The Sluggard

St Barnabas, July 7th 2013

Readings – Proverbs 6:6-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Who is the writer talking about? It’s the same character in every example …

As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is a *** to those who send him (10:26)

The way of the *** is blocked with thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway (15:19)

A *** does not plough in season; so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing (20:4)

As a door turns on its hinges, so a *** turns on his bed (26:14)

Welcome to the world of the sluggard!


Let’s hear a bit more about him in our reading from Proverbs …

Proverbs 6:6-11

The sluggard is a recurring character throughout the book of Proverbs. We’ve learned already in our sermon series on this book that Proverbs was written to give us simple, memorable sayings that we can easily learn and remember, to guide us as we encounter different situations in our everyday lives … but I wonder how many of us admit to needing these cautions about being lazy?

For many of us, life is very busy. We are fully employed, rushing around, looking after our homes and our families, keeping up to date with our work or our social lives, keeping in touch with the world via our various screens – television, computers and smart phones. While for others, life has slowed down, we have retired from the world of paid work, we’re beginning to feel the restrictions of age and we’ve done our bit, paid our dues, it’s time to take life a little easier – although some of us find it harder to sit still and take it easy than others!

There’s nothing wrong with either lifestyle, nor did I have any one individual in mind as I was preparing for today … but still I think there is something here for all of us to learn. From the many references to the sluggard in Proverbs, we can build up a picture of this character that illustrates some important truths for us all.

So let’s take a look at a few of them …

Proverbs 6

9 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.

Imagine the scene, the boss comes to your desk and finds you asleep. ‘I was just taking a nap … ‘. Many companies now recognise that some people are more creative with a flexible attitude in the workplace. Internet giant Google offers its employees massage parlours, exercise equipment, swimming pools, a garden, even slumber pods for a quick snooze to recharge your energies … so,

A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest

what’s wrong with a nap when you need one?! Well, nothing, of course. Only this man has been asleep on the job for some time judging by verse 9! How long will you lie there, you sluggard?!

He is a frustrating employee, 10:26,

As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is a sluggard to those who send him.

He is totally unreliable, unable to complete the simplest of tasks without supervision … and poverty in the shape of unemployment is the inevitable result.

But of course, the sluggard’s laziness won’t only affect himself … maizehis family will go hungry when he fails to provide for them, 20:4,

A sluggard does not plough in season; so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing.

There are people who think, ‘Everything comes to him who waits…’, who look for a reward without being willing to put in any effort, expecting provision without hard work. Then there are others who seem to have everything on a plate, everything falls into their lap, they are undeservedly well off … the sluggard wishes he was such a man! He dreams of family riches coming his way when there are none … but no pain, no gain.

The sluggard looks at other men and thinks they have it easy … without ever recognising that they have worked hard to achieve their goals, 15:19,

science_plantsThe way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway.

Who does the sluggard imagine cleared the path ahead of the righteous? Their way is clear because of their own efforts … but the sluggard waits for the path to be cleared by someone else before even setting out.

The sluggard is fond of unrealistic excuses … there’s another in 22:13,

The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside!” or, “I will be murdered in the streets!”animals_lion4

While everyone else is going about their business, the sluggard finds a reason to stay inside – probably in bed – just in case.

I think we’re beginning to get the picture … and if that was all there was to it, we might rightly ask what it has to do with us? But there is one more aspect to the sluggard’s character that we need to look at … and it’s one that is at the heart of his relationship with God.

Although God isn’t actually mentioned in any of the sayings to do with the sluggard … and that’s the point. The sluggard is too lazy to include God in his life. We get a hint of that in a couple of places, 15:19, we’ve had this one before …

The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway.

and 25:16,

The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who answer discreetly.

wise menIn 15:19, the sluggard is compared with the upright, or righteous – those that have an active relationship with the living God. While in 25:16, he resists the counsel of the wise – those that answer discreetly – with wisdom they learned from God.

Do you ever wish you could give more time to your relationship with God? Spend more time in prayer? Know your bible better? You look at others around you and wish you were like them, or wish you had a relationship with God like theirs?

The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns … this saying always reminds me of the parable of the sower, which we heard earlier from Matthew’s gospel. Matthew 13:22,

mexico_cactusThe one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.

There is a tendency in us all to look at other people and underestimate the difficulties they face, while overestimating the problems we face ourselves.

It’s all right for them, they have more time, more money, less distractions than I do … I couldn’t possibly spend more time reading the bible, or give more money to church … I’m too busy, too stretched already …

We all make excuses … not perhaps as outrageous as the sluggard, but excuses all the same.

Or perhaps we’re like the man in 26:16 … The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes …The sluggard is one who is too idle to think a matter out, and considers his own cursory view as sure to be right. He sets more value by his own judgement than by the sense of any number of wise men. In other words, he is a fool … and Proverbs has plenty to say about the fool …

The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice. (12:15 )

A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions. (18:2)

While in Psalms we have the bible’s own definition of a fool,

Psalm 14:1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

In other words, the sluggard is one who thinks, and probably says, It doesn’t really matter what I do …

There is only one instruction given to the sluggard, the idle fool, in Proverbs … and it’s right at the beginning of our reading in 6:6,


Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!

It doesn’t take much effort to watch the ants at work, it’s not like bird watching when you have to be hidden and quiet and wait for ages before anything shows up. The ants are right there on the ground and pay you no attention at all. There’s nothing you can do to distract them. They carry on regardless, working round you or over you if they have to … and if you stamp on a few hundred, well, there are thousands who will simply carry on.

(The ant) has no commander, no overseer or ruler,

8 yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.

Actually, there is a queen ant, or more than one, but she is busy back at the nest, and the colony needs no direction or instruction as to what to do, they can’t help themselves …

They are small and vulnerable, and on their own they are useless. But as part of a team they are organised, effective and almost indestructible. They show industry, diligence and cooperation. And they have one clear goal … the survival of the colony, by the simple process of gathering sufficient food in season to last them through the winter.

I had great fun studying ants for today … did you know that the total weight of ants in the world is greater than that of humans?! They have colonised almost every land mass in the world, apart from a few remote islands in the Pacific and Antarctica (which is ironic really since it could almost have been named after them!). Their communication skills are stunning, and they learn very fast … from each other … they are the only group apart from mammals where interactive teaching has been observed, one ant teaching another.

Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!

There’s a lot to learn from ants! We’ve talked a lot recently about the church as the body of Christ, and this image of the ant illustrates that same truth. On our own we can achieve little, but together …

Right at the beginning, I said that we all have something to learn from this character, the sluggard. I’m not saying that anyone here is that lazy! But I suspect that all of us here can identify with one or two of his failings, whether it’s making excuses, or being unreliable, or hoping for a windfall, or not being willing to work with or learn from others, or failing to spend time with God or his people.

It’s not always easy to understand what we read in Proverbs, but there is one simple principle we can apply, not only to Proverbs but whenever we read the Bible … and it’s a principle that most people express in the form of a proverb, albeit a modern, not a biblical one …

if the hat fits ...

If the hat fits … wear it!

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Many thanks to Phillip Martin for the illustrations!



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