Have you ever stopped to watch ants work?
They are tireless! These tiny creatures are such models of industrious work that the author of Proverbs used them as an example to warn against laziness: “Go to the ant, O sluggard,” he says. “Consider her ways, and be wise!” (Proverbs 6:6 ESV).
What Is a Sluggard in the Bible?
The word “sluggard” is not often used in modern times, but we do still use the related term “sluggish,” which gives a clue as to the meaning. To be a sluggard is to be “a habitually lazy person.” [Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sluggard] Sluggardly character is similar to a slothful character, which is also often referenced in Scripture and means a “disinclination to action or labor; spiritual apathy and inactivity.” [Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sloth] The Bible is clear that those who seek to honor God will be committed to meaningful action. “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only,” says James. And Paul agrees, exhorting believers: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23 ESV) and “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10 ESV).
Those who do not work hard are not viewed neutrally: “Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys” (Proverbs 18:9 ESV). We are warned: “Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread” (Proverbs 20:13 ESV). Without work, people can fall into sinful patterns: “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” (2 Thessalonians 3:11-12 ESV). We are instructed: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
7 Marks of a Sluggard in the Book of Proverbs
In the Bible, there are fourteen occurrences of the word “sluggard,” all of them in Proverbs. This makes sense since the value of diligent work is one of the major themes of the book of Proverbs. Marks of the sluggard include:
1. Being distasteful to coworkers: “Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to those who send him” (Proverbs 10:26 ESV).
2. Craving: “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied” (Proverbs 13:4 ESV).
3. Lack of follow-through: “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish and will not even bring it back to his mouth” (Proverbs 19:24 ESV).
4. Lack of planning: “The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing” (Proverbs 20:4 ESV).
5. Having lots of excuses for laziness: “The sluggard says, “‘There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!'” (Proverbs 22:13 ESV).
6. Lack of sense: “I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns….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” (Proverbs 24:30-34 ESV).
7. Pride: “Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him….The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly” (Proverbs 26:12,16 ESV).
What Is the Harm in Being a Sluggard?
Why does the Bible take being a sluggard so seriously? After all, the book of Ecclesiastes says: “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11 ESV).
While it is true that our earthly work is not eternal, it does have eternal value because it is shaping us as people who “beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV). Jesus said: “‘My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17 ESV). As God’s image-bearers, we too were created for work. Even before sin entered the world, Adam and Eve were put in the Garden of Eden “to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15 ESV). After the curse of sin began to take its toll, work that was originally good became toilsome and began to seem futile, as the writer of Ecclesiastes has so poignantly described above.
Yet the same author concludes his search for meaning by saying: “There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink and find enjoyment in their toil” (Ecclesiastes 2:24 ESV). The book of Ecclesiastes also contrasts the cursed vapor-like nature of our work with the lasting nature of God’s work: “Whatever God does endures forever” (Ecclesiastes 3:14 ESV). At the end of all things when there is a new heaven and a new earth, the writer of Revelation says: “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will serve him” (Revelation 22:3 ESV). It appears, then, that heaven will involve more than just aimlessly floating on clouds. Rather, it will involve serving God. But this serviceable work will not be futile–it will be similar to the goodness of Adam and Eve’s original work, but even better, since God will be powerfully present in each and every moment!
We do not have to wait until heaven to work. When we engage in meaningful work here on earth, we live as his image-bearers, showing the world what God is like. God is the Creator, and so we create good, true, and beautiful work to share with others. God is a God of order, and so we imitate him by ordering the created world (perhaps by filing yet another stack of papers or folding the laundry–again!). God is a healer, and so we seek to bring healing to our corners of the earth and the people who cross our paths according to His divine plan. Working in this way and finding enjoyment in it on earth creates foretastes of what heaven will be like, while recognizing that the fullness and fulfillment of glory have not yet come. Until He comes, we work humbly and joyfully, “for we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10 ESV).
When we consider the ant, we get a visual reminder to avoid laziness and instead devote ourselves to meaningful work. Proverbs warns us of the dangers of laziness by showing us marks of a sluggard to avoid in our own lives. The Bible commends work as an imitation of God and gives hope that in eternity, work will still be a part of life; it will no longer be toilsome but joyful and worshipful. In the meantime, believers can work in hope, trusting that we honor God by enjoying the work that He has prepared for us to do.