As a new year rapidly approaches, we think and hear non-stop messages about cranking up our motivation to change. We have a resolution for this and that, for everything except what we need most, that is, to think biblically about being motivated. Why should we be motivated to change? Why should we shun laziness and the reputation of being a sluggard whom no one can depend upon? The Bible is rich with counsel so that we will think biblically, see how seriously God views laziness, and experience change in and through Christ. Here’s a sampling of that counsel from pastor and counselor Adam Embry.
In Proverbs, the lazy man makes two main excuses. In fact, since he never works, he has plenty of time to conjure up excuses and talk about them. Charles Spurgeon said, “the slothful man is represented as having something to say, and I think that there are no people that have so much to say as those that have little to do. While nothing is done, much is talked about.” The lazy man’s first excuse is that he always needs to rest. In Proverbs 6:6–11 we hear how the lazy individual always needs a little nap; this person’s excuse for needing rest is really procrastination. You could imagine the individual saying today, “I’ll just hit the snooze button on my alarm clock a few more times.” Several more minutes’ sleep then turn into hours, which turn into a wasted day. In contrast to the lazy individual is the ant. Some Palestinian ants were known for storing up grain for the winter. Rather than conquering creation by working for God, we are lazy and must learn from one of the smallest creatures, the ant, who instinctively works hard without being told to do so.
The lazy man’s second excuse is that it’s just too risky heading off to work: The sluggard says, “there is a lion in the road!” (see Proverbs 26:13–16; compare 22:13). The unmotivated person thinks that the remote danger of a lion roaming the streets is a reason to avoid work. Now, lions typically didn’t roam the streets of Israel looking for an unmotivated person to devour. Here’s the logic in today’s world: “I can’t drive to work! People die in car accidents!” or, “I can’t go outside to work! I might get struck by lightning!” Work is too wearisome to engage in and so he or she makes more excuses.
The lazy person’s two excuses lead to five serious consequences.
- Violent Poverty: Financial and material loss won’t take place over time; they’ll take place suddenly, like a robber violently breaking into your house unannounced and holding you at gunpoint. In a split second the sluggard will lose everything because of his or her laziness (Proverbs 6:11).
- Loss of Friendship: Unmotivated people are annoying and unreliable for others. The doubly negative description of vinegar and smoke in Proverbs 10:26 makes an emphatic point: the lazy person is a sour and irritating individual, someone who is completely annoying. Rather than being trusted and reliable, he or she is no help at all to anyone.
- Unfinished Tasks: Remember how the lazy field-owner in Proverbs 24 owned property but didn’t cultivate the land? Now we see in Proverbs 12:27 that the lazy person never even cooks the animal he or she killed for dinner. This person shot the animal, and this certainly tells us that he or she has the ability to work. But the lazy man or woman lacks the ambition to complete the task by skinning and cooking the animal to feed him or herself, or worse, his or her family. What good is an uncooked carcass? It’s like going to the grocery store, buying food, driving home, yet leaving the food in the car only to spoil.
- Unfulfilled Desires: Connected to the previous consequence is this: that unmotivated people never fulfill their desires (Proverbs 13:4). This verse uses the metaphor of eating to convey how the wise are filled and the lazy go hungry. Likewise, in Proverbs 21:26, lazy people crave and crave, whereas the righteous are so filled with goodness that they can give freely to others. Lazy people want something—food, accomplishments, to live life to its fullest—but they won’t put their hands to work, and so they die. A similar consequence is described in Proverbs 15:19–24.
- Death: The lazy person’s laziness brings death (Proverbs 21:25). Lazy people want something—food, accomplishments, to live life to its fullest—but they won’t put their hands to work, and so they die. A similar consequence is described in Proverbs 15:19–24, which again contrasts how the lazy man and the wise man walk down separate paths.
These five consequences can be viewed from a different angle, as laziness negatively impacts our relationships with others (annoying/unhelpful), our well-being (poverty, unfinished tasks, unfulfilled desires), and our eternal destiny (death). The lazy individual’s excuses epitomize an obsessive, selfish care for him- or herself, a disregard for others, and disobedience toward God. “Idleness,” Spurgeon preached, “is selfishness, and this is not consistent with the love of neighbor, nor with any high degree of virtue.” Laziness, then, is a sin that dominates all of life and reflects disobedience to God’s law. It’s a curse we bring upon ourselves and our relationships that will ultimately kill us.
Slothfulness, like all other sins, is deceptive. We never think its consequences are catastrophic. It offers us ease and comfort, but it fails to deliver. Augustine noted this when he said, “Sloth poses as the love of peace: yet what certain peace is there besides the Lord?” As it is with every sin, the solution to fighting laziness is the good news of salvation the Lord brings.
(This brief summary of what the Bible teaches about laziness and its cure is from Adam Embry’s mini-book HELP! I Can’t Get Motivated.]