Busy Sloth

Finally, the notion of sloth does not merely apply to idleness but also to busyness.

Before discussing busyness, we should note that 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.

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. They are a striving after the wind, a vanity of vanities. They never rise above this terrestrial plane.

The man of God, however, 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. Thus, both his work and his rest are done to the glory of God. They are worshipful, and they are given the value of being holy and set apart for the LORD.

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.

 

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Spiritual Sloth

Slothfulness, though, is not merely physical or intellectual. We can also 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. While we may say that nothing is more important or necessary than hearing from and speaking to God, yet Scripture and prayer tend to be 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 is often found in our inability to wake up in the morning, which is fitting because Solomon directly ties the refusal to rise from bed to the sin of sloth (Proverbs 6:9).

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.

Do you give you make time for God?

Do you give the best of yourself and your efforts to God, or as Morse said, do you give Him your microwaved leftovers?

Intellectual Sloth

Our society may still (generally) value physical labor, but it is increasingly leaving behind intellectual labor. Leigh Bortins, in her book The Core, compares us to the early Americans by stating that “overall, the same percentage of Americans read Common Sense in the late 1770s that watch the Super Bowl today” (p. 29)!

I am convinced that intellectual laziness is not a matter of intelligence but of work. The human mind is capable of far more than we assume, and so is the “common” man. Remember that Jesus chose common men, ordinary laborers, to be the foundation of His church. Peter and John were mere fishermen, but under the power of the Holy Spirit, the religious leaders 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 to us as well.

We must remember, therefore, that the Bible is not for scholars alone but for every man and woman. 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 Christianity has a long, historical precedent of attracting and educating the lower classes of society, both valuing and teaching them.

Teaching all people is crucial to Christianity because we believe that God has revealed Himself to all people through the knowledge of Himself. A relationship with God necessarily demands a knowledge of God. I can have no relationship with someone I do not know. Neither can I divorce loving God from knowing God, and knowing God requires the intellect.

Presidential Debates

The intellectual sloth of our day is made quite evident in politics. Neil Postman, in Amusing Ourselves to Death, 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 Postman cites from Lincoln and Douglas in 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).

How scandalous that a politician would actively appeal to the judgment, understanding, and consciences of his listeners, instead of merely inciting their passions and enthusiasms.

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 kind of language is rarely employed for writing today and certainly not for speaking! Debates can no longer be held in this manner because we are too intellectually lazy to care. We need politics to be mingled with entertainment in order to hold our attention for any significant length of time.

Once more, the problem is NOT intelligence itself. Lincoln and Douglas were speaking to the general public, not society’s intellectuals. The problem is with our expectations and efforts, not our intellectual capacity.

As Christians, if we require that the proclamation of God’s very Word be no longer than half an hour, how can we bear to focus on political discourse for an hour and a half!

Knowing the Word

New English translations of the Bible continue to appear, promising to be translated into more readable language. The problem, however, with our comprehension of the Bible is not with the translations themselves but with how the biblical authors wrote. The letters of the New Testament, for example, are composed of densely-constructed logical arguments, but we wrestle to connect each dot of reasoning because our minds are now used to news-segment-sized nuggets of thought that do not exceed 140 characters. We cannot understand the Bible because we do not give ourselves to learning how to understand it.

Paul, for example, was immensely intelligent, but his letters were not written to the scholastic elite. He wrote to all believers, educated or uneducated, that they might know the truth of the gospel by reading for themselves or having his letters read to them. The God-breathed truth is more than accessible so long as we are willing to work at understanding it.

To be fair, a significant portion of this problem arrives from the expectations of education not being high enough. When people are expected to struggle and/or fail, they tend to do just that. Education, like most of life, both rises and falls on the basis of 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.

 

Sloth: the overlooked sin

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.
(Proverbs 6:6-11 ESV)

Here Solomon 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 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 prevalent 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.

Let’s address two questions: 1) What is sloth? and 2) Why is it a big deal?

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 does not always bear fruit because of sin, but God designed us for the activity of 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, in 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).

Sloth is, therefore, not a sin that can be overlooked or taken lightly. But its sinfulness is subtle rather than overt, which makes it easily ignored while we focus on “more important” sins. Yet sin is sin, and all sin is a rebellion against God. My intent over the three following posts is to provide clarity on three areas where sloth is prevalent in the U.S. culture. These forms of sloth will be as follows: intellectual sloth, spiritual sloth, and busy sloth.

The Path to Death | Proverbs 5:1-6

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

My son, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding, that you may keep discretion, and your lips may guard knowledge. For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. (Proverbs 5:1-4 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

The book of Proverbs is entirely about helping us become wise people. Wisdom is an important quality to seek because it is the skill of living life well. Throughout our lives, we will encounter plenty of difficult situations, and wisdom gives us the ability to navigate through them in the best ways possible. Wisdom, therefore, is extremely practical and useful for everyone.

But Proverbs is clear that true wisdom can only be found by fearing the LORD. Many people make some wise decisions, but they can never be wise until they are guide by their fear of God. This fear, of course, is not the same as being face-to-face with a starving lion; rather, fearing the LORD means understanding that God, as God, knows far more and far better than I ever could. Trusting God is the consequence of fearing God.

We now begin a topic that Solomon will continue to address into chapter seven: the Adulteress. In Proverbs, the Adulteress (or Forbidden Woman) is the poetic personification of sexual immorality. She is a seductress with lips of honey and words as smooth as oil. She seems tempting for the moment, but ultimately, she follows the path to death and delights in pulling others down with her. The message of this text is clear: sexual immorality is a life and death affair. Will we embrace wisdom or follow sin into the grave?

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read Proverbs 5:1-6 and discuss the following.

  • Which verses stood out most to you as you read Proverbs 5:1-6 this week? Why? What do these verses teach you about who God is? What do they teach you about Jesus?
  • Who is the Forbidden Woman (aka the Adulteress)? What does she represent? What is sexual immorality according to the Bible?
  • Solomon speaks of the Adulteress having lips dripping with honey. Why do you think sexual sin is so alluring? How does sexual immorality ultimately lead to death? How have you experienced the destruction of sexual immorality personally? What steps do you take to guard your heart from falling into sexual sin? If you are a parent, what steps are you taking to help your child avoid the Adulteress?

 PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.

The Value of Wisdom | Proverbs 2

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call our for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:1-5 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

Primarily written by King David’s son, Solomon, the book of Proverbs is a unique one in the Bible. Most known for his wisdom, Solomon became wise through a supernatural blessing from the LORD. It should be no surprise then that Solomon is the primary author of this book of wisdom.

Thus far, we have studied the first chapter, which very nicely sets the stage for the remainder of the book. There are two big thoughts that we need to keep in mind going forward. First, we should also keep in mind the thesis of the book: the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom. Second, remember to pay attention for the main literary devices of these first nine chapter: paternal speeches (where Solomon speak to us like a father teaching his son) and Lady Wisdom’s poems (in which wisdom is personified as a woman speaking to us).

After hearing the first cry of Lady Wisdom, we arrive now at the second paternal speech in Proverbs. In many ways, Solomon repeats here Lady Wisdom’s plea for us to embrace her and become wise. The primary structure of this chapter involves if-then statements, wherein Solomon lists the blessings that will befall us if we seek after wisdom with our whole heart.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read chapter 2 and discuss the following.

  • Which verses stood out most to you as you read Proverbs 2 this week? Why? What do these verses teach you about who God is?
  • The first four verses encourage us to listen to, ask for, and seek after wisdom. Do you do that? Where should we listen to and seek after wisdom? How often do you ask for wisdom?
  • God uses wisdom to guard us against the consequences of sin. How does wisdom help us to defeat our sin? Why does Solomon mention the sin of adultery specifically?
  • This chapter promises many blessings for those who follow wisdom. How can these promises be true when many Christians suffer greatly?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.

Sin’s Enticement | Proverbs 1:8-19

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck. (Proverbs 1:8-9 ESV)

My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. (Proverbs 1:10 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

Proverbs is the Bible’s handbook of wisdom, which is essentially the skill of navigating through life’s complexities well. The book’s primary author, King Solomon, was one of the wisest men to ever live because he received his wisdom as a direct gift from God. Solomon, therefore, is the ideal candidate to teach us about biblical wisdom.

The first seven verses of Proverbs explicitly tell us the goals and main thesis of the book. The goals include helping us to know wisdom, enabling us to understand words of insight, and learning how to behave wisely. The thesis of the book regards the necessity of fearing the LORD. Verse 7 gave us our first taste of Proverbs’ two paths. One path means walking in the fear of God, and it leads to wisdom and life. The other path rejects the LORD, despising wisdom and instruction. Its end is death and foolishness.

The primary literary device of the first nine chapters of Proverbs is a father giving wise teachings to his son. After reading the purpose and thesis of the book in the first seven verses, we now move into the first fatherly speech. Here the father pleads for his son to refrain from becoming associated with sinners. Sin is the ultimate foolishness because it is rebellion against God, and godly wisdom flees from sin at all costs.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read chapter 1:8-19 and discuss the following.

  • Which verses stood out most to you as you read Proverbs 1:8-19 this week? Why? What do these verses teach you about who God is?
  • What is the Shema? How do verses 8-9 relate to the Shema? Would you say that the Scriptures saturate every aspect of your life? What are some practical ways to integrate God’s word into your life?
  • What is the ultimate end of sin? Why is sin still so alluring? How can we kill the sin in our lives?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.