Character Studies in Proverbs (1) – The Sluggard: Sent to School

Throughout the Bible there is a recurring theme which cannot fail to take the attention of the careful reader and which Paul sums up with the exhortation to “redeem the time” (See Eph 5:16; Col 4:5). We all have the same time. Paul goes into the open market and buys it up by using it rightly. When the Lord Jesus spoke in the parables of those who were left behind after the departure of their king or master, it was always with the intention that they should use the time by being engaged in useful labor (See Matt 25:14-30; Mk 12:1-12). Believers, who understand how short time is, must ensure that they use each day well, or as Paul asserts, that they are to be “not slothful in business” (Rom 12:11) or “as to diligent zealousness, not slothful” (JND).

In an age when much emphasis is given to “leisure time” and “leisure activities,” when “quality time” is understood by many to be those hours which are given to leisure with family and friends, the importance of the use of time must be understood. The hours that we are given cannot be relived; there is only one opportunity to use them profitably in a manner that is honoring to the Lord.

The writer of the Proverbs has, however, observed that not all act in this honorable way. One of the prominent characters in the book is the “sluggard” or as he is also called, the “slothful man.” This individual is marked by lethargy and laziness, little realizing the damage which he inflicts on himself and the loss that he suffers as a result. Note that the sluggard lives for today and ignores tomorrow. It is to his shame that the humble ant has a lesson to teach him. “Go to the ant, thou sluggard, consider her ways and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest” (Pro 6:6-8) is the advice given. Three commendable features mark the humble ants. First, they instinctively know, without guides, what actions are for their own good. They have an inbred knowledge, requiring no one to teach them, what is beneficial for them. Second, they take advantage of the harvest time, knowing that it will only last for a short period. They use every opportunity to engage in the work necessary at that season. Third, they gather food, preparing for the needs of tomorrow. The morrow is of little interest to the slothful! Opportunities are ignored and preparation is not worth the effort involved. Somehow, the sluggard considers (if he ever does consider) things will work out.

The contrast with the ant is stark. Rather than busy activity, the sluggard prefers to sleep. Who can argue that a little slumber is not necessary from time to time? It is only a “little slumber.” Yet poverty will overtake the sleeping sluggard, just as unexpectedly as falling foul of a “roving plunderer” or an “armed man” (JND) lying in wait, awaits the traveller (6:9, 11).

But, so lazy is this individual that he cannot even bring himself to lift his hand to his mouth at a meal. The sluggard is not prepared to do what is good for him. Even when friends have gone to the trouble of preparing the feast he cannot muster the energy to take the food. “A slothful man hideth his hand in his bosom, and will not so much as bring it to his mouth again” (19:24). The act of bringing the food to his lips wearies him (26:15). It is a remarkable fact that those who are not given to labor are those who complain most of weariness and the pressures of a busy life. It is from their lips that we often hear comments regarding the onerous nature of any work that has to be done in the assembly. Effort of any kind is not his way of life. Yet it is clear to others that the act of eating is for the good of the individual, yet this man is not prepared to act like that, even if such refusal is harmful.

This indolence is noted, not only in caring for himself, but also when employed by others. The sluggard is a bad servant. He who cares not to work for his own advantage will show the same careless spirit when working for others. “As vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to them that send them” (10:26). He is an indolent employee who is as disagreeable to his master as is vinegar to his teeth and as smoke to his eyes. Vinegar and smoke are irritants, and the lazy servant is this to his master. It should never be forgotten that a believer ought to be the most diligent of employees. The exhortation of Paul to the Colossians must always be before us: “Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (3:23). Joseph is a good example of such diligence. In the house of Potiphar (Gen 39) he became the “overseer over his house” (v.4). When wrongly put in prison he continued to act in an honorable manner so that he was again placed in a position of trust. He did not allow bitterness to take its toll.

There is a teaching abroad today which promises that God will reward materially those who put their trust in Him. It is true that God may make some rich, but the Bible contains no promise that this will be the lot of all Christians, nor that it will be the reward for faithfulness and devotion to Him. The blessings into which a believer comes are far greater than anything material. The Christian employee acts honestly, diligently, and honorably because secular work, like every other part of life, is serving the Lord Christ (Col 3:24).