While the saying, "idle hands are the Devil's workshop" is not found in the Bible, it is a wise one and in line with biblical truth. To be idle is to be lazy or to avoid work. Idleness is not the same as rest, which the Bible commends. Rather idleness is doing nothing when you should be doing something. It can often result from having no specific goal or purpose. In His Word, God condemns idleness and commends its opposite—honest work (1 Thessalonians 5:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:6–12).
Is the saying 'idle hands are the Devil's workshop' biblical?
When we are idle, we are more prone to give into temptation. Without focus, our minds more easily stray and we are more easily enticed by our sinful desires and the sinful pleasures of the world (2 Samuel 11:1–2; James 1:14; 1 John 2:15–17). We are also more easily deceived by the Devil. Peter encouraged us to "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). James tells us to "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you…" (James 4:7–8). Ephesians 6:10–18 talks about awareness of the spiritual battle that rages around us and how to stand firm with the full armor of God. These are active instructions, which we cannot follow when we are idle.
A state of idleness is often accompanied by other sins, such as stealing and gossiping, and results in painful consequences, such as hunger and poverty (1 Timothy 5:13; Proverbs 19:15). It is not that Christians are to be workaholics or have no pleasure; rather we are to live our lives with purpose, doing all things—including rest and relaxation—for the glory of God (Colossians 3:17). Colossians 3:23–24 says, "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ." God is not a cruel taskmaster, but a loving Father who knows how He designed us and what is for our good. Rather than be idle, we are to be actively engaged in His kingdom purposes.
Consider that idleness is not merely a matter of work in the typical sense. Idleness is a characteristic, not a state of employment or unemployment. Also a person's "work" does not always involve employment. Idleness speaks not only to our willingness and intention to be actively engaged in matters of life, but also to our thoughts. Allowing our minds to be idle is a dangerous thing.
Idleness is also not just about our activity or our thoughts, but about our spiritual lives. We can work hard and keep our mind engaged, yet neglect our spiritual growth, which is certainly an opening to the Devil's influence in our lives. We are not to be idle in prayer, in Bible study, in worship, or in Christian fellowship (Hebrews 10:19–25; 2 Timothy 4:2–5; James 1:27; John 15:1 – 17). Jesus told us that we cannot serve two masters, both God and money (Matthew 6:24). He also said we need not worry about the necessities of life but can trust that He will provide as we set our minds and hearts on His kingdom (Matthew 6:25–34). Work performed merely for selfish ambition and monetary gain is nothing more than idolatry and no more to be lauded than idleness (Philippians 2:3).
Again, idleness is not the same thing as rest. God did design rest for us (Mark 2:27–28). Ultimately our rest is in Jesus Christ (Matthew 11:28–30). We are also wise to rest from our labors physically; such rest is meant to be used for our good, for our spiritual re-creation, and not for indulging in the sin of spiritual idleness.
May we pray that God would give us a zealous spirit with which to serve Him. May we imitate our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who always listened to the Father, always did the will of the Father, and found rest in the Father (John 4:34; 8:28–29; Luke 23:46). May we, "Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality" (Romans 12:9–13).
We will stumble (James 3:2), but we know that Jesus is faithful to forgive (1 John 1:9). We also know that He has defeated death and God gives us the victory through Him. "Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:58).
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