One of the more amusing passages in the Old Testament is Proverbs 22:13: “The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!” (ESV)
To properly appreciate the proverb, it is important to understand the place of the “sluggard,” in the wisdom literature of the Bible, the book of Proverbs in particular. The sluggard is one who is too lazy to work properly, and suffers because of it. It is somewhat instructive to realize the difference, in the Bible, between the sluggard and the needy.
The needy individual, characterized often as “widows and orphans,” are those who are suffering poverty through no particular fault of their own, having suffered misfortune of circumstance as much as anything else. Caring for them is a high priority in both the Old and the New Testament, as shown by James’ declaration: “Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their need, and to keep one’s self unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27)
The sluggard on the other hand suffers, not because of circumstances, but because of his own unwillingness to make an effort to work. It is of such people that Paul commands the Thessalonians: “If any man will not work, he shall not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 2:10) God has created man to be a working creature, and has commanded that we shall eat through the work we put into things. (cf. Genesis 3:19a) This does not preclude the goodness of charity and our willingness to help others (cf. Galatians 6:2, 10).
All that being said, let’s go back to Proverbs 22, and the “lion outside.” A similar saying in Proverbs 26:13, is paired with this, “As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns in bed.” (Proverbs 26:14) The sluggard is motivated by a desire not to work, not to get out of bed, not to have to assert himself. Thus, the lion.
Whether or not there actually is a lion in the road, outside, the sluggard is not going to do anything about it. He’s going to use any excuse to be able to stay in bed, stay home from work, or otherwise not have to leave the house. The fear of death is a plausible excuse to do what he really wants to do anyway.
People do this sort of thing all the time. If most of us were honest with ourselves, we would admit that we have probably done it ourselves at some point. We might not plead fear of lions, but fear of weather, traffic, muggers, or any other such, can serve the exact same purpose. When we catch ourselves doing this, we should be honest with ourselves and critically look to see whether the fear we are claiming is actually all that valid, or just an excuse to avoid doing what we don’t want to do.
A further point about fear here might be made, as we ask the question, is the sluggard afraid because of his lazy nature, or has he become a sluggard through the fear? That is, which came first: the fear or the laziness?
It is possible that sometimes we allow fear to make us lazy. Sure lions are fearsome, but consider David, who as a young man, proclaimed, “Your servant used to keep his father’s sheep, and when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught it by its beard, and struck and killed it.” (1 Samuel 17:34-35; NKJV)
Fear kills our faith, and faith drives out fear. Thus did Jesus ask His apostles in one place, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 8:26) When we are afraid, our faith is demonstrably weaker than it should be. And when we are afraid and allow that fear to prevent us from working, we are allowing our weak faith to damage our usefulness to God.
The world is full of “lions,” dangerous things which are, from a certain perspective, quite reasonable to avoid. Yet, if we allow such fear to keep us from being productive, we are going to become sluggards in the work that we should be doing. We understand this when it comes to secular work and understand that we can only make so many excuses to our bosses before they get the idea that we just don’t want to work. Spiritually, in the service of God, we need to learn the same lesson.
If you would like to learn more about doing the work of the Lord, the church of Christ invites you to study and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions, please share them with us through our website: chapelhillchurchofchrist.or
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.