The soul of the lazy man desires, and has nothing... - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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Biblical Wisdom
July 2, 2018

The soul of the lazy man desires, and has nothing...

Proverbs 13:4 – “The soul of the lazy man desires, and has nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made rich.”

by Dr. Bill Edgar, Geneva College Board of Trustees Member, Former Geneva College President and longtime pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPNCA) 

The lazy man desires what hard working people want: house, food, vacations, money for college and retirement. But the lazy man’s desires remain unsatisfied, while the diligent gain wealth.

It is impolite today to describe people as lazy, let alone suggest that laziness will lead to poverty, but that is how Proverbs mainly sees the world. Solomon knows that oppression, ill health, and lack of opportunity play a part in some having little, and there are plenty of ill-gotten gains. But the main issue in desiring and having versus desiring and not having is hard work versus laziness. It is condescending and dehumanizing to hide that fact from the poor.

Laziness in Solomon’s day described farmers who made excuses for not working their fields. “He who watches the wind will never sow, and he who looks at the clouds will not reap (Ecclesiastes 11:4).” Any excuse will do. The lazy man says, “there is a lion in the street (Proverbs 26:13).” Laziness today shows itself especially in laziness of mind. With regard to “word problems,” the attitude of my Algebra students was, “I’ll do 50 practice problems, I’ll do 100, but please, Mr. Edgar, oh please, don’t make me do word problems and have to think.” The sluggard starts a job, but won’t finish. He works only in spurts when he feels like it. He may not bother to get along with co-workers, another kind of laziness. Some just don’t go to work regularly. And amazingly, “The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly (Proverbs 26:16).”

There is an academic cottage industry devoted to explaining (and excusing) people who are lazy: they live in a society where people like them have not been rewarded for their work in the past; their “social capital” is low; they have other “values” than those of the wider society. The explainers’ big mistake is thinking that laziness needs explaining, but laziness is quite normal. Laziness has characterized many civilizations, for example, those where masters made slaves do the work. Perhaps that is why the Church in the slave-based Roman Empire constantly taught the virtue of hard work. Here is Paul talking to the Ephesian elders: “You yourselves know that these hands have ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:34-35).’” Diligence, not laziness, is what needs explaining.

Deep down the lazy man rebels against God’s curse on work. We labor by the sweat of our brow, weeds always interfering, work rarely “fulfilling,” often drudgery. Work is work! But he who submits to its demands will generally see his desires fulfilled, as the proverb teaches. Not so for the lazy man.