Do not be slothful in zeal; be fervent in spirit, and serve the Lord. (ESV)
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. (NIV)
Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. (NLT)
"Denying the demands of love"
A year ago, I picked up a book called “The Glittering Vices” by Rebecca Deyoung. (Inspiration for doing this series certainly came from the effects that the book had on my life and the way I now think about such things.) As I slowly turned the pages of this book with a small group, our leader had us jump around from different chapters every week. To my memory, it was about the sixth week working through this book before we landed in the chapter on “sloth.” I had already been heavily convicted by all previous chapters. So when I read the title of “sloth,” I recall taking a slight sigh of relief as I was convinced I had this vice under control. Boy–was I wrong. Deyoung quickly flips the tables on our cultural view of laziness as merely a “couch potato” and challenges the view that a “workaholic” can be just the same. Claiming that slothfulness/laziness is not merely a lack of work ethic or performance but instead that the true definition of slothfulness is “denying the demands of love.” She certainly had my attention.
We are immersed in the cultural experience of hustle and bustle from early childhood. It seems that if we aren’t busy, we’re lazy. We seem to pin our successes against others by listing our long to-do lists. We feel this busyness drowning us, but instead, it’s the very thing we find ourselves boasting about. My challenge is that, in order to overcome this vice, we must begin thinking about laziness not as a lack of busyness but actually as a lack of sacrificial love and service. The opposite of laziness isn’t busyness, it’s service.
So why is the hustle so wrong? I can’t necessarily tell you why it is wrong for you, but I can let you in on why it is dangerous for me. In apathy, I usually see myself quickly turning to two things: binging Netflix shows and putting in extra hours in the office. Now, this might sound backward, but that’s because we’ve been told that these are polar opposites for most of our lives. That, we’re either busybodies or we’re sluggards. But the truth is, I’ve found that they can be one and the same–numbing. Workaholism, or in today's words, hustle, often tends to be an escape from life's true treasures and challenges.
Things aren't going well at home, so we seek worth from the productive accomplishments of work. We think: why go home and have real conversations and live sacrificially when it feels like I get nothing in return when I could stay at the office and visibly see my hard work paying off? Likewise, we can forsake a meal at the table with our family, who need our attention and love, for a quick meal in front of the TV.
Living an inauthentic life puts us in a tailspin down the wide road of laziness. We overwork to compensate for our apathy and numb out so we don't have to deal with it. These are both great evils that will take you further down the road of apathy and laziness than you ever thought you would go. Numbing and laziness go hand in hand. They keep us from the realities of life, which in turn make us live inauthentic ones.
Romans 12:10-11 “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord”
As we see in these verses, the remedy for laziness is not busyness, it’s service through love and devotion. The word “zeal” in the original Greek is spoudē, which means earnestness or diligence. We are to be diligently devoted to others and the Lord in love. The true remedy for laziness is sacrificial living. It’s putting the needs and desires of others before your own and serving the Lord through hard work.
One can be busy without true hard work, just as one is certainly lacking in hard work when they're slothful. Both lead us to compromise, and both numb us from realizing the pain and mistakes that need to be redeemed and forgiven.
Sometimes life's busy; it just is. Our schedules fill up, and we stop saying no to anything. But the truth is we are always saying no to something. Let’s make certain that something we are saying no to isn’t love. The things we are filling in the cracks of our lives with often reveal the true place of our hearts. A hard worker who seeks to serve the Lord comes home from a long and even challenging day and sits with their family for dinner, curious about their hearts and lives. Someone who is living out this verse reaches the end of a long day of caring for the kids and chooses to open the word and pray with their family before bed. Martin Luther said it best, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”
Fill the cracks of your life with sacrificial love.
As disciples of Christ, we must make time for love. I was a college student not so long ago, and with it came the radical ebbs and flows of changing seasons. If I just learned one thing from my college year, it was this: if I wasn’t serving others and devoting my life to knowing Jesus during my busiest weeks, I wasn’t doing it during the freer weeks either. I would fill in my large and small cracks with all the same things. In health, I would fill the 15-minute break between classes with rest, prayer, or talking to a friend. In unhealth, I would use the 2 hours I had before bed by turning them into a 4 hour Netflix binge.
No matter how big, we tend to fill the cracks in our lives with the same things. If we truly live out the call of this verse, we will serve others with the 15 minutes we have as much as we would the 15 hours. If my days that start at 6 AM aren't started in the word, my 9 AM wake-ups won’t either. True sacrifice is having the strength and humility to serve others even when we have an excuse not to. Discipline and Holiness are the call to devote our lives to the Lord and love others in the moments where it seems least possible.
“The slothful like the comforting thought of being saved by love, of being God’s own, but balk at facing the discomfort of transformation—the slow putting to death of the old sinful nature—and the discipline it takes to sustain that transforming relationship of love over the long haul.”
― Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, Glittering Vices
Don’t let the world drive you to an addiction to mindless numbing and ignoring the necessary cares and realities of life; instead, let God carry you through every new season with the same devotion to him and learn to lay your life down every step of the way.
Written by Blake Stanley