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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Labor Day Lessons From the Ant
Text:Proverbs 6:6-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Calling
 
Preached:08/31/2014
Added:2014-09-08
Updated:2014-09-10
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.



Pastor Ted Gray
08/31/2014 – a.m.


“Labor Day Lessons From the Ant”
Proverbs 6:6-11

When the Jews of the first century became furious with Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, Jesus said, in John 5:17, “My Father is always at work to this very day and I too am working.”  God is always at work. We are reminded of His work every morning as we see the dawn of a new day.  We are reminded that He created the world in all it’s intricacy so that the days and nights are separated and the stars, moon and sun mark off the days and the seasons. With the Psalmist we look at God’s work of creation and exclaim, “How wonderful are Your works!”

We make that exclamation realizing that the Lord not only created the world, but still providentially upholds it. Deists are fond of saying that God is like a cosmic watchmaker. In their view He made the world with all that is in it, and then wound it up and let it tick away.  They describe Him as a distant God who has no interaction with the world He created. 

By contrast, Scripture speaks of how God is still at work, actively working out all things for His own purposes (Proverbs 16:4). He holds the heart of the king in His hand (Proverbs 21:1); He provides not only for His people (Matthew 6:25-34), but even the lion roaring after it’s prey, seeks its meat from God (Psalm 104:21). Even now God is working all things for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
  
But in addition to those striking works of creation and providence, God is also still at work in redemption. The work of redeeming sinners from their sin is finished in the sense that Jesus Christ offered Himself as the only sacrifice sufficient to cleanse us from our sin on the cross. As Hebrews 10:12 says, When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until His enemies should be made a footstool for His feet (12-13).

But in another sense the work of redemption continues. The Father and the Son have sent forth the Holy Spirit. He works in the lives of people, bringing conviction of sin, begetting faith, new life from above as He ensures that God’s Word never returns to Him void but always accomplishes the purpose for which it was sent (Isaiah 55:10-11). Even now the gospel of God’s redeeming love, His work of salvation, is being brought around the globe as sinners are called to repentance and faith. And the Son, at the right hand of the Father, ever lives to intercede for His people, ensuring their salvation (Hebrews 7:25).

You see, just as Jesus said, “My Father is always at work to this very day and I too am working.”  God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are always at work. And as people made in His image we are also commanded to be always active.

While I am not advocating that you skip whatever Labor Day plans you may have in order to spend the whole day working, it is appropriate to consider what the Bible says about both labor – and laziness – as our nation celebrates Labor Day tomorrow. (Note: As a reading sermon on a regular Sunday, this paragraph can be skipped).


Laziness Defined as Sin

Not only does the Bible tell us that our Lord is always at work, but it also tells us that laziness is a sin. That God sees our laziness as a serious sin is evident in a number of Scriptures, including the familiar parable of the talents recorded in Matthew 25.  Do you remember what happened to the man who buried his talent?  The king called him a “wicked, lazy servant” and said to  the other servants, “Throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:26, 30).

He was consigned to hell, not because he was a thief, not because he was a murderer, not because he was a fornicator or an adulterer. He was assigned to hell because he was lazy and buried the talent God had given him. In addition, of course, he had no saving faith in Jesus Christ and no sanctification from the indwelling Holy Spirit.

The laziness that the Bible identifies as sin includes physical laziness. We have all known those who are physically lazy. Have you noticed how when elbow grease needs to be applied some healthy, fully capable people have a way of vanishing?  However, laziness is not confined just to the physical. There is also mental laziness. The mind, if not cultivated and challenged, becomes lazy and dull. Generations of TV have done a thorough job in causing a vast multitude of millions to have lazy, dull minds.

In addition to physical laziness and mental laziness, there is spiritual laziness. Spiritual laziness is evident when a professing Christian becomes too lazy to pursue devotions, to faithfully and systematically read the Bible and pray every day. Spiritual laziness is evident when professing Christians no longer meet together faithfully for worship, Bible study, prayer and works of mercy and service. Spiritual laziness also contributes directly to physical and mental laziness.

Of all the laziness to guard against, guard against spiritual apathy, lest you find yourself like those in the church at Laodicea. You recall that they were lukewarm, neither hot nor cold. They were apathetic, lethargic; they were infected with spiritual laziness. I’m sure you remember what the Lord said to them,  “...Because you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - I am about to spit you out of My mouth”  (Revelation 3:16).

Indications of Laziness

Like so many sins, laziness often seems to be a sin in someone else's life, but not ours! “Certainly it can’t apply to me!” we might say.  “Consider what I've done. And, consider what I plan to do in the future.”   But in the light of God’s Word how many of us, – myself included, – can be convicted by these indications of laziness?

The first indication of laziness is an unwillingness to start things. The passage we read began with this question: “How long will you lie there, you sluggard?” (Proverbs 6:9). How many times do we have grand plans to start something but then we never do? Sometimes there are good reasons, – other priorities, cost factors, time restraints, – but is it possible that sometimes in your life and mine various things are not begun because we, too, have the sin of laziness?

A second indication of laziness is a lack of commitment to finish what has been started. Here again, every project not finished is not a result of laziness. There may be, at times, perfectly good reasons why projects are not completed.  But how often in your life and mine do we begin a good project, or a good book, or attending Bible study, Sunday school, or evening service, and then drop off, not because of valid reasons, but because of laziness, - because of a sinful lack of motivation?

Proverbs 12:27 describes the result of laziness this way: “The lazy man does not roast what he took in hunting.” Can you imagine! How foolish, to be too lazy to roast the game you have hunted down.  How foolish to be so lazy as to do part of the project – the hunt – but not the rest, the skinning, butchering and actual roasting. Yet analogies on unfinished projects come much closer to home than hunting. How many projects do you and I have that are left undone, – not because of priorities, or lack of funds or because of time restraints, – but because of plain old sinful laziness?

A third indication of laziness is a refusal to admit one’s own laziness. The lazy person will seldom own up to their own laziness and admit that it is a problem, a sin problem, in their life. Often the lazy person tries instead to turn their lack of responsibility into a false sense of wisdom. The lazy person will portray themselves as being too wise to expand energy into projects and activities that would involve their labor.  In their own eyes they are wise enough to see that to do so would be a waste of time, a waste of money, a waste of their valuable energy. Proverbs 26:16 points out, “The lazy man is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly.”

Results of Laziness

What are some of the results of laziness, in all its forms: physical, mental and spiritual?  One result is that laziness leads to many foolish excuses. Proverbs 26:13: “The lazy man says, there is a lion outside! I will be slain in the streets!” How’s that for an excuse not to go to work!  I might be eaten alive by a lion!
  
“What a strange excuse,” we say, “how ludicrous can you get?”

But it is no more outrageous than  some of the excuses that I have heard why people don’t come to church twice on Sunday, or to Bible studies during the week, or why they don’t attend church at all. Occasionally I hear a legitimate reason in rare instances, but most often the answer, springing from a heart that is spiritually lazy, is as preposterous as a man saying, “There is a lion in the street!”

Many pastors can relate to what Rev. Eugene Peterson writes about in his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.  He tells how when he first came into the ministry he tried to listen with a straight face to all the excuses that people gave him for not attending church: “My mother made me go to church when I was little...”  “There are too many hypocrites in church...” “It’s the only day I have to sleep in...” 

Then he writes: “There was a time when I responded to such statements with simple arguments that exposed them as flimsy excuses. Then I noticed that it didn’t make any difference. If I showed the inadequacy of one excuse, three more would pop up in its place. So I don’t respond anymore. I listen (with a straight face) and go home and pray that that person will one day find the one sufficient reason for going to church, - which is God. I go about my work hoping that what I do and say will be usable by the Holy Spirit to create in that person a determination to worship God in a Christian community.”  (Page 45).

As mentioned, spiritual laziness is the most dangerous of all forms of laziness. Guard against it.  It directly contributes to physical and mental laziness. And spiritual laziness does indeed have eternal consequences. 

Martin Luther, who was fond of writing down his dreams, wrote how in one of his dreams he dreamt that the devil was having a great celebration. The demons were reporting their work to the devil and one said, “I let loose the wild beasts of the desert on a caravan of Christians and their bones are now bleaching on the sand.”

“So what?” scoffed the devil, “Their souls were all saved, you accomplished nothing.”

Then another demon came forward and said,  “It took me 10 years but I finally got a professing Christian to fall asleep, to become so lazy and lethargic that he has no more interest in the things of the Lord.”  Then the devil shouted, in Luther’s dream, and the night stars of hell sang for joy. (3232 in 7700).

Laziness is destructive, not only in the spiritual sense of eternity, but also in the present.  Proverbs 18:9: “He who is slothful in his work is a brother to him who is a great destroyer.” The destruction brought on by laziness runs far deeper and is much more serious than most of us realize.  It's been a couple decades already since Jack Eckerd and Chuck Colson wrote that best-selling book, Why America Doesn’t Work.  Those of you familiar with the book remember how it revealed the damage brought about by the demise of the biblical work ethic in the United States of America.

Our nation was built on a biblical work ethic.  But today we have a record number of people who are not working. A recent article noted that “newly released Census data reveals nearly 110 million Americans – more than one-third of the country – are receiving government assistance of some kind.”  The article goes on to report:         

Though the programs were created to help those in need, some analysts worry that the way they’re designed is, increasingly, incentivizing people not to work. They note that when recipients combine several government assistance programs, in many cases they pay better than going to work. The Cato Institute’s Michael Tanner said that in the eight most generous states, the benefits can be tantamount to a $20 minimum wage…

“So in many cases people could actually do better on welfare than they could in an entry level job," Tanner said.   (Fox News, 08/29/2014).

Many of the social programs, - welfare, food stamps, free phones, etc. - are used not to help people for a brief time to get back on their feet in order to work. Instead, many of those programs seem to be designed to encourage people to live off the government programs, and not to work themselves. 

As we see the demise of the biblical work ethic in our country, we also see the destructiveness that accompanies it. We see increasingly the truth of Proverbs 18:9, “He who is slothful in his work is a brother to him who is a great destroyer.”

Because laziness results in many foolish excuses, and brings destruction, it by necessity also leads to exasperation.  Have you ever been on the job with someone who is lazy?  Who refuses to do his or her share of the work?  The author of Proverbs certainly had, for he writes in Proverbs 10:26, “As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the lazy man to those who send him.”  He is describing just how exasperating it is to work with someone who is lazy, to work with someone who will not pull their part of the workload, but instead has one foolish excuse after another.

Guarding Ourselves from Laziness

Seeing the dangers of laziness in all its forms, - physical, mental and spiritual laziness, - how can you and I guard ourselves from it?

Proverbs 6 tells us that when we feel lazy we are to follow the example of one of the smallest creatures that God created, the common – but extremely industrious – ant.  Proverbs 6:6-8: “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!  It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.”

Those verses describe true inner motivation! The ant has no captain, no one to tell them what to do. The ant just gets up and does it. That is the type of motivation, the Scriptures teaches, that all of us are to strive for.
 
The ant also provides for itself and for others. You will never find an ant looking for a free handout. It is only to humans, including professing Christians, that the words of the apostle Paul need to be directed, “If a man will not work he shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

The ant looks ahead, and works ahead. Verse 7 and 8 point out: “It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.” Those verses teach us that the ant makes the most of every season, that the ant not only works hard, but works smart. Perhaps you’ve heard the slogan, “Don’t work hard, work smart.”  The ant does both, - and so must we.

Although hardly an entomologist, I found out the following facts about the common ant: Not only does an ant work at providing food by carrying food to its home for storage, but studies at Purdue University show that ants actually plant underground mushrooms for spores, which over time sprout and give additional food, - its like having an underground farm for ants.

Not only are ants horticulturalists in this way, but according to the same Purdue University study, ants are in the “dairy” business. Dr. John Silling, a Purdue University entomologist, explains: “Some ants get the majority of their food by ‘milking’ aphids or plant lice which are often known as ‘ant cows.’  The ants sometimes herd the aphids down into ant nests at night or when it starts to get cool, then when it gets warm again they herd them back up to the plants.” (IBP #747).

The average ant lives seven years, seven years of working hard and working smart. Perhaps in seven years doing more work than some people who have lived seventy years. And the author of Proverbs says, to guard ourselves from laziness, we must “Go to the ant,…consider her ways, and be wise.” (Proverbs 6:6).

A second way to guard ourselves from laziness is to see its danger in robbing us from making good use of our time, which is a precious gift from God.  Solomon, after directing us to look at the ant for motivation, – a positive incentive to work, – also directs us to look at the negative results of laziness.  Proverbs 6:9-11:  “How long will you lie there, you sluggard?  When will you get up from your sleep?  A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest - and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.”

Did you notice the imagery in those verses? Those verses are saying that laziness is like a robber.  It robs you from doing all you could be doing for the glory of God and the good of His kingdom.  It robs you from being the active, helpful, kind neighbor you are called to be. 

It is like an armed man, taking from your family, your friends, your community, your church, the productivity you should be using as both a blessing to others and an example to those around you. It is like the devil holding you up, preventing you from doing the good deeds that Ephesians 2:10 tells us were before ordained for you and me to do. It is like an armed robber keeping is from bearing fruit as Jesus has commanded us to do.
 
As the Scripture likens the consequences of laziness to that of a robber and an armed man, it is using strong language.  And it uses that language, - that analogy, - not once, but twice over in Proverbs. In Chapter 24 the same imagery is used, with an example attached to it.

Chapter 24:30-34:  “I went past the field of the sluggard, past the vineyard of the man who lacks judgment; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins. I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw: A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest - and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.”

We see the devastation of laziness all around us in innumerable ways.  Some poverty is brought on by genuine inability and mistreatment, but much of it is brought on by laziness. Laziness is indeed like the armed robber who will bring scarcity into your life, if you give in to lazy habits and thought patterns.

Repenting and Turning from Laziness

When we see the destructiveness of laziness, not just in other people’s lives, but also within our own life, then we must also confess laziness as a sin and pray for God’s Spirit to motivate us, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

As much as we would like to point the finger at others, when it comes to laziness we are all guilty. As with any other sin, laziness needs to be confessed and washed by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Every sin is forgivable, including every form of laziness. Jesus said, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32).

1 John 1:8-10 are familiar verses, and they need to be. They need to be imprinted in our minds and engraved upon our hearts:  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives.

All of us, - even the hardest working person, -  has been lazy many times: physically, mentally, and yes, unfortunately, we have all often been spiritually lazy.

Having repented of our sin we must turn from it using our energy, our time and our talents in being productive. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, in Ephesians 5:  Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil  (Ephesians 5:14b-16).

God is always at work. We can see His perfect work in creation, redemption and providence all around us, every moment of our lives. As Jesus said in John 5:17, “My Father is always at work to this very day and I too am working.”  You and I are made in God’s image. Made, not to be lazy but in the words of Colossians 3:23, working at whatever you do, as working for the Lord and not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Do those verses describe you and me?  Or do you need to go to the ant, – as I frequently need to –  in order to be fully motivated in all that you do?

As the Lord sanctifies us, may we be among those who confess our laziness, confess our lukewarm apathy, and then commit our energy into service to the Lord our God this week and always, working at whatever (we) do, as working for the Lord and not for men. Amen.

 

 - bulletin outline -

 

Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! - Proverbs 6:6


“Labor Day Lessons From the Ant”
Proverbs 6:6-11

I.   God is always at work (John 5:17) and we also are called to work. Laziness in Scripture is not
      classified just as a lack of motivation, but as sin (Matthew 25:26). Laziness includes physical
      laziness, mental laziness and spiritual laziness. Indications of laziness include:
       1) An unwillingness to start things (Proverbs 6:9-11)


       2) A lack of commitment to finish what has been started (Proverbs 12:27, 19:24, 26:15)


       3) A refusal to admit one’s laziness (Proverbs 26:16)


II.  Consequences of laziness:
       1) It leads to many foolish excuses (Proverbs 22:13, 26:13)


       2) It is destructive (Proverbs 15:19; 18:9)


       3) It is exasperating (Proverbs 10:26)
     


III. When we feel lazy, whether physically, mentally, or spiritually, we are to:
      1) Follow the example of the industrious ant (Proverbs 6:6-8; 30:24-25)

 


      2) Recognize that laziness is like a robber, robbing us from making good use of our time and
           talents (Proverbs 6:9-11, 24:30-34)

 


      3) Confess laziness as a sin (1 John 1:9) and pray for God’s Spirit to motivate, - physically,
           mentally, and spiritually (Ephesians 5:13-16), so that whatever we do, we work at it with
           all our heart, as working for the Lord, not for men (Colossians 3:23)

08/31/2014 - a.m.

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 08/3, Rev. Ted Gray

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