How can laziness be destructive? It’s so passive, so inactive. Too disinterested to really be vicious. The book of Proverbs, however, says otherwise. It speaks of a lazy person as a “brother to him who destroys” (Prov. 18:9). Laziness is destructive particularly because it can never commit to something hard, but its roots go even deeper than that. Laziness is actually motivated by arrogance.
Life is full of hard tasks. We know this because in the Garden, after Adam and Eve’s sin, God cursed the ground causing it to produce thorns. He says to Adam, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food” (Gen. 3:19). Our very survival is, because of sin, going to be accomplished with resistance and achieved only by hard labor. Everything that matters requires hard work from us at some level. It requires mental energy, or physical strain. Even our relationships require intentionality and sacrifice. The lazy heart, however, will have none of it. As a result much of his life will be riddled with half-finished projects, and a general lack of meaning.
Several key factors can help us better understand the destructive tendencies of laziness. First, laziness produces apathy towards life. The heart ruled by laziness knows what its responsibilities are, but doesn’t believe that they really matter all that much. Again, Proverbs says, “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing” (Prov. 13:4a). It’s not that the lazy person has no desires at all, but rather despite having desires they never make any effort to see them realized. They simply don’t believe it’s worth it. Dorothy Sayers has said of laziness:
It’s the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die. (The Whimsical Christian, 176)
Such apathy towards life leads, naturally to apathy towards God and others. Nothing has enough meaning or attraction to draw out the effort of the lazy heart.
Such apathy should not be regarded, however, as completely devoid of motivation. For thought there is nothing that will motivate the lazy heart to action, there is a motivation to be slothful. In particular there is a real spiritual resistance in the heart of the lazy person. Hebrews 5:11-6:12 discusses this idea well. In verse 11, the author recognizes that these believers have become “dull of hearing.” The actual word there means sluggish, slothful, or lazy. These Christians can’t hear the truth because their spiritual ears, so to speak, have become lazy. They should be maturing to the point that they can eat “solid food,” but they continue just to suck on the bottle. They are spiritual babies, when they should be moving onto adulthood. Writing on this text, and quoting Peter T. O’Brien, Brian Hedges states:
The author is exhorting his audience to hear the gospel, the word God has spoken by His Son. But they have grown lazy in hearing. “Their difficulty is not simply mental laziness but spiritual resistance. They are now unwilling to work out the deeper implications of the gospel in their lives.” (Hit List, 63)
The lazy person is unwilling to do hard work because he is unwilling to submit to God’s authority. He is unwilling to be motivated by God’s love, God’s commands, and God’s sanctifying Spirit. It is not just a disdain for hard work, it is a spiritual resistance.
This connects well to the final point of consideration for understanding laziness: arrogance. Laziness is motivated by an inflated view of self. Again, Proverbs gives us this insight:
“The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion in the road! There is a lion in the streets!’As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed.The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth.The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly” (26:13-16)
The lazy person is full of excuses: there’s a lion outside. But it is not merely an excuse, it is confidence that in fact if I go outside I will be eaten by a lion. So, why bother. Sacha Mendes helpfully notes:
Excuses given are masks of a prideful heart who knows it all. The sluggard does not wash his dishes because they are going to get dirty in the next meal. He does not make his own bed, because he is going to mess it again at the end of the day. He does not read a book, because he knows that he is not going to understand all of it. He does not work on his spiritual disciplines because he knows that a week later he is going to drop it anyway! Why bother? The sluggard is certain that he heard the roaring of the “lion in the road”! (“Helping the Sluggard”)
He is arrogant, certain that all this effort will be a waste of his time. And you can’t reason with him. The Proverb tells us that he is “wise in his own eyes.”
As a result laziness will inevitably lead to destruction. The Proverbs again tell us:
How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
11 and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man. (6:9-11)
Laziness destroys the individual’s life because it robs it of any real meaning. But it also destroys relationships with others. Relationships require personal investment and sacrifice. It requires an effort in clear and sensitive communication, it requires patience and diligence. But the lazy person sees no real reason to care about others hurts, needs, blessings, or dreams. What’s the point? Why should I be bothered? As a result relationships become a drain on those who invest in lazy people. Proverbs 10:26 says:
Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to those who send him.
The heart ruled by laziness is like smoke in the eyes of those who are in relationship to them. That’s a harsh reality. Paul advises us, then, in light of this reality to disassociate from the slothful (2 Thess. 3:6), and let them reap the consequences of their “idleness” (3:10). As Leslie Vernick says, “Only when lazy hearts experience the painful consequences of their own sloth will they be enticed to change” (The Emotionally Destructive Relationship, 106).
The author of Hebrews gives us some good ammunition to fight against laziness in our hearts. In 6:1-12 he guides us to consider several key truths to fight the temptation of sloth. First, we are to be warned of damnation. The soul that simply refuses to grow may “fall away” from their relationship with God. Hebrews 6:4-6 is an often debated and troubling passage. However you interpret this passage theologically, we must at least concede that it is intended to be a serious warning. Laziness in your relationship with God will lead to damnation, either because you are not truly a believer, or because you have “fallen away” in that theological sense of the phrase. If you are a lazy, apathetic towards life and, as a result, towards God be warned, friends. Heed this warning and the rest of this passage.
Secondly, pursue the “full assurance of hope” that comes from knowing God and His promises (v. 9-12). The author of Hebrews wants these believers to see that God rewards our efforts and that there is an inheritance promised to those who follow Jesus. Believe it, grow in your knowledge of such promises, train your brain to be motivated by these deep truths. We are all motivated by something, see the greater reward of following Christ! This happens in part as we come to understand the character of God better. Jesus tells the Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30). In this parable the “wicked servant” does not invest the master’s money because he believes falsely about the master (v. 24). Understanding truly who God is, understanding our master rightly, can be just the motivation we need to get off our butts and strive for holiness. It can help us to better love Him and love others. Fight for the “full assurance of hope.”