The Big 7
Part 4: Sloth
A few weeks ago, Mr. Craig asked the second and third graders in his classes here at Life Center, “What are Seven Deadly Sins?” Here are a few of their answers.
- Punching your brother or sister in the stomach.
- Slapping my friend.
- Biting my brother.
- Bringing weapons to school.
- Not being nice.
- Not obeying parents.
- Stealing candy.
- Back talk.
- Not washing the dishes after my parents tell to me 15 times.
- They put Jesus on the cross.
I’d have to agree that is the number one most deadly sin! I’m surprised that none of them mentioned “sloth”. Actually, not many of us would put it on our list of deadly sins. When you hear the word sloth, what do you think of? Lazy. But as we’ll see later, there’s more to the deadly sin of sloth than just avoiding work.
Offering and announcements
Happy Mothers’ Day! Let’s see the hands of all the moms—look around. Everybody hug a mom—doesn’t matter if she’s your mom—if there’s a mom near you, give her a hug and say thanks! We’ve got some special things planned a little later in the service to honor the moms.
Kenya team update and send-off. Well progress. Introduce the team. Suitcases full of medical supplies, clothing, washcloths, lotions, Bibles, school bags, soccer balls and pencils. When the Mrs. Schwarz’s first graders at Southside Christian School heard that Kenyan children who get a new pencil have to break in half and share it with another child, they launched a pencil drive, and collected over 3000 pencils! When Josiah Jennings heard how poor the kids are, he asked, “Could we go home and get all the things we don’t need and give them to you to take to them?”
Women Live (item #1) – tomorrow night at 7 PM
Music Drama Day Camp (item #2) – FREE for all children! Registration details at the Info Center.
Men’s retreat (back of tear-off) – only a few days to register, retreat next weekend!
Proverbs 3:9-10 Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; 10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.
We’ve got to multi-task: offering, worship and baptisms! Please stay seated while the ushers receive the offering; then we’ll invite you stand.
Introduction: When we think of sloth, we think “lazy”, but there’s far more to this deadly sin than just avoiding work!
When we were scheduling the Seven Deadly Sins, we thought Mothers’ Day was the perfect day to speak on sloth—because mothers are hardest working people on the planet! Do you know how to spell “diligence”? M-O-M. So to honor all the mothers, here come the kids!
This is part four of “The Big Seven”, a look at the Seven Deadly Sins. Today, the deadly sin of sloth. What is sloth? This is a sloth. (Pic) Specifically, this is a three-toed sloth—but I don’t think it’s deadly or a sin. What is sloth?
1. Sloth: laziness; spiritual apathy, indifference, and carelessness.
Laziness: Proverbs 6:6-11, 10:4-5, 12:11, 24, 13:4, 14:23, 18:9, 19:15, 24, 20:4, 21:5, 15, 22:13, 24:30-34, 26:13-16, 28:19, 31:10-31
Apathy: Deuteronomy 6:10-12, Ezekiel 16:49, Matthew 24:12-13, 25:18, 26-27, Romans 12:11, Revelation 2:1-5, 3:1-3, 14-20
Sloth is laziness. It is “disinclination to activity or labor”. It is the couch potato syndrome.
ILL: When my son Jeff was a teenager, I was encouraging him one day to get up from the couch where he was watching TV, and help out around the house. He got upset with me and shouted, “You don’t get it, Dad. I don’t like to work!” Oh, of course—what was I thinking, asking you to work? How stupid of me. I get it now—you don’t like to work. That makes everything ok.
The couch potato who says, “I don’t like to work.” That’s our image of sloth. (pic) And there is certainly no shortage of couch potatoes who don’t like to work.
ILL: The January 20, 1996 issue of the Spokesman Review carried the following article:
The FH Company has just the job for someone who gets dizzy on the ladder to success. “Tiresome and boring wholesale company seeks indolent people with a total lack of service-mindedness for a job that is completely without challenge,” said a recent advertisement from FH, an importing concern in the southern Norway town of Sandefjord.
About 130 people applied–far more than when the company had advertised for someone hard-working and friendly, owner Fredrik Hartwig said. He didn’t say if anyone got the job.
There’s no shortage of laziness, and there is no shortage of verses in the Bible urging us to get up off the couch and get to work, especially in the book of Proverbs. I’ve listed some on your outline. Here’s a sample.
Proverbs 6:9-11 How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? 10 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—11 and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.
Isn’t “sluggard” a good word? It just sounds lazy! You sluggard! The Hebrew word means “sluggish, slothful, lazy.” That’s a sluggard.
Proverbs 10:4 Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth.
Proverbs 12:24 Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor.
Proverbs 18:9 One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys.
Proverbs 19:15 Laziness brings on deep sleep, and the shiftless man goes hungry.
Proverbs 22:13 The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside!” or, “I will be murdered in the streets!”
The sluggard always has an excuse why he can’t get up off the couch and get to work! “I could die!”
Proverbs 26:14-15 As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed. 15The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth.
I love that image: like a door turning on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed. Squeak…squeak.
So the Bible warns us against laziness, sloth, being a sluggard. And for good reason. Laziness is not a harmless sin; it can be deadly. For example, Tony Campolo suggests that many marriages end because one or both partners are lazy. They know what to do, but are too lazy to do it. Making a great marriage is hard work. You are to work at it, and keep working at it for a lifetime. But many couples get lazy. They know what they should do, but they don’t care enough to bother doing it, and the marriage dies a lazy death.
Proverbs 18:9 One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys.
NLT: A lazy person is as bad as someone who destroys things.
A lazy person can destroy a marriage…or a friendship…or a business. When profit margins are razor thin, and a business has to maximize productivity relative to expenses, laziness can destroy a business. Laziness can destroy a ministry.
ILL: I had a professor in college, Dr. Bixler, who liked to yell at all of us theology majors, “There is not a hell hot enough for a lazy pastor.” He hated lazy pastors! He knew that a lazy pastor can destroy a church, or worse, destroy people for whom Christ died by simply not doing what must be done.
This is what Proverbs 18:9 is saying. You can destroy things by actively tearing them down, or by lazily neglecting them. Laziness can be very destructive.
And by the middle ages, this is what most people understood the deadly sin of sloth to be: laziness. But did you know that’s not what the desert fathers had in mind when they included sloth on the list? It was the monks of the fourth century who lived in the desert alone who made the first version of the Seven Deadly Sins, and for them, sloth was spiritual apathy, indifference and carelessness. The Latin word was acedia, which literally means “absence of caring.” “I just don’t care anymore.” The monks called it “the noonday demon”. The sun was high and hot, the monk was tired and hungry; he wondered, “Why am I doing this?” His life was devoted to God, to studying the Scripture and to prayer; but just now he is weary of all of it. He had no desire to pray, no desire to study, no desire for God, and he can’t make himself want to do it. He is bored, restless, apathetic, indifferent. “I don’t care.” The fourth century monk, Cassian, wrote that in this state, monks felt their work was fruitless and wondered if other monasteries were better off than his own—the grass is greener syndrome.
This apathy looks very much like laziness, and can result in laziness, but it’s a little different, and a lot more deadly. Dante described sloth or acedia as “the failure to love God with all your heart, mind and soul.” You lose your love for God, and grow apathetic. Jesus put it this way in:
Matthew 24:12-13 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.
The love of most will grow cold. That’s a troubling thought, isn’t it? We can be seduced by wickedness, by sin, and our love for God can grow cold; we can become bored, indifferent. I’ve been thinking about this, and I think the monks got it right. I think it is the noonday demon. Here’s what I mean.
Think of a marriage. A couple falls in love and for the first few years, their love for each other burns bright and hot. But then things get more difficult: kids come…and come…and come, careers must be launched and maintained, homes are bought and filled with stuff. In the middle of all this, a couple can begin to take each other for granted, and may become bored and restless. Once, they couldn’t wait to see each other; now they don’t care if they see each other. Once, they couldn’t wait to talk; now they don’t care if they talk. They don’t care—acedia—the absence of caring. The love that once burned hot now cools, and one or both may wonder if other marriages are better off—the grass is greener syndrome. But if they can “stand firm to the end,” what happens? For many couples, love ripens and becomes deeper and richer than ever. Don’t you know older couples who seem more in love than ever? But many couples don’t get there because they give in to sloth, to the noonday demon—the mid-marriage attack—of apathy, restlessness and boredom. “I don’t care enough to try.”
I see the same thing spiritually. Many people begin following Jesus with lots of spiritual passion and fervor. Then over time, their love begins to cool. They lose their first love, as Jesus said to the church at Ephesus.
Revelation 2:4-5 “But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! 5 Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first.”
You don’t love me as you did at first; your love has grown cold. Could Jesus say this about you? Has the noonday demon of sloth—spiritual apathy—gotten a grip on your heart?
When are we most susceptible to spiritual apathy? This may surprise you: it may be when everything is going well.
Deuteronomy 6:10-12 When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
When were they to be careful not to forget the Lord? After all the battles had been won, and they were safely settled in the land, enjoying “all kinds of good things”. It is when everything is going well that we are most likely to forget God, and our love grows cold. Jesus said this to the Laodicean church:
Revelation 3:15-17 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’
They had become lukewarm—but how was life going? Very well! They were rich, and didn’t need a thing…not even Jesus. This is a very deadly kind of sloth. We fill our lives with good things, and we don’t need God anymore; our love grows lukewarm, then cold. We become spiritually apathetic. We know what we need to do, but we can’t seem to make ourselves do it. We just don’t care enough to really try.
This is the deadly sin of sloth. How do we overcome it?
2. Diligence: steady effort; spiritual fervor.
Effort: Genesis 2:15, Exodus 20:8-11, see Proverbs above, Acts 20:35, Ephesians 4:28, 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, 2 Thessalonians 3:10-11
Passion: Matthew 22:36-40, Romans 12:11, Philippians 2:12-13, 4:4, 1 Timothy 4:15, Hebrews 6:11-12
What is diligence? It is steady effort. It is putting your hand to the plow without looking back. It is keeping at it, not giving up…steady effort. This is the virtue we develop that overcomes laziness. And what is the spiritual discipline, the spiritual practice that will build the virtue of diligence in us? This may surprise you, but I would recommend:
The Sabbath. Every seventh day, stop working, and rest and worship God. I know, some of you are thinking, “Are you crazy? You’re telling us that the way to overcome laziness is by resting more?” How many of you think I’m nuts? Let’s read about the Sabbath in the Ten Commandments.
Exodus 20:8-11 Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
What’s the first word? Remember. Hold that thought. The Sabbath commandment begins by saying “Six days your shall labor.” This isn’t just about rest; it’s about work too. Work six days—do all your work in those six so that on the seventh, on the Sabbath, you can rest. The Sabbath is a rhythm: work six days, rest one. Work, rest. Work, rest. Work, rest. You keep the Sabbath by working six days and resting one. The practice of the Sabbath builds diligence, steady effort, but without turning us into workaholics.
Remember the Sabbath. For most of you, Sunday will be your Sabbath, your day of rest and worship. The Sabbath is about remembering. What do we remember on the Sabbath? We remember God. We remember that He is in control, that this is His world. God created the world and commanded us to care for it. God worked and we’re sharing in His work. And we remember that God rested and wants us to rest as well. We remember to worship God, not our work. We remember to trust God to care for us, even while we rest.
I know it’s counter-intuitive, but I think we can build diligence into our lives by the spiritual practice of the Sabbath. Without the Sabbath, I’m afraid we become workaholics who worship work instead of God, and who end up suffering from spiritual apathy.
As I said, sloth is more than laziness; it is spiritual apathy. What is the virtue that corresponds to spiritual apathy? It is spiritual fervor.
Romans 12:11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
The word “fervor” translates a Greek word that means “boiling hot”. This is the opposite of lukewarm or cold—boiling hot! Keep your spiritual fervor. Don’t let yourself become apathetic, uncaring—keep your spiritual passion boiling hot. How do you do that? I’m going to give you a couple minutes in groups of 2-3 to come up with a couple ways you can “keep your spiritual fervor.” Ask them. Great ideas; I’m going to talk about two.
Serving. One way to keep your spiritual fervor is by serving the Lord. Look again at:
Romans 12:11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
One way to keep your spiritual fervor is by serving the Lord. In fact, a recent survey indicated that the longer you follow Jesus, the more important serving becomes for maintaining your spiritual fervor. Church services, Bible studies, and daily devotions will keep you hot for awhile, but eventually, you have to roll up your sleeves and serve somebody. If you don’t, you’ll soon be like those desert monks at noonday, saturated with Scripture but bored and restless.
All of you who are going through the Bible reading plan read Matthew 25 on Friday. In it, Jesus said:
Matthew 25:40 I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.
When you feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, take in the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, you are doing that for Jesus. How do you serve Jesus? By serving “the least of these.” By helping the needy.
ILL: On Friday morning, after reading this passage, I wrote in my journal, “How will I serve Jesus today?” I was going to spend 8 hours alone working on this talk, and 5 hours golf with three friends who weren’t particularly needy. How will I serve Jesus today? I felt guilty—I wasn’t around the needy. But later in the day, while I was writing the talk, I received several emails asking for prayer. As I was praying for one of these, a brother who is fighting for his life against cancer, the Lord reminded me of my question. How will I serve Jesus today? I was serving Him by praying for my needy brother. If our eyes are open and we’re looking, we’ll see the needy all around us.
I hope you’ll ask this question each day this week: How will I serve Jesus today? You’ll serve Him by serving the least of these, the needy all around you. And they are all around you.
ILL: I think of Joy Baird, who teaches at Willard Elementary. How will she serve Jesus tomorrow? She will serve Jesus by serving those kids in her class and making their lives better. And there are hundreds of you like Joy, who are serving Jesus in the people you meet, serving Jesus by meeting needs that are right in front of you.
How will I serve Jesus today? If you want to amp up your spiritual fervor and get out of the spiritual doldrums, I can’t think of anything better than getting beyond yourself and serving someone else.
Celebration. A second spiritual discipline that overcomes apathy and builds spiritual fervor is celebration. There is a good reason why God insisted that the Israelites gather at least 3 times a year for week-long celebrations. Imagine: a party that lasts a week—3 times a year! Life was hard, and regular celebration was God’s prescription for avoiding apathy. Joy is the opposite of spiritual apathy, particularly a joy that comes from the adventure of knowing and following Jesus.
Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
How do you rejoice in the Lord? We celebrate the goodness of God that is all around us.
William Willimon wrote, “Joy, real non-chemically and non-entertainment induced joy, seems a rarity in our time.” Real joy, he says, arises from the beauty of things. For example, we feel real joy when we celebrate God’s goodness in the beauty of creation.
ILL: I think of my friend Vicki Orsillo standing on top of a Schweitzer ski run on a sunny day, looking down on Lake Pend Oreille, and shouting, “Author! Author!” She saw the goodness of God in His creation.
When was the last time you stopped to smell a flower, or watch a sunset, or enjoy a hummingbird?
ILL: Friday, while we were playing golf, we saw a young owl in a tree watching us, and a huge porcupine sprawled out sleeping high in the next tree over. We stopped and gawked; it made me smile. The golf made me crazy; God’s goodness made me smile.
More than anything else, God’s goodness is seen in the people in our lives. I’m grateful for many things, but none more than my family and friends. When was the last time you had friends or family over and celebrated—just enjoyed being together?
Willimon is right: chemical joy, entertainment-induced joy, is short-lived, and may leave you feeling apathetic again. But celebrating God’s goodness will fill you with real joy. We tend to think of parties where everyone gets smashed, goes home drunk and wakes up with a hangover. We need to redefine partying. We don’t need chemical joy; we need real joy. The Israelites could party for a week, celebrating God’s goodness. It’s time we learned how to celebrate, and experience real joy! It’s party time!