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6. The Sluggard

Introduction

When I taught school years ago I had a student who thought it was too much work to stand up straight. As often as he could he would lean against the wall as he walked. His method of getting around was really rather humorous to watch something like riding a scooter--push . . . glide, push . . . glide. Glen had it down to a science. Normally his system worked pretty well, aside from wearing the paint off the walls and destroying his shirts.

One day, however, our class went on a field trip to observe a large city newspaper being published. I had warned all of my students about being careful and quiet, and that they were not to touch anything. Everything went well at first. Glen saw no need to change his style of transporting himself, however, so he glided through the building, supported in part, by the walls. He made one serious mistake, however, when he failed to look where he was going. A doorway caught him unawares and before any of us could prevent it, the lad fell headlong into a closet, crashing noisily. After much thrashing about, Glen freed himself and emerged, somewhat sheepishly, from the closet. For the rest of that day he found the more conventional means of transporting himself preferable.

There is something amusing about the sluggard, even in the Book of Proverbs. Here we find him described, tongue-in-cheek, attached to his bed like a door swinging on its hinges (26:14). We smile at the thought of the sluggard putting his hand in the dish, but just not being able to bring it up to his mouth (26:15). We cannot help but be amused at his excuse for not going to work: “There’s a lion in the road” (26:13).

We should not be mislead by the humor with which the sluggard is described, however. The Book of Proverbs uses humor for at least two reasons. First, the apt way in which the truth is humorously portrayed makes it difficult for us to forget. The teaching of Proverbs on the sluggard has, as it were, “mental hooks” which deeply imbed the truth in our mind. Second, humor is often employed to disarm the reader, setting him up for the full force of the indictment which lies just below the surface. While we are still laughing, we begin to realize that the point of the story is aimed in our direction. By laughing, we have already admitted its truth in principle--at least as far as others are concerned. But now we are faced with the uncomfortable necessity of facing the truth ourselves.

With this in mind, let us turn our attention to the sluggard as he is portrayed in Proverbs. Let us do so, knowing that there are valuable lessons for us to learn, not just about others, but about ourselves as well.

Characteristics of a Sluggard

The condition of the sluggard can be diagnosed by noting the presence of several tell-tale symptoms. Let’s look at each of these as Proverbs describes them.

1. THE SLUGGARD IS A PROCRASTINATOR. The motto of the sluggard is, “Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow.” Sluggards have developed the ability to put off starting a task as well as completing those tasks already begun.

The sluggard cannot possibly get to work because there is a dangerous lion in the road (22:13). He fully intends to get to work, but after just a little more sleep (6:9-10). While the time for the harvest has come, the sluggard is not quite ready to get to the fields (10:5). The sluggard is always just about ready to start a job, but not quite.

Those tasks which the sluggard has already started never seem to get finished. The projects which he begins always seem to be more time-consuming and demanding than he first thought. The sluggard does not hesitate to rectify his rash decision to begin a task by later setting it aside. A number of examples of this failure to finish tasks can be found in Proverbs.

A slothful man does not roast his prey, But the precious possession of a man is diligence (12:27).

The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; He is weary of bringing it to his mouth again (26:15).

The sluggard does not plow after the autumn, And begs during the harvest and has nothing (20:4).

While there are several interpretations of Proverbs 12:27, my present understanding is that the sluggard has gone to the effort of catching his prey, but then does not go on to roast it, thus wasting his efforts and losing the benefit of his labor. The sluggard begins by putting his hand in the dish,26 but is unwilling to expend the energy to pull it out again, and therefore fails to enjoy the benefits of his initial labor (26:15). Having reaped the harvest, the sluggard is too tired (or perhaps too cold) to prepare the field for next year’s crop (20:4).

I have never been much of an athlete, but I believe it is true that follow through is one of the most important aspects of athletics. In baseball, golf, or tennis the athlete must follow through with his swing. The sluggard has no follow through at all, thereby nullifying the good of his efforts, even though these may have been too little and too late.

2. THE SLUGGARD IS A RATIONALIZER. Don’t ever kid yourself about the sluggard. His mind is working faster than his body. When it comes to shirking his responsibilities, no one has a quicker mind than the sluggard. There is always a “reason” for his apathy and inaction. When the sluggard decides not to work, he will have what, to him, is a plausible explanation for his decision. The classic excuse is that found twice in Proverbs:

The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside; I shall be slain in the streets!” (22:13; cf. 26:13).

To the best of my knowledge, lions could be found in Israel in those days (cf. Judg. 14:8; I Sam. 17:34; I Kings. 13:24; 20:36; Prov. 28:15). While the likelihood of meeting a lion may have been remote, it was the danger of doing so that the sluggard chose to emphasize. In his mind, it only made sense to stay at home, where it would be safe. While we may laugh at such a ridiculous excuse, many of the “reasons” given by those who “call in sick” to their employers are hardly more convincing, at least to those other than the one who chose to stay home. The point is that the sluggard fabricates a crisis which prohibits him from doing what he didn’t want to do anyway. His reasons, while unsatisfactory to others, are compelling to him.

Rather than to decide not to go to work, however, the sluggard would prefer not to make any decision at all, other than to postpone any action on his part. Frequently the sluggard is not honest enough to admit that he is not going to work, or that he will not plant a crop. The sluggard prefers to put off the unpleasantness of work by delaying his decision of whether or not he should work. If the sluggard can rationalize not working because of “a lion,” he can put off a decision because something insignificant (“a little . . . ”) is not that urgent a matter anyway.

“A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest” (6:10; cf. 24:33).

My wife, Jeannette, is the first one up in the morning at our house. When she wakes me up, I will often tell her to come back in five minutes, or ask her to put on the coffee, which will give me a brief reprieve. The sluggard consoles himself in putting off the inevitable by assuring himself that it is just a little more rest. After all, what harm can a few additional moments of rest be? In his mind the sluggard is mapping out his day or gathering up his strength.27 In the Song of Solomon we are told that it is the “little foxes which spoil the vineyards” (2:15). The sluggard seldom makes a conscious decision to neglect his duty, but frequently delays it.

3. THE SLUGGARD TAKES THE PATH OF LEAST RESISTANCE. If the sluggard is anything, he is lazy. His one and only “tool” is his bed (6:10; 10:5; 19:15; 20:33; 26:24). He lacks the diligence of those who are wise.

Like vinegar to the teeth. and smoke to the eyes, So is the lazy one to those who send him (10:26).

He who is slack in his work Is brother to him who destroys (18:9).

Laziness casts into a deep sleep, And an idle man will suffer hunger (19:15).

Because of his laziness the sluggard will choose that course of action which appears to involve the least amount of sacrifice on his part, and give the greatest amount of immediate pleasure.

Do not love sleep, lest you become poor; Open your eyes, and you will be satisfied with food (20:13).

The desire of the sluggard [for ease] 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 (21:25-26).

When work cannot be avoided, the sluggard is open to schemes which will make money the easiest way.

He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, But he who pursues vain things lacks sense. The wicked desires the booty of evil men, But the root of the righteous yields fruit (12:11-12).

He who tills his land will have plenty of food, But he who follows empty pursuits will have poverty in plenty. A man with an evil eye hastens after wealth, And does not know that want will come upon him (28:19,22).

4. THE SLUGGARD IS FOOLISH. I am not willing to equate the sluggard and the fool, but it does seem apparent that the sluggard is foolish. While all fools may not necessarily be sluggards, all sluggards are foolish.

The way of the sluggard is as a hedge of thorns, But the path of the upright is a highway (15:19).

Since the sluggard is contrasted with the upright, it would seem to be accurate to say that the sluggard is evil, while the upright are diligent. The diligence of the wise is contrasted with the sloth of the sluggard (10:26). Sluggards lack sense (24:30) and are only wise in their own vain estimation (26:16). In other words, the sluggard is a fool. He, like all fools, is heading for sudden (but, as yet, unforeseen) destruction (6:11; 20:34).

5. THE SLUGGARD REQUIRES CONSTANT SUPERVISION AND PRODDING. Apart from pressure and prodding, the sluggard will not carry out his responsibilities. Something dramatic is required to overcome the immense inertia of the sluggard, whether it is the hunger pangs of his own stomach (13:25; 16:26) or the whip of a taskmaster (12:24).In chapter 6 the sluggard is urged to learn from the ant, which goes about its task faithfully, yet without any supervision (vv. 6-8).

Consequences for the Sluggard

The consequences which the sluggard must face can be summarized by two words: problems and pressure. A closer look at Proverbs will explain why the sluggard must experience these two unpleasant consequences.

According to the wisdom of Proverbs, “He who will not work will not eat.”

Laziness casts into a deep sleep, And an idle man will suffer hunger (19:15).

Often, the result of laziness is spoken of more generally as “poverty.”

“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 (6:10-11; cf. 10:4; 20:13).

The sluggard has more problems than just hunger and poverty, however. His life is plagued with problems:

The way of the sluggard is as a hedge of thorns, But the path of the upright is a highway (15:19).

As we are told elsewhere in this book of wisdom, “the way of the transgressor is hard” (13:15).

A further result of laziness is pressure. The sluggard will avoid work if at all possible. While the diligent will prosper and be promoted, the sluggard will function only when in the most structured environment.

The hand of the diligent will rule, But the slack hand will be put to forced labor (12:24).

When I was a college student, I worked for the postal department during the Christmas vacation. Usually I drove a delivery truck, but when I was in the Post Office building, I noticed one-way glass windows everywhere, even in the rest rooms. The implication was obvious: “Somebody may be watching you at any time.” Sluggards will find themselves under pressure because that is the only way they produce.

The Source of the Sluggard’s Problem

Several factors converge in a person’s life which are the roots of his lack of character. We shall take a brief look at the sources of the sluggard’s problem, according to the Book of Proverbs.

1. THE SLUGGARD IS SELF-SEEKING. The sluggard is always looking out for number one--himself. He has no consideration for anyone else.

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 (21:25-26).

Those who are righteous have a concern for the needs of others. They are marked by their generosity in reaching out to meet these needs, just as the last line of verse 26 indicates (cf. also 22:9; 29:7; 31:20). The sluggard is characterized by a concern for his own ease. He who will not make any sacrifices for his own good, surely cannot be expected to sacrifice for others.

2. THE SLUGGARD IS A PLEASURE-SEEKER. We have just seen from Proverbs 21:25-26 that, the sluggard is destroyed by his desires. He is also dominated by these desires.28

The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, But the soul of the diligent is made fat (13:4).

He who loves pleasure will become a poor man; He who loves wine and oil will not become rich (21:17).

The sluggard’s desire is for a life of ease, filled with the luxuries and delicacies of the rich. Controlled as he is by his bodily appetites, the sluggard will consume all he has as quickly as possible. His inability to deny himself of immediate gratification leads to his poverty.

3. THE SLUGGARD IS SHORT-SIGHTED. The sluggard thinks only of the present. He constantly talks about tomorrow, for that is when he plans to go to work; but he never thinks ahead. He fails to plan for the future, and he never prepares for it.

Go to the ant, 0 sluggard, Observe 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 (6:6-8).

He who gathers in summer is a son who acts wisely, But he who sleeps in harvest is a son who acts shamefully (10:5).

The sluggard is indifferent to the demands of the future. During the time of harvest there is more than enough food at hand, but the cold winter lies ahead. Without diligently laboring to harvest and put food away for the winter, the sluggard will suffer hunger. He just doesn’t have any sense of urgency about the future.

4. THE SLUGGARD LACKS SELF-DISCIPLINE. If there is one thing the sluggard lacks it is self-control. If there is any food in the house, he eats it, with no thought for the consequences. If he has the choice of work or play, he will always choose to play. Whatever is easy and enjoyable will always be his choice.

The wise man knows that short-term sacrifices are required for future benefits. The wise child decides to do without candy bars and ice cream cones in order to save for a bike. The disciplined athlete knows that he must not eat too much of certain foods and must not stay up too late if he wishes to win the contest. The sluggard is not willing to make any sacrifices or to do without any pleasure that is within his reach.

The Solution to the Sluggard’s Problem

The sluggard may be amusing, but not for long. He is a burden on others, a taker and not a giver. He is a liability to society. Proverbs points the way which the sluggard must take to become a contributor to society, rather than merely a consumer.

1. THE SLUGGARD’S ATTENTION CAN BE GAINED BY PAIN, PRESSURE, AND PROBLEMS. We have already seen that problems and pressures are consequences of the sluggard’s lifestyle, but they can also play a part in his cure. Remember, it is the nature of the sluggard to avoid anything that is painful and unpleasant. Because of this, the hunger and poverty which result from lazy living are taken seriously by the sluggard.

The righteous has enough to satisfy his appetite, But the stomach of the wicked is in want (13:25).

A worker’s appetite works for him, For his hunger urges him on (16:26).

It is important for us to distinguish the nature of a person’s poverty and need. For some, poverty is beyond their control. For those whose need is not the result of sin, we must reach out to help. But the sluggard should not be fed, for this will only reinforce his sinful pattern of living at the expense of others. What Proverbs implies, Scripture teaches clearly elsewhere:

For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone will not work, neither let him eat (II Thes. 3:10).

The so-called “prodigal son” of Luke 15 came to his senses only after he had squandered all his assets and ended up in the pig pen. In our sincere desire to help those who are hurting, let us be reminded that we must help the sluggard by letting him wallow in the consequences of his sin long enough to see the folly of his way and to forsake it for the way of wisdom. Let us also beware of the false conclusion that all those who are poor and in need are sluggards.

The sluggard must learn that the “path of least resistance” is not the path of pleasure and prosperity. According to the Book of Proverbs it is as a hedge of thorns (15:19). Let us not labor to make the path of sinners easy, but to do what we can to turn men and woman to the path of wisdom. The pains of the path of folly are but a small token of the destruction and suffering which lie ahead for all who would choose this way.

2. THE SLUGGARD MUST CHANGE HIS PERSPECTIVE AND HIS PRIORITIES. Our Lord summarized the law of the Old Testament with only two commands.

And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. And a second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. ‘On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40).

The sluggard’s problem is that he has chosen to disregard both of these commands. He does not love or fear God. By every indication the sluggard is evil. He is contrasted with the righteous (15:19; 21:25-26), and assumed to be wicked (13:25). If the sluggard disregards God, neither does he have any love for his fellow man. He seeks only to avoid pain and pursue personal pleasure. Proverbs implies what other Scriptures teach, namely that we must place God first in our lives, and seek to serve others rather than to satisfy our own selfish desires.

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:3-8).

In short, the sluggard must first come to salvation through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who died for his sins and who offers new life--not an easy life, but a full life, marked by serving God and man.

Few passages better describe the change the Gospel makes in a man’s life than that in Ephesians chapter 4:

Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need (Eph. 4:28).

The gospel of Jesus Christ transforms lost men from parasites to producers, from those who take from others, to those who give sacrificially to meet the needs of the helpless. The Gospel turns a man’s attention from himself to others. The way to cure the sluggard is to make a saint of him.

The sluggard must cease living only for the present, and live in the light of eternity. The sluggard lives as though there will be no tomorrow, and therefore he must seek all the pleasure he can while it can be experienced. The Christian lives in the light of God’s promises of a life of blessing for all who will trust in Him and deny themselves those pleasures which are detrimental to spiritual growth and service. This is the message of the eleventh chapter of Hebrews:

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward (Heb. 11:24-26).

The sluggard must have his entire value system reversed. The greatest goal in life is not to be happy, but to be holy (Christ-like). The Christian should strive to be truly pious, not merely prosperous (30:7-9). This means that all Christians must be willing to endure suffering and tribulation in this life (II Tim. 3:12; I Pet. 1:3-7; James 1:2-4). Even those liberties which we possess may need to be set aside for the higher good of serving God or benefiting others (I Cor. 8ff).

As I understand the Bible, the role of biblical prophecy is to constantly remind Christians that God’s purposes are certain, and that we should live godly lives in the present, knowing that this life, and indeed, this world, are passing away.

Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on accounts of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells (II Pet. 3:11-13).

Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. And every one who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (I John 3:2-3).

3. THE SLUGGARD MUST GO TO WORK. The bottom line for the sluggard is that he must stop loafing and get to work. Whether he is forced by pain and pressure or (far better) by a new outlook on life, he must overcome his lethargy and do what needs to be done.

He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, But be who pursues vain things lacks sense (12:11).

In all labor there is profit, But mere talk leads only to poverty (14:23).

He who tills the land will have plenty of food, But he who follows empty pursuits will have poverty in plenty (28:19).

When the choice must be made as to which work is to be done first, Proverbs informs us that it should be that which best prepares us for the difficulties ahead. It is not our comfort, but our most urgent needs which should have priority.

Prepare your work outside, And make it ready for yourself in the field; Afterwards, then, build your house (24:27).

Conclusion

The implications of the teaching of Proverbs on the sluggard are profound for each of us. I would hope that all of us would be able to admit that we have too much of the sluggard in us when it comes to those tasks which we find unpleasant. Whether it be on the job or in the home, we must learn to do what is more important before we do what is most enjoyable.

But beyond this very obvious level of application is one that is even more urgent. Nowhere are the symptoms of the sluggard more evident in my life than in the area of my spiritual duties and obligations. While there are other factors to consider, the primary reason for my failure to pray, to study my Bible as I should, to worship, and to witness to my faith in Christ is that I am a spiritual sluggard.

While I admit that these things are important, even essential, I just never seem to get around to doing them as much or as well as I should.

Let’s face it, there is nothing easy about our spiritual life. We are called to be disciples of our Lord. As such we must endure hardship and persecution. As one gospel song has put it, “It’s not an easy road . . . ” It is the sluggard in me that causes me to ease up, to take the easy path, and to assure myself that there’s always another day. Moment by moment, day by day, a tiny piece at a time, the spiritual battle is lost, largely by default.

I am beginning to understand why the sluggard plays so significant a part in the Book of Proverbs. Repeatedly in the first nine chapters not only the value of wisdom is emphasized, but also the price at which it must be obtained:

My son, if you will receive my sayings, And treasure my commandments within you, Make your ear attentive to wisdom, Incline your heart to understanding; For if you cry for discernment, Lift your voice for understanding; If you seek her as silver, And search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will discern the fear of the Lord, And discover the knowledge of God (2:1-5; of. 3:1-18; 4:1-9).

The Corinthian church of the New Testament was carnal (cf. I Cor. 3:1-3). When Paul finally got to the bottom of their difficulties, one of the principle problems was that these saints lacked the self-discipline and diligence to deny themselves those pleasures which were detrimental to their testimony, their own spiritual growth, or the well-being of a fellow Christian. In the last verses of I Corinthians 9 and the first half of chapter 10 Paul focuses on the need for discipline in the Christian life. In effect, Paul was telling the Corinthians that they were spiritual sluggards.

As I read the New Testament I find that the character flaws of the sluggard in Proverbs are dealt with repeatedly. For example, in Matthew 24 our Lord spoke of the time of the Great Tribulation and the last days. Repeatedly he urged His disciples to watch and be alert so that they would not be caught off guard at his return, devoting themselves to matters of less importance than the kingdom of God (cf. vv. 42-43,50). In Matthew 25 the Lord continues to warn the saints about the dangers of spiritual sluggardliness. In the parable of the talents (vv. 14-30) it was the servant who had but one talent (“a little,” cf. Prov. 6:10) who failed to make use of it for his master. The servant had an excuse (his “lion in the road”); he said that he knew his master was harsh and he was afraid. But the Master would not accept his excuses. Instead, he replied, “You wicked, lazy slave (25:26). Regardless of his excuses, the slave was a sluggard.

If our Lord had little pity on the sluggard, neither did His apostles. Paul instructed the Thessalonian church not to feed a man who refused to work (II Thes. 3:10). Diligence and self-discipline were required of all saints. Note, for example, Paul’s exhortation.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation (Romans 12:9-16).

In urging Christians to wake up in the light of the nearness of the Lord’s return, Paul uses a figure of speech similar to that used with reference to the sluggard:

And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed (Rom. 13:11).

But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober (I Thes. 5:4-6).

The characteristics of the sluggard are described in the New Testament as the characteristics of the old nature of the Christian which must be put off:

And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason it says, “AWAKE, SLEEPER, AND ARISE FROM THE DEAD, AND CHRIST WILL SHINE ON YOU.” Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:11-16).

Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him (Col. 3:5-10).

The New Testament urges the Christian to put aside the attitudes and actions of the old man and to put on Jesus Christ. Former desires are to be put off and we are to live in accordance with the law of love. Christians are to be motivated by the realization that the time is short, the return of our Lord is near, and our opportunities are to be grasped now (cf. Col. 4:5-6).

Whenever I preach I realize that there will be some who will attempt to twist my words into an excuse for their sinful actions. As I was preparing this message I asked myself who would walk away feeling proud of their sinful conduct. One particular type of person came to my mind--the workaholic. How proud the workaholic might feel. After all, he is no sluggard. He is just the opposite.

I would like to make a suggestion with staggering implications. I believe that the workaholic is a sluggard. Now let us be sure we all agree on what we mean by the term “workaholic.” The term “workaholic” does not refer to the man or woman who is diligent at his or her task. We are to be diligent in what we do (Rom. 12:11), working heartily in our occupations, as unto the Lord (Col. 3:23). The workaholic is the person who is so consumed by his work that he avoids other, more important, obligations.

In our society there are those who are just plain lazy and refuse to work. But while there may be just a handful of these in our churches, there are scores of others who have chosen to be spiritual sluggards in a socially acceptable way--by becoming workaholics. The workaholic fails to assume his responsibilities as a husband (or wife), parent, or member of the body of Christ because he is too heavily involved in his work. To the workaholic work is his “lion in the road.” It is easier for the workaholic to devote himself to his duties as an employer or employee than to his other spiritual obligations. When pressed by others, his mate, or his conscience, he excuses himself with a certain crisis, a report that is due, a deadline that is at hand, a difficult time for the business. There are, of course, emergencies that demand more time from us at work, but for the sluggard these never end. He lives from one “crisis” to the next. Eventually, we must recognize that we are spending too much time and energy at work because we Rant to, because it is easier than struggling with our responsibilities at home or in the church.

The workaholic, then, has found his work provides him with an excuse for procrastinating with regard to those obligations which are difficult or unpleasant. He can even rationalize his sin by insisting that he would “hurt his testimony” if he did not do a good job at work. The spiritual sluggard may be starving himself and his family of biblical truths, and he may be responsible for his own downfall and that of others. Those who are in some kind of professional Christian ministry are even more susceptible to the dangers of the workaholic because they are convinced that they are doing “the Lord’s work.” While ministering to the spiritual needs of others, we may be negligent in our study and devotion, as well as in leading our families. I know this is true in my life. Let us be honest with ourselves. If the things we are working hardest at are keeping us from obeying the commands of our Lord, we may well be both workaholics and sluggards.

Finally, it may be possible that you are negligent in your spiritual responsibilities for another reason. While it is possible for a Christian to neglect his responsibilities because of apathy and laziness, it is also necessary to say that some have no interest in spiritual things because they have no spiritual life. Such individuals are not lazy; they are lifeless, spiritually dead. It may be that you are not living in obedience to the commands of Scriptures because you have never come to have eternal life through faith in the person of Christ. When asked by His countrymen what work they should do, Jesus replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him who He has sent” (John 6:29). If you have not yet placed your faith in Jesus Christ, who died in your place, suffering the penalty for your sins, I urge you to do this now.


26 Orientals dispensed with spoons and forks, dipping their hand into the dish to take their portion. The older commentators translated, ‘bosom, slit in a garment,’ like our expression ‘buries his hands in his pockets’; but this is less likely.” A. Cohen, Proverbs (London: The Soncino Press, 1967), P. 129.

27 Kidner says of the self-deceived sluggard as he is described in 36:13-16, he has no idea that he is lazy: he is not a shirker but a ‘realist’ (13); not self-indulgent but ‘below his best in the morning’ (14); his inertia is ‘an objection to being hustled’ (15); his mental indolence a fine ‘sticking to his guns’ (16). Derek Kidner, The Proverbs (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1964), p. 163.

28 Titling these two verses, “The Tyranny of Desire,” Kidner says, “The sluggard lives in a world of wishing, which is his substitute for working. It can ruin him materially (25) and imprison him spiritually (26), for he can neither command himself nor escape himself.” Ibid., p. 145.