************ Sermon on Proverbs 6:6-11 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 23, 2002
"Sloth and Sluggards"
Topic: SlothfulnessTo use the word of today's passage, we would have to say this ad asks for a sluggard; it asks for those who are guilty of sloth or laziness.
This classified ad ran in the San Francisco Chronicle. Under "Help Wanted" it said:
Executive age 22-60. Job entails sitting with feet on desk from 10 am to 4:30 pm watching others work. Must be willing to play golf every other afternoon. Salary starts at $2,000 a week.
But now wait a minute, there's this footnote:
We don't really have this job open. We just thought you'd like to see in print what everybody is applying for.
Sloth, Lust, Anger, Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Greed. In the Middle Ages these were called "The Seven Deadly Sins." The church fathers back then knew that these are the seven evil dispositions which, when unchecked, motivate us to sin and destructive behavior and ultimately leads us to hell's destruction. As Paul puts it,
(1 Cor 6:9-10) Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders (10) nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.Did you catch that? There is no room in the kingdom of God for those whose lifestyle is any of the seven deadly sins.
As all of you should know, we are born sinners. We sin because we are sinners. We know this as original sin. Because of original sin all of us have these seven deadly dispositions. The bad news is that unless something miraculous happens, we all blindly follow our predisposition to sloth, lust, anger, pride, envy, gluttony, and greed. The good news is that God, in Christ, performs the miracle that is needed to make us into new creatures (2 Cor 5:17) whose new desire becomes love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23).
There is nothing any of us can do or have to do to become a new creature in Christ. It is purely and solely an act of grace that God does on our behalf because Christ died on the cross and arose from the grave. This does not mean, however, there is nothing for us to do. In Colossians Paul reminds us that we have been buried with Christ in death and raised with Him to new life (Col 2:11-12; 3:1). But then he goes on to say:
(Col 3:5,8) Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry ... (8) But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.In other words, we must live out what we are in Christ; we must make real in our day-to-day lives what Christ has done for us; filled with the Spirit and armed with the Word we must fight the seven deadly sins in our own life; or, to put it another way, we must live the converted life.
Today, as we look at sloth or laziness, we begin a series of sermons on the deadly sins that naturally exist within us as sinners.
I The Sluggard in Proverbs
A Fourteen times in the book of Proverbs, Solomon sees fit to warn us against falling into the sluggard's ways. Solomon sees the sluggard as a tragic yet comical figure. Poking fun of him, Solomon says,
(Prov 26:14) As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed.Or, imagine someone so lazy that he can't or won't even feed himself:
(Prov 19:24) The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he will not even bring it back to his mouth! (cf 26:15)
Throughout Proverbs, Solomon tells us 4 things about the sluggard's character. First of all, he loves to procrastinate, to put off. His motto is, "Later. Right now let me have a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest" (6:10). Step by little step, the sluggard gives way; by inches and by minutes, the sluggard lets opportunity slip away. This past week I found "The Procrastinator's Poem":
I've gone for a drink and sharpened my pencils,
Searched through my desk for forgotten utensils.
I reset my watch, I adjusted my chair,
I've loosened my tie and straightened my hair.
I filled my pen and tested the blotter.
And gone for another drink of water.
Adjusted the calendar, and raised the blind.
And I've sorted erasers of all different kinds.
Now down to work I can finally sit.
Oops, too late, it's time to quit.
Second, the sluggard will not finish things. There are rare times that the sluggard begins something, but just to begin requires so much of his effort that the impulse to finish quickly dies. He goes hunting, says Solomon, but can't be bothered with cooking or roasting his catch; he leaves it outside the house to rot (12:27). He sits down to eat, but eating requires so much work that his meal goes cold on him (19:24; 26:15).
Third, the sluggard is full of excuses. He's got a thousand excuses for why he can't start or finish planting, plowing, harvesting, or whatever:
(Prov 22:13) The sluggard says, "There is a lion outside!" or, "I will be murdered in the streets!" Of course, his excuses are just plain ridiculous.
Fourth, the sluggard is dissatisfied. He has the needs, the cravings, and the desires of any normal person, but they cannot be met because of his laziness. "The sluggard craves and gets nothing," says Solomon, "because his hands refuse to work" (13:4, 21:25). And, "at harvest time he looks but finds nothing" (20:4).
B The sluggard can and should learn a lesson from the humble little ant: "Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise" (6:6). What can the sluggard learn from the ant? The ant has no commander, no overseer, no ruler (6:7). The ant does its work without being told. The ant does not need commands and orders to do what it should be doing. The ant does not need to be pushed and prodded and hen-pecked into its labor. The sluggard, however, needs to be prodded and pushed and supervised every single minute or he accomplishes nothing.
The ant also knows or understands the time: "it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest" (6:8). The little ant knows that you must make hay while the sun shines. The ant knows that to prevent hunger in the winter, crops must be harvested and stored during the summer. The ant knows that summer is a time of crisis in which the year's work will be crowned or canceled, and the battle with winter decided. The ant knows better than the sluggard who thinks of summertime as long, lazy days to sit and sleep in the sun or to lay by the stream and watch frogs, fish, and birds.
C The sluggard should also be able to learn from his own experience. Often, this lesson comes too late. One morning he wakes up only to find that poverty has arrived (10:4), that there are no crops to be harvested (20:4), that bills cannot be paid, and that he and his family are about to be sold as slaves (12:24).
Solomon advises us to learn from the example of the sluggard. A little bit of laziness, says Solomon, and the result is poverty, want, and scarcity.
(Prov 24:30-34) I went past the field of the sluggard, past the vineyard of the man who lacks judgment; (31) thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins. (32) I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw: (33) A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest-- (34) and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.
II The Sluggard and Us
A Solomon's warnings about the sluggard and the sin of sloth have much to say about our welfare society today. We do no one a favor when we encourage sloth by looking after them from cradle to grave. Yes, there are times when people need help – but the help should only be of a temporary nature. As Paul says to the church at Thessalonica:
(2Th 3:10) For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."So the lesson of the sluggard is that we need to work and we need to work hard. However, when we think of the sluggard, of sloth or laziness, we need to think of other forms of laziness too: spiritual laziness, marital laziness, mental laziness, nutritional laziness, and nurturing laziness, to mention only a few. Let's look at some of these other forms of sloth or laziness.
B A failure to love is often because of laziness. And, we all know that the failure to be loving has horrendous consequences in our world.
What is love? Did you know that when the Bible describes love, it almost always speaks of a command: husbands are commanded to love their wives; wives are commanded to love their husbands; all people are commanded to love their neighbors. Jesus spoke of love as something that people should do. This means, people of God, that love requires commitment and hard work; but, those who are lazy are seldom willing to expend that kind of energy. For the lazy people of our world, love is something that is just supposed to happen. Most popular songs on the radio make love sound like an accident, a spontaneous emotion, which can be neither controlled nor created. But love is not a feeling. You don't fall in love, nor do you fall out of love. Love is something you deliberately decide to do and to give.
The failure to recognize that love is an art requiring discipline and hard work is largely responsible for the absence of love in so many of our relationships. Nowhere is this more evident than in marriage. Too many husbands and wives are too lazy to love each other. Love becomes nonexistent and marriages collapse because most people do not work hard or are not willing to work hard to create love and build marital relationships.
In my experience with broken or struggling marriages, I have observed that both spouses know exactly what to do to restore the relationship; yet, one or both of them are often unwilling to put forth the necessary effort. In almost every case, marriages fail because one or both partners simply are too lazy to do what is necessary to make the marital relationship work.
I read this past week of a husband who had become preoccupied with sports:
In the early years of marriage, his wife tried to share his interest. She went to games with him, she read the sports page. His interest in sports grew until it became a total preoccupation and nothing else in life interested him. When his wife left him, he wondered what he could do to get her back. His counselor told him he could cut back on the time and energy he spent on being a sports' fanatic and make a commitment to his wife to give time and attention to things that would interest her. He was told to rearrange the priorities of his life and to give the Lord and his family the attention they deserved. His response: "I know all of that; but to tell the truth, I don't feel it's worth the effort. I want her back, but not that much."What this husband does with sports, other husbands do with fishing, with golfing, with hunting.
C Most problems related to raising children in our modern world are caused by sloth. Many children become undisciplined because parents are too lazy to do the hard work associated with nurturing them properly in the ways of responsible living. Take a simple matter like getting children to straighten their rooms and make their beds, or putting their backpacks and clothes away. Some parents give up on telling the kids to do this – because they don't listen anyway. They say it is easier to do it themselves. Such parents are being lazy. By their own admission, they are taking the easy route. Parents who do not keep at the task of requiring their children to do what is expected of them – whether it be homework, housework, yard-work, or whatever – are being lazy.
Some parents complain about the kind of music their teenagers listen to. Yet, in most cases, teenagers get to listen to what they want because their parents are too lazy to do anything about it. To ask what CDs are being purchased, to listen to the songs that are being downloaded, and to discuss the value of the music requires more time and effort than most parents are willing to expend. The same thing happens with TV programs and video and computer games – parents often are too lazy to check them out ahead of time.
It is true that some parents are too restrictive. However, in most cases today, the problems of youth are not related to parents demanding too much, but of parents demanding too little – all because they are slothful. By this, I am not saying that if parents work as hard as they can at disciplining their children, all will be perfect. After all, God had two perfect children, Adam and Eve, whom He placed in a perfect environment; yet both of them rebelled against His will. Nevertheless, parents should imitate God and never give up on disciplining their children.
D One of the big problems among Christians today is the failure to regularly engage in their spiritual exercises. I am convinced that sloth is the primary reason why so many fail to have regular family or personal devotions, worship attendance, meditation, and prayer. It is too much work to set aside a regular time for these spiritual exercises. Many content themselves with doing them when they have the time or when they feel like doing them.
The story is told of a family that moved into a new community. They were promptly visited by two elders and the pastor of a nearby church who cordially invited them to attend the services on the Lord's Day. The man assured them that he would come just as soon as he got straightened out. Several months passed, and he still hadn't put in an appearance, so the minister called again and repeated his invitation. But he received the same reply. The fellow hadn't yet gotten everything straightened out, but he'd be there just as soon as he did. A few weeks later he died, and his widow asked to have the funeral services in the church. The preacher graciously agreed. It was indeed a sad affair.
E In looking at Proverbs, I said that the sluggard loves to procrastinate. I am convinced that procrastination is one of Satan's most effective weapons.
Title: Devil's Tool
A man dreamt that he saw Satan seated on his throne, and all his evil spirits were gathered round him, waiting for his commands.
Satan asked a question: "Who will go forth to ruin souls on earth?"
"I will," said one demon. "What will you tell them?" asked Satan. "I'll tell them that there is no God," was the answer. "That will not do," said Satan. "Men know there is a God."
Again Satan asked, "Who will go forth to ruin souls?"
"I will," a second spirit replied. "And what will you tell them?" Satan asked. "I'll tell them that there is a God and that they are too bad to come to Him," he replied. "That won't do," said Satan. "They have Bibles which tell them about God's forgiving love in Christ."
Once more Satan asked his terrible question: "Who will go forth to ruin souls on earth?"
There was a pause. At last a third spirit said, "I will." "And what will you tell them?" asked Satan. "I will tell them," he answered slowly, "that there is a God. I will let them hear the Gospel as often as they like. And I will tell them there is no need, no hurry, to confess Christ before men today; instead, they can wait until tomorrow or next week or next year.
There was a murmur of applause. "Go forth," said the Prince of Darkness. "You will be successful in ruining souls."
It is impossible to estimate the number of people Satan has deceived through the demon of procrastination. The fires of hell, I am sure, are filled with the souls of those who intended to confess Christ before men but kept putting off the decision until later. In talking about Christ and the cross the Book of Hebrews asks, "How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation" (Heb 2:3)? It tells us there is no escape, only judgment, for those who neglect Christ and His salvation.
"Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!" We would all be wise to observe the ways of the ant. As husbands and wives, there is no room for laziness in giving love. As parents, we can't be lazy in disciplining our children in God's ways. As Christians, we can't be lazy in doing our spiritual exercises. As sinners, we can't be lazy and procrastinate in confessing Christ before men.
"Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!"
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