I'd like to explore God's Word to see what the Scriptures teach us about idleness.
Idleness always ends in poverty and death
There are many proverbs about it. But to stick with our word picture for a moment, I'd like to start with one in particular. Solomon wrote, "I passed by the field of the sluggard And by the vineyard of the man lacking sense, And behold, it was completely overgrown with thistles; Its surface was covered with nettles, 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 as a robber And your want like an armed man." (Pro 24:30-34).
Solomon passed by one of those properties like the one I'm talking about today. He passed by a lazy man's field, and by his vineyard, and he reflected upon it. Everything was overgrown, disorderly, in a state of disrepair, and broken down. Amazingly Solomon was able to learn something from it. He learned that idleness may start rather subtly, in a seemingly innocent way. It's insidious, but it always ends with poverty. And poverty may not approach quite so gradually. Lack can come very suddenly.
Procrastination is the mother of lack
The lazy man is called a sluggard. He is described as someone who is not willing to work. "The desire of the sluggard puts him to death, For his hands refuse to work." (Pro 21:25)
He is full of excuses why he cannot work. For example, "The sluggard says, 'There is a lion outside; I will be killed in the streets!'" (Pro 22:13). The sluggard will tell you how he tried to find a job, but nobody wanted to hire him. Or he will tell you they hired him, but they never called him to tell him when to start work. Or else he will say how he started to work, but it was too hard for him. Perhaps it hurt his feet or back, or the boss was too demanding of him.
But if you try to show him the error of idleness, be careful. He believes he knows much more than you. "The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes Than seven men who can give a discreet answer." (Pro 26:16)
It's true that there is a time for everything, and we need to learn to manage our time. We need to prioritize, because not everything can be done now. But some people have a lifestyle of procrastination. This comes from indifference, as well as a lack of motivation and discipline, which are matters of the heart.
A sluggard is like that. He'd rather procrastinate, or put off until later, what he can do right now. "The sluggard does not plow after the autumn, So he begs during the harvest and has nothing." (Pro 20:4). While others are plowing during harvest, he begs for help.
Procrastination is the mother of lack. If you put something off long enough, it will eventually be too late. The opportune time will pass. Then you may have nothing and be forced to beg others for help.
Work with your hands
Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you.” (1Th 4:11). Paul instructed believers to lead a quiet life and work with our hands.
Today there are many ways we can make ourselves useful, depending on our own unique gifts and talents. It's not important whether they require the use of your hands. What's important is that you make yourself useful according to your skills, gifts, and talents.
Beware of idleness
Paul was able to make tents. He used his hands to sew together pieces of cloth to produce a shelter for people to live in. And he often toiled night and day to support himself. He had the right to be supported by those to whom he preached. But in some cases, he knew it was more important to show them how to earn the bread they ate. That was true of the church in Thessaloniki. Paul warned them about idleness.
“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an undisciplined life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example. 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. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good. If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance. The Lord be with you all!” (2Th 3:6-16)
The Greek word for “undisciplined” in this passage is “ataktos” which means disorderly. Paul defines it more specifically as “idle,” which is the English word used in the NIV version, rather than “undisciplined.” From the context of this passage, Paul is clearly using the word ataktos to refer to those who are not willing to work and who are doing no work at all. In contrast to this, he shows how he did not act like that among the Thessalonians. He worked night and day to avoid being a burden to his hosts, even though he had a right to support. He said he and his team did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it. He said that he was a model for them and that this was part of the tradition (Greek, paradosis) or ordinance they received from him. Paul commanded these idle people to work in a quiet fashion and earn the food they eat. He went on to say that we should not even associate with any believer who does not obey this instruction.
Paul wrote the same thing to Timothy: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1Ti 5:8). Paul taught that anyone who does not provide for his own household has denied the faith and is worse than a non-believer. This is very serious.
So we need to have faith for our daily bread, and we need to trust the Lord to provide. But we have a part to play in the provision. We still need to work for a living. For more on that, see my previous post called God's Idea of Work.
Spiritual root of idleness
Just as there is idleness in the natural realm, there is a spiritual idleness, too. In fact, I don't think it's possible to lead an idle life without being spiritually idle. The Scriptures call this slumber, and so many people are asleep right now. This includes many people in the Church.
This was one of the problems in the church of Sardis. Jesus had a message for them through the apostle John. He said, "Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you." (Rev 3:2-3)
The problem with these people was probably that they did not finish what they started. Or perhaps they did not do all they were supposed to do. Their deeds were incomplete in God's sight. One way to illustrate this is a person who plants a vineyard and begins to care for it. But at some point, he lapses into slumber and allows the vineyard to go without proper care. He let's it go, and eventually it dies. The believers in Sardis didn't realize it, but the things they had planted and the deeds they gotten started for the Lord were about to die. Jesus told them to wake up!
The apostle Paul admonished the believers in the Ephesian church not to participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. He said, "But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light." (Eph 5:13) When anything is exposed to the light, it becomes visible. Then we can all see it for what it really is. Let's call sin "sin" and stop candy-coating it or hiding it.
Paul went on to say, "For this reason it says, 'Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.' "(Eph 5:14) Even we as disciples of Christ can sometimes be asleep. We need a wake up call, so that we can arise from our slumber. When we do, then Christ, who is the Light, will shine on us. Like Paul said, we've got to live as wise, not as unwise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Every day we are each given opportunities to serve the Lord. What are you doing with yours?
The Lord told us to work while it is still day, because the night comes when no man can work. He wants us to be laboring in His harvest. He's got a purpose for your life. It's harvest time! Yet so many are sleeping. Some would rather watch American Idol or some other program, rather than spend time worshiping the Lord. Often we'd rather play instead of pray. We'd rather take a holiday than share Jesus with our neighbor. The temptation is to think that someone else will do it.
But the Lord is calling the Church to wake up.
Role models of diligence
Before I close, I'd like to mention some role models of diligence in my life.
First and foremost is my father, Roger Lacroix. If anyone had an excuse to be idle, it was him! He had received injuries and contracted illnesses while he was a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany during WW II. His feet had been frostbitten, and he had toes amputated in a prison camp without anesthesia. He contracted tuberculosis in the unsanitary conditions of the prison camp. (You can read more about his experiences in The Journey of My Father, a six-part blog).
After the war, he was awarded the Purple Heart medal, and the Veterans' Administration classified him as 100 percent disabled. This meant that he could have sat back and taken a golden paycheck for the rest of his life. But instead he got a job, worked hard, and raised a family of nine children with my mother. He was on his feet daily at the United States Post Office, even though his feet hurt him. For many years, he worked early morning shifts that required him to leave the house before sunrise.
My mother, Rita Lacroix, was another great role model. She raised nine children, caring for us all. Yet she toiled day and night in the textile mills, and later in a shop, making instruments for airplanes. Her house was always clean and tidy, and her children bathed and wearing clean clothes. You can read more about her in My Mother's Going Home to Be with Jesus. She was a great role model of diligence in my life.
Another role model was Everett Wehmeyer, my Bible teacher at church in the late 1980's. He had once owned a tire store. But during his retirement, he taught the Word of God with excellence. He was a superb teacher and counselor. He took me under his wing and cared for me when I was going through a great tragedy in my own life. Then in his seventies and eighties, he continued to work as a courier, delivering packages in his pickup truck. Although he has gone on to be with the Lord, I still have great love, respect, and admiration for him.
Then there's Dr. Andrew Stenhouse, the President of Doulos Missions International (DMI). What a joy it is for me to know him and serve with him in this ministry! He could have retired many years ago to spend the rest of his earthly life in comfort and ease. But even now in his seventies, he continues to work hard as a physician. He has often worked night and day, sometimes pulling twelve to fourteen-hour shifts, and gone without sleep many times. He has cared for those in emergency rooms, and those who are dying in hospices. In addition to all this, he has taught the Word, gone on foreign missions trips, and now serves as president for an international ministry. He does all of this not because he has to, but because he loves the Lord Jesus Christ, and he loves people. He wants to serve and continue giving to others.
And finally, I think of my dear friends, Norm and Nanette. They are both diligent people. Even though they are retired from the workforce, they continue to labor for the Lord. They work night and day, managing our U.S. home office for DMI. Norm was once the manager of a major, men's retail clothing store. Later he and Nanette owned a convenience store, which they managed. But even now in his eighties, in addition to his work for DMI, Norm works part time at a retail men's clothing store. He's on his feet all day, and gladly does it. In addition to all this, they have a ministry of helps, in which they deliver bread. He and Nanette are excellent role models. What a blessing they are to us and our ministry!
Putting it all together
So idleness always ends in poverty and death. We should avoid laziness, and do something useful as productive members of society.
We still have some role models of diligence, including the apostle Paul's example, and those that God has put in our lives today. I am blessed with numerous role models of my own that have taught me the value of hard work.
The lazy person makes excuses for not working, and assumes to know better than everyone else. He or she puts off for later what can be done today. But procrastination is the mother of lack. It always leads to having nothing in the end.
We are admonished in Scripture to be diligent. We should avoid those who call themselves a brother or sister who are undisciplined and idle. Not that we should treat them as an enemy, but we should warn them.
Idleness is a fruitless work of darkness, which should be exposed by the light. In fact, it's usually tied to spiritual apathy.
If you are asleep in this sort of spiritual indifference or idleness -- if you are involved in the fruitless deeds of darkness -- you need to wake up from your slumber and Christ will shine on you. Don't waste this life!
Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.
Author's Note: If you enjoyed this message, you may also be interested in the other posts on this blog, available through the Home page. I also invite you to visit my collection of blogs at Writing for the Master.
Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus. Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?
“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15). He preached that we must repent and believe.
Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.