Our happy little home experienced a rude awakening recently when we discovered the nightmare of toxic black mold for the third time in just one year. The first time we found it, the contractors remediated for 37 days and the landlord gave us clearance to return home. Everything looked good on the outside of the walls but within a few weeks, it was back. This time, a quick fix was said to solve the problem. Fast forward to a few months ago and it was the same thing all over again. After a year of dealing with toxic mold, and a combined eight weeks living a hotel, we were having a hard time believing that the root issue was being addressed. Though we wanted to take the contractor’s and landlord’s word for it, we chose to move out and move on. Ultimately, my wife and I may never know what caused the black mold to spread like an unstoppable fungal army, but until the core of the issue is discovered once and for all, it will be back.
Much like a bad case of black mold, the sin of sloth can be a serious reoccurring issue for your spiritual life. If you don’t get to the core issue behind the sin of sloth, it’ll keep blindsiding you with a vengeance. Many people may think to themselves, “I’m busy, and successful. Therefore, I don’t struggle with the sin of sloth.” But did you know that some of the busiest and most successful people are also the most slothful? The sin of sloth is not merely related to physical laziness as many wrongly assume.
DEFINING THE SIN OF SLOTH
The Bible describes sloth (or slothfulness) in both physical and spiritual terms. The picture you get in the Bible is no different than the picture in your mind of the animal, the Sloth. Imagine a plump, cuddly, sleepy eyed, furry animal that does nothing more than sit in a tree while snacking on leaves. A sloth doesn’t move much, and is motivated even less! Sound like your spiritual life sometimes? Scripture has plenty to say on the slothful sluggard and these can be easily applied to many aspects our daily lives:
- Slothful people want, want, want. But never do, do, do.
Proverbs 13:4 The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the soul of the diligent is made fat.
- Slothful people have a lazy work ethic which makes them a spectator to other’s success.
Proverbs 20:4 The sluggard does not plow after the autumn, so he begs during the harvest and has nothing.
- People will actually look at a slothful person and think, “Don’t be THAT guy.”
Proverbs 24:30-34 I passed by the field of the sluggard, and by the vineyard of the man lacking sense; 31 and behold it was overgrown with thistles, its surface was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. 32 When I saw, I reflected upon it; I looked, and received instruction.
- Slothful people watch their life cave in due to a lack of diligence.
Ecclesiastes 10:18 Through sloth the roof sinks in, and through indolence the house leaks.
Augustine defined sloth as, “The refusal to respond to our opportunities for growth, service, or sacrifice.” Michael Mangis defines sloth as, “The antithesis of worship. Sloth is the neglect of the greatest commandment to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”
Sloth is essentially the sin of not doing the thing we ought to do in any given situation.
Neglecting to do what we ought to do manifests itself in various forms. Maybe we don’t feel lazy when we’re busy at work, but are we working on the right things? Maybe we don’t feel lazy when we wake up and tackle the to-do-list, but are we doing the right things first? The sin of sloth is a sneaky foe and feeds off one thing, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, here are just several ways that the sin of sloth rears its ugly head:
- Lukewarm faith
- Self-centered prayers
- Lack of empathy (apathy)
- Cowardice in doing the right thing
- False busyness
- Excessive vacation
- Excessive recreation
That’s quite a list. It’s time to peel back the layers and see what’s ultimately at the root of this toxic sin.
DIAGNOSING THE SIN OF SLOTH
So what is the underlying core sin that draws us into the lazy lull of sloth?
The Worship of Self.
Sloth wants comfort, ease, and the path of least resistance in both physical obligations and spiritual necessities. Sloth wants comfort for self and indulgence for the flesh. Sloth ignores instruction, scoffs at legitimate needs, and rolls the eyes at self-discipline. Sloth causes indifference to the needs of others, not because we are too busy to care, but because we care more about ourselves than others. Sloth keeps us from picking up the phone to pray with others, not because we don’t know what to say, but because we selfishly won’t take the time to think through what to say. Sloth won’t let us off social media or the couch to tend to spiritual needs, not because we’re just lazy, but because we worship the mental departure that entertainment provides. Sloth prohibits us from true rest, not because we are appropriately busy, but because we put confidence in our own strength. We hold on to misery like a crutch, not because we’re a victim, but because we love the attention and empathy that misery brings us. This is the essence of self-worship and it’s brutally convicting when we realize just how much self we worship.
Thankfully, the cross of Calvary and the resurrection of Christ provided everything we need to push back against sloth and resist this deadly sin. 1 John 1:9 reassures, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
While turning to Christ is only spiritual solution to sloth, the Bible offers practical instructions for living in such a way that leaves little room for sloth. In a portion of Romans 12 on Christian service, we find 4 evidences of a transformed life, and 4 ways to get biblically busy. Think of this as both the heart transformation, and the behavior modification. If we aim to live our lives this way under the grace of God and with the strength He provides, we are proactively dealing with the root of sloth.
A BIBLICALLY TRANSFORMED LIFE
For committed Christians the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s residence in our life is a transformed life of worship. There is no way we can deal with the sin of sloth without first experiencing the finished work of Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit through salvation. Then, and only then, will we ever have the desire to glorify God abandon our self-worship. Paul starts this beautiful chapter on Christian service the only way that makes sense – by focusing first on true Christian worship.
- Ponder Your Salvation
Romans 12:1a – “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God…”
Paul tells Roman Christians in need of deeper theological roots to find motivation for the following instructions by remembering their own salvation. Whether finding fruit or seeing our sin, pondering your salvation leads to motivation!
- Present Your Body
Romans 12:1b – “to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.
This is a once for all presentation! You don’t waiver on it. Like an Old Testament priest yielding the offering on the altar before God, this is an act of reverence. Acceptable means fully agreeable, and well-pleasing. So ask yourself? Do I vacillate back and forth on viewing my body as an instrument of holy, sacrificial worship? Is God smiling in full agreement with my presentation of praise, and my actions? How do I serve, socialize, and sleep? Christians who have a high view of God and the right view of self, will desire a life of worship that is pure. We will all miss the mark of holiness (Romans 3:23), but that is not a license to sin (Romans 6:1). If Christian men and women will live and look differently at the holy presentation of their bodies on both the inside, and the outside, our lives will look different than the world around us. The world declares, “Satisfy your flesh! Conquer what you most desire.” A Christian knows that the body is not for flaunting curves, or satisfying the flesh, it’s for worshipping Christ!
- Preserve Your Mind
Romans 12:2a – “And do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”
Paul doesn’t add a lot of fluff here. He is plainly saying: don’t be conformed, be transformed. Satan’s singular goal is to pollute your mind in order to conform you to the worlds system. But for the Christian, union with Christ means we’ve died to the world’s system. You can look moral and act moral on the outside, but the mind is the last great spiritual battle ground! The word of God has to be your lifeline in this fight or you’ll be a casualty. The word for transformed is the same word that we get our English word, metamorphosis. It’s a wholesale change. That’s the Holy Spirit inside changing you by God’s word. When our life is centered on God’s word, it changes everything! Want the best remedy for sin? Psalm 119:11 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” The more God’s word fills your heart and mind, the less room for worldly-minded ways.
- Prove God’s Will
Romans 12:2b – “that you may be prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
The #1 question asked of most pastors is, “What is God’s will for me?” There it is in the previous verses. Spiritual security, physical purity, and a mind full of God’s word. If you look across the N.T., most passages on God’s will can be tied to one those three things. Nothing accomplishes God’s will in your life more than presenting your whole self to God as an act of worship.
Finally, let’s jump down a few verses to Romans 12:9-13 and summarize Paul’s instructions on service as application points. Volumes of commentaries have been written on Romans so this isn’t to oversimplify rich truth, but rather, to offer sloth-killing steps to getting biblically busy.
A BIBLICALLY BUSY LIFE
- Get Over Yourself
Romans 12:9-10 – “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor…”
As clear as it could ever be in the Bible: Love others, hate sin. In short, get over yourself. You won’t get that anywhere else but the word of God. Paul knew this was the best way to be a biblically busy Christian. The world says choose your gender, get yours, blaze your trail, don’t take no for an answer, and create your own reality. You. You. And more you! But Christians are called to be selfless.
- Get Involved in Ministry
Romans 12:11 – “not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord…”
Just a few verses prior Paul had explained that the body of Christ is meant to use spiritual gifts in the measure of faith that has been given. No wonder. The best way to push back against the sin of sloth is to get involved in selfless ministry.
- Get the Right Perspective
Romans 12:12 – “rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer…”
The sin of sloth of a comfortable, cozy, live-in-the-now way of life. When we’re in a trial, sloth wants to throw in the towel. When we are tired, sloth says prayer is useless. Beat it back by focusing on heaven and prayer! This is the epitome of the church. We are aliens, just passing through, bored with the temporal, passionate for the eternal, living for His reward, and trusting His word! Missions trips, evangelism, discipleship, benevolence, pioneering new ministries, community outreach, prayer meetings, children’s ministry, trials, suffering, persecution, and loss are all ways that God uses to refresh our perspective of Christ’s return and heaven to come. Sloth can’t survive where heaven is the focus!
- Get More Relational
Romans 12:13 –“contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.”
Paul uses a communal word that conveys sharing with, sharing in. When someone is in need, Christians are benevolent, when Christians have abundance, they’re responsible for finding needs to meet. Practicing hospitality is crystal clear, and Paul has in mind a pursuing love of strangers! In the church, people need you and you need people. Outside the church, people need you and you need to reach them. There is no such thing as lone-ranger Christianity. The sin of sloth lies and whispers, “You deserve this, this belongs to you, every man for himself, keep to yourself.” Satan knows he can infiltrate our ranks through indifference to others and preference for self. Kill slothful self-worship by focusing on others.
An evangelist once urged a crowd to passionately live for Christ’s purpose above their own. His words beg the question. Will you trade the world’s self-centered and slothful system for the glory of God through the Great Commission? He asks,
“What will you be like as a Christian ten years from now? Many will be walking with Christ and serving Him in various capacities around the world, but for others there will be a tragedy because ten years from now they will have lost their burning zeal and love for Christ. Not necessarily because they wanted to or because they set their heart in rebellion against God’s will, but because they set their life by the world’s agenda. Then Christ and His Great Commission gradually dims.”