This post is adapted from a sermon I preached from Proverbs 26:12-16. If you’re interested in hearing more, feel free to follow my sermon podcast on Apple Podcasts, Anchor, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Breaker, PocketCasts, RadioRepublic, or other podcast apps.
Let’s begin by examining the description of the sluggard. We’ll be moving back and forth in this passage, and even looking at other parts of Proverbs, but the overall picture we have of this sluggard is both comedic and tragic. The term “Sluggard” is an antiquated word that means a lazy person. And indolent person, an idle person, a slothful person. Someone that can’t be bothered and doesn’t want to move. And that’s what we’re first told about our sluggard, in quite a comical way.
The Sluggard is hinged to his bed. Verse 14: as a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed. The graphic imagery conveys to us in a short sentence more meaning that we might glean from our first glance. Here we have a man who is, as it were, bolted to his bed.
He is happy in his restful position, and he is in love with his ease. He can’t be bothered to get up and get dressed. He’s sleepy. And when you go into the room and poke him with a stick or set off some sort of alarm, his response is: “No, not yet. It’s not time to get up. I’ll come down in a minute. Just a few more minutes. I can make up the time later. Don’t rush me, I’m so tired.” Perhaps you’ve lived with someone like this. I know I have, because it was me, especially as a teenager. He doesn’t have any desire to rise from his bed, and, indeed, he seems hung upon it, like a door on its hinges.
The desire for bodily ease, too often indulged, is the sad occasion for all sorts of problems. And I don’t merely mean physical, though that is certainly included. As we will continue to see throughout this description of the sluggard, those that love sleep will prove in the end to have loved death, and that’s true physically and spiritually.
But not only is he hinged to his bed, the Sluggard is also hopeless at finishing tasks. Verse 15 says that “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth.” Here we have the somewhat silly picture of a man that, having extricated himself from his hinged comfort of bed, finally rises and makes his way to the breakfast table. He probably hasn’t showered or brushed his teeth or combed his hair, and it’s probably somewhere between 9am and 3pm, you know, the normal wake up time frame for a sluggard.
He walks in the room, yawns, rubs the sleep from his eyes and proclaims that he is hungry. He goes to the cupboard, gets his cheerios, pours himself a bowl, pours on the milk, thrusts his spoon in, but then can’t be bothered to bring it to his mouth. He says, “you know I wanted to eat some cereal, but now I’m not so sure. I’m kind of tired.” The proverb illustrates the utter foolishness of someone that has everything he needs for life and flourishing, but refuses to engage. He’d rather starve than move. He likes his comfort and laziness more than eating, which is why laziness, we’re told over and over, leads to death.
vi. He is the kind of man that, to take it back to agrarian culture, would finally go on a hunt, after much prodding from his wife, and get him a bird. But when he gets home, he can’t be bothered to clean the bird and to cook it. He just leaves it outside against the shed, and says “I’ll get to it eventually.” But he never does. He’d rather starve himself, than strain himself.
It is also worth us noticing that this kind of sluggardly heart can manifest itself in apparent business: The Sluggard can look busy, but is never finished. A Sluggard can look busy, but is never finished. A sluggard may appear to always be finishing, but is never actually finished. You ask him if he’s finished with that paper, and he says he’s just about to wrap it up. Have you done the project assigned to you? I’m putting the finishing touches on now, sir. Did you do that chore from last week? I’m nearly done, mom. He always says he’s working, and always says he’s busy, but he never actually completes his tasks. He’s always turning on his hinges, but he’s never done turning. He’s always preparing the meal and burying his hand in the dish, but he’s never finished eating. He’s always starting something, always picking up something new, always distracted by the new and sparkly things around him, but not disciplined enough to take care of the responsibilities that already belong to him. Sluggards can appear busy, but never actually follow through and finish something. Are you a finisher? That is, do you finish all the things that you start?
Imagine a golfer who has before him a 450-yard par 4. He drives it well off the tee, he places the ball gently on the green with his approach shot. He putts well to put him right next to the hole. He has only a short putt of a couple of feet to go before his goal is reached. But then he stops. He figures “I’ve gone 449 yards already. I am tired. I think I will just stop here.” You’d think he was foolish. He’d done all that work just to give up at the end. Do you complete the tasks set before you? Is your life marked by faithful completion of the tasks given to you, or are you easily distracted, and fail to follow through?
Third, not only is the sluggard hinged to his bed and hopeless at finishing tasks, The Sluggard is a master of excuses.
Proverbs 26:13 tells us that, “The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion in the road! There is a lion in the streets!’” Why can’t the sluggard get out of bed, why can’t he be bothered to do any work? Because he will always have some excuse which, as this proverb illustrates, is not constrained by idiocy.
Son, go out and get the trash cans from the road. “I can’t, there is a lion in the street, and he might eat me. And then what would you do? You’d feel so guilty. In fact, in order for me to protect you from that kind of guilt, it would probably be best for you to go out and get the trash cans, Dad, rather than me risking the possibility of you losing a son to such lions and having such terrible guilt for the rest of your life.”
Parents, have you ever had your children engage in such excuses? I know I have. They’ll come to me with the tired old whine, “I’m bored. I’m bored, what can we do.” And I usually have the immediate cure for such boredom: go work. You can go mow the grass, or rake the leaves, or take out the trash, or fold the laundry. But as soon as I give them the solution to their boredom, they suddenly remember some excuse that prevents them from being able to complete my suggested chore. “oh, I forgot I need to finish something in my room. I need to go and do this before I can add something else to my plate. I can’t do that chore; it wouldn’t be fair for me to not leave any chores undone for my siblings.”
It’s not just children that do this. We can do it too. Yesterday was a long hard day, I deserve to sleep in a little bit, and skip my bible reading and prayer time. And while that may not be necessarily sinful in the moment, it’s not hard to find ourselves in a pattern of sleeping in and neglecting our spiritual duties. We’re like the sluggard, hinged to our bed, moving back and forth, but not getting anywhere, making no progress in our spiritual life, and justifying that lack of progress by saying there is a lion in the street. I can’t go out to work because of the lions. I can’t get to the place of business, I can’t get to the spiritual marketplace, as it were, because I might get eaten. And we sound just as silly. Excuses, excuses. The sluggard is a master of excuses.
Fourth, the sluggard is always hungry for fulfillment, but is never satisfied. Look again at: Proverbs 26:15: “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth.” The sluggard has enough hunger in his stomach to get him to prepare the dish, and to slam his hand into the food, but he is foolish enough to stop there. He wants to be fulfilled, he wants a full stomach, he wants satisfaction and satiation, but never will he be, for he is too indolent to even bring the satisfaction-providing substance up to his mouth. What a fool! He lays in his bed, hinged to his own demise, tossing and turning, pleading for and desiring rest and comfort, but he never gets it. It’s often the laziest man that is always tired, always craving for rest. His heart desperately craves rest, but it always eludes him.
That’s because the key to a good night’s rest is a clean conscience and a hard day’s work, and the sluggard has neither. He doesn’t have a hard day’s work, and so his body punishes him with discomfort and elusive sleep. And he doesn’t have a clean conscience, because he knows he’s useless. We were designed for fruitfulness and productivity, we were designed for work, and when we grate against the grain of God’s creation, it will bear bad fruit, which in this case is unfulfilled desires. The sluggard is always hungry for fulfillment, but is never satisfied.
Fifth, The sluggard is haughty in his own eyes. Proverbs 26:16- “The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly.” The lazy man’s sloth makes complete sense to him. He has marshalled all sorts of self-convincing reasons for his behaviors. He thinks he has discovered the key to learning and earning without any inconvenient exertion. “I’m not lazy, he says, I’m smarter than all of you, because I have learned how to work smarter, not harder.” He fancies himself a genius, and won’t be persuaded by 7 the opinions of seven wise men. What could he possibly learn from them? He’s already got it all figured out.
The lazy man will often even mock those hard-working people around him. “look at those idiots, slaving away all summer long with their plowing and their planting of seeds. Breaking their backs in the hottest part of the year. If they were only as smart as me, sitting in the shade, sipping sweat tea.” Little does he consider that only those who sow faithfully will reap a harvest in due season. The Sluggard is haughty in his own eyes.
f. Sixth and finally, when we look at the sluggard’s life we see that The sluggard is Defenseless. In Proverbs 24:30-34, Solomon, the epitome of the wise man, is walking past the field of a lazy man, and he sees a great lesson. To borrow a quote from Cato, It’s always the case that wise men profit more from fools than fools do from wise men, for a wise man will see the fool and avoid the faults of fools, but the fool will never imitate the virtues of a wise man. Proverbs 24:30-34:
I passed by the field of a sluggard,
by the vineyard of a man lacking sense,
and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns;
the ground was covered with nettles,
and its stone wall was broken down.
Then I saw and considered it;
I looked and received instruction.
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.
The house of the sluggard appears from the road to be abandoned. The yard is full of thorns and thistles, the stone walls are caving in and broken down. He’s got no wall, no protection. He’s exposed. Exposed to the elements and exposed to theft and robbers. There is a parable here about our spiritual defenses, but for now we need just note how the laziness of the sluggard has left him exposed and defenseless against the perils that might befall him.
So, having analyzed a little of the description of a sluggard, we must take note of the final analysis: that laziness is not an infirmity, it’s not merely bad for business or our health, it’s not merely a curse for your employer, and it’s not merely bad for protection. Laziness is a sin. Laziness is a sin. We were made to work, and thus imitate God. Exodus 20:
Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.
The contemporary quest for leisure feeds on laziness and indolence. We want to reduce the “6” to as small a number as we can, and then take that “1” day of rest and turn the day into a day all about us and our comfort. Man is so stubborn about his laziness that he won’t even go to nature and see the lessons of diligence played out for him. He won’t even go to the ant and look at the lessons to be learned. Go read Proverbs 6 for your homework and you’ll see that even nature proclaims to us the virtues of diligence.
So what do we do when we are confronted by our sluggardly tendencies? Is our first step to buckle down and resolve to do better? Is a faithful Christian supposed to be so driven and so industrious that we wear ourselves ragged? No. Faithful Christianity does not hide workaholism behind the façade of “doing all things to the glory of God.” The solution for both the sluggard and the workaholic is to Look to Jesus Christ as our savior. See the Christ of the scriptures. What did he do, and what did he teach? How does Christ compare with the sluggard of proverbs? Let’s examine the sluggard side-by-side with Jesus.
First, The sluggard was hinged to bed, never getting anywhere; but Christ took action and came down.
He came down, and was resolute in his action. Isaiah 50:6-7 speaks of his determination in this way:
I offered my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face
from mocking and spitting.
Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
and I know I will not be put to shame.
He set his face like flint, meaning that he was so firm in his conviction that he was stone faced in constancy, and unshakable in his resolution. Christ came and took action to redeem his people.
Similarly, remember that although the Sluggard was hopeless to finish tasks, Christ finished his task. Christ finished his task. He is a finisher. He walked in perfect obedience to the father, fulfilling the very heart of the law, in every jot and tittle, and bore every ounce of punishment that his people deserved. And what did he proclaim when his work was done? He cried, “It is finished.” He didn’t leave a little bit of the law left undone for us to make up. He didn’t complete our justification, but leave our sanctification and glorification up to us. He did it all. Christ doesn’t start what he will not see to completion.
Furthermore, remember that although the Sluggard was a master of excuses, Christ took personal responsibility, even at great personal cost. Christ didn’t delegate his hard work, because it was beneath him or unworthy of his time. He engaged the work head on. Christ didn’t make excuses for inaction. He personally engaged the task assigned to him, precisely and tediously meriting every necessary aspect, and underwent the whole plan with sacrificial joy and love, rather than excusing a little self-gratification along the way.
Which leads to the next point of comparison: remember that although the Sluggard was hungry for fulfillment, Christ willingly forwent fulfillment. The sluggard craves, he desires to be fulfilled in all of his heart’s longings, but he will never attain any of them. Christ had both the means and the right to have all of his human desires fulfilled. He could have had the praise of glory of all men, could have had riches and power, could have had prestige and fame, could have had all the delicious delicacies that his stomach could have wanted, all of the fleshly comfort that any man could dream of. But he instead forwent those things. He had no place to lay his head, we’re told in the gospels. He had no glorious mansions or pricey palaces. He had no butler waiting on his stomach’s every whim, but instead went 40 days without food in the desert, succeeding where Israel never could. He could have had royal robes, but instead allowed himself to be stripped naked on the cross. He could have had a jewel-laden golden crown, but instead accepted a crown of thorns. Although the Sluggard is always hungry for fulfillment, Christ willingly forwent fulfillment, for the sake of his people. Which flows into the next point:
Although the Sluggard is prideful and the smartest man he knows, Christ is meek and lowly of heart. In Matthew 11 Jesus describes himself in stark contrast to the Pharisees, when he says that he is meek, or gentle, and lowly of heart. Paul, likewise in Philippians 2, says that Jesus willingly emptied himself and took on “human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” He did not consider others as more important than himself, but trusted his Father in all of life and death. He was not haughty in his own eyes, unlike the sluggard who is the wisest man he knows.
Finally, we must remember that although the Sluggard’s home is broken down and defenseless, Christ’s possessions are secure. The sluggard has let thorns and thistles overgrow in his property, and has let the stones of his walls cave in. He is defenseless against the robbers and thieves, against the wolves and the lions. He is vulnerable, exposed, and helpless against a strong man, who will come and bind him. But scripture has told us that Christ has bound the strong man, he has disarmed the ruler of this age. He is not frightened about a lion in the streets, but has gone straight out to war against the devil, whom scripture calls a prowling lion, and Christ has defeated him. Christ’s victory is assured by his resurrection.
iii. And because he has defeated our greatest foe, we can trust him when he says his possessions are secure. John’s gospel tells us that nothing can snatch his sheep from the Father’s hand. Because Christ was diligent, rather than lazy, he has sufficiently protected his house from the attacks of the evil one, and will assuredly and effectually protect us, his possessions, from theft and destruction.
Do you see how Christ is the opposite of the sluggard in every way, and how he worked for his people, motivated by love? Do you love him for that sacrifice, and trust him as your savior? I commend him to you, and hope that if you have not yet repented of your sin and trusted in him, that you’d do that this very night, for he calls you to forsake your sin, and run to him and him alone for salvation.
As I conclude, I want to make a few concluding exhortations. A few points of applications in light of what we have learned about the sluggard, and what we have learned about Christ.
First, we must be sure not to be like the sluggard and let the walls break down and the weeds grow in our marriages. We can’t be sluggards in marriage. If it sounds like I am preaching to myself here, it is because I am. I need to hear this as much as anyone. Men, especially, we need to hear this. If you’re anything like me, you’re tempted to coast and assume everything is fine, until something breaks and needs fixing. But that’s not what marriages need. We need to think of our marriages like gardens, which in this fallen world, need constant tending. We need to weed, pluck, trim, water, nurture, and care for our marriage, because if we do not, our marriages will end up looking like the sluggard’s home: broken down, full of thorns and thistles, and vulnerable to attack. Satan will see the sorry condition of our marriages and will use that as a means to wreak havoc on our lives. Christ acted with initiative-taking love to protect his spouse, and we must be vigilant to do the same. We mustn’t let ourselves become slothful about our marriages.
Second, Don’t excuse laziness in your children. Don’t excuse laziness in your children, because if we do, they’re the ones that will suffer the consequences. Raise children known for the quality and consistency of their work, even in a leisure given society. Do they go the extra mile? Will they put in the extra effort, even at great cost to themselves?
ii. These things will increasingly come to distinguish the people of God as our culture continues down the slide of idolizing leisure and recreation. Teach them that a Christian work ethic will take them farther in life than lazy talent ever will. That’s true in the realm of athletics, its true in the realm of academics, its true in the realm of religion, and its true in the realm of employment. Employers will overlook your laziness for a time, if you have great talent. But eventually, every employer will lose their patience and fire a lazy employee, regardless of their talent. However, a hard worker, in spite of inferior talent, can excel in whatever their chosen field, and can reap the fruit of their diligence. Hear some of the promises made to the diligent:
1. Prov 12:11 says that they will have plenty of bread. Diligent workers will have the things they need, unlike the sluggard who always lacks.
2. Prov 12:24 says that they will rule. They’ll be put in positions of authority and trusted with responsibility, because of their diligence.
3. Prov 13:4 says that their soul will be made fat, which means that their soul will be well fed and overflowing in spiritual sustenance, which leads to my third and final exhortation:
Third, Let us be diligent in our spiritual work, for negligence there will reap the most dangerous of consequences. How many of us are excelling in our spiritual exercises? Are we marked by clear progress in religion, growth in Christ-likedness? Or are we more like the sluggard, hinged to our bed, making movement back and forth, but making no progress? We may be busy, going to this service, listening to that podcast, reading this book. But are we really doing the hard work of soul tending, or are we just plucking the low hanging fruit of what comes easy for us?
How many of us have memorized some scripture lately? Any in the last week? Month? Year? How about our prayer life? Is it any better than it was this time last year? Or have we just hinged in our bed a little bit, tossing and turning, but making no progress. I know this is hard, and I feel it in my gut too, but we must be honest with ourselves. We all need an occasional swift kick in the pants to get us headed back in the right direction. Slothfulness comes easy, but spiritual vitality takes work. And we need to be reminded of What Christ has come and done, what he has liberated us from, what he has liberated us to, and who he has given us. He’s filled us with His Holy Spirit, who is not a spirit of laziness and sluggishness, but a spirit of effectiveness and fruitfulness, a spirit of humility and meekness, and a spirit of love.
And when we are reminded of Christ’s love for us and his work on our behalf, we’re drawn by his spirit to redouble our efforts, to forsake our sluggardly tendencies and indolent patterns, and spurred on to faithfulness in every area of our lives.
vii. And Like I said earlier, that doesn’t mean that we become workaholics for the kingdom, but it does mean that we continually strive to put to death our laziness and pride, and seek first instead God’s kingdom and his righteousness.