The Sin of Sloth
Dr. Jim Denison
Some questions are hard to answer: why do they sterilize the needle for lethal injections? If corn oil comes from corn, where does baby oil come from? How do they get the deer to cross at those yellow signs? Why is abbreviation such a long word? Why did Kamikazi pilots wear helmets? And why do they call it “rush hour” when no one moves?
It is “rush hour” all the time in America these days. Every day in this country 108,000 people move; the government issues 50 more pages of regulations; 40 Americans turn 100; we purchase 45,000 new cars and trucks, and wreck 87,000; 20,000 people write letters to the president; dogs bite 11,000 citizens, including 20 mail carriers; we eat 75 acres of pizza, 53 million hot dogs, 167 million eggs, 3 million gallons of ice cream, and 3,000 tons of candy. We then jog 17 million miles to get rid of it all. We are busy people.
You wouldn’t think we need to worry about the “deadly” sin of sloth. But you’d be wrong. We can be busy about the wrong things and slothful about the right ones. Let’s learn how to avoid both.
What is sloth?
The dictionary defines a “sloth”: a very slow-moving mammal of South and Central America that lives in trees. Sloths hang upside down from tree branches. There are two principal kinds in the sloth family. One kind has three toes on the forefeet and another has two.
Unfortunately, “sloths” don’t live only in trees. Here’s the dictionary’s second attempt: “unwillingness to work or exert oneself; laziness; idleness.”
It is not “sloth” to rest regularly: “Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed” (Exodus 23:12). The Lord is serious about the Sabbath: “For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death” (Exodus 31:15).
Sabbath rest is required by God no matter the circumstances: “Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest”(Exodus 34:21).
And it is commanded by Jesus: “The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place” (Mark 6:30-32).
But it is “sloth” to be lazy about the things that matter. That is the sin of sloth.
Why is sloth a “deadly” sin?
There are five reasons to avoid the sin of sloth.
First, it leads to hunger and poverty: “Laziness brings on deep sleep, and the shiftless man goes hungry” (Prov. 19:15); “How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man” (Proverbs 6:9-11); “The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied” (Proverbs 13:4); “A sluggard does not plow in season; so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing” (Proverbs 20:4).
Second, it frustrates us: “The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway” (Proverbs 15:19). Third, it leads to self-deception: “The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who answer discreetly” (Proverbs 26:16).
Fourth, it leads to ruin: “I went past the field of the sluggard, past the vineyard of the man who lacks judgment; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins” (Proverbs 24:30-31); “If a man is lazy, the rafters sag; if his hands are idle, the house leaks” (Ecclesiastes 10:18).
Last, it leads to judgment and destruction: when the man refused to multiply his talent, “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant!…Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents'” (Matthew 25:26, 28); “One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys” (Proverbs 18;9); “The sluggard’s craving will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work. All day long he craves for more” (Proverbs 21:25-26).
So sloth is forbidden by God: “We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies” (2 Thessalonians 3:11); “We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (Hebrews 6:12); “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11).
Proverbs: work hard
Proverbs, more than any other book in Scripture, is concerned with sloth, stress, and work. The book gives us one consistent lesson regarding our work: do it well. Work hard. Give yourself fully to your work.
Avoid all sloth: “How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man” (6:9-11); “Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth” (10:4); “He who gathers crops in summer is a wise son, but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son” (10:5); “As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is a sluggard to those who send him” (10:26).
The writer continues: “The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway” (15:19); “One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys” (18:9); “Laziness brings on deep sleep, and the shiftless man goes hungry” (19:15); “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he will not even bring it back to his mouth!” (19.24). “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth” (26:15); “A sluggard does not plow in season; so at harvest time he finds nothing” (20:4); “As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed” (26:14).