Proverbs on Work, Leisure, and Laziness
September 20, 2009 | Andy Davis
One of Jesus' most remarkable statements - and most courageous, I think, given the context - in John chapter 5, He said, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working." We serve a God who is constantly energetically working. He's a God of labor. But the Bible also portrays our God is in heaven, and He does whatever pleases Him. So, He's a being that's delighting in the works of His hands. He's delighted to do the things He does, brings Him great joy and pleasure to work. Wouldn't it be sweet if you lived your life like that? It's my desire and my prayer that as a result of this sermon today that we might see work differently than we ever have before. But not only does God work, not only is He constantly at work, laboring to bring about His purposes, He has also entrusted to us work to do as well. And so, as the sun makes its circuit around the earth and shines on 24 different time zones, it shines down on the people busy at work.
Start with the land of the rising sun Japan. You start with a stock broker in Tokyo selling stocks - Nikkei stock exchange - or a rice farmer who's bent over double. I used to see them in Japan, putting little rice plants into a saturated rice paddy, or a Siberian logger - big burly guy - cutting up Siberian fur, as the earth continues to turn. And the sun moves on past the Ukrainian wheat farmers or some pharmaceutical workers working in some German pharmaceutical company or shines down on the Rive Gauche of the Seine in Paris where there are some painters working on new techniques with oil and canvas, crosses the Atlantic. Cambridge, Massachusetts, some professors there, scurrying across Harvard yard to their class, maybe they're a little late, but about to give a lecture there, or goes across to Chicago where some sanitation engineers are emptying some dumpsters and working hard at keeping the streets clean. Or to Sacramento where there are some stay-at-home moms that are sitting and discussing parenting with one another while the kids play at the playground, or to the place where some people say is the most dangerous occupation up in the Bering Sea, where there are some Alaskan king crabs being fished by fishermen, risking their lives for a big catch. 24 hours of sunlight shining on a world busy at work.
But the question that the Bible asks all of those workers and all of us is why do you do what you do? What is the purpose of the labors of your hands? There's a famous story about a traveler in the middle ages - you've probably heard a version of it before - who visited a city where many stonecutters were cutting. And the first was asked, "What are you doing?" And he replied, "I'm cutting stone, isn't that obvious? I've got to feed my family." He went to the second and he said, "Well, I'm the best stonecutter in the land. I'm perfecting my technique. Look how smooth and polished these edges are." Yeah, so the third, and he said, "I am building a cathedral."
Now, those three different responses, I think, are paradigms of different ways that people look at work. The first one really, to some degree, lacked purpose all together. His nose was to the grindstone, so he could feed his belly. As it says in Ecclesiastes, "All of man's efforts are for his stomach" (Ecclesiastes 6:7). So, he's trying to feed himself and his family. The second is working on a career; he's developing his technique, trying to be the best at what he does. The third had a grander vision of building a cathedral, a big purpose in his life. But the fact is, frankly, even cathedrals will not last forever. King Solomon did great projects, and he talked about the outcome of those projects. In Ecclesiastes 2, it says, "I undertook great projects. I built houses for myself, planted vineyards, I made gardens and parks, and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them, I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. My heart took delight in all of my work, and this was the reward for all of my labor, and yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless. A chasing after the wind, nothing was gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:4-11).
So, that's projects done in the Ecclesiastes code phrase under the sun, done just on that horizontal level of human endeavor trying to do something great, and he didn't see much in it. So why should we work? What is the overarching purpose for which we should work? I think Jesus gave it to us better than anyone in His high priestly prayer in John 17. Jesus, the night before He was crucified, said this to His heavenly father, He said, "I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do." John 17:4. That's it, dear friends. If you're a Christian, live for that. “I brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.”
Balance in Work and Play: A Timeless Challenge
So, our work should be for the glory of God. We should fit into His overarching plan, the building of the kingdom of Christ. That's what we should be laboring for, but does the Bible have any practical wisdom about our lives of work, either about our careers or even about menial day-to-day tasks? Yes, it does, and we go to the book of Proverbs for that, as we have over the last number of weeks. And, today, we're going to look at the topics of... By the way, have you ever had a moment of regret? I had a moment of regret this morning. The title should have been “Labor, Leisure, and Laziness.” It dawned on me this morning I missed a perfect chance at alliteration. There aren't W's that go across, so it's got to be “Labor, Leisure, and Laziness.” Alright, so just to raise that little work thing, but it's about work, but you know, but it's about labor, leisure and laziness, that's what we're talking about. So, I'm done with my pangs of regret now.
Workaholics or Sluggards?
That's what we're preaching about today, but we're looking at this topic of work, of labor, and we're trying - we're seeking through this sermon, through the work of the Holy Spirit, I think - to achieve a very difficult thing, which is balance in life concerning our work, balance. Now, in America, I want to ask you, as you know, this nation, are we a bunch of workaholics, are we a bunch of pleasure sordid, playaholics. Which one?
Well, it's a complex question as you think about it. My first job, I worked, in my opinion, for a workaholic. Now one of the first jobs I had, actually, first technical job, I just graduated from high school, and I was working in Bedford, Massachusetts for a company that made solar-powered water pumps. And one of the three founders of the company, a graduate of MIT, was just a relentless workaholic, worked about 100 hours a week. Chain-smoker, hypertensive kind of guy. I don't know if he's still alive, but I know this: He never stopped working. And there are people like that; I've seen people like that. Whole corporations can be driven by the ambition of a CEO who lives his life like that and never satisfied. They tend to be miserable people. They only think about work all the time where they're working. If they're not working, they're thinking about work.
And electronic technology has made it possible to do that more and more. You could be working while talking to someone, if they'll put up with it, with the BlackBerry, the cellphone going on… I mean, the people can be... You can be doing massive things over the wireless through the laptop, even while sitting next to somebody who you're out on a date with, like your wife or something. I've never done that, but you know, people can be working all the time. So, are we workaholics? Well, it seems to me that America actually tends to be more bent the other way, what you might want to call playaholics.
Have you ever seen bumper stickers that allude to this? “A bad day of fishing still better than a good day in the office,” something like that. I don't even know what to say about that. I'm not trying to offend those of you that love fish or to fish, something like that; I don't see that. But at any rate, I understand what's behind it. The person would rather be recreating than working. Or this one, “Work fascinates me, I could sit and watch it for hours.” I've seen people like that before. Frankly, I've been with people like that before from time to time.
How about this one? “If work is so terrific, how come they have to pay you to do it?” Or this one, “I'm stuck here, but my head is stuck on the weekend.” Well, I really saw that when I was in the workforce. I worked for 10 years out in industry, and Monday morning - or even worse, Tuesday morning after a three-day weekend - it's a tough time to go to work. People are still wishing they were on the weekend.
How about this one? “Hard work has a future payoff, but laziness pays off now.” Well, I'm actually preaching against that, and we'll talk about that in this sermon. But it's a philosophy. Or this one, “I owe, I owe so off to work, I go.” Now, that one hits a little close to home, because remember when I was preaching on money, how many people have run up credit card debts to pay for pleasure items that they then have to go to a job they hate and pay off? So, the reason for working then is because of debt. So, Americans have almost endless ways to spend leisure time, addicted to hobbies, sports, computer, video games, vacations, et cetera. And the struggle of the church over the ages has been defined balance.
The Church Over the Ages: Struggling with Both Work and Leisure
Early on in church history, there were ascetics who pulled away from a lifestyle of leisure and pleasure and went off in the desert and did nothing but fast and pray. Later on, in the development of the monastic movement, they would add working, laboring with the hands. It was a relentless lifestyle driven, I think, by a bad theology of what it took to be saved, to have your sins forgiven, and very difficult for them to find balance. Perhaps some of the most balanced people on this were Puritans, but they are well known for the Puritan work ethic, and they had a dim view of what most people of their age called leisure or play.
They were against the book of sports, for example, which just had to do with leisure and recreation, very, very strong Sabbatarians. And for them, their worship was a form of work for the Lord, and they were focused on that. There was a kind of a relentless feel to the life, although not universally with them. Balance has been very, very difficult to find. And so, my desire is that we would have a godly proper balance between labor and leisure and not drift over into the laziness that we can see.
The Blessing (and Cursing) of Work
Work Is a Blessing from God
So, let's go back to the beginning and try to understand briefly a theology of work. And we start with the blessing that work is itself. The Bible opens with God at work. I mean right from the very, very beginning, God creates the heavens and the earth. He's at work, as Jesus said, "To this very day, my father is at work and I too am working” (John 5:17). God is always putting energy to putting will toward this universe to achieve a purpose.
So, from the very beginning, God says, "Let there be light,” and there's light. And in verse 31 of Genesis 1, "God saw all that he had made and it was very good, and there was evening and there was morning the sixth day. And thus, the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array." So, there's God at work skillfully weaving a universe, and then God entrusted meaningful work to human beings. Genesis 2:15, it says, "The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." So, there is Adam, and he's at work before the fall.
Work Cursed by God
What the fall did in Genesis 3, it came in and brought a curse on work. It brought a curse on work. So, in Genesis 3:17-19, Adam has to hear this, "For the punishment for what he did and sinning and breaking the law of God. Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow, you will eat your food until you sink back into the dust for dust you are and to dust you will return." That is a curse on work is what it is. Labor would become futile; it would become frustrating. Efforts will be put forth, and nothing would come of it, and that's where I think Solomon picks it up in Ecclesiastes, where he just sees the vanity of it all.
The Mysterious Part of Work
In the New Covenant, though, in Jesus, work has been redeemed, and we are called mysteriously co-laborers with God. Our work actually has an eternal benefit as Christians as we do the good works. We are God's workmanship (Ephesians 2:10), created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God laid out or ordained in advance that we should walk in them. And so, the implication there in the open teaching in other places that our works actually have eternal consequence. And, that's mysterious because God doesn't need us at all. But He has in some mysterious way committed to us eternal works - works of eternal consequence. So, that's a brief overview of work and where we're at.
Proverbs: Celebrating the Glory and Rewards of Labor
Introducing the Ant!
Let's look at Proverbs, and Proverbs begins celebrating the glory and the rewards of labor - the glory and the rewards of labor. And, in order to do that, the book of Proverbs introduces us to the ant. The ant. We are introduced to the ant, "Go to the ant, you sluggard, consider its ways and be wise” (Proverbs 6:6). The ant is a role model for us. The ant is held out in Proverbs 6, one of the most amazing creatures that God ever made.
We're talking in the staff about what would happen if the natural world just weren't restrained anymore toward the human race and just went after us. Who would you dread the most of all of the created beings? And one of our guys said, "I think it's the ants." I mean, what are you going to do with the ants? I thought it was the eagles. I thought, if the eagles came after us, what are you going to do? Swooping from up above; you're in trouble. I think Hitchcock made a film like that about birds, but the ants… Do you realize there are one million ants for every human being on the face of the earth? What would you do against your million if there were war between us and the ants? How would you take on your million ants?
Ants are amazing creatures; they can lift over 50 times their body weight, similar to us lifting an automobile. They all live in communities, colonies. The largest ant colony ever found was located in Italy in northern Spain. It stretched 3,600 miles. One colony. Literally, of course, billions of ants.
Now, every ant has a specific function. Soldier ants protect the rest of the colony from outside encroachment. Harvester ants store seeds for use as food. Some of the ants chew up the seeds and form a kind of a pasty bread that all the other ants eat. Others take out seeds that have gotten wet and lay them out to dry. Weaver ants use their larvae which produce silk threads to sow together leaves for shelters and other purposes. Carpenter ants hollow out tree stumps for use as nests. Slave-maker ants actually raid other ant colonies and steal away a larvae, which then grow up as slaves for their colony.
Now, Solomon urges us to go to the ant to study the ant and look at its ways and to observe the ants specifically for its work ethic. It has no commander or overseer or ruler (Proverbs 6:7 and 8), and yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. The issue there with the ant is its dedication to the task, self-motivation also, and foresight. So, it's dedicated, it's motivated, and it doesn't have an overseer directly commanding it, doesn't mess around when the boss isn't watching. It just sticks to the task. And foresight - the ability to store up today what's available today, so that they can eat tomorrow. Now, the essence of the sluggard, and we're going to talk more about the sluggard later in the message, but is procrastination. Putting off to tomorrow what ought to be done today. The ant doesn't do that. And so, we have the ants as an example. In effect, God is saying to us, "Why can't you be like the ant?" Somewhat like a scolding parent, and saying, "If only you could be as dedicated to your task as the ant is."
The Rewards of Labor
Well, what are the rewards of labor? Well, first and foremost, very plainly and clearly, the satisfaction of basic necessities, food, clothing, and shelter. Food, clothing, and shelter. And we have had numerous opportunities to counsel people in the community and others that have come that are having trouble in certain areas, and it takes them to sermon. but one of the basic lessons is if you're able-bodied, it's up to you to provide for your basic needs, and if you're the head of a household for those of your family, that's a basic lesson of Scripture. And so, it says in Proverbs 16:26, “the laborer's appetite works for him.” His hunger drives him on; it forces him to do whatever it takes to care for him. His own needs and the needs of his family drives him on. And so, we've seen photos from The Great Depression of people with signs saying we'll work for food, people who are formerly investment bankers that are selling apples, whatever it took to get a job. But Proverbs goes beyond that. Actually, abundant food and blessing comes from labor as well. Proverbs 10:4 says, "Lazy hands makes a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth." So excess or surplus or wealth comes from diligence, from hard work.
Also, skill at labor produces an ever-widening scope of opportunity, advancement in life. Proverbs 22:29 says, "When you see a man skilled in his work, he will serve before kings, he will not serve before obscure men." So, if you want to advance, if you want to have a wider scope, wider horizon of ministry opportunities or of life, then be skilled in your labor. Be good at it. That's what the book of Proverbs is teaching. Also, hard work results in authority and greater responsibility. Proverbs 12:24 says, "Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor." So again, diligence results in authority and the ability to lead others. It's usually hard workers that get in that position, not always, but frequently. Also, hard work results in the fulfillment of desires. Proverbs 13:4 says, "The sluggard craves and gets nothing. But the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.” Isn't that a sweet verse? So, basically, it's just the desires of your heart frequently come through the labors of your hands. That's what Proverbs is saying.
Obviously, I know Psalm says, "Take delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." But this verse is teaching that, so often, it comes through your hard labor as well. And so, in the end, a hard worker will be praised and rewarded. Just go to the end of the book, and you have the virtuous wife in Proverbs 31. Incredibly hard-working lady. Proverbs 31:13 and following, it says, "She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She's like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it's still dark. She provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls." And at the end of all that, in Proverbs 31:31, it says, "Give her the reward she has earned and let her works bring her praise at the city gates."
Well, that's true, not just for the virtuous wife, but for a man as well, for anybody - that hard work results in praise and rewards. I think we even get that from the Lord. "Well done, good and faithful servant. You've been faithful with a few things. Now, I'll put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your Master” (Matthew 25:23). He's rewarding labor there. Initiative, energy, sacrifice. That's what's going on there.
Practical Words on Work
Proverbs also gives us some practical words of wisdom on work. One of them is, work your fields and avoid fantasies. A couple of Proverbs teaches… Proverbs 28:19 says, "He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty." It's been heartbreaking for me sometimes to see people who leave a good job or a good situation for some whim, some fantasy, really. A get-rich-quick scheme or some other thing, and they get themselves into difficulty, and they don't really recover. Now, I'm not saying it's not possible that the Lord can come and give you a vision for a ministry and cause you to make some sacrifices, like the rich young ruler is called on to sell everything and follow Jesus. But this proverb still speaks a word of wisdom to us to be careful that you're hearing God properly.
Secondly, prioritize your tasks wisely. Proverbs 24:27 says, "Finish your outdoor work and get your fields ready, and after that, you may build your house." So, the idea is, you might want to make your house cushy, comfortable, luxurious, just like in the book of Haggai with paneling and all that, but there's something outside the house that needs to be done first. So, look after that. Prioritize your tasks wisely.
Thirdly, be honest in business. Proverbs has many things to say about the honest scales or the dishonest scales, and how much God loves an honest set of weights. And that just expands to just talk about honesty in business and honesty in how you earn your living. In Colossians, it says, work hard, and not just when the boss's eye is on you. But even when it's not, do your work as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24). So, honesty in business. And Proverbs urges us to take care of our equipment. Take care of your tools, the things that you use to make your living. Prize your possessions. Proverbs says in 27:23, "Be sure to know the condition of your flocks. Give careful attention to your herds." And then it goes on and says, "Because they're going to give you wool for clothing and food for your family." So, look after your things. Be good stewards of your possession.
So, this is just some of the practical wisdom that God gave Solomon for a lifestyle of hard work. It's wise, it's prosperous, it's orderly, and it's satisfying. So, the Lord envisioned a life that's going to be six-sevenths labor. Might as well enjoy it, dear friends, because that's what God's called us to do, to be productive, to work hard, to work for His Glory, and to do things fruitfully for Him.
The Blessings and Purpose of Leisure
Rest Displayed and Commanded by God
But what about rest? Is there a place for leisure in the Christian life? Is there a limit to work? Well, from the very beginning, we learned that there actually is a limit to work, and God set that up by the Sabbath rest that He took in Genesis 2. It says, "By the seventh day, God had rested from the work..." Or, sorry, "Had finished the work he had been doing. So, on the seventh day, He rested from all of His work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy. Because on it, He rested from all the work of creating that he had done." And then God established that as the law for Israel and ten commandments: Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. "Do all your work in six days, and rest on the seventh, for God made heaven and earth in six days and rested on the seventh” (Exodus 20:8-11). So, therefore, God gives us a picture of a limit to work. There's just a limit to it.
Now, we know theologically that God has to constantly work or the universe doesn't exist anymore. We know that, but there's a symbolic resting from work that God intends, a picture of our future heavenly rest, but also a rhythm for everyday life for the Jews and for us as well. So also, just the rhythm of day and night tells us that when the sun goes down… And, after Edison, I think we are confused about this. But people in less developed nations, they know when the sun goes down, you go to bed. And you know, they did. I remember in Kenya, you see these little coleman-style lanterns, but those are only for a little while and then they go out and they're in bed. Hour or two after the sun goes down. Not us. Ever see a satellite photo of the Earth at night and just all of the lit areas? Those are all the first world countries that have forgotten what it means to go to bed when the sun goes down.
Rest is Sweet to the Wise
But God intends for the rest of a laborer to be sweet. “The sleep of a laborer is sweet,” it says in Proverbs 3 and verse 24. After you've done everything that God wanted you to do, you've lived a faithful day, the sun has gone down, you've finished up, it's just time to put your head on the pillow and rest.
And that rest is sweet. Interesting word, though, isn't it? Sweet? The book of Proverbs talks about this thing called honey, and it talks about how sweet honey is, and that it's a good thing to enjoy it. It's a good thing to taste the honey. God made it delicious for a reason. There's even a command in the Bible that we ought to eat honey. Proverbs 24:13 says, "Eat honey, my son, for it is good. Honey from the comb is sweet to the taste." And the next proverb talks about some other topics, so that's all that proverb has to say is just, “Eat honey.” It's good. Well, I think that honey is a metaphor. It isn't just that God really wants you to eat honey and that there's... It's got to do with a health thing, and if you just eat it, you're going to be healthy and live long and all that. No, it just tastes good. There's no other reason for it. It just tastes good.
So, I think an extreme ascetic life out in the desert grinding away, especially one in which you're trying to pay for your sins thereby, that's not what God had in mind at all. God created fruit. He created beautiful things to see, created experiences and things for us to enjoy, leisure things that are what I call amoral pleasures, not immoral pleasures. But those things that are good, richly to be enjoyed. "Eat them," God says. That's the kind of life He gives us.
But you know, there's more to say about honey from Proverbs, isn't there? There is a command not to overeat honey. Proverbs 25:16 says, "If you find honey, eat just enough. Too much of it, and you will vomit." Now, it's not often you hear the word “vomit” from the pulpit, but that's what the Proverbs are saying. You'll vomit. If you take in too much of the good things of life, it will come out of you in a bad way. It will destroy you. So, there's a balance here on leisure. Now you're going to say, "What in the world does honey have to do with leisure?" I just don't think... I think that honey is a metaphor for blessings in life that are not intrinsic or essential to keeping us alive. It's just the good things of life. God created all things richly for us to enjoy, but it says in Proverbs 25:27, "It's not good to eat too much honey, nor is it honorable to seek one's own honor." So there, just going from honey to honor, shows it's a metaphor. It's just a metaphor.
And so, the basic thing is, please enjoy the good things of life, but don't over-indulge. And one of the dangers of overeating honey is you grow to hate honey. And, once you hate one kind of honey, you're constantly then drifting looking for the next kind of honey. And it's a bad way to live. It really is, I think, a satanic way to live. You're empty, you're restless, you're wandering around looking for something in life. And you haven't noticed that you have become idolatrous is what it is. You're looking horizontally for the blessings of life, and you've forgotten that God is our pleasure. He really is our honey, above all of these earthly blessings.
So, it says in Proverbs 27:7, "He who is full loathes honey, but to the hungry, even what is bitter tastes sweet." So, that's the whole problem, I think with America: it's over-indulgence. It's not that God's blessed us. It's a good thing that He's blessed us. It's the over-indulgence. Yes, there's food, but why do we go on to gluttony and to obesity? It's not enough for some to have recreation. We have to play to the level of a frantic addict. It's not enough to have a weekend or a vacation, some pretty place. We become idolaters and live for the weekend and hate work. It changes the heart. It's not enough to watch a ball game or two from time to time. We've got to have 24/7 ESPN, and how many... I don't even know how many versions we are up to. ESPN 360. They just added ESPN Boston. And you're wondering how do I know? Well, we'll talk about that another time.
But at any rate, there's just lots of different ways to over-indulge in different things. So, it is damaging, dear friends, bottom line, to love pleasure. Proverbs 21:17 says, "He who loves pleasure will become poor. Whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich." Now, I don't think that means pleasure in an absolute sense. We're a pleasure in God; we're created for pleasure. John Piper satisfied me about that. We ought to be hedonists living for the pleasure of God. That is fine, but that's not what that Proverbs is talking about. It's talking about a horizontal earthly pleasure that you then live for; it becomes an idol. That leads us very easily and naturally to the shame and destructive destructiveness of laziness.
The Shame and Destruction of Laziness
Introducing the Sluggard!
And so, we have introduced a different character now. We had the ant earlier; now we meet the sluggard. The sluggard. And what a fascinating character this individual really is. Have you ever studied the sluggard passages? They're really quite fascinating. This is an interesting guy. First and foremost, he loves to sleep. I mean, he's just addicted to sleep. 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 is going to come upon you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man." I remember in school there was a guy in our fraternity; you couldn't wake him up with fire to his feet. I never tried that. Somebody said they did, and it didn't work. I mean, this guy, you couldn't get him up. But this sluggard just loves to sleep.
Or this one, Proverbs 26:14, "As the door turns on its hinges, so the sluggard in his bed." That's his labor that day, to find the comfortable way to sleep. How to get the pillows arranged, and what's the best position for sleeping? Now, the sluggard is filled with desire. He's filled with dreams and aspirations, but nothing ever comes of it because he's completely unwilling to work for it. Make any of it happen. Proverbs 13:4, "The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligence are fully satisfied." And again, Proverbs 21:25, "The sluggard's craving will be the death of him because his hands refused to work." So, it just torments him, all the things he wants, but they don't come his way because he doesn't work for them.
The sluggard is constantly making excuses for his laziness, even to the point of ridiculousness. Proverbs 22:13, "The sluggard says, "There's a lion outside or I'll be murdered in the streets." I mean, please. The reason the sluggard says he doesn't want to work, and what might happen if he goes out. Something's going to happen. “I might get eaten by a lion. Somebody might murder me. I just need to stay here where it's safe.” The level of laziness can reach ridiculous, even epic proportions. Proverbs 26:15, "The sluggard buries his hand in the dish. He's too lazy to bring it back to his mouth."
So, I pictured this. A man still living at home with his parents at age 40. Sleepy from his afternoon nap, he turns out just in time for dinner for his mommy who has cooked for him yet again, another home-cooked meal, asking her if she would please cut it up for him and feed him. That's about the picture I get from this proverb. How pathetic and disgusting laziness can become! And the sluggard then creates immense frustrations for people around him, immense frustrations for his extended community, his family. Proverbs 10:26, "As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is a sluggard to those who send him."
Have you ever been camping, and you use sappy or wet wood, green wood? And it's just billowing smoke and whatever, wherever you stand, it seems the wind shifts to get that stinging smoke into your eyes. Well, that's what it's like to send a sluggard to do a hard worker's job. Imagine a scenario, and I saw things like this, not exactly like this, but imagine a scenario where an employer, a manufacturer wants to get some parts made ASAP. They need them that day. The best vendor in the area is willing to set aside some work for this special project if he can get the drawings by 10 in the morning. And so, the boss sends a messenger with the drawings. Little does he know he has sent a sluggard.
The guy drives by a Starbucks and realizes he's not going to get his morning coffee break like the rest of the guys. So, he pulls in. An hour later, he rolls out, and he brings the drawings to the vendor. Vendor didn't get them by 10 o'clock, so he figured that the guy didn't need them after all. He puts them in the bottom of the queue. Around 4:30, there's a phone call between the boss who sent this guy and the vendor, and it's frustrating to both parties. And why? Because the sluggard was in the middle. That kind of stuff goes on in the workplace just about every day. And it's a shameful thing. Sluggard misses opportunities and makes excuses about it.
Proverbs 20:4, "Sluggard does not plow in season so at harvest time, he looks but finds nothing." There was a window of opportunity for him to get his crops in the ground; he missed it. Growing season is over; he missed it. And even more amazing in the proverb, he looks for the harvest, and he didn't know why it's not there. He's shocked. And so, it is now. The deadline for applying for fall classes comes and goes, and then the registrar gets a phone call from somebody who wants to apply, register for classes. Well, that ended a week ago. And what's amazing is how angry the individual gets toward the person on the phone. How angry they are about it. And so, it says in Proverbs 19:3, "A man's own folly ruins his life, and yet his heart rages against the Lord." God, how could you let this happen to me? And he never traces it back to his own laziness.
He's always a day late and a dollar short. He starts projects and doesn't finish them. And basically, dear friends, he is fighting his laziness his whole life. Proverbs 15:19, it says, "The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway.” Look at how ironic that is. Every moment, what he wants is his own ease and comfort. That's what he's looking for at every moment. And as a result, he leads a very difficult life, very difficult life. He wants to travel, but he can't find his passport, so he has to apply for another one. Very stressful for him. Tries to find a dress shirt that he knows he can't find, he goes and buys another one at a certain amount of expense, finds the original dress shirt a week later. A college friend's father dies. He meant to get a sympathy card or something in the mail, doesn't. The relationship goes down a tick as a result.
He doesn't pay the bill on time, and so there's creditors calling. Very, very difficult. His way is blocked in with thorns. Basically, he's a slave to his own sense of comfort. And the result of all of this, in Proverbs 24? You heard Allan read it. I'll read it again. A shameful display, visible to the whole world. "I went past the field of the sluggard, past the vineyard of the man who lacks judgment. Thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds and stonewall was in ruins and I applied my heart to what I observed, and I 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 upon you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man."
What’s Wrong with a Little Sleep?
So, you may say, what's wrong with a little sleep? I think Proverbs is overly harsh on sleep. No, not at all. Actually, it's from Proverbs 3. It says that the sleep is sweet to the laborer. The problem is love of sleep. Proverbs 20:13 says, "Do not love sleep or you'll grow poor. Stay awake and you'll have food to spare." That's the problem. So, guard your heart, dear friends. Watch your tendencies. A little of this, a little motion in direction, next thing you know, years later, you've missed a whole bunch of good works God wanted you to do because you weren't vigilant over your heart.
Rest in the Finished Work of Christ!
Well, what application can we take from all of these proverbs? Well, first and foremost, let's go to Jesus on this topic of work and say to Him what was already said one time before. What must we do to work the works of God? What do you have to do to work the works of God? Jesus' answer is this: this is the work of God. Believe in the one He has sent. The work of the human race has already been done, dear friends, already been achieved. The central work of the human race was done by one man, Jesus Christ, when He shed His blood on the cross and died for sin, that work is finished. He said so. He said, "It is finished, it's done." And the reason that I can preach so eloquently about the sluggard is I played that role from time to time in my life.
I have. I've played the role of the workaholic, too. All of us struggle with balance in every area of our lives. We are sinners, and we are saved by works, dear friends. They're just not our works. Jesus' work on the cross saves us. His righteousness and obedience of the law saves us. Step into that by faith. Step into that, and trust in the Lord Jesus. I said it's likely, there's some here that have never trusted in Jesus. Set aside your own works; they cannot save you. It does not matter how great your career is, or how many of the works of your hands, they cannot pay for your sins. Trust in Jesus. It's the only, only work that will save you, the work of Jesus.
Live for the Grand Work of the Kingdom of God
Well, secondly, what now then? How do I work the works of God aside from believing in Jesus? How do I do the good works that God's ordained that I should walk in them? Well, I think we should understand the overarching glory of God in the building of the kingdom. Just say, I am doing this work. I am preaching this sermon right now that God's kingdom might be advanced. Even down to “I am peeling these potatoes to the glory of God, that I might pray while I'm doing it, that I might give my labors to God as an act of worship.” That, the Puritans were excellent at that. Live like that. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all of your might to the glory of God.
And then learn the practical lessons of Proverbs. Don't despise the menial tasks of the day. A life worth living is made up of garbage taken out and bills paid on time, and lawns mowed and gardens weeded and socks repaired and shirts ironed and thank you notes written on time. Cars washed, groceries bought, meals cooked, children bathed and put to bed. That's life. Do it all to the glory of God. Do it for His honor.
And use your spiritual gifts; have a ministry. We're going to talk more about that in a few weeks, but just be sure that you're using your spiritual gifts for the glory of God. Build up the church; build up the brothers and sisters in Christ. And beware of the recreation craze culture that we live in; beware of it. A little of this, a little of that, next thing you know you're addicted. Don't go there. Have the wisdom to show restraint.
And teach your children, please, to labor. Their bent is going to be toward recreation, toward play, and so also their schoolmates. Be the mean parent. We talked about the mean parent last week that actually makes your kids learn how to work. Be the mean, tough parent that says, “You actually do have to make your bed every morning and keep your room clean and learn how to serve.” And all the more as they get older. Teenage boys, teenage girls learning how to serve others with their vigorous bodies. Finally, don't procrastinate or be like the sluggard. Do the good works God has ordained for you to do today. For His glory. Close with me in prayer, if you would.