do, but what she naturally does is to prepare her bread in summer and gather her food in harvest.

The God of Creation is a God who works and it is heart breaking to see how sin has ruined it all.

Because of sin, Genesis tells us that the ground was cursed. Work is cursed. It doesn’t give us the fulfilment it was meant to.

And because of sin, our hearts and minds were ruined. The sluggard in Proverbs is an extreme example of a ruined mind, but friends, sin has had that effect on all of us. You feel it, don’t you? We don’t want to obey God, we don’t want to reflect His nature, we don’t trust His design for the world, we want to live our own way. We don’t want to work. We experience that feeling of knowing in our heads what is the right and good thing to do, but in our hearts, we find that we actually really want to do something silly instead. We find it so hard to bring ourselves to do the good thing. We struggle with self-control, sometimes it feels like we just can’t help it. Don’t you find that we are just so silly sometimes?

For example, we really want to do well on a test. And we know so clearly that if we don’t put in the work to study now, we will not do well on the test. But in the moment, we can’t seem to bring ourselves to work, and we end up wasting our time on some useless thing. How silly is that? That’s exactly like the sluggard we’ve been talking about. Since we don’t want to put in the work, we suffer the consequences. We fail the test and don’t get the things we want.

But the consequences that we face in this world as a result of our laziness is nothing compared to the consequence we face because of our rebellion against God. Behind our laziness is a rebellion against the one who created us. We say to God, “We don’t want to live according to your design!” Which is actually a design that is good for us. We say, “We don’t want to reflect you!”. Because we have rebelled against God, the Bible says that our punishment is death, to spend an eternity facing the wrath of God.

Sin has ruined everything and I hope you have caught a glimpse of just how devastating sin is, just how much it has wrecked God’s perfect creation. Sin left all of God’s creation in a big mess, all doomed to destruction.

Gospel hope for the sluggard

But friends, when you’ve seen how badly sin ruined everything, then you can see how absolutely marvellous Jesus is. Because Jesus changes everything.

Look at Titus 2:11-14.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

(Titus 2:11-14)

Incredible, isn’t it?

Paul writes this letter to Titus who is in Crete. And the Cretans were known for being lazy gluttons. So, Paul writes this to the Cretan Christians to remind them of what Jesus has done, specifically the two huge things that Jesus did. Firstly, He gave himself for us to redeem us. Jesus redeemed us and is the salvation for all people. He saved us from the punishment we were supposed to receive because of our rebellion against God by taking the punishment on himself. He gave himself for us to redeem us. We simply need to trust in him.

Secondly, He gave himself for us to purify us. Look at Titus 2:12 again, it says, “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives”. Remember when we said how we know in our heads the good thing to do but how our hearts want to do something silly instead? Well, Jesus fixes that. He trains us to say no to doing silly things, and instead have self-control to do the right things. He purifies us and our hearts are slowly changed such that we actually want to do the good things. Titus 2:14b tells us that we are becoming people who are zealous for good works. It’s like Jesus is restoring us to perfection, restoring the tragic, comedic sluggard back to glorious, God-reflecting perfection. When Jesus comes again, we will be perfect. If we trust in him. That’s something to look forward to.

So, trust in Jesus, trust in his work of redemption, and you will be made perfect again at the final day. It is sure to happen, you can count on it.

Trust in Jesus to redeem and purify us.

Meanwhile friends, we shouldn’t go away from this simply thinking, “Ok I just need to study hard and work hard”. If we do that, then I think we’ve missed the point.

Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread,
 but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.

(Proverbs 12:11)

It’s good to work hard, so that we can support ourselves, so that we have food to eat, and we can provide for others and share with others. The Proverbs do tell us to consider future consequences and work hard now in light of that. But if the things of this world are our end-all-be-all, then we are not looking far enough. We need to look further. The Bible is clear that the things of this world will perish. We can’t take these things with us when we die. We will be wasting our time and our lives if the things of this world are our ultimate goal of working. So, the guy who works hard his whole life just to amass riches and wealth and status is really no different from the sluggard who does nothing. They are both wasting their lives. These are not the good works that the people redeemed by Christ are zealous for.

So, what are the good works that the people of God should be zealous for?

Well, let me leave you with Jesus’ words from John 6.

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

(John 6:27-29 )

What ultimately is work worth doing now? Believing in Jesus and helping others come to believe in Jesus. Work for the bread that will not perish.

That’s how we won’t waste our lives.

How can your every-day work can serve this purpose?