Summary: Apathy, not laziness
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)