Reading recently in Titus, I was struck by Paul’s description of the citizens of Crete. Quoting one of their own prophets, he not only described them as liars and evil beasts, but as “slow bellies” or “lazy gluttons” (ESV). Not a terribly flattering description! Not too many of us would appreciate being called lazy, and yet, as with most sins of this nature, there is often a need for sober self-reflection, to examine our hearts and lives to see if evidences of this particular sin are taking root and bearing fruit.
The cycle of work and rest are inherently woven into God’s design for human life. In Genesis 1-2 we read of God’s work, “On the seventh day God finished His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done” (Gen 2:2, ESV). We then read that, “the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen 2:15, ESV). So work was part of God’s original design for man; it is virtuous, and not part of the fall. What the fall did bring in was adversity in our work; “thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you … by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Gen 3:18-19, ESV). One of the sins the fall produced in man was the reluctance to overcome this adversity and to persevere in work. This particular sin is what we now refer to as laziness.
The Bible has much to say about the sin of laziness. Proverbs, in particular, is full of instruction in this area, telling us, for example, that the sluggard hates work (21:25), loves sleep (26:14), gives excuses (26:13), wastes time and energy (18:9), and has a bleak future (12:24, 20:4). The New Testament teaches us that, not only was man originally created to work, but redeemed man has been regenerated for the very same purpose – to work. For example, Ephesians 2:10 says “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works” and Ephesians 4, in exhorting the believers to “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God,” instructs a man to “labor, doing honest work with his own hands.” (vv24, 28, ESV)
The purpose of this article, though, is not to browbeat you into submission, accuse you of laziness, and leave you broken and discouraged. That is not the overall instruction of the Word of God on this subject. As with all sins, we are given power by the Spirit of God to live a life of victory over laziness, and I suggest we should focus our efforts on three particular areas and ask the Lord to help us to be diligent for Him.
Be Diligent in our Minds and Hearts
The battle against laziness is primarily waged in our minds and hearts. Peter emphasizes the need for mental discipline and toughness when he exhorts his readers to “prepare your minds for action,” and “be sober-minded” (1Peter 1:13, ESV). Daniel is an excellent OT example of this characteristic: “Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king’s food” (Dan 1:8). It was a focused, disciplined, decision that began in his heart and mind, and subsequently governed his actions. Barnabas captures the same teaching in Acts 11:23 when he exhorts the Christians in Antioch, “with purpose of heart to cleave unto the Lord.” Mental laziness and a lack of discipline and focus are particularly dangerous in our information age. Busyness and laziness are not mutually exclusive. In fact, it is possible to have a mind that is so cluttered and a life that is so unfocused that my days are filled with activity and my hours are crammed with information, but my life is scattered and unproductive. Deadlines are missed, commitments are broken, tasks remain unfinished, and progress is squandered. There is a huge danger in being busy, but mentally unfocused and lazy. One of our most treasured stewardships is our time, and the battle over laziness begins with a disciplined mind sifting through alternatives, discarding unproductive options and channeling effort and energy into things that really count. The ESV translation of Ephesians 5:15-16 is particularly instructive: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”
Battling Laziness in Spiritual Endeavors
Second, in our relentless battle against laziness, we should focus on our pursuit of spiritual things. It is sadly possible for us to pour energy, effort, and discipline into educational pursuits, career goals, athletic accomplishments, or even personal “lifestyle” goals but to be sorely lacking in these same traits when it comes to spiritual pursuits. The apostle Paul is a great role model to combat this particular trap of spiritual laziness. In Philippians 3, he lists the hallmarks of a secularly successful life in his culture, and then emphatically sets them aside as “nothing,” and states his philosophy for Christian living by describing himself as “straining forward to what lies ahead,” and pressing “on toward the goal” (Phil 3:13-14, ESV). In his final letter written to his spiritual son, Timothy, he exhorts his young protégé to do essentially the same when he instructs Timothy to be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need “to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2Tim 2:15). How is it with you? Would you characterize your spiritual life as being marked by diligence, “straining forward,” and “pressing on?” Or would you (or I) more honestly have to admit that, when it comes to spiritual endeavors, we could more accurately be described as half-hearted, reluctant, or (painful as it is to admit) lazy?
Finally, as God’s people, we must always strive for diligence in our secular responsibilities. Whatever our field of endeavor, whether a student, an employee, a business owner, or a homemaker, we should never be marked by laziness. Paul exhorts the Colossian Christians, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Col 3:23, ESV). A strong work ethic and diligence in secular responsibility is a virtuous demonstration of our devotion to our Lord.
Confronting and combating laziness in one’s own heart and lifestyle is not easy. It is much easier to deflect the teaching to others, or to immediately warn, instead, of the dangers of being covetous, loving money, and becoming a “workaholic.” These temptations are also dangerous, and sinful – but they are not the focus of this article.
May we all be willing to examine our own hearts, inspect our lives, assess the evidence honestly in the fear of God, and then resolve, with the help of His Spirit, to combat this particular sin of laziness, however and wherever it manifests itself in us. There is a promised reward for such diligence. Colossians goes on to say “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col 3:23-24, ESV).