Sloth! I feel it when I am slouched on my couch, snack in hand, mindlessly watching TV. Can you identify?
Is just being a slug every now and then a sin?
Does it really matter to the Lord of the Universe if you live in a cluttered house, have an unkempt lawn, or constantly update a to-do list of unfinished chores?
Are such things a sign of failure of character, an offense to God?
This much we can say with great confidence. Our God commends diligence!
"Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth." (Proverbs 10:4, NIV)
"The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied." (Proverbs 13:4)
Paul, in his letter to a young pastor, urged him to step up in his ministry, in his preparation to preach the Word, and in his development of his spiritual gifts. He says,
"Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress."
(1 Timothy 4:15, NIV)
In the letter to the Hebrews, the author counsels applying one’s self to a life where faith is not just an idea, but an observable pattern of behavior.
"We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure." (Hebrews 6:11, NIV)
Even with these passages in mind, we err if we think of sloth as being the same thing as laziness, though that is one aspect of it. The greater issue with sloth has to do with what we love, with what shapes our attitudes towards life. The worst part of sloth is not LAZINESS but rather is APATHY.
Sloth, in its most deadly form, is a lack of passion,
a refusal to engage with God, with others, with life!
We miss God’s plan and purpose (the basic definition of sin) when we give in to a studied indifference that says, “I don’t know and I don’t care!”
The Lord created us in His image, creative, intelligent, relational. If we choose the path of least resistance, deciding not to engage the world, not to respond to the call of the Spirit - in short, being slothful - we will descend into greater sin! ‘Thomas Aquinas, the theologian of the 13th century, who understanding of Christian thought has widely shaped the West, writes that by “failing to avail one’s self of God’s call and means to climb higher, we will fall victim to malice and spite towards spiritual things, ridiculing the ways of the Spirit as we sink back into the ways of the flesh. We will wander after illicit things ... full of idle curiosity, idle talk, general restlessness, and instability.”
He summarizes by defining sloth as ‘the aversion to the divine good in us.’ (Repeat)
In short - when we choose the easy road of apathy, refusing to be stirred to love, to care, to desire the will of God, sloth takes over and what is beautiful is lost.
Take an illustration from marriage.
People fall in love and desire to be with each other. Then, life happens - you know, kids, bills, maintenance of a home ... and too often ... a marriage dies from the inside out. Few marriages end with one spectacular failure. Lovers tire of the work that is required to stay connected, they neglect the work of forgiveness, they let words of tenderness be lost to conversations that are a kind of negotiation.
IF that kind of apathy is allowed for very long, love will die, replaced by a cool partnership, a functional relationship nothing like the ‘one flesh, one heart’ of God’s design. Rebecca DeYoung writes,
“Being committed to any love relationship takes daily nurturing, daily effort, daily practices that build it up. Neglecting these wil slowing break the relationship down. Nurturing selfish claims will erode it and make us resentful of a relationship that feels more and more like a suffocating trap.” - Glittering Vices, 2009
Let me be clear, that divine good, is Him, the Spirit in us, not something that comes from us. Make no mistake about the Source of our renewal - "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:19-20, NIV)
God is not the great author of self-help or human potential. He invites us to be saved by Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and to find our destiny in Him. HOWEVER, His life in us, is not discovered or demonstrated without cooperation or effort. Paul says, "Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.... as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." (Colossians 3:12, NIV)
Is it hard to live as God’s own? It is!
Is it costly to us to live as God’s own? It is!
And, so some choose to be apathetic about His will. Jesus, whose words are recorded in Revelation 2 are powerful, compelling a correction for the church at Ephesus as well as for us.
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.
You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place." (Revelation 2:1-5, NIV)
What is the sin of Ephesus?
It is not false doctrine.
It is not failure to do good for others.
They endured tough times and stuck with the mission.
Jesus called them on their heart issue - “You have forsaken your first love!” Your passion for Me has died!
Don’t tune me yet, because my next point is NOT to urge you to ‘more work!’
Do you think what the Lord wanted of them was more work, more church services, more Bible reading, more prayers? No. In fact, He commended their hard work!
IF you think that ‘loving the Lord’ is the same as ‘doing lots of church or humanitarian work’ you have set yourself up for burn-out and sloth! Our addiction to activity is, in fact, one of the primary reasons we fall into the desperation that eventually leads us to apathy. We work, and work - with less and less appreciation for the wondrous message of that we are supposed to be proclaiming, with less and less love for those we are helping, with less and less delight in the Person we are supposed to be serving, with less and less genuine worship in our lives.
When we look at the practicality of all that we are doing against the immensity of the need, we can easily begin to feel like we are attempting to empty the ocean with a teaspoon! The wrong view of what we do will create a fertile soil in which the temptation to apathy; which is sloth.
Do you ever think - “If I can’t change the whole world, if I cannot eliminate suffering - why work at even trying?
In these kinds of calculations we turn the beauty of our faith into a simple business proposition.
We adopt the profit motive, bottom line thinking of capitalism and bring it into our church. But, that is wrong, terribly wrong. Jesus, Himself, invested often in one person. He did not organize mass events or stage great rallies.
Christianity exists for beauty, like art. Our love of the practical and the efficient has turned our faith into a corporation, the metrics built around numbers that must be always larger. Is that what Jesus wants from you, from me - an efficient expression of our faith that only values what benefits the most people? In re-reading the Gospels, you will find Christ among people of little account, in places that were unnoticed, loving the least, the broken, the rejects, the outcasts, the prostitutes. He spent almost no time with the ‘movers and shakers’ of Judea. Why? Because He did not care for them. No. They did not CARE FOR HIM! He went where He was welcomed, to those who knew their need.
The Creation account reminds us that the primary reason God created us was that He could love us. He came, Genesis says, to walk in the cool of the evening with Adam and Eve! The human longing for meaning, purpose is only satisfied when the Holy Spirit restores us to that closeness with our Father. And, He commissioned the people in the Garden to care for His work. Tomlin writes that God gave us all this, so that ‘we might regularly sit back in amazement at the fact that we get to live this life, this physical and spiritual life on this planet that is our home, a place of beauty, spanning the majesty of a lion, the speed of a hummingbird, and the taste of pure water.’ - Seven Deadly Sins - 2007
We fall into sloth, boredom in the middle of such wonder, when we lose our appetite for God, substituting cheap experiences for the richness of His Presence, empty ritual for rich relationship, repetitive work for fresh discoveries!
So, how do we stay out of the trap of this temptation?
This is a hard question for the reason that sloth is a self-perpetuating vice.
Apathy feeds on itself.
The less engaged a person is with life, with others, with God - the less he will tend to desire that engagement, even becoming cynical about the possibilities of good, about beauty, without hope and increasing dead in himself. Yet, the power of God works outside of ourselves and He will stir up desire, where little or none exists in us.
The first step away from sloth is counterintuitive, in that, it is not ‘more work.’
A workaholic’s addiction to doing something contributes to the deadness in his soul! Much of what is done is motivated by ambition or desire for peer approval and has nothing at all to do with passion for God or love for life! Thus, if we are resistant to becoming passionate for God, we may need actually to slow down, or even to retire entirely for a season.
Ill.- 25 years ago, I sensed a spiritual crisis building in me. I had been serving a thriving small church in Massachusetts then for 7 years, working hard, doing good things. But, my heart was increasingly barren. So, I asked the board to allow me to step away from day to day ministry for 7 weeks in the Summer. I used that time to read, took a couple of retreats, even went a spent a week in a monastery in silence! I remember it as one of the more fruitful times of spiritual growth in my life.
Walking through nearly 2 long years of cancer with Bev, and then learning to live alone, has been the most difficult time in my 60 years of life. But, I do not hesitate to say that there have been new discoveries of grace, greater self-awareness, and a new kind of faith - in the middle of it all! Because I chose to trust, to stay engaged, but not to try to solve the riddle of ‘why.’
Second, we take steps to renew our ‘joy in the Lord.’
"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4, NIV)
Let me read that from The Message - "Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him!"
What fuels the laughter, the joy, in your life?
Is it the One of true beauty, His goodness, His promise of care?
Or are you letting the laugh track of other things be your source of joy? You can laugh at the Simpsons or Cobert. They can be funny, but when your joy is found in the Lord, you won’t need or want to seek lesser joys!
An indiscriminate diner may be satisfied with a cheap hamburger, but a man who knows good food, who has trained his palate to discern the flavors in a quality meal, will never again think of McDonald’s as anything but a place to find a quick, cheap lunch.
Tragically, many disciples have allowed themselves to be caught in the lie that life’s real joy can be found in cheap relationships, in empty TV relationships, even in superficial and silly religion based on noise, hype, and emotionalism.
In the book of 1 Kings, we learn of one of God’s heroes - a man named Elijah. He stayed faithful to God even when threatened by a wicked king and queen- Ahab and Jezebel. God led him to put out a challenge to see whose god would answer prayer with fire from Heaven. After a miracle moment, the idol prophets were defeated and God was raised up. Then, depleted, exhausted, he went alone into the wilderness. There on the mountainside he had an encounter that instructs us.
God sent a wind that whipped wildly, but did not speak.
He shook the mountain, but did not speak.
A firestorm singed the hair of the prophet’s beard, but God did not speak.
Then, there is this -
"And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too." (1 Kings 19:12-14, NIV)
Elijah had worked so hard he had lost the wonder. Yes, his hard work produced a kind of apathy that had overtaken his soul, so much so that he despaired of life itself. But, God met him... in the gentle whisper!
When did you last hear the voice of the Spirit?
When were you still enough to listen intently?
Third, when we know Him, we then must be about our Father’s work!
Tomlin writes, “The contemplation of good things can only take us so far as a remedy for sloth. IF that is all we do, we will soon return to idleness and the same old boredom. (When we have glimpsed the goodness of God) it needs to be followed by action, commitment to worthwhile causes, to making a difference in the world..... we must do something. “
Those who are most passionate about God are often the most effective in His service. When we live near to Him, we pick up His heartbeat, we hate what He hates, love what He loves.
The sin of sloth teaches us that the opposite of love is not hate, but rather indifference. IF God is love, then we cannot live with the apathetic refrain, ‘whatever’ on our lips and claim to be filled with His Spirit. No we will be passionate people, full of real, rich emotion, capable of laughter and tears, of love for all things good and hatred of all things evil.
Have you let life turn you into a drone incapable of seeing the beauty of God’s work and His world?
Take Jesus’ prescription for the church that had forsaken their love for Him.
To them, to us, He says,
"Remember the height from which you have fallen!
Repent and do the things you did at first.” (Revelation 2:5, NIV)
Remember! Repent! Repeat! Amen