Character Studies in the Book of Proverbs - The Sluggard - Part4
John Scarsbrook, Killamarsh, England
Time is a very precious commodity. It takes us from the cradle and charts our course through childhood to adolescence and on into adulthood. Time takes us from the school desk to the workplace. Time measures the development of our children and our grandchildren. Time wearies and weakens our frame, and time lays us in the grave.
We cannot arrest its relentless progress. We have no control by which to influence its inevitable qualities. We are powerless to speed it up or slow it down, but one thing we can do – we can waste it!
The sluggard, or the slothful man as he is sometimes called, is an eloquent example to us of the follies of indolence, self-indulgence and sheer laziness. There is ample opportunity in our twenty-first century society to disengage the mind from reality and be taken up by a world where the idols are sportsmen and women, pop singers and filmstars; a world where morality is dictated by the ‘soap operas’ and where all are encouraged to be ‘lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God’.
As believers, we should live in the constant awareness of a coming day of assessment, 2 Cor. 5. 10, where we will be called to give account of how we have used those things given to us. Without doubt, one question will be – ‘how did we use our time?’ Maybe if we heed the warnings as we consider the character of the sluggard, it will spare our blushes at the Judgement Seat.
We need, of course, to bear in mind that from the beginning, when God provided the ability and opportunity for man to work, He also made provision for him to rest. The Lord Jesus, who in a lifetime of service never wasted a moment, Himself acknowledged the need for His disciples to ‘rest awhile’, Mark 6. 31. It is interesting to note, in passing, that this verse is found in the Gospel of the Saviour’s unbroken service! We are reminded in Ecclesiastes chapter 5 verse 12 that, ‘the sleep of a labouring man is sweet’, again appropriately illustrated in the experience of the perfect Servant, Mark 4. 38.
The character under consideration, however, has no virtues to extol. He invariably wants the sleep without the labouring; he has turned indolence into an art form; he allows each day, with all its opportunities, to pass him by as he turns upon his bed as a door turns on well-oiled hinges, Prov. 26. 14.
Our introduction to the sluggard comes in chapter 6. We would not expect to find him vying for a place to receive instruction from the wise man in the earlier chapters; he cannot be bothered. When we do finally stumble across him, it is in a chapter filled with salutary warnings, and he is sleeping! It is not difficult to hear the tone of exasperation and annoyance in the voice of the instructor, 6. 6-9, as he suggests that a visit to the anthill may be a helpful exercise for this individual. There, he can learn practical lessons from one of the smallest of God’s creatures. Industry, initiative, activity and intelligent use of resources can all be witnessed in the ant. The sluggard will have none of it. His response is seen in verse 10, ‘yet a little sleep’, he whines, ‘a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep’, surely it’s not too much to ask? The instructor dismisses him with a final warning of inevitable consequences in verse 11, and moves on to teach those who will listen.
A consistent voice heard throughout the book of Proverbs is a clear call for diligence, an awareness of danger and a need for constant vigilance. The man or woman who would know blessing is seen in chapter 8 verse 34, ‘hearing . . . watching daily . . . and waiting at the posts of my doors’, the very place where we would expect the dedicated servant to be found, Exod. 21. 6; 2 Sam. 11. 9.
All this passes the sluggard by. If he makes the effort to work at all, it is ‘with a slack hand’, 10. 4. If he is sent on an errand, such is his lack of discipline that it only causes irritation to those who send him, v. 26. If he manages to catch anything while hunting, distinctly unlikely in itself, he cannot be bothered to cook it, 12. 27. If he succeeds in cooking it, he is too lazy to eat it, 19. 24. He cannot be trusted with any position of responsibility, 12. 24, and, sadly, he must learn the hard way that such behaviour will result in poverty, both material and spiritual, 13. 4; 19. 15; 20. 4. The attitude of the sluggard also produces a moral deterioration. His desire to have things, which he is not prepared to work for, 13. 4, has developed into the sin of covetousness by the time we reach chapter 21, vv. 25, 26.
In our material society, prosperity is measured by possessions. To this end, the men and women of the world purchase their lottery tickets in the vain hope of material gain without any corresponding effort. All they succeed in doing is wasting what money they do have! For the believer, who is prepared to work for just and honest reward, the exhortation of Paul to Timothy should be our guiding principle, that ‘godliness with contentment is great gain’, 1 Tim. 6. 6.
There is, however, one field in which the sluggard excels; he has mastered the art of excuses. He can readily produce a perfectly adequate reason for his inactivity. As far as he is concerned, any progress he attempts to make is always fraught with difficulties, like trying to walk through a hedge of thorns, 15. 19. When it comes to ploughing time, it is too cold, 20. 4, hence no harvest. Ploughing is part of the essential preparation required if there is to be a harvest.
ikewise, in the work of the gospel, the spadework needs to be done. The seed needs to be sown, then watered and tended. Is it sometimes too cold to go tracting, too wet for the open air? Too disruptive to our own comfortable way of life to rearrange times to meet the needs of the community in which we live? Are we surprised, then, when there is little or no harvest?
On two occasions, chapter 22 verse 13, and chapter 26 verse 13, the sluggard uses a classic excuse, which really takes some beating. He has finally dragged himself out of bed, and peers out of the window to see what the day has to offer. No chance of going out today – there’s a lion in the street! He’s the only one who has seen it, but he is convinced it was there, and that’s enough to send him back to his bed!
We may smile at such a ridiculous excuse but let us not be complacent. How many believers work conscientiously from Monday to Friday? On Saturday, they cut the grass, clean the car and go to the shops. On Sunday, they wake up with a headache, so cannot possibly go to the assembly meeting.
We read the missionary reports and think how wonderful it is to hear of Africans walking for three days through the bush to sit on planks of wood and listen to the scriptures being taught for hours at a time. Then we cannot make the effort to get into our air-conditioned cars and drive ten miles on a Saturday evening to support the neighbouring assembly and enjoy the ministry of the word of God! Oh, there is always a perfectly good reason why we couldn’t make it. So many of us can relate to the lawyer in Luke chapter 10 verse 29, always ‘willing to justify ourselves’.
Before we leave the slothful man to his reveries, we can take a walk past his property, 24. 30-34, that God-given inheritance, which is his to work upon, develop and enjoy. It is overgrown with thorns and nettles. Instead of a fruitful field, there is only evidence of the curse. Instead of a well-maintained wall of protection and separation, all is broken down.
We do well to consider our own inheritance; those blessings, which are ours in Christ, given richly for our enjoyment, 1 Tim. 6. 17. Do we neglect, or do we nurture them? Do those blessings bear fruit, or, as others look on our lives, do they, with a sad shake of the head, ‘consider it well, look upon it, and receive instruction’, 24. 32?