Sloths are mammals who move only when necessary and even then very slowly. They’re known to dig their curved claws into a tree branch and hang without effort for hours-on-end; they are as unmotivated as they look!
Sloth is something we make jokes about, but few think of it as sin. Yet it made the “Seven Deadly” list! Even so, a lot of people think that’s a bit extreme. In fact, some excuse sloth as simply a more “relaxed” lifestyle. It is, in fact, a wasted life. Proverbs 21:25 points out, “The desire of the sluggard will be his ruin, for his hands refuse to labor.” The only alternative to hard work is failure. G.K. Chesterton noted, “I do not believe in a fate that falls on men however they act; but I do believe in a fate that falls on them unless they act.”
Sloth is more than passive laziness; it is at heart complacency and indifference. Sloth is sin because it is spiritual lethargy and coldness that turns into an irresponsible form of self-idolatry. Lazy people know what needs to be accomplished, yet they willfully resist taking action. Jesus warned the church about becoming “lukewarm” (Rev 3:16). Slothful saints have no time to devote to God. And what little they know of God’s word they figure doesn’t apply to them. The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking places. Jesus had to wake up His sleeping disciples in the garden of Gethsemane, and every so often the church needs a wake-up call!
The Army briefly had a recruitment slogan that didn’t work so well: “We get more done by 9 am than most people do all day.” It turned out that a lot of young people didn’t want to do that much! In all organizations there are some “freeloaders” who benefit from being in the group but don’t pull their weight. They make an appearance but are mostly unproductive…of course in the Army, the 1SG has ways of motivating sluggish soldiers! Many soldiers told me they joined the Armry to grow up and learn discipline. Some do it just to pay for college. People who view work merely as a means to get money can become careless in their efforts; they may procrastinate, grumble, watch the clock, waste time, and do only what they’re told to do, under close supervision.
The Wisconsin Restaurant Association conducted research on why people choose not to return to restaurants. 9% preferred other restaurants, 14% didn’t like the food, and 68% felt there was an attitude of neglect and indifference.
There is sloth in unbelief. It is popular to adopt the term agnostic today, but what agnosticism often means is apathy and indifference. Agnostics say they don’t know if God exists yet most aren’t interested in finding out. They are lazy for thinking the warnings of Scripture don’t apply to them. They simply don’t care to know…yet all eternity is at stake!
Jesus offers some encouraging words: “Come unto Me, all you who are weary and heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Mt 11:28-30). Our problem is: we want the rest without the yoke! “Overcoming slothful tendencies requires us to face up to the sources of our own resistance to the demands of an active relationship with God” (DeYoung).
Sloth is often a sign of depression. The Latin word for sloth indicates despair. We all know people who are unhappy with their life yet they won’t do what needs to be done to bring about change; so they reinforce their sadness and remain stuck.
We can be lazy at loving others. That’s because real love is hard work and some don’t want to put forth the effort to maintain relationships. Many give us. One author defines sloth as “resistance to the demands of love” (DeYoung). Regarding marriage, Paul has strong words for slothful spouses: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially the members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (I Tim 5:8). Laziness means indifference to duty, which leads to neglecting the needs of others…because lazy people do not love enough. The slothful person evades the daily demands of self-giving love.
Warren Wiersbe writes: “If you serve only to earn a salary, you will never do your best as long as you think you’re underpaid. If you labor to get recognition, you will start doing less when people don’t show their appreciation. The only motivation that will take you through the storms of life and keep you on the job is, ‘I’m serving Jesus Christ’” (On Being a Servant of God). And that godly motivation brings us to…
This virtue moves us to act--with a powerful sense of responsibility, fortitude, dedication to hard work, and conscientious completion of our duties. The diligent strive for excellence. It’s been said, “What you are, is God’s gift to you; what you make of your life is your gift to God” (Villa). God isn’t looking for perfection in us, but He is looking for progress--signs of genuine faith and commitment. Our lives manifest what we truly think of Christ. Paul urges in Colossians 3, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (23).
The root of the word diligence comes from the Latin, “to love,” and for this reason we can say that those who truly love will work hard. They aspire toward quality work. They do a good job even when they don’t feel like it. Indifference will find an excuse; love will find a way. Those who love don’t have to be pushed and prodded to act; they do far more than is required of them.
Thomas Edison noted that, “We often miss opportunity because it's dressed in overalls and looks like work.” The so-called “Protestant work ethic” emphasizes the virtue of diligent, honest labor. Diligence fuels zeal--the energetic response to action. Zealous people put forth their best efforts, with a promised reward; Proverbs 12:24 states, “The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor.” The Christian life is about effort; we are saved to serve. We live for God, not to get to Heaven, but because His love compels us to devoted effort (II Cor. 5:14). We nurture our faith by engaging in the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, Bible study, worship and service. Our new identity in Christ is lived out every day of our lives.
Diligent people don’t wait to be asked to serve and they don’t wait for someone else to volunteer. They don’t mind working; they’re highly motivated because they know Who they’re working for. Thus they have a passion for life. Ultimately what we do, we do for God.
Psalm 119 is a lengthy prayer, the longest in the Bible; verse 18 asks God to “open our eyes that we may behold wondrous things out of Thy law.” Beholding leads to becoming--as Scripture transforms us into the likeness of Christ, and causes us to delight in living for Him. The diligent strive to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. Sloth deadens, but the purpose and direction generated by the Spirit gives life. God energizes us to action--He helps us overcome lethargy.
God created us with a capacity for immense joy. The Christian life is an endless journey of delight that even death cannot bring to an end. Diligence stirs us to action when we’re on fire for Jesus! Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work!