Don’t Be a Slacker or a Hoarder


I. Laziness [Failure to give energy to accomplish those things that support life] is a Positively Destructive trait, and is fatal to both body and soul. Proverbs 13:4; 14:23; 20:4; 24:30-34;  26:13-14; 28:19

A. 13:4 – A sluggard, or lazy person, has desires and dreams, but never achieves the fulfillment of them. Planning and strategy, investment of time and energy, discipline, sacrifice of ease all must be a part of the means by which a desire is fulfilled and a lofty goal is realized. Playing the piano in such a way as to entertain and produce something worthy and artistic calls for hours of inglorious and grueling practice; writing a book mean many hours of loneliness in research and putting down one word after another with quill or keyboard. Finding comfort in a home comes only after the hard work of planning the structure, procuring the material, and working to put it all together. A diligent person, however, will find his soul enriched both in the use of the means for accomplishing his goal and in the final fruit of his labors.

B. 14:23 –  Toil produces return in a variety of ways; actual material gain, reputation for steady and dependable labor, and experience all constitute the eventual gain of the one who invests his energy in meaningful labor. The person who only talks about what he can do, or expresses his opinion about how something should be done, or argues against the way another person is working will never produce, either for himself or for an employer.

C. 20:4 and 24:30-34 – The sluggard only looks to an immediate benefit to any energy exerted and finds it difficult to make long-term investment of energy in a project. Why should one plow in the autumn immediately after harvest when the next harvest is so many months away? Why should one fight the vines and the nettles in a vineyard before the vines actually have fruit? A sluggard is looking for rest and relaxation and resists giving himself to any labor that does not seem to fill his belly immediately. For that reason, neither will he have opportunity to reap when the benefits of labor are immediately enjoyed. Even what he has will soon be taken away, it will dissipate, and be gone as if a thief had invaded his resources and taken them all away. He that is faithful in little, will be faithful also in much. He that is unfaithful in little, is unrighteous in much and will not be the recipient of true riches. (Luke 16:10, 11. Even that which he has will be taken away. (Matthew 13:12)

D. 26:13, 14 – The sluggard will reach far and show ingenuity in developing excuses to stay away from work. The most remote danger or deterrent will be sufficient to convince him that the attempt to labor will be in vain. He loves his comfort and even prefers unconsciousness to the awareness that productive labor has a legitimate claim on his time and energy. Humans were created for labor. Adam and Eve were to tend the garden, “to work it and keep it.” The fall manifests itself, not only in making labor very difficult, but in giving a disposition to avoid labor. It becomes a type of rebellion against the commandments God gave to man in the unfallen condition.

E. 28:19 – The emphasis again is on the necessity of tending the land. Though work today is greatly diversified, we still are dependent on working the land. Places that develop the best methods for production of food from the soil are the most prosperous. Everyone depends on them. No matter what one might do, eventually the soils production of food will provide for the well-being of a population and drive an economy. Production from the land becomes a symbol for attention to all kinds of productive work. The person that follows a worthless, non-productive pattern of life, instead of having plenty of bread will have plenty of poverty.

F. Paul refers to this god-like quality of productive labor when he reminded the believers in Ephesus “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28)

II. Accomplishing worthy ends involves using the means connected with the ends. Proverbs 6:6-8; 10:5; 14:4; 21:20; 24:27;

A. Solomon shows the benefits of making observations from nature in pointing to the intensely industrious nature of the ant. The entire community acts on a sense of personal responsibility [not that ants have that moral sense, but their instinct given by God resembles it] to take advantage of the time of production in nature to gather an abundance so that the bleak mid-winter will not bring the prospect of starvation. To have provision when none are immediately available takes foresight and the use of means to gather and store; it also means that patience is needed, that one will not be ruled by the passion of immediate gratification. Verses 9-11 go on to show what ruin will come upon the sluggard that refuses to employ ant-wisdom in knowing that future well-being depends on present use of means.

B. 10:4, 5 teach that same truth without the model of the ant. It makes the straightforward observation, by the use of a chiasm, that a “slack hand causes poverty,” that is (moving to the last phrase of this literary device), “he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings to shame.” The middle two pictures form the contrary idea. “The hand of the diligent makes rich. He who gathers in summer is a prudent son.” One must take advantage of time when there is abundance and make sure that it serves well-being in the future. Time wasted now will be time robbed from a later opportunity. We must not be like the young people against whom Harold Hill warned, “Frittering away their noontime, suppertime, chore time too. . . . Never mind pumping any water till your parents are caught with the cistern empty n a Saturday night, and that’s Trouble.” To fritter away the day of salvation, however, is infinitely more serious and troubling. “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).

C. 14:4 shows that one must understand that work calls for fitting tools that must not be preempted by irrelevant desires. If one looks at a manger as a place that is like a room in a house and wants it to be neat, then one can have a manger without animals. But what is the use of such a manger? It is for the housing of animals that might not keep it as neatly as someone would desire. The desire for neatness, cleanliness, and symmetry of arrangement arises from a love of beauty and is an excellent impulse when applied to the properly broad sphere and not superimposed narrowly so that the legitimate utilitarian beauty of other spheres is oppressed. If one keeps an ox in the manger, there will be hay strewn, and the necessity of some unpleasant cleaning tasks, but there will also be necessary strength to do the task of plowing and harvesting, which is a distinct beauty and adds to a much broader and universal symmetry creating an even greater beauty than the narrow application of neatness to a sphere where it cannot obtain without destroying its reason for being. Who would trade away food on the table, and the means of continual provision for such, for maintaining a neat manger? One less bell to answer, one less egg to fry, and one less person to pick up after is a sorry substitute for the loss of a spouse.

D. 21:20 and 24:27 show that one must look at the rhythm of life on a long term basis and realize that not everything is for immediate consumption. Careful preservation of one’s goods means that they will be available when needed. Just as one must prepare his land, get himself ready to provide before he takes on the task of building a house, that is, taking on the responsibility of a wife and family, so must one avoid the immediate consumption of provisions that are gained for the long-term well being of a family. Having proper material in store and providing for future goals must be done with diligence and the means for preparation that are at hand must be exploited in order to achieve the joy of procuring and securing one’s goals. Paul, who said, “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus,”  also said, “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” (Philippians 4:19 and 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12)

E. Continual growth in the word, in wholeness and holiness of life, and in appropriate heavenly-mindedness will help us know how  to integrate the need for honest labor, the proper use of one’s gifts of production and one’s time, with a clear confidence in God’s provision as Jesus promised in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:25-34). How does one prepare for tomorrow, improve each opportunity for future provision and still rest in the truth, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself?”

III.  Production is not just for the support of oneself but for the manifestation of compassion in a tangible way. Proverbs 11:24-25; 19:17; 22:9; 28:27

A. Proverbs 11:24-25  points to the divine institution of successful labor for the benefit, not only of oneself, but of others.

1. We already mentioned Ephesians 4:28 as supporting the principle of productive labor for the sake of giving to the needy.

2. Paul himself experienced this as the church in Philippi as they sent him money to meet the ongoing needs of his itinerant ministry, and of his needs in prison. “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched: the Proverb says, and Paul told his supporters, “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.” (Philippians 4:17)

3. He wanted the Corinthians to get in on this principle and as he urged them to be generous in their gift to the needy Christians in Jerusalem and expanded this proverbial idea into the realm of spiritual blessing. “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times you may abound in every good work . . . He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:6-11)

B. These verses [19:17; 22:9; 28:27] emphasize particularly the giving to the poor. God maintains a peculiar jealousy for the well-being of the poor of this world. Although some have come into poverty by slothfulness (20:13; 24:33, 34) others are in poverty for other reasons including the oppression of the rich (James 2:5, 6; 5:1-6).

1. God distributes the poor in the earth in order to test the virtuous propensity of people. How we have handled wealth, in generosity or hoarding, will be a major evidence of the spiritual state in the judgment. Do we have hearts of benevolence toward those that can return nothing to us ? The testing of the rich man’s heart who ended up in Hell focused precisely on his treatment of Lazarus, the beggar (Luke 16:19-31). The heart-revealer of true sinfulness in the rich, young ruler lay precisely in the demonstration of covetousness and earthly-mindedness by his unwillingness to sell all he had, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow Jesus. (Luke 18:18-25) Riches so blind the mind to the superior joy and blessedness of heaven that we refuse to part with wealth, not only for the poor, but for eternal life itself (Luke 12:13-21)

2. Giving to the poor emulates the redemptive love of Christ. Paul, in being sent to the Gentiles to preach the gospel received with positive approbation, even eagerness, the admonition “to remember the poor.” In following up on this task he urged the Corinthians toward it by the example of Christ.—“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)


IV. The essential message of the proverbial sayings in this week’s Lesson

A. In confirmation of the mandate given to innocent Adam in the Garden, God expects his image bearers to use the resources of his creation and our personal energy, creativity, and industry, not only for the sustaining of our lives, but for their prospering.

B. This same diligence given to the advancement of this present life should be increased for the purpose of attaining eternal life. As the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us therefore strive to enter the rest. So that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:11) Indolence in earthly things often transfers to carelessness about eternal things.

C. We should be diligent in the use of means for the accomplishing of excellent ends. God cares that this life is orderly and that our activity is meaningful, that we are oriented toward goals that reflect his glory and his wisdom, and that, therefore, take advantage of means consistent with the attaining of those goals.

D. The proper use of means in spiritual life involves all that spiritual disciplines that we might grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ; their use in evangelism involves a commitment to all those practices fittingly connected with conversion. God Himself works through necessary means that accord with the covenant of redemption—the incarnation, the perfecting of Christ’s obedience, his sacrificial death, his burial, his resurrection, his commissioning of the disciples, his ascension, his intercession, the sending of the Holy Spirit, the sending of apostles, etc.

E. God intends those that have material wealth to regard their possessions as means for sustaining God’s purpose in the world both in compassion for the poor and in mission to the lost. This is a reflection of the self-emptying of Christ for the sake of those that are spiritually destitute and have no means by which to recover themselves from an eternity of wrath. “Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all our efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do will to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore, we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.” (3 John 5-8)

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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