Proverbs Week 7 – Work and Laziness


The prudence of work

12:11 He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment.
12:24 Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor.
22:29 Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.
21:5 The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.
24:27 Finish your outdoor work and get your fields ready; after that, build your house.

[13:23: A poor man's field may produce abundant food, but injustice sweeps it away.]


The goodness of work

13:4 The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.

The allure of laziness

6:6-11 Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest- and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.

The madness of laziness

12:27 The lazy man does not roast his game, but the diligent man prizes his possessions.
26:13-16 The sluggard says, "There is a lion in the road, a fierce lion roaming the streets!" As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed. The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth. The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who answer discreetly.

The evil of laziness

10:4-5 Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth. He who gathers crops in summer is a wise son, but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son.
15:19 The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway.
18:8 One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys.
21:25-26 The sluggard's craving will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work. All day long he craves for more, but the righteous give without sparing.


Other passages


1 Thes. 4:11-12, 5:14

2 Thes. 3:6-15


So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless. A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. – Ecclesiastes 2:17-25


What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. 1 Cor. 3:5-15


Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism. – Col. 3:22-25



Discussion question: What is the natural consequence of hard work and diligence? 


Having abundant food, ruling, serving before kings (i.e. being honored), and wealth.


Discussion question: Does this surprise us?  Does this make us nervous or confused?  Are these good things or bad things?


I (we?) certainly tend to think of all of these as bad things because of how readily we can turn them into idols.  Israel certainly fell into this trap (see Hosea 13).  We may also think of Jesus words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:25-34) which tells us not to “chase after” food or clothing and his words in the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:20-26) in which he pronounces blessings on the poor and woes to the rich.  But we should be careful to recognize that while the Bible certainly condemns trusting in wealth and desiring above God or holiness, it never sees wealth as intrinsically evil.  One passage that helps me is Rev. 5:12, in which the hosts of heaven declare: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing."  Certainly wealth is a good thing, if Jesus is worthy to receive it.  But that is precisely the point: all the wealth of the world is His and is His due.  We are meant to use our wealth not to exalt ourselves, but to honor Him.  In particular, in the context of ancient Israel, God’s material blessing was meant to show that she had a personal relationship with the living God (see Deut. 28:1-14; see also Isaiah 58).


Discussion question: Why is it important to include Prov. 13:23 in our thinking about the blessing brought by hard work?


Because Proverbs usually views the world in terms of its God-ordained order.  We are meant to read all of the blessings and warnings about the material consequences of righteousness and wickedness in this light.  Good deeds lead to flourishing and evil deeds lead to death because God created the world to operate on this principle.  However, the Bible is extremely clear that because we live in a fallen world, it is often a very unjust place in which people do not get what their deeds deserve (the Psalms are full of this idea.  See Psalm 73).  We should never assume that because someone is poor that they have deserved it or that if someone is rich that they are righteous.  Again, a very helpful passage in this regard is John 9, in which Jesus clearly separates temporal suffering from judicial punishment for sin.  (See also the entire book of Job!)


Discussion question: Is work inherently good?


Yes.  Certainly, work can be painful and it is cursed because of the fall (see Gen. 3:17-19), but God created Adam to “work the land” (Gen. 2) even before the fall.  God himself worked when he created the world.  So through work, we imitate God and fulfill a part of our creation in his image. 

It is interesting to note, however, that Proverbs uses much less moral language when it comes to diligence and laziness as opposed to other qualities like temperance, generosity, quarrelsomeness, etc...  It seems that although diligence and hard work is certainly an aspect of wisdom, it is perhaps more a matter of “prudence” (simply meaning intelligence living) than “morality”?  I may be wrong here, but it is interesting to consider 2 Thes. 3:6-15 where Paul tells the Thessalonians to distance themselves from idlers, but to still view them as brothers.  At the very least, the warnings against laziness are mainly (thought not entirely, see 21:25) temporal rather than eternal.


Discussion question: Given that laziness is ultimately destructive to ourselves, why is it so alluring?


Because it offers instant gratification at the cost of mere future happiness.  Also, work is hard!  The ground was cursed in Gen. 3 after the Fall, so our work does cost us the sweat of our brow and painful toil. 


Discussion question: How do we root out laziness in our lives?


By listening to Proverbs!  The author tells us clearly that our of pure self-interest, we ought to work hard.  Do we want riches, honor, and success?  Then work!  The author is simply telling us how to fulfill our desires.  Shouldn’t we listen?


12:27 “does not roast his game” – in other words, he is too lazy to even cook the food he catches

26:13 “as a door turns on its hinges” – by turning on its hinges, the door (like the sluggard) does not actually go anywhere.

26:14 “too lazy to bring it to his mouth” – these passages are intentionally humorous, but they serve a purpose: laziness is stupid, even from a purely temporal perspective.  It robs us of pleasure!  From my own personal experience, one of the most miserable feelings in the world is boredom.  Then why on earth do we so frequently embrace it?  Upon reflection, it makes absolutely no sense.  But that’s true of all sin, in the final analysis.


Discussion question: Is laziness foolish, but morally neutral?


No.  Proverbs makes clear that laziness is wrong.  Why?

1.  Because it makes neglect our duties (10:14)

2.  Because it leads to sin (is this what 15:19 means?  Thorns often represent either temptation, affliction, sin, or the roots of sin.  There also seems to be a contrast to the “path of the upright”.  Certainly, experience should teach us that laziness leads to temptation). 

3.  Because as human beings we are commissioned to steward God’s creation

4.  Because as Christians we are commissioned to help restore God’s creation.  To neglect to do so is tantamount to participating in the world’s decay (18:8)

5.  Because it shows what is really in our hearts (21:25).  We are lazy because we desire fulfillment of our own desires instead of God’s glory


Discussion question: Certainly we can apply this discussion to our jobs.  Can we apply these lessons to our spiritual lives?  Why or why not?


Yes.  Paul admonishes the Thessalonians to work for a living, but he also admonishes the churches to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12).  He frequently refers to other missionaries as “workers” and refers to the labor that they do for the Lord (see Rom. 16, Phil. 4:3, Col 4:11).  Jesus also talks about working in God’s vineyard as a metaphor for the kingdom of God.  We should be all the more excited and eager to do the work of the kingdom because we know that we will receive a reward.  “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” – 1 Cor. 15:58.  We should be diligent in our spiritual lives in the same way that we are diligent in our vocation: to work diligently not in opposition to God’s grace, but in response to God’s grace and to work to honor him rather than to exalt ourselves.