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The Sluggard

There is a certain folder with stuff in it that I force myself to read and review each year. It’s stuff about time management, goal setting, productivity. It’s not stuff I’m excited about reading and reviewing but I need to review this material each year because, well, because I tend to be lazy. If you followed me around you might think I’m diligent and productive but all too often I’m busy doing things that aren’t most important, just urgent or enjoyable. So years ago I put this yearly practice into place and it’s made a difference. A big difference actually. Well, it’s that time of year again, just before September when the season changes and so does life. Perhaps you’d like to join me in evaluating your priorities and practices so that you might find fresh grace to “make the best use of the time” (Eph 5:16). If so, here is what I’m reading. Might make a difference in your life. Hope so.

My study in the book of Proverbs began shortly after my conversion in 1972. And it wasn’t long after this that I began reading and learning from Dr. Derek Kidner’s little commentary on Proverbs. For decades now Dr. Kidner has been one of the scholars holding my hand, leading me through the book, and helping me to discover what he calls “the neglected wealth of the Proverbs” (p. 9).

One of the most distinct features of the commentary is his brief subject studies. In these summaries he covers the topics of God and man, wisdom, the fool, the sluggard, the friend, words, the family, and life and death (see pages 31–56). I wish all Christians could read these brief and pointed studies and experience the grace and wisdom I have derived from them.

When I began my Christian life, I held to a narrow and limited understanding of laziness. Then I read Kidner’s subject study on the sluggard.

I’ll never forget it.

As I began reading, I saw my face in the picture. My definition of laziness was expanded, and its subtlety was exposed. I discovered that I could be—and often was—a sluggard.

Here are the words I read:

The sluggard in Proverbs is a figure of tragi‐comedy, with his sheer animal laziness (he is more than anchored to his bed: he is hinged to it, 26:14), his preposterous excuses (“there is a lion outside!” 26:13; 22:13) and his final helplessness.

(1) He will not begin things. When we ask him (6:9, 10) “How long…?” “When…?”, we are being too definite for him. He doesn’t know. All he knows is his delicious drowsiness; all he asks is a little respite: “a little…a little…a little…”. He does not commit himself to a refusal, but deceives himself by the smallness of his surrenders. So, by inches and minutes, his opportunity slips away.

(2) He will not finish things. The rare effort of beginning has been too much; the impulse dies. So his quarry goes bad on him (12:27) and his meal goes cold on him (19:24; 26:15).

(3) He will not face things. He comes to believe his own excuses (perhaps there is a lion out there, 22:13), and to rationalize his laziness; for he is “wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason” (26:16). Because he makes a habit of the soft choice (he “will not plow by reason of the cold,” 20:4) his character suffers as much as his business, so that he is implied in 15:19 to be fundamentally dishonest…

(4) Consequently he is restless (13:4; 21:25, 26) with unsatisfied desire; helpless in face of the tangle of his affairs, which are like a “hedge of thorns” (15:19); and useless— expensively (18:9) and exasperatingly (10:26)—to any who must employ him…

The wise man will learn while there is time. He knows that the sluggard is no freak, but, as often as not, an ordinary man who has made too many excuses, too many refusals and too many postponements. It has all been as imperceptible, and as pleasant, as falling asleep.

‐Derek Kidner, Proverbs (IVP, 1964), pp. 42–43.