Seven Modern Maladies and God's Solutions (4 of 7)
#4 = Laziness/Godly Ambition
Laziness is the vice of avoiding necessary deeds. Godly Ambition aims at doing God’s work in His way.
Anyone OVER 50 years old needs no introduction to
“Mrs. Howell” (the “millionaire’s wife”) from “Gilligan’s Island.”
Of all seven characters on Gilligan’s Island, it may be Lovey that has the least backstory. The writers never even bothered to give her a first name. Her maiden name was “Wentworth,” and attended Vassar, but details are scarce.
The actress’ name was Natalie Schaefer, a lady whose stage and film career spanned more than seventy years! Through wise investments, Ms. Schaefer parlayed her acting earnings into millions. Ironically, she played a millionaire’s wife on TV and in real life was a millionaire single woman! Both Alan Hale Jr. (the Skipper) and Ms. Hale died of cancer in 1990 and both had their ashes scattered over the Pacific Ocean.
Lovey Howell was chosen as the symbol of laziness because she never lifted a finger to help with the islanders’ escape plans. She was used to having servants wait on her in the Howells’ various homes in the US and Europe. No one would say Lovey was apathetic or uninvolved with the other castaways, but she obviously preferred the life of the “idle rich.”
1. The vicious vice of LAZINESS (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15)
What is sloth or laziness? It is an unwillingness to exert or even inconvenience one’s self, regardless of how important or needed an action may be. It is seeking the path of least effort or least resistance. (In this sense, laziness can be manifest in an unreasonable insistence on doing the cheapest, easiest, most familiar way. It is a “dumbing down” of method and mission when something better can be achieved. Lazy people set low expectations.)
Laziness is a sin of omission: omitting good works; not doing good things. Godly living is a full morality. It is not just the avoidance of evil (sins of commission), but is also the practice of good. Practicing good is an active effort put into seeing the good and responding to opportunity in a timely way.
This vice of laziness or sloth most often involves making excuses, even telling lies. For example, a chronically lazy person can rationalize their lack of love by means of a false sense of entitlement, a claim of victimization or disability, and/or a fear of failure or loss.
Why is laziness deadly? Most importantly, because one’s salvation is called into question. Salvation is something we’re commanded to “work out” in Philippians 2:12: THEREFORE, MY DEAR FRIENDS, AS YOU HAVE ALWAYS OBEYED - NOT ONLY IN MY PRESENCE, BUT NOW MUCH MORE IN MY ABSENCE - CONTINUE TO WORK OUT YOUR SALVATION WITH FEAR AND TREMBLING. The meaning of the command to “work out” our salvation may not be obvious. Let’s think about it. We do not obtain salvation by means of good works, it is God’s gift. Having obtained it, salvation changes our character. We WORK those changes out of our inner person so others can experience them and be blessed by what we say and do. A chronic refusal to do good works is a sure sign of not yet being saved.
Laziness is also deadly because it is rooted in self-deception. The previously mentioned excuses are one example of how self-deception occurs. Inflated views of self, apathy, or depression are different forms of self-deception but have the same deadly effect: people who have convinced themselves they don’t have a problem are not going to seek a solution. Never solving one’s problem of sin results in eternal condemnation after death in this world. A more serious problem than that you cannot find.
Laziness is insensitivity to the needs of others. It is arguably the most obvious form of self-centeredness.
A lazy person expects all kinds of things but offers little or nothing in return. This behavior creates a “net loss” in the community (be it family, church, or municipality) when a person is only a consumer. As we will see, God wants us to be “contributors” and “consumers.”
It’s a problem when cheats us out of two things: joy and health. There is a particular joy that comes with growth and achievement. People who don’t care enough to try will never know this kind of unique and deep joy. Where mediocrity and failure are accept-able alternatives, laziness is present. It is a fact of life (physical AND spiritual) that health and vigor can only be developed by exertion. God created us to grow by challenging ourselves. Trials of all kinds will force challenges on us, but we need to choose challenges in order to develop health, growth, and energy.
Idleness leads to other sins: like marijuana - which is a “gateway drug” (leading to other forms of drug abuse) - sloth is a “gateway sin,” leading to other kinds of sin. “Nature abhors a vacuum” is old expression grounded in science. In the natural world, nature fills empty spaces. This expression is just as true personally as it is scientifically. When we are bored or lonely, we seek to solve the emptiness of those feelings. Too often, the “filling” is with evil words & works. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” is another old expression proven by experience. Idle people are more likely to get themselves in trouble. Work has positive spiritual benefits and laziness has negative spiritual effects. These are facts of human nature that are affirmed in Scripture.
It can be argued that laziness is the original sin: it promises reward without effort or risk. In the garden, the serpent deceived Eve by offering her godlike powers without any effort and without risk. All that was required was disobedience of God. The serpent’s promise was, of course, a lie. As we’ve observed, all laziness is based on some kind of lie.
Being lazy leaves one unprepared for the future. While we are not to be prey to anxiety or obsess about the future, the Bible commands we put reasonable effort into preparedness. Lazy people don’t care.
Laziness betrays a lack of love. I don’t think the opposite of love is hate. Hate at least implies SOME kind of passion, a level of involvement that - though evil - is still involved. I think apathy is the opposite of love, because it is disinterest, disregard. In any case, the lazy person has no love for themselves, say nothing of loving others.
In 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, we see how the Apostle Paul dealt with lazy folk in the flock. Paul’s warning about “idleness” came IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST (v. 6). This is not a case of name dropping; it is the kind of language Paul used when a command needed extra emphasis. Reading this phrase, the reader was to sit up and take extra notice of what followed.
Paul dropped two rules in dealing with lazy people. They are to be subjected to church discipline. Discipline should be invoked because idle persons cause trouble. Boredom, if nothing else, ensures this. The Greek word for IDLE can be translated as “truant.” Truancy is not meeting one’s obligations; being idle.
The first means of discipline is to invoke the “Golden Rule of Work;” IF A MAN WILL NOT WORK, HE WILL NOT EAT” (v. 10). Eating ought to motivate even the laziest person to get up and do something. This rule covers those who refuse to work. Persons who cannot work are covered by grace, not by law. This first level of response to laziness calls the offender to repent and to take their full place in the community by getting to work.
When hunger fails to move a person to repentance, the second means of discipline the church is disfellowshipping (aka “shunning” or “excommunicating” in other churches). We might call the second rule the Rule for Unrepentant Idlers. Disfellowshipping is the ultimate penalty the Church can levy; this is serious business. However, order must be maintained and disorderly and lazy people must act to protect its fellowship and reputation and act decisively to put the offender out o/t church.
According to 1 Thessalonians 5:14, plenty of warning and opportunity to repent needs to be given before applying the second rule. When there is no good response to the use of these two rules, “tough love” is needed and the chronic offender needs to be disfellowshipped. Here’s how Paul expressed this rule of law regarding unrepentant idlers:
Verse six = KEEP AWAY FROM THE BROTHER WHO IS IDLE.
Verse fourteen = DO NOT ASSOCIATE WITH HIM.
There are three purposes to the use of church discipline. First and most importantly, discipline is used to win the offender back to the truth; to save their life. Verse fourteen states, IN ORDER THAT HE MAY FEEL ASHAMED (14). And, in verse fifteen, even when disfellowshipped, DON’T REGARD HIM AS AN ENEMY, BUT WARN HIM AS A BROTHER (15).
- Church discipline is a difficult thing to do, but when love and grace do not promote godliness, it’s time to embrace the temporary difficulty of discipline to attempt to achieve long-term reform.
The second reason is to protect the church. Every local church must act to protect its unity, spirituality, and reputation. When we allow people to flaunt them-selves as chronic, unrepentant sinners, then the church is better off without them. The problem is we put up with it too long and let the congregation be poisoned by toxic personalities. Church folk often say, “We can’t afford to lose any members,” when the truth is, there are some members we can’t afford to keep!
A third reason is to do justice and protect the more needy members of the congregation. We need to protect one another from the chronic toxic people that exist even in churches.
Paul gave us insight on how to recognize a lazy person. He wrote that lazy people disavow the truth. In verse six he wrote they do not LIVE ACCORDING TO THE TEACHING YOU RECEIVED. Someone whose lifestyle is based on deception is not going to tolerate the truth.
Lazy people act as BUSYBODIES. In verse eleven we read THEY ARE NOT BUSY, THEY ARE BUSY-BODIES. Idlers tend to fill their empty hours by being “drama queens;” consciously or subconsciously creating drama to relieve their boredom. Naturally, this makes for disorder in the church. Paul knew that it is in the nature of idlers to be disorderly (those words are alternate translations of the same Greek word).
2. The vital virtue of GODLY AMBITION
(1 Thessalonians 4:1-12).
What makes ambition “godly?” Making effort toward finding and doing the will of God in all situations is godly ambition. This effort flows from like-mindedness with Christ and His people. The word ZEAL conveys the attitude behind the actions. Love for God and others must be manifest in a passion to do right by God and others. ZEAL is passion that submits to God’s commands to love and tirelessly works to achieve them.
Why is godly ambition a vital virtue? One, it keeps our priorities in order. Though it does not bring in a check, love is JOB #1. Our vocation is JOB #2, our relationships are JOB #3 and avocations (hobbies) JOB #4. One can go into more detail, but it’s the order that counts.
Two, godly ambition keeps us in balance: we are neither an “idler” nor a “workaholic.” An IDLER has already been identified as a vice; see the previous section. Identifying a workaholic can be more difficult because the line can be subtle; it tends to be hidden by achievement. Logically, a workaholic is…
overcommitted. Their schedule is out of control.
a perfectionist. Their personality is out of control.
consumed with worldly standards of success. Their inner life is out of control.
Three, godly ambition results in a righteous kind of self-sufficiency. As we’ve seen in previous messages, our ideal state is to be
DEPENDENT on God,
INTERDEPENDENT with each other, but
Paul is our example here; though he deserved financial support from the churches, he chose to work to support himself.
Four, godly ambition keeps us from idleness. Work is not a curse; it is NOT a condition imposed the Fall. The Bible shows Adam working in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2) and explains that the curse on Adam in Genesis 3 was not having to work, but having to work hard and sometimes unfruitfully. In short, in the Bible, WORK is not a “four letter word.”
Five, godly ambition provides means and opportunity to serve and witness to others. One of the particularly illogical things about our culture is the separation of work and faith. We’ve all seen and some have personally experienced the attempt to make the workplace and community secular; to make faith only a private matter. That is not God’s way, not according to secular law, and we don’t have to be intimidated. Both the law of God and the law of the land prohibit acts of prejudice against spirituality. Further, we must see that work is another arena in which we must live out our Christian faith, demonstrating in word and deed that Jesus lives in us.
Six, godly ambition encourages spiritual maturity. Play and work are both arenas in which we can learn spiritual lessons and proclaim spiritual truths. We need both anyway, so it makes sense to put them both to best use; serving God. Work develops good habits and good habits are part of a maturity.
We’ve hailed godly ambition as the best form of ambition, which leaves an additional question: How do I enact godly ambition? The answer is expressed in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, where Paul expressed it under the words MAKE IT YOUR AMBITION. This word translated as AMBITION also means to “to study,” or “to strive eagerly.”
Godly ambition is to live a life that pleases God and directs the attention of others to Him. Through the Spirit, Paul supplied five qualities of godly ambition.
Be ambitious to live a QUIET life (v. 11). Each of us ought to live in a “drama-free” zone, a sphere of influence that begins in our soul and becomes available to others as we relate to them. Ironically, a quiet life is not achieved by being lazy about work and relationships. It is about promoting peace and having ambitions more noble than self-centeredness.
Be ambitious to live a self-contained life. When Paul wrote MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS in verse eleven, he executed a word play, contrasting BUSINESS with BUSYBODIES who make everything their business. Here are three simple rules that will help you MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS. These rules are not original with me; they are reclaiming consideration for others that our culture used to possess but have disappeared from civic discourse. The MYOB kind of lifestyle respects others and doesn’t inflict every last thought on them.
One, don’t give advice until you are asked or you have asked permission. Giving unsolicited advice is detrimental to relationships as it puts the other person on the defensive.
Two, keep your opinions (especially complaints) to yourself. Until you are asked or get permission, assume nobody wants to hear it.
Three, own what you say. I once received a fairly toxic anonymous complaint. I gave it the attention it deserved; I tore it up and threw it in the trash. If you can’t put your name to it, don’t put it in public. There’s far too much of that kind of gutless nonsense and bullying in social media; it’s especially inappropriate in church.
Be ambitious to live a self-sustained life. In verse eleven we read, WORK WITH YOUR HANDS. This does not mean that only physical labor is godly. Instead, the distinction is between doing your own work and relying on others to do your work for you.
Having state that biblical observation, may I make a cultural one? We are becoming a culture that condemns physical labor. People in the media, for example, assume that working at a minimum wage job is for lower class people and that people like them who only use their hands to type are “real jobs.” We are losing our respect for craftsmanship and doing work with pride. Love for God and others demands that we do our best. We need to stop “dumbing down” our standards for good workmanship and recapture the work ethic that helped America achieve greatness.
Four, be ambitious to live a life of witness and service. We see why this is important in verse twelve: SO THAT YOUR DAILY LIFE MAY WIN THE RESPECT OF OUTSIDERS. Idlers, busybodies, drama queens and other toxic personalities are not respectable persons. When such a person claims to follow Jesus, their lives prove their claims to be a lie and all Christianity suffers a loss of reputation by association.
We win respect by being respectful. As the late Billy Graham said, “You may be the only Bible some people will read.” Make sure you are a pleasant and accurate read.
It’s a fact that we will be held responsible for every idle word (Jesus said so in Matthew 12:36). Stop and think; do you really want to be responsible for some of the things you say? Does anyone want to miss heaven?
Five, be ambitious to live an independent life. One purpose of work is to NOT DEPENDENT ON ANYBODY (v. 12). This is not the infamous “Marlboro Man” shutting himself off from others. It is someone who works up to the capacity that they can work so they are contributing something positive to the community.
People who can work but refuse to work come under law and need to be treated as lawbreakers. People who can’t work come under grace and need to be supported. You can easily tell which kind of person Paul has been writing about in these passages. Financial independence is a godly goal but must not be turned into an idol. It is a means to an end (spiritual maturity), not an end in itself, for that is idolatry.
Anyone UNDER 50 needs no introduction to
“Netflix,” an mail order and online video streaming service. Netflix facilitates “binge watching,” an activity which may be the epitome of laziness. This involves watching episode after episode of a series, one right after another, a kind of “couch potato” marathon.
The cartoon picture depicts someone doing some binge watching on Netflix. Time for confession: I have watched three episodes in a row once or twice. I am a lightweight when it comes to binge watching. A fair amount of mental stamina is required, even though there’s little more physical exertion than going to the kitchen for a snack.
Netflix was started way back in 1997 when its main business was renting videos by mail. Sometime between then and now, the online streaming part of the business took over and I’d guess most people utilize Netflix through their computer or on their phone as an app. As of April this year, Netflix had 125 million total subscribers worldwide, in 190 countries. It has become a behemoth in the entertainment world, producing a LOT of its own content.
Since TV took off in the 50s, Americans have wasted a huge portion of their lives staring at the “one-eyed monster.” Whether you binge watch or not, TV can be an addiction that demands nothing more than vast amounts of time and delivers nothing more than distraction and soul-sapping worldly culture.
In Matthew 6:22-23, Jesus taught, “THE EYE IS THE LIGHT OF THE BODY. IF YOUR EYES ARE GOOD, YOUR WHOLE BODY WILL BE FULL OF LIGHT. BUT IF YOUR EYES ARE BAD, YOUR WHOLE BODY WILL BE FULL OF DARKNESS. IF THEN THE LIGHT WITHIN YOU IS DARKNESS, HOW GREAT IS THAT DARKNESS!” What a warning these verses supply!
It would not be right to say that TV and/or Netflix are the authors of laziness. That sin has been with us since our first parents, Adam and Eve. However, in our modern time, it’s safe to say that we feed too much of our lives to the one-eyed monster, exchanging precious time and energy for worldly distractions. What we lose in the process can be so much more important than just life. What we give up is part of our soul. We stare at the one-eyed monster and allow its light to cast darkness in our souls. I fear we give up a little of our spirit in the bargain.
This is a struggle. I am convinced that if we eliminated staring at a screen just to be entertained, we would automatically improve our inner life. But it is a hard thing to give up, even experimentally, to see the improvement we would receive from quitting TV and internet cold turkey.
Two things. One, think of the struggle in terms of the vice of laziness versus the virtue of godly ambition. There is a moral high ground here worthy of battling to possess. Two, start small. Declare a Sabbath from screens. I’d suggest sundown Saturday to sundown Sunday. Give that part of your life to God and your loved ones and see what He will do for you physically, spiritually, and in every other sense.