August 11, 2019
Good morning. We have been studying the Proverbs this summer, so if you have your turn to Proverbs. We’re going to start in ch6, but we’ll be all over the place. As you know, we’ve been covering this section theme by theme. Josh preached two incredible messages on words the past two weeks (please listen to them). This morning I hope to say some helpful words on work. So let’s look at Proverbs 6:6-11 and then we’ll pray.
Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.
If you have raised children in the past few decades, you know how beloved unicorns are. The mythical beast practically sells itself. It’s colorful. It has a single horn. And it flies. But the unicorn received some difficult news earlier this year. The online vintage & craft store, ETSY, announced that the pop-culture reign of the unicorn has finally come to an end. It had been replaced by… wait for it… The Sloth. No lie: the sloth has slowly climbed the ladder to pop-culture dominance (the pun was intended).
You think I’m
We are confused about work, and we’re raising a generation that’s even more confused. We need wisdom and the Proverbs can help. Solomon will show us what happens when you refuse to work, & how you can get motivated to do work that matters. I’ll give you the outline, but you can really think of it more like a journey this morning. Solomon doesn’t simply tell us about how important work is; he will drive around town & show us what happens when we refuse to work. We’ll make three stops. We’re going to:
1. Observe the laidback life of a sluggard (Sluggard: lazy)
2. Observe the rundown house of a sluggard
3. Observe an ideal example
First stop: let’s observe the laidback life of a sluggard. The sluggard is a complex character in the Proverbs. On the outside, he’s laid back and easy-going. He’s fun to be around and it seems like he has life figured out. But he has some major character flaws that he can’t see. And so, Solomon will employ humor when he engages the sluggard. This is a stroke of genius. It’s like he’s a street painter at a carnival. Have any of you ever bought one of these paintings? If so, you are a brave soul. In about 30 minutes you will get a hilarious picture of yourself, but you will also notice some unsightly details as well. “Wow, I guess my nose really is big. I guess my hair really is falling out.” When Solomon speaks to the sluggard, he is using this tactic. He will poke fun of the sluggard, but his humor packs a punch. He wants to catch the attention of the sluggard because these glaring problems are destructive. We can find at least 3 problems in the Proverbs.
First, They don’t start things. Pr. 26:14–As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed. The sluggard has the hardest time starting the day. He is hinged to the bed. Doesn’t it feel that way sometimes in the morning? You’re so comfortable in your bed that it is literally impossible to stand up & start the day. It’s like someone has screwed you into your bed. The only movement you can muster is to flop from one side to another. This is funny example, but it highlights a character flaw in the lazy person’s life. They don’t start things. Life requires a tremendous amount of initiative, but the sluggard has learned how to avoid projects. Their favorite day is tomorrow. Why do it today when I can keep relaxing?
This is a strong warning for us because our digital world has made procrastination easier than ever. Most of us bought cell phones and computers to help us work more efficiently, but we’re using these devices to keep us from doing work that matters. I can watch a football game while my wife goes into the grocery store. Do you know how jealous my grandpa would be? As much as I love this ability, it is not a good thing. It keeps me from doing work. Sluggards refuse to start things, and unfortunately for us, it has never been easier to kick back and relax. (We can figuratively toss and turn in bed all day long).
Second, They don’t finish things. When the sluggard does get around to starting a project, don’t count on him to finish it. The momentum will quickly fade. Look at Proverbs 26:15 – The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth. Poor guy. It took him so much energy to splash his spoon in the bowl of cereal. But that last leg of the journey is too exhausting. He’ll just have to wait for his mom to come support his elbow to finish the job.
Again – this is a comedic example, but it is pointing out a glaring character flaw in the life of a sluggard. And it’s really tough to hear. How many books on our shelves have a bookmark in the 2nd chapter? How many times have we set out to read the Bible and gotten lost in the wilderness with the rest of the Israelites in Leviticus? How many tools are lying around the house from an unfinished project? In case you’re wondering, I didn’t have to consult any commentaries to get examples; I just walked through my house. The sluggard doesn’t finish things. This is a major character flaw, and because of this Solomon will say that if you send a sluggard to do a job, it’s like you’re sending smoke to their eyes. The next time you sit around a campfire this summer, I want you to remember this. When the smoke blows in your eyes and your body contorts, that is what it feels like to work with a sluggard. They can’t be trusted. (Great guy, but don’t hire him.)
Third, They don’t face things. Listen to Proverbs 22:13. It has become one of my favorites. The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!” The sluggard is the king of excuses. They have a pile of projects that need to be started or finished, but every single one of them has an excuse. Last Wednesday night at about 11:30, Laura and I had just gotten settled in our bed, when that awful realization hit us. We didn’t put the trash by the street! My mind started going through the rolodex of excuses. It’s too late to get out. It’s starting to get cold. There are bears up here! Maybe we could stretch it to two weeks. All of my excuses fell flat because I’m studying the Proverbs and this one about the lion has been stuck in my head. My excuses were just excuses. I needed to get up and do the job. (But I did make sure to tell Laura that if I got mauled by a lion, it was her fault).
The sluggard has a litany of excuses at his disposal. They have to! Nobody will sympathize with him if he just stays inside and plays videogames all day. That would be clearly lazy. So, he needs to get people to hurt for him. Yeah brother, I guess it does make sense that you’re playing Xbox. That’s exactly what I’d do if there were a lion outside of my door. Play on (that guy’s got it bad!). We’re getting to the root of the problem here… This is what makes the character flaw of the sluggard so dangerous. They have a selfish desire for comfort, and so they twist the truth to get what they want. Their lazy choices are always justified in their minds. They will not face hard things. Good luck trying to persuade him otherwise. There really could be a lion outside; who are you to disagree?
This is why Solomon says in Proverbs 26:16, that the sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly. This is fascinating, isn’t it? You could talk a fool out of his folly before you could talk a sluggard out of his sleeping bag. The sluggard is arrogantly committed to a life of ease. He will not face difficult things. He’s like a drowsy person under the blankets of life. Get out of my room and turn off the lights on your way out.
In many ways, this is the condition of our society. We are addicted to comfort & ease, and it has made us arrogant. We have sacrificed truth for pleasure. This lifestyle provides plenty of cheap & short-term pleasures, but according to the Proverbs it will reap a long-term disaster. You can’t hide under the covers forever. To make his point Solomon will take us to the house of a sluggard. This is the second stop on our tour.
Observe the rundown house of a sluggard Look at Proverbs 24:30–34  I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense,  and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down.  Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction.  A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,  and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man. Laziness is not neutral. You can stop working your yard, but that doesn’t mean that your yard will stop working. The thorns and nettles will grow without one bit of effort on your part. Laziness invites a powerfully destructive force to grow in your life. It is so deadly because you can’t see it happening. But it is happening. And it is destroying you. And you will have to wake up and face it one day. Solomon simply has to take us to the field of a sluggard to make his point. The home is uninhabitable. The fields are unfruitful. The lazy person will wake up one day and say: how did my life come to this mess? Where did all the chaos come from?
Solomon tells us: it happened little by little, step-by-step. One sluggish day led to another. One lazy evening led to another. One morning of hitting the snooze led to another. It happened in such small doses that it was impossible to see. It crept up on you. It wasn’t a long line of sinful choices that led to your destruction; it was a long line of unwise choices that destroyed you. Think about it this way: Would it be a sin to scroll through Facebook for an hour tonight? Probably not (just a little rest). Would it be a sin to do it again tomorrow night? No (just a little folding of the hands). But if you always chose the easy thing and never face hard thing, your unwise decisions will add up and create something that you never intended. Solomon wants us to wake up and focus on today before it’s too late. Don’t push it off until tomorrow. Listen to how Annie Dillard expresses this truth: How we spend our days is how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.
If you refuse to face hard things, your unwise choices will catch up to you. It doesn’t matter how solid your excuses are, if you constantly avoid work, you will reap what you sow. Now, you might not bear the consequences tonight, so feel free to turn on the TV this evening & binge yet another show. But you will bear it. And the tragedy of laziness is that when you finally recognize that you have a problem, it’s too late to do anything about it. The walls are already broken down and the chaos has already consumed you. Poverty will come upon you like a thief and want like an armed robber. You can’t get time back. When it’s gone, it’s gone. (Heed the warning).
This reminds me of a story that Jesus told in Matthew 25. There were ten virgins waiting on a bridegroom to arrive so they could attend a wedding feast. 5 of them were wise. They came prepared with plenty of oil. But the other 5 were lazy. They didn’t take life seriously. They thought they had time, so they grew drowsy and slept. But the bridegroom came at a time they were not expecting, & when he came, it was too late. They said, “Lord, lord, open to us!” But he answered: Truly I say to you, I do not know you. Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. O Lord, wake us up before it’s too late!
And so this is the sluggard. He is committed to a life of ease and comfort and it is destroying him. But before we move on from the sluggard’s home, let me talk to the people in the room that are feeling good. Solomon is outside of someone else’s house. I would never occupy such a broken-down home. My lawn is perfectly manicured. I’m early to bed, early to rise. I don’t even need an alarm clock because I’m trained to wake up at 4am. I check every box on my list before noon. I put in 80 hours a week. Solomon isn’t standing outside of my house. I know how to work.
Friends, there is a type of sluggard that hides behind 80-hour workweeks. This is the kind of sluggard that works hard to make a living and to bring in money but neglects the most important things in life. They work so they don’t have to face the reality of a broken down soul. An extra weekend here, another project there… I’ll read my Bible tomorrow. I’ll talk to my children tomorrow. I’ll deal with that sin later. The same type of corruption is happening to this type of sluggard. You wake up one day and realize that your marriage has been overgrown with weeds. The walls of your soul have broken down from a chronic lack of attention. Because you never pray and you never worship and you never confess. Listen to Spurgeon: If I must be idle, let it be seen in my field and garden, and not in my soul. (Are you paying attention to the most important things in life?)
We need help. We need a vision of work that matters. And of course, Solomon is always happy to show us the ideal picture. This will be the third stop on our journey together. Where do you think Solomon will take us to show us an ideal worker? Maybe the farm? The market? The palace? You can certainly find examples of hard work in those domains, but Solomon will take us to a simple home and show us a simple woman serving her family well. Look at Proverbs 31 with me briefly. This chapter is typically the domain of the women’s ministry – and rightfully so. The Proverbs 31 woman is a powerful picture of an excellent wife. But for our purposes this morning, I think she can teach all of us a lesson on work. Solomon says quite a bit about this woman, but he hones in on her work ethic. Let me highlight two features of her inspiring work.
First, she is diligent. Look at v.15 – She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens. Verse 27 – She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Compare this woman with the sluggard. The sluggard refuses to face the day, tossing & turning all morning long, but this woman is up before the day even begins. The sluggard refuses to walk the streets that are filled with lions, but this woman is walking them in the dark. She is diligent!
What motivates this woman to work so hard? I believe the answer is in the text. If you read through this chapter, you will notice that she has given up on her own life of comforts. She is not working so she can slip into her PJs and do her own thing in the evenings. She is working entirely for the good of the people around her. She exists for her husband and children and servants and community. Our society would look at her and call her a fool. Why give up the best years of your life to serve someone else? God looks at her and calls her excellent. Listen to the last four verses of the book of Proverbs, and you tell me if this is a wasted life: Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.
Does that sound like a miserable woman? No! Because in the Bible, a life of service is not a life of slavery; it is a life of freedom and blessing (and you will reap that fruit one day)! Jesus said that unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it will bear much fruit. Do you want a fruitful life? Look to Jesus! He perfectly embodied this life of self-giving service. And then he empowered us to lay down our own lives for the sake of others. If you have the mind of Christ, you can consider others better than yourself. You can enter into a life of service. It sounds miserable, but it is the path to freedom. What is truly miserable is a life of self-centered devotion. Stay in bed. Do what it takes to stay comfortable. You will have a life of cheap thrills and shallow adventures, but it will kill you. If you lay down your life for the sake of the gospel, God will exalt you.
As I was preparing this part of the text, I happened to observe an ant crawling across my deck. He had a massive load of food on his back. (It was actually just a speck of food, but to the ant it was massive). I decided to watch the ant, because this was actually Solomon’s advice to the sluggard in ch6. Go to the ant and consider his ways. She doesn’t have a ruler, and yet she’s the hardest worker on your driveway. As I observed that ant, it struck me that this ant was a small picture of the gospel-centered life. Why didn’t the ant just drop the food & gorge himself like a vulture? Like a 21st Century American? It would take hours to get back home. Just drop it & eat. The answer is truly remarkable: the ant isn’t working for himself. He is working for the entire colony. That speck of food doesn’t belong to him; it belongs to his brothers & sisters. What a liberating way to live. May the Spirit of God empower us to work with the same type of diligence! (I will carry your burdens).
When you enter into this type of life, you will work will become joyful. This is the last thing I’ll say about the Pr31 woman. Look at verse 13 – She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. That word willing means that she works with delight and pleasure. She is excited to work. She wakes up before dawn not because she has a lot to do, but because she can’t wait to serve other people.
Is that how you approach work? Are you in a career that excites you? If Jesus has transformed your life, and you’re working with a new motivation, it is possible to work with joy. Solomon says that the way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is a level highway. (15:19). If you are not in Christ, your work will necessarily be frustrating & futile. It’s like rolling a giant stone up a hill every single day. There is no purpose and there is no joy. It is a hedge of thorns. But if you are in Christ, your work can be redeemed. It can be a level highway. Now, you will still feel the futility of working in a broken world, but you can work with an eternal perspective. Whatever profession you are in, you can work with the joy in knowing that God is using you to restore this broken world. If you’re working for other people, you’re not rolling a stone up a hill; your work matters! It has eternal significance.
The Protestant Reformation recovered this picture of work. The Reformers enabled the priesthood of believers to work with passion and diligence in every sphere of life, but I’m afraid we’ve lost it again. (I’ll close with this story). A few weeks ago I had the privilege of speaking at TVR. They always let the kids share testimonies at the campfire on Friday night. I’ve sat through a thousand of these. They can be… interesting. One kid stood up at the beginning and said something I’d never heard: This week was really important to me. I felt like I got a clear sense of direction for my life. God is calling me to… design airplanes.” There was a nervous applause. (What quiet time book was that kid reading?). A few minutes later, another student stood up and gave the classic testimony: “I feel like God is calling me into the ministry.” Raging applause! I leaned over to my daughter, Audrey, and told her that we should have applauded just as loud for the airplane designer. Designing airplanes is God’s work and that student can find a lot of joy and pleasure in it. If he does that with joy and skill, it will have an eternal value. (How many of us in this room rely on airplanes to do our work? How many of us have shared the gospel on the other end of an airplane ride?) Now, don’t get me wrong: there is certainly a place for ministers of the gospel like myself. I want to work with diligence to see you become & multiply fully devoted followers of Jesus. But I’ll be honest: I’ve been thinking about my place in the new heavens and the new earth lately. I’m gonna be out of a job.
How sweet that day will be when Jesus reigns on the earth and we can go about our work like Adam and Eve in the Garden before the fall. If Christ reigns in your life right now, you can get a taste of that this week. Work for other people; work with joy; work with diligence.
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found