At the start of the New Year, it’s often good to review our life’s direction and goals. One thing to consider is how much any of “the Seven Deadly Sins” (Pride, Greed, Envy, Anger, Lust, Gluttony, and Sloth) have a hold on our lives.
The Seven Deadly Sins are not listed as such in the Bible. Yet each one is independently condemned in various passages of the Scriptures. In fact, most of the Seven Deadly Sins have several Bible verses against them. The one I want to focus on here is Sloth.
We don’t think of Sloth or Laziness as a sin per se. But surely it is. Leonardo da Vinci once said,
“God sells us all things at the price of labor.” Sadly, today, millions are choosing to live off of the labor of others without even thinking about it. (Of course, if someone is disabled and unable to work, that is a different matter.)
Did you ever hear about the patient who went for a very thorough examination by a doctor? The patient said that he wanted the doctor to be frank about what was wrong with him. The doctor asked him if he was quite sure about this. The patient replied in the affirmative.
Said the doctor, “There isn't a thing in the world wrong with you, except that you are just lazy.'' The patient answered, “Okay, doc. Now give me the medical term for it, so I can tell my wife.”
God created work before the fall. Work is good. Since the fall, the earth is under a curse, and we experience that curse in one way or another each day.
God declared to Adam in judgment: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food” (Gen. 3:17-19).
Nevertheless, we are still commanded to do our own work, even if it is difficult. In the Ten Commandments (and elsewhere in the Bible). God tells us, “Six days shall work be done.” The Apostle Paul commends work (Col. 3:23), and even connects it with having food (2 Thess. 3:10).
The Greeks and the Romans used their slaves to do their hard work. In ancient Greece, about 75 percent of the population was slaves. In Rome, it was about half. Larry Burkett points out: “The Greeks degraded into a nation of idle talkers who were easily overrun by the Romans.”
We get a taste of that in Acts 17, when Paul spoke before the Areopagus in Athens: "For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear something new" (Acts 17:21).
Thus, the condemnation of sloth as a sin fits with the Judeo-Christian view but not necessarily other traditions. As the late Dr. D. James Kennedy once pointed out: When Jesus worked as a carpenter, He dignified labor.
Jump to today. Many employers are often complaining that one of the greatest difficulties they face is workplace theft. Not so much stealing pencils or paper clips, but rather time. One study written up years ago found that time theft by employees “cost companies more than all other crimes, including pilfering, insurance fraud, kickbacks, and embezzlement."
In one study, they found 33 percent of American workers have confessed to researchers that they have phoned in sick—when they really weren’t. All of these are symptoms of the sin of sloth.
I think it’s interesting to note that the Bible gave an apt description—more than 3,000 years ago—of the slothful employee and the impact he has on his boss. Solomon wrote: "As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is a sluggard to those who send him" (Proverbs 10:26).
The Book of Proverbs has much to say about sloth and diligence:
•“Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth. He who gathers crops in summer is a wise son, but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son.”
•“Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor.”
•“The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.”
•“The plans of the diligent leads to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.”
There is a great deal of spiritual sloth today. How many of us intend to spend time in the Bible and in prayer and in service to others, but never really get around to it?
Howard E. Butt, Jr. once told a church audience that too many churchgoers tend to regard sermon-listening as an end in itself. Church attendance is a great first step. But Butt said sermon-listening can be an “escape.” He said: “God wants transformation from listening into living.”
In contrast to spiritual sloth, consider the example of one of the greatest missionaries of all time—the legendary David Livingstone, whose 200th birthday we celebrated this past year. He plodded along into the interior or unchartered territory in Africa for the gospel’s sake.
Here’s what he wrote in his diary: “I place no value on anything I have or may possess, except in relation to the kingdom of Christ. If anything will advance the interests of the kingdom, it shall be given away or kept, only as by giving or keeping it I shall promote the glory of Him to whom I owe all my hopes in time and eternity.”
The good works I’m talking about are not sufficient to earn our way to heaven. Only Jesus could do that for us on the cross. Once we’re redeemed, good works become our Thank You to Him.
To overcome sloth, here’s a portion of the classic Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me…the courage to change the things I can…” That’s not a bad petition at the outset of 2014.