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Proverbs: The Way of the Sluggard and the Path of the Diligent Print E-mail
Proverbs
Sunday, 24 June 2007

Let me begin by asking you a question this morning: why do you work?  Whatever it is that you do from Monday to Friday (or more), why do you do it?  As you think about an answer, listen to some of John Murray’s comments on this question: “There are few things more distasteful to modern man than subjection to authority and the demand for obedience to authority.  Obedience to God or man, the keeping of the commandments of God or man, runs athwart his conception of freedom.  Too often it is not because he has a well-defined conception of freedom that is alien to objective authority; it is because he has lost touch with the moorings of honesty, integrity, industry.  He is out to do the least he can for the most he can get.  He does not love his work; he has come to believe he is very miserable because of the work he has to do.  Labour is a burden rather than a pleasure.”  1

I fear he describes us well when he says of the modern man: ‘He is out to do the least he can for the most he can get.’  Unfortunately, it describes many of us, myself included at times, and how we approach our work.  We want a little work for a lot of gain.  Going back to my original question, I think we need to see the connection between why we work and how we work.  In short, the reason we have for working will greatly impact our approach to working in general.  So, again, why do you work?

The Bible has much to say about work and we cannot cover it all this morning.  Yet, as we take one final look at the book of Proverbs in this series, I want to consider what the book has to say about work.  As we look at this book in particular and consider the rest of the Bible’s teaching in general, I believe we can answer the question of why work and the question of how should we work.  To begin, look at Proverbs 15:19.  As we will see in many of the other passages, there is a clear contrast between the way of the sluggard and the path of the upright (or diligent).  Thus, I want to consider these two options this morning in light of the book of Proverbs and then return to our original questions about work this morning as we close.  We will start with the way of the sluggard.

The Way of the Sluggard

Let me summarize what the book of Proverbs says about the way of the sluggard with three statements.  First, the way of the sluggard reveals folly.  In other words, in the book of Proverbs the sluggard is considered a fool.  Look at 12:11.  In the second part of the verse the author says that he who follows worthless pursuits (or the sluggard) lacks sense.  In other words, he does not put 2 and 2 together to get 4.  The man who works will have plenty (see below), but the sluggard pursues that which is worthless.  He is a fool because he goes after that which is not worth going after.  Proverbs 24:30 says very much the same thing: I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense…  Again the sluggard is a fool.  There are many descriptions of the fool and his foolish behavior in the book of Proverbs, but one of the central ones is that of the sluggard.

Second, the way of the sluggard leads to poverty and destruction.  We said a few weeks back that folly will lead to destruction and that is true of the sluggard’s folly.  Look at 6:9-11, 10:4, 19:15 (for others see 12:27, 13:4, 14:23, 20:4, 20:13, 21:5, and 24:30-34.  All of these passages refer to the poverty that will overtake the sluggard.  It will creep up on him like a thief and steal away his life.  Of course, this makes sense practically speaking.  Any farmer knows that you will not reap much if you sleep through the planting season, or through any of the seasons for that matter.  Not only does the way of the sluggard lead to poverty, but it also leads to destruction.  Look at 18:9.  This passage shows that laziness is destructive and will impact others.  Many children suffer because their parents are lazy.  Look also at 21:25.  Here the author uses strong language and speaks of the fact that laziness can actually lead to death.

Third, the way of the sluggard is characterized by procrastination and sleep, or love of sleep.  We were probably all somewhat comfortable in our description of the sluggard until we get to this statement.  We were all probably thinking about other people and how lazy they are.  I mean it is always easier to see the sin in others than it is to recognize it in our own life.  Yet, if I am honest with myself, I must confess my own struggle at this point.  I love to sleep and I am the king of procrastination.  So, I must ask for myself, do these really characterize the sluggard?  Look at 24:30-34, 10:5, and 20:13 (see also 6:9-11).  In all of these passages we see that the sluggard loves to sleep, especially when he needs to be working. 

I have to admit, I am frequently guilty of such action.  Granted, I think rest is appropriate and needed, but these passages really cause me to take an honest look at how I spend my time.  Look at 20:4 and 26:13-16.  The sluggard procrastinates in the autumn and goes hungry at harvest time.  There is a narrow window for planting and the sluggard misses that window with his procrastination.  Note the humor in 26:13-16.  In looking for excuses not to work, the sluggard proclaims: There is a lion in the road!  There is a lion in the streets!  He is fixed to his bed like a door on hinges and all he does is roll over and over.  These passages call for us to take an honest look at how we work.  Do we love sleep too much and waste too much time procrastinating?

The Path of the Diligent

Again, let’s consider three statements to summarize.  First, the path of the diligent reveals wisdom.  The contrast to the wise is a fool and the contrast to the sluggard is the diligent, or the hard worker.  Look at 6:6-8.  The ant is called wise for her hard work and diligence.  She stores up in the summer and has food for the winter.  She displays the obvious wisdom that one must work hard and be prepared.  Thus, in contrast to the foolish sluggard, the hard worker is considered wise.  I should also note here the ethical connection with hard work.  Hard work is not only wise, but since it is wise, it is right, for wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord.  Thus, those who fear the Lord (the righteous) will work hard.  This is not works salvation for our hard work does not merit any favors from God.  Rather, as is made clear in the New Testament, our hard work is a result of our relationship with God through Christ and not the other way around (see Ephesians 2:1-10, where Paul explains that we are not saved by works but for good works).

Second, the path of the diligent leads to plenty and life.  Whereas the way of the sluggard leads to poverty, over and over again in the book of Proverbs we see that the path of the diligent leads to plenty (plenty of food in particular).  Look at 12:11, 12:14, 12:27, 20:13, and 28:19.  These passages all make it clear that the hard worker will have plenty to eat.  As we said last week, there are times when other factors will infringe upon these proverbs, but generally speaking, a hard worker will not go hungry.  The contrast is clear in 28:19, either plenty of bread or plenty of poverty.  Look also at 13:4 and 21:5.  These passages seem to indicate that there is more than just food at stake.  Although the author could still be implying food, it seems that the hard worker will provide for more than just his stomach through his diligence.  Thus, there is life to be gained through hard work.  

Third, the path of the diligent is characterized by planning and execution.  These are two sides of the same coin and both are necessary for being diligent.  When watching a sporting event on TV, you will often hear the announcer say something like: ‘They had a good game plan coming in to today’s match,’ which obviously refers to the fact that the team or the athlete was well prepared for their opponent.  Yet, sometimes that comment is later followed by this one: ‘They may have had a good game plan, but they have executed poorly.’  In other words, it takes both a plan and good execution of that plan.  We see this in the author’s description of the hard worker.  Look at 6:6-8, 10:5, and 21:5.  We see in these passages that the diligent worker plans (21:5) and that he does the necessary work to execute his plan (6:6-8, 10:5).  Unlike the sluggard, he plants and reaps when it is time.  He knows what it takes and he is willing to do the work.

The book of Proverbs clearly lays out the differences between the sluggard and the diligent.  The clear call of the text is to work hard for this leads to plenty and to life.  Not only this, but the Bible teaches that there is more to hard work than just eating well (as we mentioned before).  The Bible teaches that all work is a divine call.  What I mean is that we should not consider the call of the pastor or the call of the missionary as the only divine call to work.  No, we are all called to work hard and to glorify God wherever we are.  In other words, if you are a teacher, then the Bible calls you to work hard and to glorify God in your work.  If you work at the local power plant, then the Bible calls you to glorify God in your work there.  Even if your work is to stay at home and provide for your family, the Bible calls you to glorify God in this task.  The world needs Christian teachers, Christian engineers, Christian doctors, Christian homemakers, even Christian used car dealers. 

Thus, my challenge to you this morning is to take a hard look at what you do from week to week.  Do you see your job as a divine call to glorify God?  Do you work hard each week to provide for your family and to show to a watching world that as a Christian you prize the opportunity to do such?  In light of many of the New Testament passages regarding work, it really comes down to a simple question: are your working for man alone or are you working to glorify God that men might see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in heaven?  I challenge you to view your work as service to the King, service to the One who came and worked hard on your behalf.  Each morning let your motivation to work hard be that you long to bring glory to the One who willingly gave His life for you at Calvary.  When the task becomes difficult and the day grows long, just remember Him sweating those drops of blood in the garden.  We will never be asked to work as hard as He has worked for us.  Thus, with joy may we put our hands to the plow and work hard till Jesus comes.  May we forsake the way of the sluggard for the path of the diligent.  May we work hard in the strength of our God for the glory of God until our God calls us home or comes back to get us.  Amen.

1 John Murray, Principles of Conduct (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), p.104.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Friday, 06 July 2007 )

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