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Sloth: What it Isn’t

“Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Not in the bible, but supported in scripture
likely inspired by 2 Thess 3:11:
The New Revised Standard Version Warning against Idleness

For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.

When we think of sloth, we often associate it with laziness
Sloth the animal is slow and “idle”, i.e. not doing anything
Laziness is certainly condemned in scripture
Proverbs 6:6
The New Revised Standard Version Practical Admonitions

Go to the ant, you lazybones;

consider its ways, and be wise.

Proverbs 15:19

The way of the lazy is overgrown with thorns,

but the path of the upright is a level highway.

Proverbs 26:14-15

As a door turns on its hinges,

so does a lazy person in bed.

15 The lazy person buries a hand in the dish,

and is too tired to bring it back to the mouth.

But is “idleness” always a bad thing? No!
God commands Sabbath rest. Rest is built into the fabric of creation
Often we rest not out of vice, but because we have indeed worked so hard (e.g. parents, Jesus after long bouts of ministry)
Thus, while we may be tempted to assume sloth is mere idleness, this is an inadequate understanding of it

Sloth: What it Is

Workaholics, in fact, show some of the most clear signs of sloth!
Sloth is more about laziness in love than laziness in work.
Laziness in physical work and being overly busy are both symptoms of the deeper problem of sloth
The slothful often go to great lengths to avoid doing the work they really should be doing
This is what is meant by being a “busybody” (περιεργαζομαι in 2 Thess 3:11).
When speaking of sloth, the Desert Fathers used the word ακηδια, which means a “lack of care” or “apathy”.
Sloth, then, is an aversion to the calling God has set before us. This aversion can result in either laziness or workaholism that distracts us from what we really should be doing.
We were created to be in relationship with God. Sloth is a rejection of that relationship
The Slothful feel it is an intolerable burden to remain true to their calling and identity in God
Marriage analogy

Two Examples from Scripture

Consider the lazy manager in Jesus’s parable
The New Revised Standard Version The Parable of the Talents

“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.

The man goes to great lengths to avoid doing what he has been called to do
Ultimately based on a poor understanding of his master, who is eager to reward those who do good
Thus his laziness is a rejection of the master’s offer of love. He does not want to enter into his master’s joy
Consider the story of Jonah
Jonah clearly called to be a prophet
Runs literally to the end of the earth to avoid living out his calling
Not a matter of physical laziness, but laziness in love
Acknowledges his reasons for running at the end of the story

Sloth: Why?

Dangers of sloth are obvious:
We are content with being less than who we should be
We run from relationship with God
Why would we do such a thing?
The slothful resist God’s love because such love makes a claim on them
Loving relationships mark an identity change and a call to daily commitment
A man and woman are married after taking vows on one day, but being married is a lifetime of effort.
“God loves us as we are… but loves us too much to leave us there.”
Ultimately, the slothful would rather return to the familiar comforts of their own life than take up the hard work of living a new life with God
Lot’s Wife
Offered new life and relationship with God
Unwilling to turn her back on her old life
Israelites in Canaan
Offered a promised land and new life with God
Would rather return to their familiar safety in the desert
The slothful like the comforting thought of being saved by God’s love, but can’t stand the discomfort of transformation, of putting their old selves to death, or of the discipline it takes to sustain a loving relationship long term.

Sloth: The Cure

Ironically, though sloth is usually associated with laziness, it is the slothful who will never find true rest
Only in God can we find our true rest:
“Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in [God]” -St. Augustine
The New Revised Standard Version Jesus Thanks His Father

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

So what’s the cure? How can we defeat sloth?
The New Revised Standard Version The Christian’s Call and Election

For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, 7 and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. 8

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

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