We work because we have examples to teach us (Proverbs 6:6-11).
I read this and the other Proverbs portion to my children last night, calling it, “The Story of the Ant and the Slug.” Isn’t it amazing the lessons that God teaches us through His creation, and even through two animals that, for most, are not considered at all. And yet, God speaks to the sluggard and says, “Consider her ways and be wise.” To consider means to think about something before you make a decision. So, before you decide on the life course of a sluggard, think about the ant.
The ant — the great earth mover (Proverbs 6:6-11).
In Proverbs 6 we learn much about a tiny little creature to which we may not pay much attention: the ant. In reality, the only time we pay attention to them is when they start marching along the baseboards of the house or begin carrying off your sandwich at a picnic luncheon.
But God wants us to take notice. Everything in the created order has a purpose (although the house fly and mosquito will need some convincing from us, I’m sure). God calls us to consider this creature. You may say, “Wait a minute, he’s not calling all of us, just the sluggards.” Fine—but isn’t a word to the wise sufficient?
Verse 7 shows that ants are motivated. By whom? They need not “any chief, officer, or ruler,” they get things gone. If you watch ants around the anthill (or in your house), they do not stop. No breather is needed, no one is dragging behind.
Verse 8 show how they prepare: They get what they need now, and store up what they need later. They prepare. They don’t wait for the disaster. They store things away. I’m reminded of the Parable in Matthew 25:1-13 regarding the Ten Wise and Foolish Virgins.
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
God has called us to plan and prepare for when the Lord returns for His people. The ant, one of the smallest of all visible creatures, brings this to mind. There’s an old song, “Little is much when God is in it.” That sure applies to the ant!
- The sluggard— the great lion maker (Proverbs 26:13-16).
The sluggard is another story. We hear much about him in Proverbs. In Proverbs 6:9-11:
How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
11 and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.
What is a sluggard? Ray Ortlund helps us: “Think of the way syrup oozes slowly out of a bottle when it is cold. That is the sluggard—sluggish and slow and hesitant when he should be decisive, active and forthright. His life motto is, ‘Don’t rush me.’”
And what do we see first? He’s not motivated—he’s lying there, sleeping, resting! It reminds me of an old adage I heard recently: There are three kinds of workers. For example, when a piano is to be moved, the first kind gets behind and pushes, the second pulls and guides, and the third grabs the piano stool.
The sad issue is that one who is lazy like the sluggard is among the more selfish to walk the earth. They simply think about their own feelings. He seldom if ever thinks about his use to other people as an imagebearer of God.
Some of you may remember the running back Ricky Watters. He was a great player coming out of Notre Dame and did have a great career as a running back. He played for the 49ers, leading them to the Super Bowl, before jumping ship to the Eagles. He’s one of the few who rushed for over 10,000 yards and had 4,000 receiving yards in his career. Yet, he’s not in the Hall of Fame. Why?
Selfishness and self-centeredness marked his career. All that came to a flashpoint when the Eagles were playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Randall Cunningham threw a pass over the middle, intended for Ricky Watters. As the ball was coming, so was a linebacker with his sites set on Watters. So Watters pulled what’s called “alligator arms”—he pulled his arms in so to avoid being hit. When he was asked in the post-game interview why he didn’t fully extended, his response was, “For who? For what?” This is the epitome of selfishness—only doing something that benefits you. If it costs, requires any energy, thought, dedication, or perseverance, no thanks.
In Proverbs 26:13-16, we meet more of Mr. Sluggard:
13 The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the road!
There is a lion in the streets!”
14 As a door turns on its hinges,
so does a sluggard on his bed.
15 The sluggard buries his hand in the dish;
it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth.
16 The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes
than seven men who can answer sensibly.
A lion in the streets? Sluggards worry much about what could possibly happen, then do nothing; rather than work to see what will happen, then prepare and adapt. We hear from Spurgeon that those who are lazy do not simply respond to lions—they make lions.
Laziness is a great lion-maker. He who does little dreams much. His imagination could create not only a lion but a whole menagerie of beasts; and if some mighty hunter could hunt down all the lions that his imagination has let loose, he would soon distribute herds more of the terrible animals, with wolves and bears and tigers to match. An idler will never be short of difficulties as long as he has no heart for work. As they say that any stick will do to beat a dog with, so any excuse will do to ruin your soul with; for this man’s objection, after all, was not to lions in the way: he objected to the way itself, and he was glad to place a lion there so that he might be excused from going into the street. He did not want to get to his work, and therefore there was a lion in the way to obstruct him. The lion was his friend. He had invented him on purpose to be the ally of his idleness.
These ‘lions’ they create are a product of the sinful life that fail to do what God called us as imagebearers to do. While we are called to take care of the ground and keep it, part of the curse is found for Adam in Genesis 3 is:
… cursed is the ground because of you;
In pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
And you shall eat of the plants of the field.
God always called us to work, but now the ground would be a picture of the lack of unity and harmony between Creator and created. Proverbs 24:30-31 says:
30 I passed by the field of a sluggard,
by the vineyard of a man lacking sense,
31 and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns;
the ground was covered with nettles,
and its stone wall was broken down.
32 Then I saw and considered it;
I looked and received instruction.
33 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
34 and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.
Solomon noted that those who a lazy lack sense. Why? A direct reflection of their view of God and why He created them—and the sense of what the curse is all about. There is a gospel reflection here.
Notice this man’s property was overgrown with thorns. The wall was crumbling. The vineyards could produce nothing. The walls could protect nothing. All because he did nothing. Thorns and thistles are a sign of God’s impending judgment, whether from the ground, or from the cross (Jesus with the crown of thorns), or in Hebrews where hearts produce thorns and thistles rather than producing a “crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated.”
Our job is a gospel-centered work ethic where we work to be disciples in taking the gospel as an instrument of the Spirit to reverse the curse, work the land of the heart, and beat back the ‘thorns and thistles’ that lie there.
What lions are we creating in our minds that keep us from doing our physical work? What lions are we creating in our minds and hearts that are excuses from being spiritual slugs?
Ray Ortlund, Proverbs. Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books), Kindle location 1900.
Charles H. Spurgeon, One Lion, Two Lions, No Lion at All! http://www.ccel.org/ccel/spurgeon/sermons28.xxxiv.html.