This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Sermon prepared by Rev. Harry D. Zantingh, Alliston, Ont.
Dear People of God:
There is one animal I really get excited about and that is the two-toed sloth. Whenever I go to the zoo I can’t wait to get to the building which houses the sloth. I could watch the sloth for hours. Did you know that they sleep from 15-18 hours a day? Did you know they are among the slowest moving mammals in the world? They hang upside down most of their lives. And they move so slowly that green algae grows on their fur and then they lick it for nutrition.
Isn’t that exciting? Not really. At the zoo we could watch the restless tiger pacing back and forth. We could enjoy the monkey jumping and swinging through its cage. We could even watch an elephant for a while because of its sheer size. But not a sloth. It is too slow, too lazy, and does too much of nothing.
The theme we are going to look at today is that of sloth. It is a bit risky to study that theme because quite frankly no one really likes to look at laziness, which is another word for sloth. Just as no one wants to watch the sloth at the zoo. Yet we should spend some time with it.
Sloth is one of the seven deadly sins. Already early in the history of the church this list of sins was put together. They were not the only sins around but they were basic sins and dangerous because they could cut people off from eternal life. Hence, they are deadly sins. It’s important that we be aware of them and their potential danger.
Most of those sins are famous, you might say, and even popular. Pride, usually the first one listed, is the big one. It is the root of Adam and Eve’s downfall in the Garden of Eden. They wanted to be like God and it truly was deadly. Death was the reward for such high desires.
Anger is usually quite vocal and easily noticed. Lust is encouraged everywhere in media today. Envy, greed, gluttony are quite the fad in today’s materialistic society with all of its gadgets, food and money.
But least popular of all is sloth. It is probably the last one we would admit to ourselves. We do not want to be called lazy, nor do we like laziness in others. But it is a sin that may be quite prevalent in our lives.
Let’s look at sloth using the Book of Proverbs. Proverbs is all about living wisely in this world. It touches on practical, everyday living. It has some wisdom to share with us about idleness that has become a habit. About a person who has become a sluggard.
Let’s begin by reading Proverbs 6:6-8: " Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, Yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest."
Look to the ant and you will see a very good work ethic. Picture for yourselves a colony of ants. It seems that they always work in community. They are always busy marching somewhere, to some destination. Their movement does not seem to be haphazard but filled with purpose and direction. Place an obstacle in their path and immediately they are trying to find their way back to the route they were on.
Often they can be found carrying things. It is not unusual that the objects they carry are larger than they are. They don’t require some boss to coax them in their work. They are ambitious and self-motivated. They work at the right time. As the proverb says, they store their provisions in the summer. Not in the winter or the off season when conditions are too harsh to work. They work when the opportunity is there. That is at harvest time. That’s when the food is available.
The ant is the picture of diligent work. The sluggard would do well to look at the ant. This is what should characterize our work.
But now let’s take a look at the sluggard in the next few verses of Proverbs 6:9-11: "How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest — and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man." What we see here is that the lazy person simply lies around. He sleeps and slumbers. He is content to let life pass him by. When the right time is there he is resting. When the opportunity comes he is in deep slumber.
What lessons can we learn from the slothful person? The writer of Proverbs considers this and we find that in Proverbs 24:30-34.
I went past the field of the sluggard,
past the vineyard of the man who lacks judgement;
thorns had come up everywhere,
the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins.
I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw:
A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest —
and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.
We learn that the sluggard is not wise in his judgments. He fails to make wise choices. He chooses to sleep rather than to work. The result is that weeds begin to grow in his fields. With more laziness we find that the fences or walls around his fields begin to fall apart. They are in disrepair.
The results of this neglect are not good. Those weeds begin to take up room, moisture, nutrients; and the crop suffers. If the fence has holes in it or is falling down then predators are allowed to enter and help themselves to the crop. Soon there is not much left of the crop.
It leads to poverty for that lazy farmer. When harvest time does come he will look over his field and there will be nothing left to harvest. That leads to injury and ruin for the sluggard. It is like a bandit, an armed man who beats and hurts you and robs you even of the little that you do have. Calamity just seems to multiply for the sluggard.
An illustration of such sloth can be found with the author of this sermon. He had a strawberry patch in his back yard. Now the garden near this patch never did grow very well because of a large tree near it and the very sandy soil. It was easy for him to loose enthusiasm. He neglected to pull the few weeds when they first began to grow in the strawberry patch. Soon they became too large and numerous so that removing them would mean pulling up the strawberry plants as well. Over the next couple of years the strawberries began to produce less and smaller strawberries. Finally, the patch was simply mowed over. The last crop did not produce enough strawberries to provide homemade strawberry jam for the rest of the winter. This may not seem that important but to someone who dislikes store bought jam it was a disaster. The lesson to learn from the sluggard is that with sloth you end up with nothing. The fruit of laziness is empty hands and an empty stomach.
Let me read some other proverbs that show the results of diligence in work and the results of laziness. The proverbs, by the way, often come in pairs, in some cases contrasting pairs. First it says one thing and then shows the opposite.
Proverbs 10:4 says: "Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth." One of the results of hard work is financial gain. Many of us have probably experienced that. But for the lazy man poverty is a sure bet.
Proverbs 12:24 says: "Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor." Those who work hard often do get positions of power while the sluggard gets nowhere.
Proverbs 13:4 says: "The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied." If you want satisfaction then it would be good to work. There is nothing like the tiredness and satisfaction of a productive, hard day’s work.
In Proverbs 21:5 it says: "The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty." One of the characteristics of the lazy person is that when they must work they are in a hurry to get it done. The quicker one is done the sooner they can sleep some more. But haste makes waste and it shrinks the profit margin.
Proverbs 22:29 says: "Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men." Although this proverb is not a contrasting pair, it does show that those who remain diligent at their work will become skilled and gain position in life. The unskilled get nowhere. The lesson to learn from all these proverbs is that sloth gets you nothing.
Let’s go to another passage in Proverbs where we can look at the character of the sluggard, or the slothful person. The passage in Proverbs 26:13-16 gives us a number of different pictures of the sluggard. It says in verse 13: "The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion in the road, a fierce lion roaming the streets!’" He’s always making excuses. It’s too dangerous; it’s too risky. He acts as if he is the watchman of the people sounding the alarm. He is the wise prophet who knows that it is dangerous out there. There are lions on the street. But how would he know. It is only an excuse to do nothing.
Have you ever heard yourself doing the same thing? Perhaps you heard the same in the illustration of the strawberry patch. The garden didn’t grow too well so he lost his enthusiasm. Except the truth is that the strawberry patch excelled in that soil. The poor garden was just an excuse to do nothing.
Now look at verse 14. "As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed." The door just stays on its hinges. It swings back and forth but it never goes anywhere. The worker is meant to go through the door and out into the world, out into the field to work. But the lazy man stays close to home and never ventures out. He just gets in and out of his bed.
Or take verse 15. "The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth. Picture this: the slacker sitting back in his easy chair, one hand on his beer, with the other he reaches into the bowl of pretzels. But he falls asleep while he is eating. He never actually uses what he has because he is too lazy. How many tools and how many things have gone to ruin because they have not been used.
Finally, in verse 16 it says, "The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who answer discreetly." He considers himself wiser than seven men. In the Bible the number seven is a special number. It is considered a number of perfection. If you have seven people agreeing about something then you should know it’s probably right. But the sluggard thinks he is wiser. Better to stay in, better to avoid the danger, better to sleep and slumber. He does not see his own foolishness.
I want to go a bit further with this deadly sin of sloth. Of course, none of us want to be known as lazy or slothful. We often do not see it in ourselves. In fact, it could be asked should one even preach about this subject since generally we seem to have a good work ethic. We are busier than we have ever been. We live in such a busy world that it would seem that sloth is in danger of becoming extinct.
But let me ask this. Could it be that our business is really sloth in action? That sounds like a paradox. That’s about as strange as seeing a sloth at the zoo running for fun. However, perhaps we need to broaden our understanding of sloth.
We work diligently but the real question is "at what?" Sloth is really a sin of omission, of neglect, of not doing anything. It is not the usual sin of commission, which is actively doing something wrong. We may not be practising laziness in the form of sleeping and slumber, but are we failing to do the things that should be done? Are we like the ant who stores in summer for the winter, who gathers during the harvest when the opportunity is there? Or are we doing something else? We may be busy, but not with the things we should be doing.
Are we slothful with things of importance and our business is instead a distraction? No, we’re not lying on the bed sleeping but it is still neglecting what should be done. We make a mistake if we see sloth as just lying in bed asleep.
Henry Fairlie, in his book The Seven Deadly Sins Today, talks about the ‘whiffling activity of the body.’ That word ‘whiffling’ sounds so trite, so light, so empty. He refers to many of our activities as just whiffling activity. Our preoccupation with sports and recreation could fit into that description. We are so busy with soccer or hockey or golf. We take lessons and practice in order to get better, just so we can be good at it. We go to the cottage. We take out the boat. We take courses. We do our crafts. Not that those things are wrong in themselves but they are when they keep us from doing what we need to be doing.
What is the chief work of man? Peter Kreeft, in his book Back to Virtue, says sloth is laziness in our heavenly task. Our chief work is to be seeking out God and doing his will. Our chief work is to love God and to love our neighbor. But have we become slothful in doing that?
Evidence of such sloth can often be found in our indifference. The sin of sloth is not characterized so much in rebellion against God. At least then we are doing something. But indifference does nothing. Our apathy towards matters of faith, our lax approach to the spiritual disciplines, our boredom with worship, all smacks of sloth. But we are busy with many things. Yet we have neglected the things of God. We busy ourselves with whiffling activity.
We neglect to love God and to love our neighbor for fear of our imaginary lions. When it comes to the great commission, the gospel and our Bibles have been safely stored on the shelf while we swing back and forth on the hinge of idleness. The talents and resources we have been given in order to express our love and compassion, we waste. Instead we fall asleep with our hands in the dish. And when we do that calamity seems to multiply. Our indifference leads to neglect and it promotes the lack of desire for anything good. It leads to depression and despair. It leads to hopelessness. It leads to what all sloth leads, to nothing.
Our task includes being out there fighting the battle for God and his Kingdom. It includes fighting the evil in this world with love. But we leave it and neglect it and make excuses. We say the evil is too big, the problem is too much, the effort is too risky. There are lions out on the street. So we leave it and soon the weeds and disrepair get worse.
Actually, sloth tends to exaggerate sin and leave out redemption. We forget that God can and has overcome. He has done it through Jesus Christ. Christ came to this world because the problem of this world was too big to fix without him. He died on the cross but then rose from the dead, alive. Sin and death are not too big for him. The problems of this world are not too big for him. But he calls for us to be diligently working. To take advantage of the time. To make the most of the opportunities. He equips us to be doing what is important.
This message is not meant to be an accusation of our activities. Yet we do need to ask ourselves the question, are we being slothful in our business? Have we neglected the real work of loving God and our neighbor? It is a difficult question to ask because again, none of us want to find ourselves lazy.
And if we should find ourselves slothful let me remind you that it is one of the seven deadly sins. It is deadly and we need to avoid it. God, who can change us, has given us a gift. He gives us the Holy Spirit who can make us wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
Proposed Order of Service
Welcome and announcements
Call to Worship
Silent Prayer concluded by singing #5:1, 3
Confessional Prayer: Psalm 51:1-12 (pastor and congregation reading verses alternately)
Assurance of Pardon
God's Will for our Lives
Hymn of Commitment: #288
Prayer for Understanding
Scripture: Proverbs 6:6-11, Proverbs 24:30-34, Proverbs 26:13-16
Sermon: "Sloth—A Little Slumber, A Little Sleep"
Hymn of Response: #573
Parting Hymn: #146:1, 4