Today, as we continue studying the book of Proverbs, in particular, the gift of work, I’d like to consider the sin of laziness. Specifically, how to remedy the temptation to laziness. Proverbs 6:6 says, “Go to the ant, you lazy one, observe its ways and be wise.” The ant mentioned here most likely refers to the harvester ant, which is a common ant in Israel. As its name suggests, it is an ant which is known for storing or harvesting grain in its nest. In God’s wisdom, He uses the harvester ant as an illustration to teach the lazy person three remedies for his laziness.
First, do not wait to be forced to work, instead, discipline yourself to work. Proverbs 6:7 states that the harvester ant has “no chief, officer or ruler.” Harvester ants do have a social structure, however, they do not have a clear hierarchy of authority or command. This underscores the reality that we as Christians are to work hard at all times, even when situations arise where there is no boss or authority figure instructing us in what we should do.
Second, do not wait for a crisis or deadline to kickstart your work, instead, plan ahead. Proverbs 6:8 says, “[The ant] prepares her food in the summer and gathers her provision in the harvest.” This verse teaches that the ant is wise in that it knows the harvest will pass and that winter is soon coming, where no food will be available. Notice how this ant has no intention of waiting for a crisis or deadline. Rather, it works when it can work. Specifically, it works during grain harvest, which in Israel, is a two month period in the early summer. Solomon’s point is this: do not wait until you are overtaken by a specific project or assignment. Rather, plan ahead. If you know it is due in four weeks, don’t wait until the night before to decide what you are going to do. That is not how the ant behaves and Solomon says, you don’t do that either—plan ahead!
Third, do not be half-hearted, instead, work hard. How exactly does God provide for the ant? According to Psalm 104:14–15, God provides for the ants just like He does all His creatures. And He does so through the ant’s hard work at the right time and in the right way.
Solomon is simply saying, work is a moral imperative. Hard work is the way of the wise and laziness is the way of fools.
Moreover, in Proverbs, wisdom always has moral overtones. This becomes even clearer in the Ten Commandments. The fourth commandment demands that we devote ourselves to work: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exod. 20:8–10). Unfortunately, that is where most people stop with their understanding of this commandment. They typically say, “Well you know, we’re Christians now, we don’t have to keep the Sabbath like they did.” That is true, however, this commandment has multiple implications. Verse 10 goes on to say, “For six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; on it you shall not do any work.” Just like the other nine commandments, this command summarizes an entire category of life—it reminds us that God has supreme authority over that category of life. The fourth command, then, deals with God being the Lord of our time. In other words, He demands that we set aside the time prescribed for worship. For Old Testament Israel, that was the seventh day—the Sabbath—the day God rested from creation (Gen. 2:1–3). For the New Testament believer, it is on the first day of the week—not as a Christian Sabbath—but the day of the week (Sunday) that we are commanded to come together for worship (1 Cor. 16:1–2; Rev. 1:10).
God also commands that we devote most of our time to work.
In 2 Thessalonians 3:10 the apostle Paul writes, “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.” Notice, Paul does not say those who are not able to work (God makes it possible for people who are not able to work to be cared for). Rather, Paul is referring to the person who is not willing—he says, don’t let that person eat. In fact, Paul goes on in that same chapter to say that if a person refuses to work then they are to be disciplined out of the church (2 Thess. 3:6–15).
When you think about work as a moral imperative and as one of the Ten Commandments, it should be no surprise that our Lord worked a regular job. He worked for 17 years of His short life—by the time He reached the age of 13 and had His Bar Mitzvah, He would have worked until the age of 30. Mark 6:3 says, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary…?” This text tells us that Jesus did hard, manual labor for at least 17 of the 33 years He was on this earth. J. Oswald Sanders writes, “He saw no incongruity in the Lord of glory, standing in the saw pit, laboriously cutting the thick logs into planks or using a plane and hammer. He was a carpenter, a working man, who earned His living, as others of His contemporaries, by manual skill. If it was not beneath the Son of God to work as an artisan, then surely it is beneath none of His children He has imparted to work, both dignity and nobility.” He has imparted to work—by His own example—both dignity and nobility.
No one has ever worked harder at ministry than Jesus did for the three and a half years of His public ministry. The gospels give us a clear picture of that. Theologically speaking, Jesus lived in our place. His life was the perfect life of obedience that we could never obtain. How many of us can honestly say we have always worked like we ought to work at our jobs? In other words, can you say that you have always worked with the right attitude? What about with the right heart? Have you always worked hard? Have you ever taken anything from your employer including his time? The truth is, none of us have ever worked perfectly!
He was satisfying the demands of God for human beings to work. At the cross, He died the death we deserve, not only for our failure to work like God has commanded us to work, but for all the rest of our sins as well. Then, God raised Him from the dead. And our only hope of ever being right with this God—who works and has given us the command to work—is through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We must repent of our sins and put our faith in Him and Him alone for salvation!