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The Seven Deadly Sins: Sloth

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Our spiritual forefathers in the early church maintained that there were seven sins that were deadly. The were Pride, Envy, Greed, Sloth, Anger, Lust, and Gluttony. They were considered deadly because, if they are not crucified daily, they lead the soul away from God and righteousness. They were considered the root cause of all human unhappiness.

So far, we’ve looked at Pride, Anger, Greed, Lust, and Envy. It seems appropriate, for some reason, to preach on the sin of sloth on Labor Day weekend!

Our word for it is laziness. The primary biblical passage that speaks of sloth—though there are many others—is found in Proverbs:

“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.” (Proverbs 6:6–11, ESV)

The Hebrew word for “sluggard” occurs here and 13 other times in Proverbs. It is used nowhere else in the Old Testament. It refers to more than mere laziness. In other proverbs, the word is contrasted with uprightness and righteousness and associated with being shiftless. A slothful person, in the eyes of the Old Testament, is not only a lazy person, but also an irresponsible person who is undependable and who becomes a burden to his or her family and community. If the slothful person continues in their ways, they may eventually engage in wicked or evil behavior. The result is personal ruin.

The lessons for this morning are strait-forward ...

    • Physical sloth can kill the body
    • Intellectual sloth can kill the mind
    • Spiritual sloth can kill the soul

I. PHYSICAL SLOTH CAN KILL THE BODY

            1. when we think of sloth, I have no doubt that most of us immediately think of those who do not care for physical labor or work
              • ILLUS. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian of the early 20th century, once wrote; The first hour of the day belongs to God in worship, the other hours of the day belong to God in work.
            2. society will always have some segment of its citizens who do not want to work, and given the choice between working and freeloading they would choose the latter
                1. there are some who like living off the largess of others—as if they were intitled
                2. for the vast majority of Americans, however, physical sloth is not a problem
            3. the most recent reports from the U.S. Government is that American worker productivity continues to remain high
                1. they typical American employee continues to out-work his or her European counterpart
                    1. if you are an average worker, you put in 50 hours a week at your job
                    2. some of you put in far more
            4. the Protestant Work Ethic that built this country is alive and well in most of us
                1. it’s the idea that work is a spiritual activity that benefits both the individual and society as a whole

A. GOD CREATED US TO BE INDUSTRIOUS AND WORK TO BE A BLESSING

            1. have you ever wondered why we have to work?
                1. is work supposed to be a joy or is it a grim necessity?
                2. what place does work have in your life and what is your attitude toward it?
            2. in the book of 2 Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul emphasized the witness of work
                1. in his first letter to these Christians, Paul had written primarily about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ
                    1. they had a lot of questions that he sought to give them answers to
                2. because some were expecting the return of Christ at any moment, they had quit their jobs and were not interested in doing anything else but ‘Son-gazing”
                3. the result was two-fold
                    1. they had become a physical burden to their families and others in the church who felt obligated to support them
                    2. they had become nosey busybodies peering into everyone else’s business
                      • “For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.” (2 Thessalonians 3:11, ESV)
            3. their decision points to a basic flaw in their attitude toward work
                1. they did not see work as being a spiritual matter
                2. nothing could be further from Biblical truth
                3. as a result, the Apostle Paul laid down a basic principle:
                  • “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10, ESV)
            4. God created us to be industrious and work to be a blessing

B. GOD COMMANDED MAN TO WORK THAT HE MIGHT KNOW BLESSINGS

            1. what the blessings of work you ask?
                1. the blessing of providing for your family and setting an example for your children
                    1. Paul asserts that one’s unwillingness to provide for the basic needs of their family is tantamount to denying the faith
                      • “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8, ESV)
                2. the blessing of penetrating the marketplace with a Christian witness
                    1. Jesus made it abundantly clear that Christians are to impact the world and spread their influence to every corner of society
                    2. we are to be salt and light
                    3. the church gathers on Sunday, but it scatters on Monday through Saturday
                        1. if we are salt, let us take ourselves out of the saltshaker
                        2. if we are light, let us remove the bushel basket
                    4. the workplace should be a place where are Christianity shines through
                3. the blessing of promoting the kingdom
                    1. each of us has a calling
                      • “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,” (Ephesians 4:1, ESV)
                    2. through the wages you receive because of the work you do, we have theopportunity to be good stewards by supporting evangelism and missions
                    3. doing so promotes the advancement of the kingdom in places you and I may never see, among people we may never meet this side of the Kingdom of heaven
                4. the blessing of giving to others
                  • “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” (Ephesians 4:28, ESV)
                    1. this Scriptures paints a picture of God's letting us work and prosper so that we can share our abundance with others in need
                    2. what a novel approach to work!
                      • ILLUS. After Andrew Carnegie died, the people who cleaned out his desk found a piece of paper on which he had written his life goal. It had been scrawled when he was in his 20s: "I want to spend the first half of my life accumulating as much money as I can and the second half of my life giving it away." And that's exactly what he did. Carnegie amassed a personal fortune of more than $450 million and gave it all away before he died.
            2. believers are to be examples in all things including our work ethic
                1. God's people are to be industrious and honest when it comes to our secular work
                2. the reason is that even our secular work has a spiritual purpose behind it

II. INTELLECTUAL SLOTH CAN KILL THE MIND

    • ILLUS. The United Negro College Fund used to advertise for funds with the well-known slogan, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
            1. one of my greatest concerns for our culture in general and the church in particular is that we have become a nation of intellectual sluggards
                1. I believe that too many Americans are gripped by intellectual sloth
                    1. students want to be spoon-fed answers and educators are happy to oblige since promotions or raises are tied to student grades
                    2. teachers are so busy trying to develop character traits in their students that they no longer have time to teach critical thinking to their students
                    3. among teens and tweens, texting has become a substitute to human interaction which is critical for intellectual development
                        1. a text message can never transfer the gravity of a situation or the humor of a story that comes from face-to-face interaction
                        2. plus ... texting is killing writing skills—IMHO
                    4. adults want their news in encapsulated in thirty-second sound bites or 140-character ‘tweets’
                2. because we have become a nation of intellectual sluggards we are wasting our minds
                  • ILLUS. SAT scores are on the average, 80 points lower than they were thirty years ago.
                  • ILLUS. In 1959 the vocabulary of an average 9th grader was 25,000 words. In 1999 the vocabulary of average 9th grader was only 10,000 words.
                    1. intellectual sloth results in a poverty stricken mind!
                3. in the Book of Proverbs, King Solomon paints a picture of wisdom going through the streets like a heralder whom nobody will listen to
                  • “Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?” (Proverbs 1:20–22, ESV)
            2. the most damning consequence of America’s flirtation with intellectual sloth is the rank biblical illiteracy, and historical ignorance that is the result of that sloth
                1. fifty years ago, even non-Christians had an elementary knowledge of the Scriptures and biblical history
                2. today, the typical lost person is totally ignorant of bible history or bible facts and the average believers has only a cursory knowledge of those Scriptures

A. TOO MANY CHRISTIANS SIMPLY DO NOT KNOW WHAT IS IN THE BIBLE

    • ILLUS. A recent poll of Christians reveals that 40% cannot tell you how many Apostles Jesus had, let alone name them. More than 10% of Christians believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. A whopping 52% of Christians do not believe that the Devil is a real spiritual being. 42% of Americans in general and 28% of Christians believe that Jesus committed sins while on earth. And 35% of Christians do not believe that Jesus was resurrected. Five years ago at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY., the dean of the School of Theology asked incoming students to list the Ten Commandments. Only one out of 50 were able to list all ten. The seminary now requires all incoming students to take a course called Introduction to the Bible.
            1. the bible tells us that we are to love God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our strength, and all of our mind
            2. the Christians faith was never meant to be a faith devoid of thought or intellect
              • "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7, ESV)
              • “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. For by me your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life.” (Proverbs 9:10–11, ESV)
              • ILLUS. John R. Stott, one of the great preachers and scholars of our day, writes: “By our anti-intellectualism, in which we either refuse or cannot be bothered to listen to God's Word, we may be storing up for ourselves the judgment of Almighty God.... God has constituted us thinking beings; he has treated us as such by communicating with us in words; he has renewed us in Christ and given us the mind of Christ; and he will hold us responsible for the knowledge we have.”
            3. just as physical sloth can kill the body, so intellectual sloth can kill the mind
                1. the Christian who has not cultivated his or her mind by cultivating the mind of Christ, is a Christian who ultimately is useless to their family, their church, their community, and to the kingdom of God
                2. knowledge is indispensable to Christian life and service – and especially the knowledge of God and spiritual matters
                    1. if we do not use the mind that God has given us, we condemn ourselves to spiritual superficiality and cut ourselves off from many of the riches of God's grace
                    2. knowledge is given us to be used, to lead us to higher worship, greater faith, deeper holiness, better service

III. SPIRITUAL SLOTH CAN KILL THE SOUL

    • ILLUS. In the rain forests of Central and South America dwells a small ugly looking mammal called a sloth. This little creature is so sedentary that algae grows on its furry coat. When it moves—which is rarely, since it spends 20 hours a day sleeping—it travels at a top speed of 0.15 mph.
            1. when we think of the sin of sloth, the image of this creature is what probably comes to mind, hanging from a tree branch with its three toes
                1. you might also picture Homer Simpson—the beer guzzling slob sprawled out on a couch in front of the television set in his boxers with everything around him going to pot
                2. the sin of sloth, however, does not necessarily mean inactivity
                  • ILLUS. Fr. John Hardon, in his Pocket Catholic Dictionary, defines sloth as the "sluggishness of soul or boredom because of the exertion necessary for the performance of a good work. The good work may be a ... task, such as walking; or a mental exercise, such as writing; or a spiritual duty, such as prayer."
                3. sloth is deceptive and is one reason why people don’t recognize it
                    1. in the past, I would have considered anything but sloth to be one of my problems because I seem to be so busy
                    2. sloth doesn’t necessarily mean we’re doing nothing
                    3. sloth is the failure to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done—like the kamikaze pilot who flew seventeen missions
            2. the reason our early spiritual forefathers considered sloth so deadly was because of the proximity of physical laziness to spiritual laziness
                1. in their writings we see that they were concerned that believers not be slothful in their secular work
                2. we also see that they were concerned that believers not be slothful in their spiritual lives

A. THE SPIRITUAL LIFE IS A RIGOROUS LIFE AND NOT FOR THE SPIRITUALLY LAZY

            1. many believers have no zeal for the faith
                1. some nominal Christians say they have enough faith to carry them to heaven when they die, but it hasn’t even carried them to church in years
                  • ILLUS. Not long ago, I heard about a small town that had three churches in it. A Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist Church. All three had a serious problem with squirrels nesting and living in their attics. So each church met to discuss the problem. The Presbyterians decided that it was predestined that squirrels be in the church and that they would just have to live with them. The Methodists decided they should deal with the squirrels in the loving style of Charles Wesley. So they humanly trapped them and released them in a park at the edge of town. Within three day, however, all the squirrels were back and so the cycle of trap-and-release become something of a ministry in the Methodist church. The Baptists had the best solution. As per their tradition, they voted the squirrels in as members. Now they only see them at Christmas and Easter.
            2. Jesus said that the path of the Christian life is narrow and difficult and few are those who want to travel that road
            3. it’s a life that demands that each believer, each day, take up their cross and follow Jesus
            4. there will be times in life when all of us are tempted to lay down our cross and become spiritual sluggards
                1. is it any wonder that the Apostle Paul told his readers:
                  • “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:9–10, ESV)
                    1. Christians should not become slothful in well-doing
                    2. Christians should not become slothful in loving the brethren
                    3. Christians should not become slothful in the reading of the Scriptures
                    4. Christians should not become slothful in prayer
                    5. Christians should not give in to mental slothfulness that gives place to the devil
            5. our church roll is littered with the name of those believers who have become spiritual sluggards
                1. they have grown weary of prayer and fellowship and worship and bible study and ministry
            6. the answer is spiritual activity and exertion
                1. King Solomon challenges the slothful person to learn the lesson of the ant
                2. he commends the lowly ant for being industrious and taking initiative
                    1. apparently ants have no leader no commander to direct them, no overseer to inspect their work, no ruler to prod them on
                    2. yet they work better than many people under a leader
                3. ants also work in anticipation of future needs, storing and gathering while it is warm, before the winter comes
                  • Slothfulness, the 100% variety, is rare. Most of us don't suffer from it. But there are different degrees of slothfulness and like every other sin, it needs to be weeded out of our lives.
                  • Slothfulness is a student not caring about their studies and remembering' at the last moment that there is homework to be done.
                  • Slothfulness is a parent not caring about spiritual well-being of their child.
                  • Slothfulness are teachers not caring about teaching and getting by on twenty-five-year-old lesson plans.
                  • Slothfulness are store clerks too uninterested to be courteous.
                  • Slothfulness is a doctor too careless to care well.
                  • Slothfulness is a Sunday School teacher preparing their lesson an hour before Sunday School.
                  • Slothfulness is a preacher dusting off old sermons and hoping no one remembers it was preached just a year ago.
                  • Slothfulness is a Christian too busy or pre-occupied with whatever to share the good news of Jesus Christ.
                  • Ow! Wince, wince. Do you see that slothfulness may be more of a problem in our lives than we care to admit?

No one dedicated to the cause of God ought to be idle—physically, mentally or spiritually.

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