Over the past several years of my Christian life I have found that regular reading through the Proverbs is an immediately useful practice. For one thing, I am brought face-to-face with the sluggard. As I read and linger over passages that speak of the lazy man, my own heart is exposed and I am convicted of my tendency toward idleness and sloth. But the Spirit often uses these practical insights to exhort me to again renew my commitment, by grace, to redeem the time for Christ’s sake. In order to help us recognize and repent of our own laziness, I would like to examine briefly eight traits of the sluggard.
1. The Sluggard Will Not Start Things. The sluggard has a difficult time with the virtue of initiative. He is reliant on others telling him what to do (Prov 6:9) and his verbal output usually outstrips his actual production (Prov 14:23). She talks of great plans but she just can’t seem to put her plans into action. She may be distracted by pleasure and entertainment, or she may simply be unwilling to get dirty and work hard. Whatever the case, the sluggard is known for a lack of genuine accomplishment because he can’t seem to start things.
2. The Sluggard Will Not Finish Things. But just because you have the wherewithal to start something, don’t deceive yourself to think you’re not a sluggard, for another quality of the lazy man is that he can’t finish things (see Prov 12:27; 19:24; 26:15). Once he gets into the actual work and bumps up against some difficulty or resistance, all motivation vanishes, and the sluggard retreats back into ease. This is someone who has a growing stack of half-read books on their desk, a host of home projects still awaiting completion, multiple promises to friends and family left unfulfilled, a collection of almost-written articles in the queue, and a gym membership that hasn’t been used since January 2015, and so on.
3. The Sluggard Will Not Face Things. The sluggard will also refuse to face hard tasks. And in order to mask his laziness, the sluggard will find refuge in cowardly excuses like, “There’s a lion outside, I shall be killed in the streets” (Prov 22:13). Confronted with hard decisions and potentially hard conversations, the sluggard is thrown into indecision, wavering between multiple options, and will turn to diversions and entertainment to take his mind off of the work before him. Netflix is the opiate of the sluggard.
4. The Sluggard is Anxious and Restless. Because he is living contrary to the way he was made–to work and build and accomplish and create–the lazy man is constantly restless and full of anxiety. The sluggard may long after greater productivity and accomplishment, but because of her unwillingness to work, she will find himself in a perpetual state of craving without fulfillment (Prov 13:4). Eventually, these unfulfilled desires will wreak serious havoc on the sluggard’s life (Prov 21:25-26).
5. The Sluggard Has Constant Trouble. The sluggard’s life is one that is beset by constant trouble (Prov 15:19). He fails to complete his work in the allotted hours, so he is in a constant hurry to fulfill his responsibilities and often annoyed at those around him for taking up all his time. The sluggard may have financial trouble (Proverbs 12:11; 19:15; 20:4; 21:5; 24:33-34) or live in perpetual messiness at home. The sluggard may not be able to keep a job for any length of time because of his inability to discipline his time, shun distraction, and work hard. Simple responsibilities like paying bills and maintaining one’s vehicle will be neglected and cause unnecessary friction in the sluggard’s life. The ease of productivity that typically attends the one who disciplines his time and works when he is supposed to will always be out of reach for the sluggard. The sluggard may desire to grow spiritually, but the disciplines of regular Bible reading, prayer, theological and devotional study, regular church attendance, and consistent gospel relationships are just too much for the lazy person to bear.
6. The Sluggard Is Annoying and Useless. Because the lazy person is unwilling to work hard and hone her skills, she has little to offer others. In fact, she is mostly a nuisance to those who might require her service. “Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes,” Solomon explains, “so is the sluggard to those who send him” (Prov 10:26). Unproductive, unfocused, concerned about self more than others, the sluggard drives his employers nuts and won’t survive long in any environment that requires diligence and self-denial. Ultimately, the sluggard is in the same class as a thief and vandal (Prov 18:9).
7. The Sluggard Is Self-Deceived. A sluggard’s commitment to serve self and maintain an idle existence may be so strong that he will oppose any arguments from those who attempt to nudge him out of bed (or away from the computer or TV). The sluggard’s self-deception may manifest itself in grand business proposals that are resistant to outside critique and have little basis in reality. Slow, consistent accumulation of wealth through steady work habits is unattractive to the sluggard, so unrealistic dreams of quick money may dominate the lazy person’s mind (Prov 21:5). It is not uncommon for a sluggard to craft spiritual sounding excuses for not working hard by appealing to biblical teaching on the necessity of rest, the fact that salvation is not by works, the need for a so-called “balanced life,” the danger of acquiring wealth, and so on. In every case, the sluggard will walk in and out of conversations with his counselors convinced that he is smarter than all of them: “The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly” (Prov. 26:16).
8. The Sluggard Will Not Become A Leader. Sadly, because of his laziness, the sluggard will never wield much influence. He certainly won’t become a leader, for leadership requires diligence, sacrifice, long hours, pain, and perseverance. The sluggard despises each of these qualities and will find himself under the supervision of those who have devoted themselves to hard work: “The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor” (Prov 12:24).
Indulgence in laziness and idleness is contrary to our design as humans and contrary to our calling as Christians. But we can’t draw ourselves of the morass of laziness by sheer determination. We need God’s grace and a glimpse of Christ revealed in the gospel. The good news of salvation apart from works motivates us to labor diligently in this brief life on earth for the glory of God, the good of others, and for our own benefit. The energizing Spirit of Christ compels us to sharpen our God-given skills so we might be useful to our King and to our fellow man, to courageously face and complete difficult tasks, and to avoid the unnecessary trouble of laziness.
[Note: I am indebted to Derek Kidner for the headings in points #1-4. See Derek Kidner, Proverbs: Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Dowers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1964), 42-43.]