Over the past several years, I’ve discovered that regularly reading through Proverbs is an immediately useful practice. For one thing, I am brought face-to-face with the sluggard. As I read and linger over passages that speak of the lazy man, my own heart is exposed, and I am convicted of my tendency toward idleness and sloth.
Go to the ant, O sluggard;
Consider her ways, and be wise. (Prov. 6:6)
But the Spirit often uses these practical insights to exhort me to renew my commitment, by grace, to redeem the time for Christ’s sake. To help us recognize and repent of our own laziness, here are eight traits of the sluggard. (Warning: he’s probably worse than we think.)
1. The Sluggard Will Not Start Things
The sluggard has a difficult time with initiative. He relies on others to tell him what to do (Prov. 6:9), and his verbal output outstrips his actual production (Prov. 14:23). He talks of great plans, but he just can’t seem to put them into action.
He may be distracted by pleasure and entertainment, or he may simply be unwilling to get dirty and work hard. Whatever the case, the sluggard is known for a lack of genuine accomplishment, since he can’t seem to even start things.
2. The Sluggard Will Not Finish Things
Even if you have the wherewithal to start something, you may still be a sluggard. Another quality of the lazy man is that he can’t finish things (Prov. 12:27; 19:24; 26:15). Once he gets to work and bumps up against some difficulty or resistance, all motivation vanishes, and the sluggard retreats back into ease.
This is someone who has a growing stack of half-read books on his desk, a host of home projects still awaiting completion, multiple promises to friends and family left unfulfilled, a collection of almost-written articles in the queue, and a gym membership that hasn’t been used since January 2018.
3. The Sluggard Will Not Face Hard Things
The sluggard will also refuse to face hard tasks. To mask his laziness, he will find refuge in cowardly excuses like, “There’s a lion outside, I shall be killed in the streets” (Prov. 22:13). Confronted with hard decisions and potentially hard conversations, the sluggard is thrown into indecision, wavering between multiple options, and will turn to entertainment to take his mind off the work before him. Netflix or Fortnite can be the opiate of the sluggard.
4. The Sluggard Is Anxious and Restless
Because he is living contrary to the way he was made—to work and build and accomplish and create—the lazy man is constantly restless and full of anxiety. He may long for greater productivity and accomplishment, but because of his unwillingness to work, he will exist in a perpetual state of craving without fulfillment (Prov. 13:4). Eventually, these unfulfilled desires will wreak serious havoc on the sluggard’s life (Prov. 21:25–26).
5. The Sluggard Has Constant Trouble
The sluggard’s life is beset by constant trouble (Prov. 15:19). Since he fails to complete his work in the allotted hours, he’s in a constant hurry to fulfill his responsibilities and often annoyed at those around him for taking up all his time.
The sluggard may have financial trouble (Prov. 12:11; 19:15; 20:4; 21:5; 24:33–34) or live in perpetual messiness at home. He may not be able to keep a job for any length of time because of his inability to discipline his time, shun distraction, and work hard. Simple responsibilities like paying bills and maintaining his vehicle will be neglected and cause unnecessary friction.
The sluggard may desire to grow spiritually, but the disciplines of regular Bible reading, prayer, theological and devotional study, church commitment, and consistent gospel relationships are just too much for him to bear.
6. The Sluggard Is a Nuisance to Others
Because the lazy person is unwilling to work hard and develop his skills, he has little to offer others. He’s mostly a nuisance to those who might require his service. “Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to those who send him” (Prov. 10:26).
Unproductive, unfocused, concerned about self more than others, the sluggard drives his employers nuts and won’t survive long in any environment that requires diligence and self-denial. Ultimately, the sluggard is in the same class as a thief and vandal (Prov. 18:9).
7. The Sluggard Is Self-Deceived
A sluggard’s commitment to serve self and maintain an idle existence may be so strong that he will oppose any arguments from those who attempt to nudge him out of bed (or away from his computer or phone). The sluggard’s self-deception may manifest itself in grand business proposals that resist outside critique and have little basis in reality.
Slow, consistent accumulation of wealth through steady work habits is unattractive to the sluggard, so unrealistic dreams of quick money may dominate his mind (Prov. 21:5). It’s not uncommon for a sluggard to craft spiritual-sounding excuses for not working hard by appealing to biblical teaching on the necessity of rest, the fact that salvation is not by works, the need for a “balanced life,” the danger of acquiring wealth, and so on.
In every case, the sluggard will walk in and out of conversations with his counselors convinced he is smarter than them all: “The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly” (Prov. 26:16).
8. The Sluggard Won’t Become a Leader
Sadly, because of his laziness, the sluggard will not wield much influence. He certainly won’t become a leader, for leadership requires diligence, sacrifice, long hours, pain, and perseverance.
The sluggard despises these qualities, so he will labor under the supervision of those who have devoted themselves to hard work: “The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor” (Prov. 12:24).
Good News for Sinful Sluggards
Indulging laziness is contrary to our design as humans and contrary to our calling as Christians. But we can’t draw ourselves out of the morass of inaction by sheer determination. We need God’s grace and a glimpse of Christ revealed in the gospel.
The good news of salvation apart from works motivates us to labor diligently in this brief life on earth for the glory of God, the good of others, and our own benefit. And the energizing Spirit of Christ compels us to sharpen our God-given skills so we might be useful to our King and to our fellow man, to courageously face and complete difficult tasks, and to avoid the unnecessary trouble of laziness.