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.

 

Advertisements

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.

When I Am God

I was quite a metalhead in highschool.

I never dressed the part (just jeans, sneakers, and tshirts for me, thanks), but as far as I was concerned, clean vocals (aka singing) were only reserved for wimps or strategically emotional bridges.

Yes, I was, indeed, hardcore.

Really what drew me most to the screamo/hardcore scene were the lyrics. Words seem so raw and intense whenever they are being screamed along to pounding bass drums.

For me, Oh Sleeper was the chief of this terrain.

Their first album (titled When I Am God) contains one of my favorite song lyrics:

When I am God, this church is unsound.

It’s such a simple statement but also far truer than I am often willing to admit. Thankfully the book of Judges is always ready to remind me again.

Judges is easily one of the darkest books of the Bible. I mean, it describes Israel’s downward spiral into increasingly blatant sinful behavior. While the first sixteen chapters show Israel falling into sin, repenting of sin, and God delivering them with various judges, the final five chapters emphasize how serious Israel’s sin was with tales of wicked idolatry, horrendous sexual immorality and violence, and ultimately a civil war.

It’s far from a light-hearted read. But a twice-used refrain bookends this section:

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 17:6; 21:25 ESV)

Furthermore, both chapters 18 and 19 begin by reminding us that there was no king in those days. Obviously, the author wants us to see Israel’s depravity as a result of their self-imposed morality rather than obeying a king. It was essentially Israel’s wild west phase.

But then we reach another problem. Years later when Samuel is judging Israel, the people demand to have a king. This might seem to be a step in the right direction, but Samuel is grieved by it. After praying, the LORD speaks these words to Samuel:

Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. (1 Samuel 8:7 ESV)

Israel’s desire for a physical king was a rejection of God as their king. This means that Judges was not lamenting Israel’s lack of a physical king; rather, it mourns Israel’s refusal to serve God as king. Their decision to do what was right in their own eyes was an act of dethroning God. By rejecting God’s law, they elevated themselves as gods.

But Judges isn’t a story about how sinful Israel was. It’s a story about how sinful we are.

All sin is an attempted usurping of God’s throne. Both great and small sins are an assault on God’s sovereignty and glory. We only sin by rejecting God’s commands and placing ourselves above them. Here’s how R. C. Sproul describes it in The Holiness of God:

Sin is cosmic treason. Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself. Have you ever considered the deeper implications of the slightest sin, of the most minute peccadillo? What are we saying to our Creator when we disobey Him at the slightest point? We are saying no to the righteousness of God. We are saying, “God, Your law is not good. My judgement is better than Yours. Your authority does not apply to me. I am above and beyond Your jurisdiction. I have the right to do what I want to do, not what You command me to do.

Each act of sin is our declaration that we are our own kings, that we are god. And the end is never pleasant. For the Israelites, it resulted in death, nearly the entire destruction of the tribe of Benjamin. Sin’s paycheck is always death, either in hell eternal or on the cross of Christ. Those are our only options.

We never have a severe enough view of our sin.

Or its consequences.

When Israel lived as its own king, doing what was right in their own eyes, thousands died. They fell whenever they became their own god and king.

The same is true for us.

When we are god, the church is unsound.

Joseph Sold into Slavery | Genesis 37

Week 1 | Sermon

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt. (Genesis 37:28 ESV).

If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. (1 Peter 4:14 ESV)
OPENING THOUGHT

Genesis is the book of beginnings. It opens with eleven chapters that describe the creation of the world, humanity’s fall into sin, the great flood that only Noah’s family survived, and the scattering of humanity at Babel. In the creation account, we learn that God created the world good and even made humanity in His image. We were not content, however, to be made in God’s likeness. We wanted to be God, and so we disobeyed, bringing sin onto the earth. But even in the midst of our sin, God showed grace beyond measure, proclaiming hope that one day sin would be defeated for good. Indeed, these chapters are essential for properly understanding both the Bible and ourselves.

Beginning with chapter twelve, Genesis takes a significant shift in perspective by focusing upon a man named Abram instead of on humanity in general. Through his faith walk with God, the LORD promises to bless him by giving him a son through his barren wife, blessing all the nations through him, and giving him all the land of Canaan. Abraham then dies, only seeing the first of God’s promises fulfilled. The narrative then follows Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, as he attempts to follow God but repeatedly trusts in his own strength instead.

We now come to the fourth and final section of Genesis, which focuses predominately on Jacob’s son, Joseph. As the eleventh of twelve sons, Joseph could have been the runt of his family but was favorited by his father instead. This favoritism ultimately causes Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery, leading to one of the most well-known stories of the Bible. Unlike the lives of Abraham and Jacob, Joseph’s life is marked by stunning displays of God’s glory; rather, Joseph’s life is saturated in the providence of God. Although he faces abuse, slavery, and prison, God’s plan is present throughout and ultimately leading to Joseph becoming Pharaoh’s right hand. As we dive into Joseph’s story, may we become more aware of the everyday glories of God around us.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read chapter 37 and discuss the following.

  1. A great benefit of reading narratives in Scripture is that we often are able to become aware of our own sin through reading these ancient sins. Do you presently wrestle with any sins present in this chapter (i.e. Jacob’s favoritism, Judah’s greed, the brothers’ unwillingness to reconcile, etc.)?
  2. How does this chapter serve as a stern warning against the dangers of unrepentant jealousy?
  3. Because no sin is ever committed in isolation, Jacob is grievously impacted by his sons’ sin. Can you recall a time when your sin hurt someone else? How might “secret” sins still harm others?
  4. The chapter ends with a cliffhanger, informing us that Joseph’s story is only beginning and that his visions might still become reality. How might this example of God’s providence provide hope for those suffering?

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.