Our culture is filled with an attitude of idleness. The statistics tell us that 5% of our population is presently unemployed, but you can drive through certain neighborhoods where the statistics are much higher. We are living in a time where calluses are uncool. Many young men are plagued with perpetual adolescence as they camp out in their parent’s basement and play endless hours of Madden NFL 16 on their Xbox 360. Laziness abounds in our day – especially among many young people.
As a boy, I was privileged to have great examples before me in my father and grandfather who exemplified what it looked like to be hard workers. In fact, I never once witnessed idleness in the men in my life. Some of my childhood memories involve swimming at my grandparents and hearing the ladders rattling on my grandfather’s truck as he came home after a long day of work that started before daybreak. I likewise spent many hours playing on the firetruck and hanging out around the fire station as my father worked 48 straight hours on duty and 24 hours off in my early years followed by a more normal 24 hours on and 48 hours off for the majority of my childhood. However, as a boy it was a known thing that all firemen had a second job – so when my father went to a 24 on and 48 off schedule, he would spend those off days working.
My father and grandfather both taught me to work. While in middle school, I remember working in the summer months doing odd construction jobs, cutting grass, and painting stenciled addresses on curbs for property owners to earn money. When I was in high school, I worked for a barbecue house, a shoe store, and eventually I moved up the ladder to land a job in the toy department at the local Wal-Mart. I was not given my first automobile as a gift, instead, I was taught to get a job after school hours and on the weekends in order to pay for it. I was taught to balance work and my athletic involvement (I ran track and cross country). As I think back to those early days of my development, I’m not only grateful for good examples, but I’m likewise appreciative for the fact that my parents taught me to work.
What Does the Bible Teach About Slothful Living?
From the very beginning, we see God working. All through the Bible, we see references to the “work of God.” The opening chapters of the Bible include the dramatic work of God in creation. God serves as the great example of what it means to be a worker. Adam was created by God and commissioned as a worker (Gen. 1:28-29). This was prior to the fall of Adam and Even into sin, and therefore, cannot be attributed to the curse. Work is not a result of God’s judgment upon humanity. Work was God’s intention from the beginning. Therefore, any ongoing pattern of laziness and slothful behavior is antithetical to God’s original design.
In the New Testament, we see Jesus coming to do the will of the Father. He came to work the works of God and to accomplish the redemptive plan of God by saving His people (Matt. 1:21; John 6:38). The second Person of the Godhead is depicted in the New Testament as a worker. Therefore, it’s abundantly clear that work is not only biblical, but God has set before us proper examples of what work looks like and how it must be carried out. He provided us an example to follow and a sufficient Bible to shape our theology of work. Consider the words of Scripture:
- Proverbs 19:15
- Proverbs 24:30-34
- Proverbs 20:4
- Proverbs 26:13-16
- Proverbs 21:25
- Proverbs 19:24
- Proverbs 13:4
- Proverbs 12:11
- Proverbs 10:5
- Proverbs 10:4
- Proverbs 12:24
- Proverbs 10:26
- Proverbs 18:9
- Proverbs 15:19
- Proverbs 20:13
- Ecclesiastes 10:18
Although this is not an exhaustive list, the point is clear, the wisdom literature of the Bible is replete with warnings to the sluggard. The slothful person is negligent in taking care of himself, his family, and his property. The sluggard always has an excuse, even a fear of being devoured by lions will keep him at home. The slothful person refuses to work and according to Scripture, he should not eat. Work is rooted in creation and is God’s intended design for humanity. Those who refuse to work experience great pain, peril, and perpetual problems. It’s a foolish thing to refuse to work.
The Christian’s Responsibility
As we survey the New Testament, Paul writes these words to the church at Thessalonica (2 Thess. 3:6-15):
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.  For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you,  nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you.  It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.  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.  As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.  If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.  Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
According to Paul, he and others had provided satisfactory examples to the church in their work. Paul made two specific statements that must be taken to heart. First, he said, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess 3:10). He went on to charge the church to confront those people in the church who were unwilling to work (2 Thess. 3:14-15). It was so serious to Paul that he counseled the church to refuse to spend time with people who refused to work. Their slothful attitude and manner of living posed a threat to the entire church. A man who refuses to work cannot be trusted with the souls of a wife and children. A slothful man cannot be trusted to shepherd a family.
When a person in the church refuses to work, they become an unnecessary burden for the church and bring reproach upon the name of Christianity. How can a man care for his family if he refuses to work? How can a sluggard point people to God when they live as a slothful individual? They refuse to see that their lifestyle hinders their ability to point people to Christ. According to the Word of God, such a man is worse than an infidel (1 Tim. 5:8). The Christian has a responsibility to follow after good examples and to be busy in faithful work in order to care for himself and his family. This is the responsibility for every man – especially the men who name the name of Christ. In his commentary on 1 Samuel, Matthew Henry said, “The devil visits idle men with his temptations. God visits industrious men with His favors.”
As I reflect back upon my childhood, I can recall many days where I made excuses to my parents about how I shouldn’t be forced to work as a student and an athlete. I recall making excuses about how I didn’t want to work when school was out because I wanted to enjoy my time away from school. I’m grateful that they didn’t buy it. They allowed me to be a kid, but they also heavily encouraged me to work. For that, I will forever be thankful.