Proverbs 10 by Robert Dean
"Hi Ho! Hi Ho! It's off to work we go." This cheerful little ditty sung by the seven dwarfs in Snow White lays out a blueprint for how we should tackle our work. Listen to this lesson to learn why God designed work for us to do from the beginning of creation and the positive spiritual value that comes from accomplishing it. Find out how the diligence we display in our daily work is the same as we need to apply in our Christian life. Discover eight warnings against being a sluggard and what we can learn from watching ants.

Working Wisely. Proverbs 10


The book of Proverbs has very little great organization. Basically there is the first nine chapters or the opening introduction or prologue to the book, introducing many of the major themes. Then when we come to Proverbs chapter ten and following we get into the basic individual proverbs, just collection of individual sayings without any thematic organization from chapter to chapter or paragraph to paragraph. So from this point on we will be going through the rest of Proverbs in a more categorical or topical manner.


As we have pointed out in the introduction Proverbs is a book about how to live well, how to live wisely, how to really experience a full life as God intended. God understands the issues and problems of living in a fallen world, living with a sin nature, and God has provided us with all that we need in order to overcomes the deficits we face by living in Satan's world. But we have to engage our volition; we have to make decisions. Our life is basically the result of the choices that we make and it is up to us to engage in those choices. So Proverbs is basically a book about living wisely, about making wise choices.


This is something we are going to face every day. Are we going to choose the path of life or the path of death? The path of life is God's path, called the way of wisdom or the way of righteousness, and the other is the path of death. Proverbs 14:12 warns us that there is a way that seems right to a man but the end is the way of death. The only way that we can understand how to pursue life is to understand God's instructions and what God teaches in His Word.


Our topic now is going to be what the Scripture teaches about work, about honest, wise labor. In contrast, the Scripture warns against being slothful, against being a sluggard, against being lazy. It exhorts us to work hard, to work diligently. And so some of the key words involved in this study are words like work, labor, diligence, and on the negative side the words slothful and lazy.


Scripture says a lot about work; it says a lot about money. In fact, one of the most frequent topics through the Scriptures is on the topic of money and how we use our financial resources. And part of that or a topic that relates to that is the topic of work and the topic of labor, and that the emphasis is on our individual responsibility to be involved in labor, both spiritually as well as physically.


A sad fact of reality is that if we survey history we discover that when a culture, a nation, goes through a time of prosperity they become lazy. They relax, they quit working as hard, that survival drive is no longer there and they become complacent. They relax with what they have and fail the prosperity test. Then what happens is they become dependent. We see this in our own nation and we see this a lot is western civilization. If we look at the things that have happened in the last five or six years in western Europe—not so much in the US, we haven't reached the end of the game, so to speak, as many nations in Europe have—where they have built this economic system and culture of dependency for their people; where there are places where governments guarantee maybe a month or six weeks of paid vacation to every worker, where the government guarantees a certain wages to everyone.


At some point somebody has to pay, and what has typically happened under these kinds of socialistic systems is that sooner or later the government runs out of money. Government does not create money; government simply takes the product of the wealth of the people and then is supposed to return that in the form of certain restricted good and services. The government itself does not develop or produce wealth. So when the culture becomes more and more dependent upon the government to supply its medical and financial care in order to take care of retirement with systems like social security and various welfare systems what is creates is a culture of dependency. It is only natural for fallen creatures who have a predilection for irresponsibility: to, when the opportunity is there, to take advantage of a government program where they can get something free. It is not really free. Somebody is working to produce that or else it is just being generated out of some sort of deficit scheme that sooner or later reaches bankruptcy. Then when that government, that nation, has to start tightening its purse strings the people have been on this drug of free money, free programs, and so they get mad. The people want to fight any kind of restriction, any tightening of the purse strings.


What the Bible teaches is that we are all responsible for our own lives. We are responsible for feeding ourselves, responsible for providing for our families, responsible for providing for our future. There is a role and a place for compassion, to take care of and provide for those who are in difficult situations—widows and orphans—and under the Mosaic Law there was a ten per cent tax (tithe) that was taken every three years for the purpose of supplying the needs for widows and orphans. As a biblical culture under the Mosaic Law the family was supposed take care of those who grew older and those who were unable to take care of themselves. The responsibility of the government through that third tithe only came in as a secondary benefit. It was not designed to create a culture of dependency.


But it is very difficult to maintain the balance between genuine compassion and caring for people and creating a system that actually enables and promotes irresponsibility and laziness. So we have lost a lot of our historic emphasis on the value of individual work and labor. There is no physical labor that we can engage in that is not honorable. We live in a world today where there are too many people in our culture who think certain kinds of labor is beneath them. Biblically there is no labor that is beneath anyone. Honest labor has value.


Labor in  the Scriptures


The value of labor is part of the first divine institution: individual responsibility. That labor was part of man's makeup as being in the image and likeness of God. God is first depicted for us in Scripture as a worker, as a laborer who labored for six days in creation and then rested on the seventh.


But something happened in Genesis chapter three. Satan comes along and tempts Eve with the fruit of the forbidden tree, and she yields to that temptation and immediately spiritual death enters into human experience. As a result of sin part of God's judgment on the human race involves conflict in the area of personal responsibility in labor. Part of the responsibility identified in Genesis chapter three was that the man and the woman were to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. But one of the consequences of sin was that now the woman was going to experience multiplied pain labor and childbirth. For the man what would happen in his sphere of responsibility was he would have resistance, pain and suffering from the earth—tilling the soil. Genesis 3:17 NASB "Then to Adam He said, 'Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat from it'; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life.'" Work became toilsome and difficult. There is opposition, and in an agrarian society it was difficult. They had to break the soil, and weeds and thistles and thorns naturally produced. [18] "Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; 19 By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return."


Because labor is toilsome the inclination is to do as little as is possible. To those who go too far this is known as laziness—defining laziness in the sense of irresponsibility toward labor or toward the responsibility that God has given us. This is as much a product of the sin nature as other foolish sins. Laziness, slothfulness in the Proverbs is always associated with foolishness and arrogance, and with a failure to take personal responsibility for one's own life. So it is always spoken of in association with sin. Laziness is related to the sin nature. That means that for some of us laziness is going to be a trend of our sin nature; something of a default position and something we are going to have to deal with in the process of our spiritual life and spiritual growth.


In the New Testament we learn that Christ reverses the effects of the fall. This is the emphasis in Ephesians 5 and the beginning of chapter 6: though there are negative consequences from sin on marriage, on the husband, on the wife and on the children, and in terms of labor, because of the impact of Christ's redemptive work on the cross the effects of the fall can be reversed to some degree through sanctification, our spiritual growth. And thereby we can restore labor to be something meaningful and significant before God. This is expressed by Ephesians 6:5-8. We in our work are there to serve the Lord, not to serve whoever our immediate superiors might be, and so we are ultimately accountable to God. 


This change is also seen in Ephesians 4:28 when Paul challenges them: NASB "He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have {something} to share with one who has need." Work is a positive value in the Christian life. This was developed later on by a sociologist by the name of Max Weber in his The Protestant Work Ethic. But it is not really unique to the Protestant, there was an emphasis on righteous labor coming out of the Protestant Reformation, but there was stream of history behind that that went back into the Middle Ages where the development of a free market system was seen, and initiative and capital investment. So this idea of a free market system is not rooted in a Protestant work ethic, although there is such a thing. It is rooted really in those who understood the biblical teaching of honest labor and work.


There is a spiritual value to diligence and there is a correlation between how diligent a person is in their day-to-day life, their work life, their home life, and diligence and discipline in their spiritual life.


2 Timothy 2:15 NASB "Be diligent [spoudazo] to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth." Timothy is challenged by Paul in his ministry to be diligent. That applies to anybody who is involved, whether vocationally or not, in any form of Christian service. We are to be diligent and work hard at it. Hebrews 4:11 NASB "Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest …" This is focusing on the millennial rest, being prepared to go into the millennial kingdom to rule and reign with Christ, and that means we are to be diligent about our spiritual life and spiritual growth. We need to prioritize, to evaluate what we do within our spiritual life and prioritize different facets of it—our prayer life, our Scripture reading, our spiritual service, and being involved in studying the Word. 


2 Peter 1:10 NASB "Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble." The point is, we are to be diligent and labor in our spiritual life; it is not something that just passively happens. We are to be dedicated to its development.


2 Peter 3:14 NASB "Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless."


1 Corinthians 15:10 NASB "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me." Paul labored in his ministry.


Philippians 2:16 NASB "holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain." Usually we emphasize grace so much, that salvation is not by works, that we lose sight of the fact that we are to labor and work in our spiritual life, making sure that we are diligent in our spiritual nourishment by taking in the Word, and in application of the Word.


Colossians 1:29 NASB "For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me." This is emphasis on works. So the work ethic is not only significant in terms of our day-to-day employment, our day-to-day vocation, but it relates also to our spiritual life and growth. We can be lazy in our spiritual life as well as in our physical life and employment. 


One of the problems that we have today is that there are far too many Christians who are lazy and slothful in their Christian life. They do not put forth any effort to grow spiritually. They think they can show up at church once a week and that somehow 45 minutes (in most churches 20 minutes) or an hour of Bible study is going to counteract all of the rest of the week where they are being inculcated with the values of the world system. This is just irrational.


We need to be memorizing Scripture. Most of the time when we need to claim a promise we are not anywhere near a Bible. What we have in our heart from the Scriptures is what is going to be with us when and if we reach a point where we don't have much access to our Bibles. We should not succumb to the arrogance of thinking that is not going to happen to us. Every nation that fails the test of prosperity sooner or later internally collapses, and there is always hostility toward those who hold to the truth. The only thing that enables us to survive is that we hide the Word of God in our heart, as the psalmist says.


We have to be diligent in these areas—diligent in our prayer life and not become last sluggards.


The sluggard


1.  The sluggard is irresponsible, lazy, slow to work, refuses to make haste. Proverbs 6:6 NASB "Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise, [7] Which, having no chief, Officer or ruler, [8] Prepares her food in the summer {And} gathers her provision in the harvest." The word "sluggard" is the Hebrew word asel, which means to be slow, sluggish, lazy. It is used one time as a verb in the book of Judges (18:9). There is the episode of civil war breaking out against the tribe of Dan, and as the priest in the story calls upon the other tribes to come up and attack the Danites they hesitate. There is that word. Don't hesitate to go into battle; don't be slow; don't be sluggish. The word is used 16 times in Wisdom literature in order to describe the person who is lazy, irresponsible, and only does on a daily basis what they are supposed to do.


An illustration is given in Proverbs 24:30 NASB "I passed by the field of the sluggard And by the vineyard of the man lacking sense [devoid of understanding], [31] And behold, it was completely 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. [33] 'A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest,' [34] Then your poverty will come {as} a robber And your want like an armed man."


The wise person is going to learn from the slothful person but the slothful person won't learn anything from the diligent, wise worker.  The result is that poverty will sneak up like a robber to steal and take from you all that you have.


2.  The sluggard lacks initiative and drive. In other words, when he is not being supervised he is just a man-pleaser. When there is no one over him he defaults to doing nothing. Thus they are stealing money and time from their employer. Colossians 3:22 NASB "Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who {merely} please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord."

He often makes up excuses for why he can't accomplish things. Proverbs 22:13 NASB "The sluggard says, 'There is a lion outside; I will be killed in the streets!'" That is, something could happen. I could go outside and fail. I may lose something. He makes up excuses for not getting his responsibilities done.

3.  The sluggard procrastinates. Why do today what we can put of until tomorrow? That is the sign of the sluggard. He lives for today, makes no preparation for tomorrow and just hopes that somehow it will just take care of itself. Again, we need to draw an important distinction in the life of a believer. We live day-to-day. We live for today, we are not going to worry for tomorrow. We are not going to succumb to mental attitude sins of anxiety, fear, worry about the future. That is in the Lord's hands. On the other hand we do have a responsibility to prepare for the future. A classic example of this in Scripture is of Joseph when he was in prison in Egypt and God gave him the vision of what would happen in the future. There would come this terrible famine that would be preceded by seven years of plenty. During that time of plenty they took extra and stored it in the storehouses, and when the time of the famine came they had stored in savings all that would be needed to get them through. The sluggard doesn't do that. He is too distracted by not doing anything today to worry about tomorrow.


Proverbs 20:4 NASB "The sluggard does not plow after the autumn, So he begs during the harvest and has nothing." The ant will lay up for itself all during the summer, and then when the winter comes he has provided for himself. Ants have success in many different environments. It is due to their social organization. They work as a team and they do the same thing day in and day out. There is something about that regularity, that consistency that is part of the illustration of their value in terms of labor. Ants never fight among themselves; they always work as a team and always attack a common enemy. When they are working together everything gets out of their way. The ant lays up for the future, and that is an illustration that we should be providing and saving for the future.

4.  The sluggard delights in sleep. He delights in entertainment and distraction, rather than focusing on work and responsibility. He is more concerned about what is going to happen in terms of recreation and social life after work than in carrying out his responsibilities at work. Proverbs 6:9-11. The writer is so sarcastic.

5.  The sluggard is looking for easy money and easy riches. Proverbs 28:19 NASB "He who tills his land will have plenty of food, But he who follows empty {pursuits} will have poverty in plenty." He thinks that somehow it is just going to happen, and that they don't have to be diligent and follow the principles of labor that God has embedded within the social structure of creation.

Proverbs 14:23 NASB "In all labor there is profit, But mere talk {leads} only to poverty."

6.  The sluggard produces many destructive unintended consequences. He thinks he is just being lazy for himself, but it hurts his family, his co-workers, those around him.

Proverbs 18:9 NASB "He also who is slack [slothful] in his work Is brother to him who destroys." He destroys wealth, productivity, the home because he fails to provide things that should be provided for.


Proverbs 10:26 NASB "Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, So is the lazy one to those who send him." If you taste vinegar you just want to wince, if you get smoke in your eyes you just want to close your eyes and pull back, you don't want to be involved; and that is the idea of the imagery there. You just wish you had never met the lazy person.


God has ordained various consequences for being lazy. Think about this in terms of spiritual application. There are consequences to being spiritually lazy. You won't grow, you won't be prepared to face the disasters of life, you won't be prepared to face the eternal rewards for us at the judgment seat of Christ, and we won't be prepared to go into the millennial kingdom. We will be saved but we don't want to be like the Christian who suffers loss at the judgment seat of Christ and enters into the kingdom "yet as through fire."


Proverbs 15:19 NASB "The way of the lazy is as a hedge of thorns …" That is not a hedge for protection; that brings suffering upon the person. If you try to go through the hedge you get scrapes and cuts and it is very painful. "… But the path of the upright is a highway." The hedge blocks progress but a highway opens the door to options and opportunities and a bright future.


Proverbs 10:4, 5 NASB "Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, But the hand of the diligent makes rich. He who gathers in summer is a son who acts wisely, {But} he who sleeps in harvest is a son who acts shamefully." Laziness is an impediment to progress, it brings shame and poverty.


Proverbs 20:13 NASB "Do not love sleep, or you will become poor; Open your eyes, {and} you will be satisfied with food."


Proverbs 19:15 NASB "Laziness casts into a deep sleep, And an idle man will suffer hunger." When we come along with a lot of welfare programs to supply people with all of their needs then that aids and abets them in their irresponsibility. Hunger is a great motivator. We take that away from people and they lose their motivation to work.


Proverbs 21:25 NASB "The desire of the sluggard puts him to death, For his hands refuse to work."


Proverbs 13:4 NASB "The soul of the sluggard craves and {gets} nothing, But the soul of the diligent is made fat."


Scripture teaches that we aren't to provide material aid to sluggards. This has to be balanced from what we learn from other passages and the role of individual compassion to help people, but not in a way that enables and strengthens them in their irresponsibility. If their loss, their poverty is a result of natural disaster or various other factors other than indolence, then yes there is a factor there to help and sustain and to get them into a position where they can go forward. But if they are refusing to work, not taking responsibility in the area of labor, not taking jobs that can provide for them, then Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 NASB "For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. [11 For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. [12] Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread." Personal responsibility is a primary plank in having a productive, healthy culture.