The Sluggard, the Ant, the Church and the King
May 6, 2018
In the opening chapters of the book of Proverbs, we see a father speak to his son about how to be a good and wise king for Israel. And he tells him many things. The son is to fear the Lord and listen to his father’s teaching. He is to stay away from the forbidden woman and rejoice in his own wife. The son is to put away crooked speech and not plan evil against his neighbor. He is to keep his family heritage and seek a graceful garland for his head.
And then, here in today’s Scripture text, we see the father give a new and interesting warning to his son. The father warns his son not to be a sluggard.
We don’t hear that word too often these days: sluggard. But we know it very well. A sluggard is a person who does not work. A sluggard likes the idea of profit and gain without cost or pain. A sluggard is a person who is lazy and idle. A sluggard loves his sleep. As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed (Proverbs 26:14). A sluggard is a sight to see. He buries his hand in the dish and will not even bring it back to his mouth (Proverbs 19:24).
This is utter foolishness. And the father goes out of his way to make this crystal clear. First, the sluggard is told to go to the ant and consider her ways. It is so sad and foolish that the sluggard is bested by the small and lowly ant. While she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest, the sluggard does not sow or reap. He does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing (Proverbs 20:24). Utter foolishness. Second, the sluggard who sleeps and slumbers is given a wake up call and a very serious warning. He is warned that poverty will come upon him like a robber, and want like an armed man. He thinks that he is wise. The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly (Proverbs 26:16). But in the end, he will be found to be a fool. All in all, it is simply foolish to be a sluggard.
Now, why would the father take the time to point this out? Is being a sluggard really that big of a deal? Can we really put laziness up there with sexual immorality? Why is it here in Proverbs?
The answer is simple. Being a sluggard is profound because work and rest is profound.
Remember God’s creation of Adam. Just as God worked and then rested, so Adam was to work and then enter a blessed sabbath rest. And Adam’s work in the ultimate sense was covenant obedience to God.
But Adam sinned against God. He did not fulfill his ultimate work. And as a result, he did not achieve rest. Instead, Adam was given the curse of death. And the remaining days of his life on earth leading up to his death would be cursed with sweat and pain and hardship and frustration.
The sluggard, whether he knows it or not, hates this and fights it. He rejects the reality of work. And he counterfeits the reward of rest. Like Cain, who was condemned to wander the earth but instead settled down and built a city, the sluggard rebels against God in anti-Ecclesiastes fashion and does everything he can to avoid the reality of work. Like David, who late one afternoon arose from his couch and walked on the roof of the king’s house and saw a woman bathing and sent and inquired about her instead of going out to battle, the sluggard rebels against God in anti-Hebrews fashion and does everything he can to achieve the virtual reality of rest. The sluggard rejects the reality of work. And he counterfeits the reward of rest.
To put it another way, the sluggard does not understand or obey the fourth commandment. God said, “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.” The sluggard says, “I don’t like the idea of work. But I like the idea of rest.”
If only the sluggard would turn to Jesus Christ! For our Lord and Savior saves us by his work. We are saved by his work of obedience and righteousness, not by our own works. And our Lord and Savior promises us his rest. We will enjoy perfect communion with God and sabbath rest with him. O sluggard, how long will you lie there? O sluggard, when will you arise from your sleep? At the end of the day, do not just go to the ant. Go to the Lord Jesus Christ! In Christ, the curse of sweat and pain and hardship and frustration is truly dealt with. In Christ, there is no hopelessness or vanity. In Christ, there is no spiritual poverty. In Christ, the harvest is plentiful.
Praise the Lord!
I would like to turn now to some points of application that we can draw from today’s Scripture text as we wait for the return of Christ.
First, if we the church are the bride of Christ, then let us be fruitful and diligent and enduring. Remember how the book of Proverbs ends? It ends with the church. The righteous eschatological king rejoices in his excellent eschatological wife. And it is very interesting that this excellent wife is the exact opposite of a sluggard. She works with willing hands (Proverbs 31:13). She rises while it is still night (v15). With the fruit of her hands, she plants a vineyard (v16). Her lamp does not go out at night (v18). She does not eat the bread of idleness (v27). This is the church. This is who we are. Let us therefore be fruitful and diligent and enduring. Let us see ourselves as workers in the church. When Paul greeted all of his brothers and sisters in Christ in his letters, he often referred to them as fellow workers in Christ. Let us see ourselves differently. For the harvest is plentiful. But the workers are few.
Second, let us be encouraged that our labor is not in vain. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul declared something of first importance: the glorious gospel of resurrection life in Christ. He did it in 57 amazing verses. And then at the end of the chapter, in verse 58, he wrote these words: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” What an encouragement! As we seek to be fruitful and diligent and enduring as the excellent bride of Christ, let us do so knowing that our labor is not in vain.
Third, let us realize that the motivation for work is love. We work because we love God and because we love others, period. We do not want to be like the sluggard, because the sluggard loves himself. In Colossians 3:23, it is written: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men….” In Romans 12:9-13, it is written: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” And again in Proverbs 31, the labor of the excellent wife benefits others. She does her husband good (v12). She provides food for her maidens (v15). She opens her hand to the poor (v20). She clothes her entire household (v21). Laziness may often be linked with bad time management or procrastination. But laziness is ultimately a failure of love. For the love of God and for the love of others, let us work.
Fourth, let us understand that work allows us to be generous. It’s simple. You can’t be generous if you are a sluggard. Proverbs 21:25-26 makes a fascinating contrast between the sluggard and the righteous. It says this, “The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor. All day long he craves and craves, but the righteous gives and does not hold back.” Is something holding you back from being generous? Perhaps that something is the old and dying sluggard in you. Let us understand that our work allows us to be generous.
Fifth, let us stay away from idle people. Believe it or not, this is a straight up command in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15. It sounds cruel, but listen carefully. It reads, “Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that 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. // As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” Stay away from idle people. And do so for their sake.
Sixth, let us take the fourth commandment in the Ten Commandments seriously. In Exodus 20:9-11, God said, “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” What is cool about the gospel of Christ is that our weeks have now been rearranged. Work used to come first in the first six days of the week. And then rest came after on the seventh day. But now rest comes on the first day of the week on Sundays. And now work comes after on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and yes, even Saturdays. This is profound. The fabric of our days has been fundamentally changed to reflect the gospel of Christ. We don’t love God with our good works in order to go to heaven. We love God with our good works because we are going to heaven. May this rearrangement of order change the perspective of your daily nine-to-give jobs. May the rest that we receive on Sundays motivate us to work hard during the week. May we take the fourth commandment seriously.
Seventh, let us realize that our hard work is a part of our witness to an unbelieving world. In 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12, it is written these words: “But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” We are to walk properly before outsiders. And a key way to do that is to be the hardest working people on earth.
Eighth and finally, let us remember that Jesus is our king. The ant has no chief, no officer, no ruler. And yet she is prudent and industrious. But we are the church. And we have a king. How much more than the ant then shall we work hard? Let us remember that Jesus is our king.
Summary of Sermon
A father speak to his son about how to be a good and wise king for Israel. The son is not to be a sluggard. He is not to be a person who is lazy and unwilling to do work.
It is foolish to be a sluggard. The sluggard is told to go to the ant and consider her ways. And the sluggard is given a wake up call and a very serious warning about the outcome of his ways.
Being a sluggard is profound because work and rest is profound. Adam was supposed to work and then rest. But he did not fulfill the work of covenant obedience and he did not achieve the rest of perfect communion with God. Therefore, Adam was given the punishment of death and his earthly life was cursed with sweat, pain, hardship and frustration. And all mankind gets the same.
The sluggard hates this and fights it. He rejects the reality of work. And he counterfeits the reward of rest.
Jesus Christ saves us by his work of obedience and righteousness. And he earns for us his promised rest. In him, there is no spiritual poverty. In him, the harvest is plentiful.
Let us be fruitful, diligent and enduring as the church and bride of Christ. Let us be encouraged that our labor is not in vain.
Let us work for the love of God and for the love of others. Let us understand that work allows us to be generous.
Let us strongly warn others who are idle. Let us take the fourth commandment seriously.
Let us realize that our work is a part of our witness to an unbelieving world.
Let us remember that Jesus is our king.
Questions for Discussion & Sharing
Have you ever experienced a misadventure because you were a sluggard? Take a moment to share a (hopefully funny) story of foolishness in the past.
What makes being a sluggard so profound? What goes on in the heart and the mind of the sluggard?
How does Proverbs 31:10-31 change the way that you see the church, which is the bride of the eschatological son of Proverbs?
In what ways is laziness and the unwillingness to do work a failure of love toward God? What are some examples in which being a sluggard actually affects the lives of others around us?
What does the fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8-11) mean to you?
The ant has no chief, officer or ruler. But we have a king. How does the reality of Christ's kingship affect our work as we wait for his return?