Idleness and Temptation

January 03, 2022

by Brandon Crowe

The Bible has quite a bit to say about idleness. And it’s not positive. Laziness is characteristic of the sluggard of Proverbs, who will be overtaken by poverty (Prov. 15:19; 24:30–34). The sluggard who will not work will not eat (20:4). Refusing to work is consummate foolishness. Idleness runs contrary to the biblical command to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:26–28). Thus, it stands in tension with the pursuit of God’s blessings and is consistently portrayed as contrary to the will of God (Prov. 12:27; 19:15). In brief, laziness leads to destruction (Prov. 18:9; Eccl. 10:18).

In the New Testament, Paul warns against idleness and provides his own life as a pattern of godly diligence (1 Cor. 15:10; 1 Thess. 2:9; 2 Thess. 3:6–11). Similarly, he also speaks of self-control as a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23). To be sure, Paul does not teach an ethic of self-righteousness—we are not righteous before God based on anything that we can do. Even so, Paul’s writings are consistent with the call of Proverbs to be diligent in our labors as we work unto the Lord.

The Bible is clear that we ought to be engaged in constructive and diligent work. This is a mark of maturity and will ordinarily lead to blessings. The diligent should expect to receive the fruits of their labors, but the dangers of idleness are often compounded, for idleness can lead to other sins as well. Idleness is the handmaiden of temptation. Laziness often yields not only thorns but temptation—which leads to sin, yielding death (James 1:14–15). When we’re focused on nothing—or on ourselves—we are more prone to temptations that arise out of our sinful hearts.

Pursuing work diligently is thus one helpful strategy for dealing with temptations. Having too much leisure time—or not having positive work to engage in—can more easily lead us into temptation. As those created in God’s image, we are made to work and to create. Sitting around doing nothing—or doing low-friction activities such as binge-watching television shows or “doom scrolling” on devices—can lead to the slothfulness of spirit that provides fertile ground for temptation. Slothfulness also turns us in on ourselves, leading us to lose sight of others around us made in God’s image, whom we are to love as ourselves.

To counter this atrophic pull toward slothfulness, we must fill our minds with biblical truth and get to work. In other words, one answer to the dangers of idleness is, as for sanctification in general, to take action. Sanctification requires work; we must guard our hearts according to God’s Word (see Ps. 119:9–11) and make use of the means of grace (the Word, sacraments, prayer; see Westminster Shorter Catechism 88). Likewise, doing something constructive often leads us away from temptation, especially when that something is focused on and consistent with biblical truths. If nature abhors a vacuum, so do our hearts: if we are not filling our hearts with positive, biblical truths—and engaging in positive, biblical activities—our sinful hearts are prone to leading us in destructive, unbiblical directions (which tend to be in keeping with the world’s standards). Getting to work does not necessarily mean engaging in a place of employment (though it very well might), but it does mean being engaged in those things that we are called to do as those who live in a world of good things created by God. Go outside—go for a hike, go for a bike ride, or enjoy a sport. Have neighbors over for a cookout and games. Play some music. Make something, whether it be a craft, a woodworking project, or a painting. Set a noble goal and work toward achieving it. Doing something active helps dispel the spiritual sloth that so often accompanies physical sloth.

Continue Reading at Table Talk


Brandon Crowe

Dr. Crowe (PhD, Edinburgh) is associate professor of New Testament at WTS.

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