Debt, Sloth, & Discord | Proverbs 6:1-19

My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor,
have given your pledge for a stranger,
if you are snared in the words of your mouth,
caught in the words of your mouth,
then do this, my son, and save yourself,
for you have come into the hand of your neighbor:
go, hasten, and plead urgently with your neighbor.
Give your eyes no sleep
and your eyelids no slumber;
save yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, 
like a bird from the hand of the fowler.

Go to the ant, O sluggard;
consider her ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief,
officer, or ruler,
she prepares her bread pin 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.

A worthless person, a wicked man,
goes about with crooked speech,
winks with his eyes, signals with his feet,
points with his finger,
with perverted heart devises evil,
continually sowing discord;
therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly;
in a moment he will be broken beyond healing.

There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers.

Proverbs 6:1-19 ESV

 

Taking a break from his assault against sexual immorality, Solomon now proceeds to give us three warnings: of the danger of providing surety and against sluggard and the sower of discord. At first, these three dangers may appear to be unrelated, but as the ancient author is prone to do, the three pleas increase in severity and danger. The danger of lending credit to someone else is a noble but foolish action, slothfulness is the foolishness of inaction, and the sower of discord is actively seeking to cause strife and chaos.

THE DANGER OF DEBT // VERSES 1-5

Let’s be honest, debt is absolutely no fun. Anyone who has a significant amount of debt knows how true the words of Proverbs 22:7 are: “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is a slave to the lender.” Being in debt feels like a rain cloud is perpetually over your head. Because of this knowledge and even God’s refusal to allow the Israelites to exact interest on their loans, many debate the morality of the debt in general. Unfortunately for us (though fortunately for me), general debt is not what Solomon has in mind in these verses; instead, he is narrowing down upon one particular form of debt: pledging surety for someone else.

Verse 1 gives us the required information and the if portion of the if-then statement. The action in view is providing security or a pledge for your neighbor or a stranger. Providing security means pledging surety or offering up your finances or line of credit for someone else. Verse 2 calls this act being snared or caught in the words of your mouth. This promise is a trap, like one set for an animal. Verses 3-5 then inform us how to escape from this trap: go, hasten, and plead urgently with your neighbor. The strength of the three commands (go, hasten, and plead) sufficiently display the urgency of the matter, but Solomon adds the word urgently in order to make sure we understand the gravity of this situation. Pledging security for someone else places you in their hand. You are at their mercy. Therefore, Solomon says to do whatever you must do to get out of that situation. In fact, verse 5 compares the situation to a gazelle fleeing from a hunter. The message is clear: flee like your life depends on it because it does!

The commands here are necessarily vague because no two situations will be identical. Solomon is simply attempting to emphasize to us the deadly seriousness of the matter. But let us ask two more questions before we move on: 1) does this apply to all debt situations, and 2) does this mean that we are never to cosign loans or anything such as that? First, this does not necessarily apply to all debt situations, but it certainly can. Dave Ramsey uses these verses to describe his gazelle-like intensity for escaping debt. That mentality is definitely wise but not necessarily demanded in every situation. Second, Solomon is not saying that all cosigning is foolish. Notice that verse 1 describes putting up security for your neighbor or a stranger. Tying your finances or credit to someone else is always a risk, but it is downright foolish when you do not know the other person.

THE ANTI-SLOTH ANT // VERSES 6-11

Solomon now moves from the well-intended but foolish action to the danger of inaction. Here the ancient king speaks to the Sluggard, the slothful person who refuses to work. He calls his attention to the ant, demanding that he learn from her. Without an overseer looking over her shoulder, the ant gathers food and works diligently. The Sluggard, on the other hand, is pictured as a sleeping the day away. He creates excuses in verse 10, saying that it is only a little sleep, only a little rest. But poverty will befall him like a robber.

The application of these verses is near infinite, and I find the sin of sloth to be deceptively present in both my life and the society at large. I will, therefore, do my best to make sense of my scattered thoughts regarding this sin.

First, the sin of sloth is the refusal to do God-glorifying work. Adam was given work in Eden (Genesis 1:28), so work is not a byproduct of sin. Work is difficult and not always fruitful because of sin, but God designed us for work. By denying work, the Sluggard is, thus, denying his role as an image-bearer of God. We should never denigrate the sinfulness of sloth by assuming that it is merely laziness. No, it is, at heart, a rejection of God’s designed order for creation.

Second, because sloth rejects the godliness of work, slothfulness is problem of worship. We worship God whenever we joyfully embrace what He has ordained for and commanded of us. We withhold worship whenever we disobey God’s commands and designs. Paul displays the importance of this in his warning and exhortation to the Thessalonians:

2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 | Now we command you, brothers, sin the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

The Thessalonians were wrestling against the sin of sloth (or idleness). Many in the church were refusing to work (likely waiting for Christ’s return). Paul, therefore, gives them the command if anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. He even encourages them to keep away from those who refuse to obey this command (thereby issuing church discipline).

Third, let us view three areas where the slothfulness is found: intellectual sloth, spiritual sloth, and the slothfulness of busyness.

Our society may still (generally) value physical labor, but it is increasingly leaving behind intellectual labor. Leigh Bortins states that “overall, the same percentage of Americans read Common Sense in the late 1770s that watch the Super Bowl today” (p. 29)! Intellectual laziness is not a matter of intelligence but of work. The human mind is capable of far more than we give it credit for and so is the “common” man. Remember that Jesus chose such common men to be the foundation of the church. Peter and John were simple fishermen, but under the power of the Holy Spirit, the religious intellectuals of their day “perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Of course, both men authored books of Scripture that reveal this boldness. We must remember, therefore, that the Bible is not for scholars but the everyman. The riches of God’s Word are not vaulted to all but the theologian. The New Testament was written in Koine Greek (that is, common Greek), and it was scandalous in the First Century because it did not target the elites of society first and foremost. Christianity has always attracted and educated the lower classes of societies.

Our intellectual sloth is made evident in politics. Neil Postman uses the debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas to accentuate how far cultural literacy has declined. The structure of these debates was for Candidate #1 to deliver an hour long speech, Candidate #2 would then provide an hour and a half rebuttal, and finally Candidate #1 would close with his half-hour counter-rebuttal.

Consider two quotations of Lincoln and Douglas from these debates.

At one point during his speech, Douglas was met with a particularly lengthy applause to which he responded: “My friends, silence will be more acceptable to me in the discussion of these questions than applause. I desire to address myself to your judgment, your understanding, and your consciences, and not to your passions or your enthusiasms” (p. 45).

And here is a sampling of how Lincoln spoke during these debates: “It will readily occur to you that I cannot, in half an hour, notice all the things that so able a man as Judge Douglas can say in an hour and a half; and I hope, therefore, if there be anything that he has said upon which you would like to hear something from me, but which I omit to comment upon, you will bear in mind that it would be expecting an impossibility for me to cover his whole ground” (p. 46).

This form of speaking is no longer the norm. Once more, the problem is not intelligence itself. Lincoln and Douglas were speaking to labors. The problem is with our expectations and efforts. We demand that expositions of the God’s Word be no longer than an hour, so how could we bear to focus on political discourse for an hour and a half! New English translations of the Bible continue to appear, promising to be translated into more readable language, but the problem with our Bible comprehension is not with the translations but with how the authors write. The letters of the New Testament, for example, are densely-constructed logical arguments, and we wrestle to connect each dot of reasoning because our minds are used to news-segment-sized nuggets of thought. We cannot understand the Bible because we are intellectually lazy.

And to be fair, a significant portion of this problem arrives from not being educated properly. When our education system expects us most of us to fail, we will tend to do just that. It is all about expectations. Bortins states as much: “Parents have forgotten that a century ago, the average nine-year-old worked hard enough to earn his or her own way in life. I wish every child had a life so blessed with ease that he thought loading the dishes into a dishwasher was hard work, but that is not reality. Parents need to stop believing excuses from poor Johnny that learning is too hard, or that he can’t pay attention, or that practicing penmanship is boring, or that math is repetitive. Tough. Life is repetitive. We are crippling our children’s brains instead of providing the extensive mental exercise they need for normal development. Mental exercise with a core of quality material is comparable to physical exercise with a healthy diet.”

But slothfulness is not merely physical or intellectual, we can still be lazy and idle spiritually. Spiritual sloth means being slothful to the things of God. Primarily, we see this in our reading of Scripture and prayer, which we tend to devote little (if any) time toward. But is there anything more important or necessary than hearing from and speaking to God? Yet we tend to place them low on our list of priorities.

Douglas Wilson discusses the importance of recognizing our spiritual sloth in his book, The Seven Deadlies:

The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason” (Prov. 26:16). The condition of the contemporary church is exactly this—the result of spiritual sloth. We are wise in our own conceits. Like the church in Laodicea (Rev. 3:14–22), we think we can see, but we are blind. We think we are rich, but we are poor with regard to the things of God. We are impoverished and the worst thing is that we don’t know we are impoverished. We don’t have an understanding that this is our condition. Part of the reason is pressure from the unbelieving culture that is around us and our failure to withstand the pressure. In times of cultural deterioration, pressure is always applied to invert the moral order. Isaiah 5:20 says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.” The world has always had lazy people, but historically they were always recognized as such. We live in a time when this sluggard-mentality is treated as something that should be praised. In 1950, the average fourteen-year-old kid had a vocabulary of 25,000 words. Today, the average kid has a vocabulary of 10,000 words, four of which appear to be cable, X-Box, Netflix, and dude. But how is this up and coming generation of the ignorati described to us in our public discourse?—street-smart, savvy, irreverent, and refreshing. Industry and diligence are mocked, and the baseball hat on backwards is the mark of a sage. We praise the lazy and exalt the sluggard. We do this even though we know that God mocks the ungodly, the lazy and those who refuse to work for what they desire. This means laziness is a sign of contempt for God.

Spiritual sloth can also be found in our inability to wake up in the morning. Solomon directly ties the refusal to rise from bed to the sin of sloth. Greg Morse wrote a wonderful article on desiringgod.org called The Great Wall of Cotton: Why We Hit Snooze on God about this very issue. The entire thing is worth reading, but I will cite a portion here to capture his main idea.

We slept in because we had forgotten who bids us to rise. The God we snoozed was puny, uninteresting, unworthy — not the God of the Bible. The God we snoozed seemed so distant, so unaware, so cold. So, we rolled over in our warm beds and resumed sleeping. But the God who summons his people from their slumber is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is worthy of our wakefulness. We rise when friends call. Scramble to attention if our boss rings. And yet, far too often we roll over when our Best Friend, our only Savior, our truest Love knocks on our doors each morning. We provoke our jealous Husband with the scraps of our day, throwing him our spare devotion as stale breadcrumbs are thrown at pigeons in the park. He is God. He deserves our firstfruits, not our microwaved leftovers.  He can ask, “Why do you call me ‘Lord’ and not rise when I bid you? Why do you call me ‘Teacher’ and not sit daily at my feet? Why do you call me ‘Husband’ and not seek my tender embrace?” The burning ones of heaven cannot look at him — none yawn or fall asleep in his presence. The God we draw near to is the God of Revelation 5. As the Lamb ascends his throne, all of heaven screams, “Worthy!” (Revelation 5:9, 12). This scene is not one for sleeping infants or adults. What must this heavenly host think when they peer over the edge of heaven and see us lie in bed, as if dead, before him? This is not the holy deadness that resulted from John meeting with the exalted Christ whose chest shone with a golden sash, eyes burned like flames of fire, and whose voice thundered like the flood of many waters (Revelation 1:12–17). No, they see the deadness of Eutychus who, when Paul preached into the night, sank into a deep sleep, fell from his windowsill, and plummeted to his death (Acts 20:9).  How shocking it must be for heaven to be lost in fierce worship of God, and then to see many of us — his blood-bought people — daily meet him with a tap of a button and a rolling over.

Just as physical sloth tends to create poverty, so spiritual sloth causes spiritual poverty. Why is our society morally decadent, but our consciences are dulled to the pervasive dangers around us? In our spiritual sloth, we do not first seek God’s kingdom. We, therefore, need not wonder why everything else is falling apart. If all things will be added to us when the kingdom is sought primarily, the converse is also true: all things will collapse around us whenever we seek other things instead.

Finally, the notion of sloth does not merely apply to idleness but also to busyness. Idleness is a sinful counterfeit of God-glorifying rest. Rest is worship; idleness is not. Rest is found in coming to Christ; idleness is found in self-gratifying pursuits. But the same is also true of work and busyness. Busyness is a sinful counterfeit of God-glorifying work. Work is worship; busyness is not. Work is accomplished only when we are working from the knowledge that Jesus worked perfectly in our place. Busyness is legalism in action. Busyness is sinful because it is a denial of God’s sovereignty. It is the act of living as if God is not in control and so we must attempt to take life by its reins. Busyness is a rejection of God, while work is a glorifying act of worship. This means that work and rest are innately bound together, as are busyness and idleness.

Work and rest, as acts of worship, create a cycle of joy and renewal. Busyness and idleness, however, form a cycle of cynicism and decay. And it very much is a cycle. We busy ourselves in order to prove our worth and value, only to collapse into idleness when we reach the end of our strength and will. We attempt to do everything, only to accomplish nothing. We fill each slot of our calendar in search of desperate productivity, only to waste our lives. Once again, the problem is worship. Busyness and idleness do not seek first God’s kingdom (Matthew 6:33); therefore, they are frivolous and trivial actions. The man of God worships the LORD by submitting even menial tasks to God’s glory and kingdom, and he truly rests by coming to God for relief from the weariness of life.

Tony Reinke speaks about this busy laziness as an epidemic of our society:

The slothful zombie may live a very busy life, but he does just enough to get things done, so he can get back to enjoying his comforts. Duties are what he performs, but comfort is what he craves. The zombie lives his routine in a fog, sleepwalking between weekends. Frederick Buechner writes this of the zombie: “Sloth is not to be confused with laziness. A slothful man may be a very busy man. He is a man who goes through the motions, who flies on automatic pilot. Like a man with a bad head cold, he has mostly lost his sense of taste and smell . . . people come and go, but through glazed eyes he hardly notices them. He is letting things run their course. He is getting through his life.” Richard John Neuhaus defines contemporary sloth as “evenings without number obliterated by television, evenings neither of entertainment nor of education, but a narcotic defense against time and duty.” This is sloth at its deadly best: trying to preserve personal comforts through the candy of endless amusements. Sloth is a chronic quest for worldly comfort that compounds boredom — boredom with God, boredom with people, boredom with life. The most common species of slothfulness is “lazy busy” — a full schedule endured in a spiritual haze, begrudging interruptions, resenting needy people, driven by a craving for the next comfort. It is epidemic in our day.

Reinke goes on to call sloth “a craving for personal comfort at all costs.” It is this self-centeredness that kills. The Sluggard cannot worship God, even when he is busy because he is too focused upon himself. The call to the slothful, therefore, is not to work harder; rather, the Sluggard must submit both his work and rest to God.

A SOWER OF DISCORD // VERSES 12-19

We have seen foolish but well-intended actions and also the foolishness of inaction. Solomon now presents to us the foolishness of malicious actions. Verses 12-19 concern the worthless person (literally a person without value). This person is worthless because he devotes himself to worthless endeavors. In fact, these verses poetically emphasize how this man’s entire body and heart are devoted to evil. His mouth pours forth crooked speech and lies, his eyes are prideful and sly, his feet are quick to run to sin, his hands commit violence, and his heart devises evil and wicked plans. This is not merely a person who commits unintended sin or foolishly stumbles into sin; this is a person who willfully and purposefully commits sin. His heart is devoted to evil, not upon the ways of God.

But Solomon is here pointing toward one particular sin: sowing discord. These verses are broken into two sections, verses 12-15 and 16-19. Both build toward creating discord as their zenith. Verses 12-14 display the characteristics of the wicked man, only to culminate by saying that he is “continually sowing discord.” Verses 16-19 are a Hebrew riddle. The formula found in verse 16 emphasizes the point of the riddle. The first six things at the LORD hates are fairly obvious sins, but the seventh (sowing discord) is less obvious but equally an abomination to God.

The question to ask then is: why is sowing discord such a serious sin? To be fair, this is not an Old Testament issue. The New Testament is likewise very serious about the one who stirs up divisions, particularly among God’s people, the church. Paul makes it quite clear in Ephesians 4:3 that Christians should be eager to maintain unity with one another. Against this unity is division, and Paul warns us against it often. Romans 16:17 says, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11). “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21). Notice that these fruits of the flesh from Galatians are littered with synonyms of sowing discord: enmity, strife, rivalries, dissensions, and divisions.

But does this mean that we should never offer dissenting opinions or should never divide? Kent Hughes provides wonderful insight upon when division is malicious and when it is necessary:

There is a difference between needing to divide and loving to divide. A divisive person loves to fight. The differences are usually observable. A person who loves the peace and purity of the church may be forced into division, but it is not his character. He entered arguments regrettably and infrequently. When forced to argue, he remains fair, truthful, and loving in his responses. He grieves to have to disagree with a brother. Those who are divisive by nature lust for the fray, incite its onset, and delight in being able to conquer another person. For them victory means everything. So in an argument they twist words, call names, threaten, manipulate procedures, and attempt to extend the debate as long as possible and along as many fronts as possible.  Divisive persons frequent the debates of the church. As a result the same voices and personalities tend to appear over and over again, even though the issues change (Hughes, 364).

The divisive person is a danger to the church because ultimately he does not love the church. Sowers of discord are malicious because they do not love others.

CHRIST, OUR ONLY HOPE

What shall we do then in the presence of such sins? Surely you relate to one of them. Are you a foolish steward of your finances? Are you slothful with you time? Do you enjoy the drama of discord over the stillness of peaceful unity? Especially when we discuss heavily sin, we must always end by heavily pointing toward Christ.

In our finances, we look to Christ for wisdom, knowing that He offered Himself as perfect surety for us. Although He was without sin, He paid with His blood the debt we accumulated with the Father.

In our sloth, we look to Christ, knowing that He has worked perfectly on our behalf. He has paid the penalty for all our sins (past, present, and future) once and for all, and now He sits at the Father’s right hand, resting in His finished work. We, therefore, have perpetual rest in Christ, even as we work, knowing that we do not need to earn God’s favor. Thus, we are able to work and rest to the glory of God, fleeing the self-centeredness counterfeits of busyness and idleness.

In our divisiveness, we look to Christ, who formed ONE church, where “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). We, therefore, cling to His grace, as He kills all envy, jealousy, and racism in our souls and gives to us a new heart filled with love for others.

The question then is: will you continue to sleep? Will you remain intellectually and spiritually lazy? Will you continue to slumber in monotonality of the busy life? “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:14-16). Our days are numbered, and their end is approaching. We do not have time to waste seeking trivialities. Seek God’s kingdom instead.

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