The Gift of Work Pt. 4 – The Sluggard

Tom Pennington |

December 1, 2021


I trust that our study of the gift of work has been beneficial and profitable so far. The book of Proverbs—and all of Scripture for that matter—is rich in its teaching on work, and I am thankful we have been able to examine it together. For today, I want us to look at a second principle about work that we discover in Proverbs: work is a command that reflects God’s will.

There are several different categories of fools in the Book of Proverbs. Proverbs 6 introduces us to one of those fools: the sluggard. What is a sluggard? A sluggard is a person who is habitually lazy and disinclined to work. It is interesting, very few people call themselves sluggards. I’ve never met anybody who has raised their hand and said, “I’m a sluggard.” So, how do you know if you are a sluggard? How do you know if you are truly lazy? The good news is that Proverbs reveals three qualities that identify and distinguish a sluggard. 

First, a lazy person procrastinates starting his work. Proverbs 6:9 says, “How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?” It is important to note that an agricultural society is in view here. Rising early to tend to crops and animals before the sun came up was absolutely imperative. Solomon describes the lazy person as someone who sleeps in instead of getting up to work. Just to be clear, this text is not speaking against occasionally sleeping in, that is not the point.

The point is that a lazy person won’t begin things. Rather, he repeatedly procrastinates to the degree that he refuses to commit to a definite time to begin working. 

Pay attention to the sluggard’s response in verse 10: “A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest.” Take note of the fact that the adjective “a little” is used three times in verse 10. A lazy person rarely refuses to work at all. Instead, to be lazy, you don’t have to be the person who says, “I’m just not going to work.” Those cases are extremely rare. What a lazy person does is procrastinates at the beginning—he loves to postpone getting started on his work. He says something like this: “Look, I know it’s planning season and I’ll get started with that soon.” Or, “You know, I know I have that huge paper due tomorrow in school and I will get to it just as soon as I finish this Netflix show.” Or, “You know, I know that big work project is coming up next week but let me check my social media and the news first.” That is how the sluggard works! Derek Kidner correctly notes, “[The sluggard] deceives himself by the smallness of his surrenders. So, by inches and minutes, his opportunity slips away.” So, a lazy person procrastinates starting his work. 

Secondly, the sluggard often fails to finish his work. In other words, when he actually starts working, he does not finish. Why? Because it is just too hard; it is too much work; it takes too much time. You could say the impulse to work actually dies before he finishes. Proverbs 12:27 says, “A lazy person does not roast his prey”. The picture, here, is a guy who finally musters up the energy to go out and hunt to find food for his family, and once he finds that animal and brings it back, he’s so lazy that he just leaves it on the doorstep and refuses to clean it. Why? Because it is too much work! Another example of this is found in Proverbs 19:24: “The lazy one buries his hand in the dish, but will not even bring it back to his mouth.” This guy is also prone not to finish things, so much so that he lets his meal get cold before he finishes eating it! 

Third, the sluggard regularly makes excuses for why he does not get his work done. Put this way, he rationalizes his laziness. I love what Proverbs 22:13 says: “The lazy one says, ‘There is a lion outside; I will be killed in the streets!’” What a ridiculous excuse! No lions are actually in the street.

The sluggard makes bizarre excuses to keep himself from working. And yet, shockingly, he doesn’t see what he is doing. In fact, he starts to believe his own excuses, and he starts to believe them to such an extent that he will not even respond to rational arguments to the contrary.

Proverbs 26:16 says, “A lazy one is wiser in his own eyes than seven people who can give a discreet answer.” Even if you put this sluggard in a room with seven people saying, “That is a really ridiculous excuse,” he still defends himself, he still makes excuses. Eventually, his life becomes so disordered that his laziness becomes irreversible. 

The Scripture teaches that these three qualities are true of the sluggard. Furthermore, there are consequences for such behavior. Proverbs 6:11 says, “Then your poverty will come in like a drifter, and your need like an armed man.” That is a powerful word picture! Basically, the lazy person wakes up one day to discover that poverty has arrived, and that poverty has taken everything from him as if a mugger or robber had encountered him. Proverbs 24:30 says, “I passed by the field of a lazy one, and by the vineyard of a person lacking sense and behold, it was completely overgrown with weeds; its surface was covered with weeds, and its stone wall was broken down. When I saw, I reflected upon it; I looked, and received instruction. ‘A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,’ then your poverty will come like a drifter, and your need like an armed man.” You could summarize that proverb this way: laziness is extremely destructive. 

It is clear that laziness is a problem. So, how do you remedy it? We will work through a number of principles next time.