Characteristics of a Sluggard
1. PROCRASTINATOR. The motto of the sluggard is, “Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow.” Sluggards have developed the ability to put off starting a task as well as completing those tasks already begun.
The sluggard cannot possibly get to work because there is a dangerous lion in the road (22:13). He fully intends to get to work, but after just a little more sleep (6:9-10). While the time for the harvest has come, the sluggard is not quite ready to get to the fields (10:5). The sluggard is always just about ready to start a job, but not quite.
A slothful man does not roast his prey, But the precious possession of a man is diligence (12:27).
The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; He is weary of bringing it to his mouth again (26:15).
The sluggard does not plough after the autumn, and begs during the harvest and has nothing (20:4).
2. RATIONALISER. Don’t ever kid yourself about the sluggard. His mind is working faster than his body. When it comes to shirking his responsibilities, no one has a quicker mind than the sluggard. There is always a “reason” for his apathy and inaction. When the sluggard decides not to work, he will have what, to him, is a plausible explanation for his decision.
The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside; I shall be slain in the streets!” (22:13; cf. 26:13).
Lions could be found in Israel in those days (cf. Judg. 14:8; I Sam. 17:34; I Kings. 13:24; 20:36; Prov. 28:15). While the likelihood of meeting a lion may have been remote, it was the danger of doing so that the sluggard chose to emphasize. In his mind, it only made sense to stay at home, where it would be safe. The point is that the sluggard fabricates a crisis which prohibits him from doing what he didn’t want to do anyway. His reasons, while unsatisfactory to others, are compelling to him.
Matthew 25 continues to warn the saints about the dangers of sluggardliness. In the parable of the talents (vv. 14-30) it was the servant who had but one talent (“a little,” cf. Prov. 6:10) who failed to make use of it for his master. The servant had an excuse (his “lion in the road”); he said that he knew his master was harsh and he was afraid. But the Master would not accept his excuses. Instead, he replied, “You wicked, lazy slave (25:26). Regardless of his excuses, the servant was a sluggard.
A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest” (6:10; cf. 24:33).
3. PATH OF LEAST RESISTANCE. If the sluggard is anything, he is lazy. His one and only “tool” is his bed (6:10; 10:5; 19:15; 20:33; 26:24).
Like vinegar to the teeth. and smoke to the eyes, So is the lazy one to those who send him (10:26).
He who is slack in his work Is brother to him who destroys (18:9).
Laziness casts into a deep sleep, And an idle man will suffer hunger (19:15).
When work cannot be avoided, the sluggard is open to schemes which will make money the easiest way.
He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, But he who pursues vain things lacks sense. The wicked desires the booty of evil men, But the root of the righteous yields fruit (12:11-12).
4. THE SLUGGARD IS FOOLISH. While all fools may not necessarily be sluggards, all sluggards are foolish.
The way of the sluggard is as a hedge of thorns, But the path of the upright is a highway (15:19).
The diligence of the wise is contrasted with the sloth of the sluggard (10:26). Sluggards lack sense (24:30) and are only wise in their own vain estimation (26:16). In other words, the sluggard is a fool. He, like all fools, is heading for sudden (but, as yet, unforeseen) destruction (6:11; 20:34).
5. CONSTANT SUPERVISION AND PRODDING. Something dramatic is required to overcome the immense inertia of the sluggard, whether it is the hunger pangs of his own stomach (13:25; 16:26) or the whip of a taskmaster (12:24).In chapter 6 the sluggard is urged to learn from the ant, which goes about its task faithfully, yet without any supervision (vv. 6-8).
Consequences for the Sluggard
The consequences which the sluggard must face can be summarized by two words: problems and pressure. According to the wisdom of Proverbs, “He who will not work will not eat.”
Laziness casts into a deep sleep, And an idle man will suffer hunger (19:15).
A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest”–And your poverty will come in like a vagabond, And your need like an armed man (6:10-11; cf. 10:4; 20:13).
A further result of laziness is pressure. The sluggard will avoid work if at all possible. While the diligent will prosper and be promoted, the sluggard will function only when in the most structured environment.
The hand of the diligent will rule, But the slack hand will be put to forced labour (12:24).
The Source of the Sluggard’s Problem
1. SELF-SEEKING. The sluggard is always looking out for number one–himself. He has no consideration for anyone else.
The desire of the sluggard puts him to death, For his hands refuse to work; All day long he is craving, While the righteous gives and does not hold back (21:25-26).
Those who are righteous have a concern for the needs of others. They are marked by their generosity in reaching out to meet these needs, just as the last line of verse 26 indicates (cf. also 22:9; 29:7; 31:20). The sluggard is characterized by a concern for his own ease. He who will not make any sacrifices for his own good, surely cannot be expected to sacrifice for others.
The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, But the soul of the diligent is made fat (13:4).
He who loves pleasure will become a poor man; He who loves wine and oil will not become rich (21:17).
The sluggard’s desire is for a life of ease, filled with the luxuries and delicacies of the rich. Controlled as he is by his bodily appetites, the sluggard will consume all he has as quickly as possible. His inability to deny himself of immediate gratification leads to his poverty.
3. SHORT-SIGHTED. The sluggard thinks only of the present. He constantly talks about tomorrow, for that is when he plans to go to work; but he never thinks ahead..
Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise, Which, having no chief, Officer or ruler, Prepares her food in the summer, And gathers her provision in the harvest (6:6-8).
He who gathers in summer is a son who acts wisely, But he who sleeps in harvest is a son who acts shamefully (10:5).
The sluggard is indifferent to the demands of the future. During the time of harvest there is more than enough food at hand, but the cold winter lies ahead. Without diligently labouring to harvest and put food away for the winter, the sluggard will suffer hunger. He just doesn’t have any sense of urgency about the future.
4. SELF-DISCIPLINE. If there is one thing the sluggard lacks it is self-control. If there is any food in the house, he eats it, with no thought for the consequences. If he has the choice of work or play, he will always choose to play. Whatever is easy and enjoyable will always be his choice.
The Solution to the Sluggard’s Problem
1. THE SLUGGARD’S ATTENTION CAN BE GAINED BY PAIN, PRESSURE, AND PROBLEMS.
The righteous has enough to satisfy his appetite, But the stomach of the wicked is in want (13:25).
A worker’s appetite works for him, For his hunger urges him on (16:26).
It is important for us to distinguish the nature of a person’s poverty and need. For some, poverty is beyond their control. For those whose need is not the result of sin, we must reach out to help. But the sluggard should not be fed, for this will only reinforce his sinful pattern of living at the expense of others.
For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone will not work, neither let him eat (2 Thess 3:10).
The so-called “prodigal son” of Luke 15 came to his senses only after he had squandered all his assets and ended up in the pig pen.
Let us also beware of the false conclusion that all those who are poor and in need are sluggards.
2. THE SLUGGARD MUST CHANGE HIS PERSPECTIVE AND HIS PRIORITIES. Our Lord summarized the law of the Old Testament with only two commands.
And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ this is the great and foremost commandment. And a second is like it, ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself.‘ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40).
The sluggard’s problem is that he has chosen to disregard both of these commands. He does not love or fear God. By every indication the sluggard is evil. He is contrasted with the righteous (15:19; 21:25-26), and assumed to be wicked (13:25). If the sluggard disregards God, neither does he have any love for his fellow man. He seeks only to avoid pain and pursue personal pleasure.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:3-8).
In short, the sluggard must first come to salvation through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who died for his sins and who offers new life–not an easy life, but a full life, marked by serving God and man.
Few passages better describe the change the Gospel makes in a man’s life than that in Ephesians chapter 4:
Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labour, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need (Eph. 4:28).
The gospel of Jesus Christ transforms lost men from parasites to producers, from those who take from others, to those who give sacrificially to meet the needs of the helpless. The Gospel turns a man’s attention from himself to others. The way to cure the sluggard is to make a saint of him.
The sluggard must cease living only for the present, and live in the light of eternity. The sluggard lives as though there will be no tomorrow, and therefore he must seek all the pleasure he can while it can be experienced. The Christian lives in the light of God’s promises of a life of blessing for all who will trust in Him and deny themselves those pleasures which are detrimental to spiritual growth and service.
We are called to be disciples of our Lord. As such we must endure hardship and persecution. It is the sluggard in me that causes me to ease up, to take the easy path, and to assure myself that there’s always another day. Moment by moment, day by day, a tiny piece at a time, the spiritual battle is lost, largely by default.
When Paul finally got to the bottom of the Corinthians difficulties, one of the principle problems was that these saints lacked the self-discipline and diligence to deny themselves those pleasures which were detrimental to their testimony, their own spiritual growth, or the well-being of a fellow Christian.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. (Romans 12:9-16).
And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed (Rom. 13:11).
The characteristics of the sluggard are described in the New Testament as the characteristics of the old nature of the Christian which must be put off:
The New Testament urges the Christian to put aside the attitudes and actions of the old man and to put on Jesus Christ. Former desires are to be put off and we are to live in accordance with the law of love. Christians are to be motivated by the realization that the time is short, the return of our Lord is near, and our opportunities are to be grasped now (cf. Col. 4:5-6).