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TEXT: Psalm 119:32

SUBJECT: Gospel Changes #48: Sloth

The Gospel Changes Everything. This has been the theme of our afternoon service for more than three years now. When I say the Gospel changes everything, I mean it changes everything that needs to be changed. Whether the speed of light needs to be changed, I don't know, but I know very well that I need to be changed, you need to be changed, we all need to be changed.

I also know that the only thing that's going to change us from what we were in Adam to what we're going to be in Christ is the Gospel. Good teaching, loving oversight, and firm discipline can effect some outward and temporary change, but only the Gospel changes us from the inside out and forever.

Unlike the Law, the Gospel does not aim to make us better sinners; it aims to make us saints. And what it aims to do, it will do. Charles Spurgeon was one of the most gifted and vigorous pastors who ever lived, but the success he had in London, and worldwide, in life and death, was not because of his genius, but because of His Gospel. He trusted it, and we'd do well to follow the man who spoke the truth and saw it confirmed in a singular way--

The Gospel must succeed; the Gospel shall succeed; the Gospel cannot be prevented from succeeding.

When we say, 'the Gospel succeeds', we mean it both saves people after they die, and it saves people before they die. One of the things it saves us on this side of the grave is today's topic, and I wonder if, from the text, you've guessed what it is?

I will run the way of your commandments,

when you shall enlarge my heart.

Have you got it? Here's another clue from Titus 2:14. Speaking of Christ's saving work, Paul says--

Who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for Himself a peculiar people, zealous for good works.

The key words are run and zealous. These are things all disciples of Christ want to do and be, but, for many of us, something keeps holding us back. It keeps weighing us down. Slowing our obedience. What is it? It is laziness, or what people used to call sloth.

MEDIEVAL AND MODERN

At some time in the Middle Ages, the Church drew up a list of Seven Deadly Sins, one of which was sloth. At the time, it was spiritual sloth pastors were most worried about. The people were risking their souls by not praying enough, not confessing enough, not mortifying the flesh enough, not running after holiness enough. There was some legalism in this, I'm sure, but the pastors' worry was legitimate. There's more to living the Christian life than 'starting well'. Either with baptism--as they believed--or with a profession of faith--as we say. Jesus promises salvation only to the ones who endure to the end, and that's hard to do if you're a lazy person.

We live in a more secular time, and laziness tends to be more secular as well. If I said, 'Joe's a sluggard' what picture first comes to mind? Is it the man who doesn't pray or read the Bible or come to church every Sunday? Or would it be a man who does as little as he can get away with at work? Or, maybe the man doesn't work at all, blaming 'the economy' for his unemployment, when , in fact, he's not looking very hard.

They're both examples of sloth, and in their own ways, equally ruinous, both to the lazy man himself, and to the others he would bless if only he'd get off his...well, you know what...and do something!

THE MEANING

Like pornography, laziness is easier to recognize than it is to define. Informally, most people define a lazy man as 'anyone who works less than I do or at an easier job'. If you work 50 hours a week, the man who works 40 is lazy. If you're an ironworker, a carpenter is lazy. If you keep your house immaculate, and she only keeps her house clean, she's lazy. This is a funny way of looking at it, but not too helpful,

The Bible nowhere defines laziness, but the Book of Proverbs draws a sharp, and sometimes comical, picture of the one who's guilty of it. Much can be said here, but I'll limit myself to three headings. They may not apply to every single sluggard in the world (I'm sure they don't), but it's a fine general description.

In the first place, lazy people are far better at dreaming and talking than they are at doing, Proverbs 21:25--

The desire of the slothful man kills him,

for his hands refuse to labor.

A sluggard may have enormous ambition, but he's not willing to start at the bottom or to do the hard and tedious work necessary to meet his goals. He's a dreamer, not a doer. Or, maybe he does more than dream, Proverbs 14:23--

In all labor there is profit,

but mere talk leads only to poverty.

In the second place, lazy people are better at starting a thing than finishing it, Proverbs 12:27--

The slothful man does not roast what he took in hunting.

Lazy people are sometimes great starters, but again, because finishing a job takes time and discipline and patience, they don't do it, and all their efforts go

for naught.

In the third place, lazy people always have a reason for what they're doing--or, rather, for what they're not doing, Proverbs 26:16--

A sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly.

Most lazy people are born lawyers. They have an uncanny power to defend the indefensible, to turn reason inside out, and to make sin look like holiness.

THE SERIOUSNESS

If we left it here, we might laugh at the lazy man and leave him to his own devices. The problem is: we can't leave it here. Sloth is not a silly, but harmless, thing. It is a draining and destructive thing, both to the lazy man himself and to others. Worst of all, laziness offends God and makes a mockery of the example of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In a wise family or community, the lazy man is a hungry man, Proverbs 19:15--

Slothfulness casts one into a deep sleep,

and an idle person shall suffer hunger.

Wise people know this hunger is good for the lazy man, because it motivates him to work. But when a family or society confuses 'guilt' with 'pity', it 'enables' the lazy man, robbing him of his self-respect and denying him the change he so desperately needs.

But whether he feels hungry or sorry for himself, laziness hurts the one who's guilty of it.

The lazy man also burdens his family and friends, church, and community. Life is not free; it has to be worked for, and when some won't work for it, others have to make up for them by overworking. No wonder Proverbs 18:9 says--

He who is slothful in his work

is a brother to him who is a great

destroyer.

By hurting others, the lazy man offends God and by idling away his time, he fails to imitate the One who said--

I must work the work of Him who sent me while it is day;

the night comes when no man can work.

THE LAW

In preparing my sermon on laziness, I read another man's online and a third man's in a book. Both pastors said pretty much what I've said thus far. They told me what laziness is and how sinful and hurtful it is. But after promising starts, they both went wrong.

How? In the customary way, by turning to Law. Though both men believe and love the Gospel, they seem to forget it when it comes to the practical issues of life.

In other words, they tell a lazy man what to do, but they don't give him the power to do it. Spiritual power does not come from duty or guilt or reward. It comes from the Gospel.

How?

THE ROOT CAUSES

For one thing, the Gospel tells what kind of problem laziness is. Why are people lazy? I did not ask, 'Why are people tired? or 'Why are people unemployed?' A woman may be tired because she's diabetic. A man may be unemployed because his life's work has been outsourced. A young man may not be able to find a job because no one has ever shown him how to fill out an application. These are technical problems.

Laziness is a sin problem. It is a sin itself, and other sins cause it. What sins? I thought of three:

Some people are lazy because they're proud. They're too good to get their hands dirty; ordinary work is beneath their dignity. This is pride and pride is a sin, deeply hateful to God--

These six things the Lord hates;

yes, seven are an abomination to Him:

a proud look.

Some people are lazy because they're selfish. Honest and productive work is one way we love our neighbors. The lazy man doesn't work to support others, but demands others work to support him, and not because he cannot work, but because he doesn't want to, or because he doesn't want to badly enough to do anything about it. Putting your own wishes above the needs of others is selfishness, and the Bible says that's sin--

Let him who stole steal no more, but rather let him work with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have to give to him that is needy.

Some people are lazy because of fear. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear the job's too hard for them. I myself have been this way all my life, and I sympathize with people who feel this way, but for all that, living in fear is not only a sad way to live, it's a sinful way to live! The most common commandment in the Bible is this one: Fear not. It appears more than one hundred times, and if you look up all the references, you'll see it always refers to things a lot bigger and scarier than looking for a job or putting in a long day at work.

We live in a therapeutic age, where every moral failure is diagnosed as an illness. 'He's not an adulterer, he's a sex addict', and thus he doesn't need the Gospel, sacraments, church; he needs therapy, he needs counseling, he needs Twelve Steps. I'm sure these things do some good, but adultery is adultery, and until it's seen for what it is, it will never be repented of.

The same is true of laziness and the sins that lie beneath it. We cannot be forgiven or freed of these things until the Gospel first exposes them for what they are. Why did Jesus go to the cross? He didn't go because His own sins because He had none of His own. It was our sins that hung Him on the Unlucky Tree. What sins? All of our sins, including laziness and the sins that lie beneath it. When Jesus walked the Via Dolorossa, He carried my laziness, my pride, my selfishness, and my fears to the Cross where they died when He died.

ABOUT FACE

As wonderful and necessary as it is, there is more than forgiveness in the Gospel. There is also personal transformation, what the Bible and older writers call sanctification.

The Gospel makes lazy people industrious by eliminating the sins that produce laziness. The Cross humbles us, and if we're humbled by the Cross, we no longer feel too good to get our hands dirty; honest work is no longer beneath our dignity. And so, we do it and we do it heartily and with thanksgiving.

The Gospel also changes our focus from self to others. Selfish people are always worried about their 'needs'--need for attention, need for love, need for respect, need for security, and so on. The Gospel doesn't deny these needs; it meets them. It tells us God loves us, that we belong to Him, and that we're safe in His arms. The moment we realize this, our eyes turn outward, to the needs of other people.

The Gospel takes away our fears. If you apply for a job, you might get turned down. If the job is a big one, it may keep you way past quitting time. You've messed up before, you might mess up again, and messing up might cost you your job. These are real possibilities, and we've got to respect them, but we don't have to freeze up in fear. For we're saved even if we don't get the job, even if the work is too much for us, even if we foul things up and get fired again.

The Gospel says Nothing separates us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Knowing we're secure means we can risk looking for work and working hard.

THE EARTH IS THE LORD'S

Best of all, the Gospel changes our work itself. When Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to God's Right Hand, He became Lord of all--not just Head of the Church, but Head of all things to the church. This means, He's the Lord of your work, and whether you pastor a church or teach school or program computers or unclog toilets or diaper baby buts, you're doing it for Christ! And knowing this makes us thankful and cheerful and hard-working--

Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not to men; knowing that of the Lord you shall receive the reward of the inheritance, for you serve the Lord Christ in singleness of heart, fearing God.

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