The Bible has much to say about laziness, as well as its opposite, diligent work. The topic of laziness, although found throughout the Bible, is most often referred to in the Old Testament book of Proverbs. The words most often used to describe laziness are "sluggard" and "slothful." These terms are more illustrative than our modern term "lazy." For example, a sloth moves on the ground at a lazy six and a half feet per minute; a certain type of slug clocks in at an astoundingly slow pace of six and a half inches in two hours.
Laziness – What does the Bible say?
The word "sluggard" appears fourteen times in the book of Proverbs. The longest of those passages is Proverbs 6:6–11: "Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man." Laziness is clearly not the way of the wise.
God works (John 5:17). God created mankind to work (Genesis 2:15). Because of mankind's disobedience, God cursed the ground and work became toilsome and grievous (Genesis 3:17–19). However, God did not revoke the creation mandate. The refusal to work is a further manifestation of mankind's continued disobedience. Laziness, being a sin, has disastrous consequences, as do all sins (Romans 6:23). Specifically, laziness leads to poverty. In fact, Scripture states that those who are able to work, but refuse to do so, should not be allowed to eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10–12). Those who work, but in a lazy manner, are an irritation to their employers, as smoke is an irritant to the eyes (Proverbs 10:26). The sluggard or lazy person is characterized by excessive sleep (Proverbs 26:14), excuse-making (Proverbs 22:13), conceit (Proverbs 26:16), and emptiness (Proverbs 13:4).
Having rightly exposed and condemned the sin of laziness, we must be careful not to imagine that its opposite, hard work, is always pleasing to God. Whereas diligent work often brings earthly blessings, the motive behind our work is even more important than the temporal result. Workaholism or frenetic working out of fear or greed is just as displeasing to God as laziness. As believers in Christ, we are to be motivated to work, not for earthly riches, but by our love for Jesus and others. We are called not to be idle busybodies who need to depend on outsiders to provide for us, but to be cheerful givers who have something to share with those in need (Matthew 6:19–21; 1 Timothy 6:9–10; 2 Thessalonians 3:11–12; Ephesians 4:28). We are also to do our work as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:17, 23) and to gratefully receive times of rest and refreshment. Rather than being lazy, we diligently work and rest as God has called us.
Christians are not called to be man-pleasers but God pleasers, knowing that whatever we do for the Lord will be repaid and rewarded not only in this life, but in the life to come (Colossians 3:23–24; Ephesians 6:8; Matthew 19:29). Christians are called to serve the Lord with zeal in whatever we do (Romans 12:11; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17). This is why all occupations (excepting sinful ones) can be performed as acts of worship and service to Christ. It is not merely the external act that makes work acceptable to God, but the internal disposition of the heart. One person may preach for selfish gain and therefore displease God. Another person may sweep floors for Jesus and thereby glorify God. Working at the tasks that God has entrusted to us with a heart of worship, rather than a disposition of laziness, glorifies God.
We are called not only to work to provide for ourselves and our family, but to work to progress in our sanctification (1 Timothy 5:8; 2 Peter 1:5–11; Philippians 2:12–13). God has provided us with the tools we need to grow in grace. Specifically, we grow through the diligent study of the Scriptures (2 Timothy 2:15), fervent prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17), regularly meeting together with fellow believers (Hebrews 10:24–25), and by the Holy Spirit's work in us (2 Corinthians 3:18). We must always keep in mind that without abiding in Christ and relying on the indwellling power of His Spirit in us, we can do nothing (John 15:5). We are not justified before God based on our works, but on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ (John 4:34; 5:36; 17:4; Galatians 2:16). It is God's grace, received through faith, that justifies us; good works and spiritual fruit are the inevitable result of that faith (Ephesians 2:8–10; 2 Corinthians 5:17).
When it comes to laziness we do well to recall the exhortation of Romans 12:11: "Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord." We also remember that "it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13) and He is faithful to complete the good work He began in us (Philippians 1:6).
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