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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
Title:Beware of the sloth!
Text:Proverbs 4:23 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Songs from 2010 APV Book of Praise.
Bible translation used: NKJV
Note: the 3rd in a series on Christian parenting but can be used on its own.

Psalm 101:1,2,3

Psalm 25:2

Psalm 119:4,5,6

Psalm 139:13

Psalm 25:5,6


Read:  Proverbs 4

Text:  Proverbs 4:23

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If you have ever seen someone being baptized in this church you would have noticed that before the baptism we read a special form.  This form begins with an explanation of what baptism is all about and it begins with quite a bang!  Perhaps you haven’t really noticed it, especially if you have heard this form read over and over again, but when it gives its teaching about holy baptism the first thing the form says is this:

“First, we and our children are conceived and born in sin and we are therefore by nature children of wrath, so that we cannot enter the kingdom of God unless we are born again.”

I’d like you to think about that for a moment, I want this to sink in.  There is a baby about to be baptized.  She looks lovely.  She’s nice, she’s sweet, she’s adorable!  But instead of talking about how she has her mother’s eyes or her father’s chin, the form starts out with saying that this little child shares in the sin of Adam and Eve, that this little girl (or boy) about to be baptized is by nature a child of wrath, and therefore needs to be born again. 


The Canons of Dort goes even further in its explanation of what we call the doctrines of total depravity and original sin.  Article 3 of chapter III/IV says,

“Therefore all men are conceived in sin and are born as children of wrath, incapable of any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in sins, and slaves of sin.  And without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit they neither will nor can return to God, reform their depraved nature, or prepare themselves for its reformation.”


It is this doctrine that the Form for Holy Baptism begins with because this biblical teaching has great consequences for how we see ourselves, how we see our children, and, of course, how we see the grace of God and the renewing work of the Holy Spirit.


It also has great consequences for our approach to Christian parenting.  First of all, since our children are “born in sin” we will not be surprised when we see the evidence of sin in them.  The idea that our children are by nature morally good or even morally neutral is not true and so it would be dangerous to pretend that it was.  By nature your children are not “little angels”: to the contrary, the Bible teaches us that folly or foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.  That means that neither we nor our children will naturally search for God and find him, nor will we by nature learn or choose what is good.  For, as it says in Jeremiah 17:9,

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.”

And so both we and our children need a new heart!  We need to be born again and we need to live out of the wisdom that comes from God.

  In the second place, a biblical understanding of total depravity and original sin teaches us that Christian parenting is much more than simply trying to regulate your child’s behavior.  Yes, we want our children to mind their “P’s” and “Q’s”, to have good manners, to be respectful and to listen to those in authority over them.  But if these things do not come from a changed heart then our children would be no better off than the Pharisees in the days of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And so the Lord calls us to guide and instruct our children – and be guided and instructed ourselves – to look not just to what is happening on the outside, to look not just at our actions, but to consider what is going on in the inside, in our hearts.  No, we can not change their hearts – for that is the work of the Holy Spirit alone – but we are called to train their hearts and to teach them to guard their hearts.  For from the good treasure of one’s heart, one brings forth good but from the evil treasure of one’s heart, one brings forth evil.


And so I preach to you the Word of the LORD under the following theme:

The way of life flows from the heart.


1.    Watch what goes in it.

2.    Observe what comes from it.


1. Watch what goes in it.

During the Middle Ages the Church developed a list of what is called the Seven Deadly Sins.  These sins were the sins of pride, envy, sloth, greed, lust, wrath and gluttony.  The churches of the Reformation did not focus on these seven sins in the same way as the Roman Catholic Church did since it is not right to say that these sins are deadly while others are not.  Nevertheless it is still good to be warned against these “sins of the heart” and today I would like to direct your attention to the sin of sloth or slothfulness.


Boys and girls, you most likely know about sloth as an animal.  But did you know that sloths are called sloths because they are slothful?  Sloths are South American animals, and they spend most of their time hanging upside-down from tree branches.  Everything a sloth does is slow.  It chews slowly, it blinks its eyes slowly, and it moves very slowly – taking a month to travel just one kilometer.  And that is why they are called sloths: because their name describes what they appear to be like.  To be slothful is to be lazy and apathetic.  But the sin of slothfulness is not just the sin of laziness, it is the sin of spiritual laziness.  The sin of slothfulness is the sin of indifference, the sin of saying “whatever” to the things that really matter.  One writer from the Middle Ages, Dante, called sloth “a failure to love God with all our heart, mind and soul.”  Sloth is wasting your time and your emotions on the wrong things so that you do not have the time or the energy to focus on the things that God calls you to focus your attention on.  Sloth tells you that being a Christian is dull.  Sloth tells you to you are too busy for Bible study this week . . . and probably next week and the week after that.  Sloth encourages you to coast, to drift spiritually through life.  Sloth makes you forget to open your Bible, to meditate on it, to pray to the Lord.  Sloth keeps you from being involved in church life, it encourages you to think that mere church attendance is good enough.  Sloth takes the shine, the wonder away from the cross of Christ and the empty tomb.  Sloth says that there is no urgency to repent and believe, for there is always another day.  Spiritual slothfulness, therefore, is the opposite to the parable of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 13, where a merchantman went looking for the perfect pearl of great price who, when he found it, sold all that he had and bought it.  It is putting that pearl of great price to the side to gaze at the trinkets and the distractions of the world.


To be slothful in a spiritual sense is not to do nothing, therefore.  To the contrary, a person who is slothful may be very busy.  But not busy with the gospel.  Not busy with a hunger and a thirst for the righteousness that comes from Christ.


We do not want to be like that!  Nor do we want our children to be like that.  And so Proverbs chapter 4 is an urgent call from a father to his son to watch what goes into his heart and to hunger and search for a heart of wisdom.  And as the father in Proverbs 4 does this he warns against slothfulness, of being indifferent, of saying “whatever” to the things that you set your heart on. 


Verse 1,

Hear my children.”  Listen up!


“Give attention to know understanding.”

Verse 2, “Because I give good doctrine, good teaching, do not forsake my law, don’t ignore what I am telling you.”

Verse 3-7, “What I want to tell you is not something new: it is something that my father taught me, and this is what He said to me:

“Let your heart retain my words: keep my commands, and live.  Get wisdom!  Get understanding!  Do not forget, nor turn away! . . . Do not forsake her! . . . Love her. . . . Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom.  And in all your getting, get understanding.”


Proverbs 4 tells us to treat the matter of getting wisdom as a matter of great urgency.  We are warned not to become slothful but to grab wisdom with both our hands, to earnestly desire a heart of wisdom.


This is not the first time that the book of Proverbs makes this call to gain wisdom; the first 3 chapters teach the same thing.  And the wisdom that the book of Proverbs speaks of is not just a case of acting wisely.  Wisdom is not something that you by nature have inside you; rather it is something that you have to get.  Wisdom has to be taught and wisdom has to be received.  Parents, your children will not gain a heart of wisdom if they are simply left to their own devices because by nature we are corrupt and void of wisdom.  And so our children must be taught what the way of wisdom really is.  And the way of wisdom is to live in the fear of the LORD.  This is what it says in Proverbs 2:1-6


My son, if you receive my words, And treasure my commands within you,

2           So that you incline your ear to wisdom,

            And apply your heart to understanding;

3           Yes, if you cry out for discernment,

            And lift up your voice for understanding,

4           If you seek her as silver,

            And search for her as for hidden treasures;

5           Then you will understand the fear of the Lord,

            And find the knowledge of God.

6           For the Lord gives wisdom;

            From His mouth come knowledge and understanding;


Wisdom does not come from within you.  If you search inside your own self for answers, for guidance and for wisdom you will not find it because by nature we are not wise, we are fools!  Rather, wisdom comes from outside of us, it comes from a knowledge of God, from the fear of the LORD, and so wisdom has to be taught.


So how do we do this?  What does this look like in practice?  When it comes to parenting it means, Proverbs 4 teaches us, that parents instruct their children and have them instructed in the way of wisdom, and it means that our children must learn to listen and must be trained to learn the importance of wisdom and must be encouraged to desire it.


But we can not teach something that we have not learned for ourselves.  We can not impart wisdom to our children if it is not in our own hearts.  We need to begin with ourselves first of all.  We need to keep our own hearts with all diligence.  We need to watch out and be careful what we feed it.  We need to examine ourselves, search our own hearts to learn what makes us tick, to understand what makes us to be the person that we have become, the person that we really are.  We need to ask ourselves some probing heart questions.  What do you spend your time one? What are you living for?  What is your heart drawn to?  What are you reading?  What are you watching?  What do you linger over?  What are the things you are allowing to take root in your hearts?  What sort of a life do you really lead, and what sort of a life are we encouraging one another to lead?

  In conversation it has often been said that we are too busy with too many insignificant things.  We are too easily distracted by running here and rushing there, by filling our lives with games and movies and ipads and ipods.  And whether or not the things that you do are wrong in themselves, the clamor of the world is drowning out the call to truly know the LORD and to diligently teach your children to do the same.  But to see this problem and to acknowledge it is only the beginning: what steps are we undertaking to do something about it?  What are we doing with this life that God has given us?  What are we spending our time on?  What are we filling our hearts with?  Have we become or are we becoming spiritual lazy?  Has the sin of sloth been creeping upon us to squeeze our hearts, to turn us away from the path of wisdom and on to the road of folly?

  But perhaps you are saying, “Yes, but you need to understand that life has changed, that there is nothing we can do about it.”  But has life really changed so much?  Is the problem really an external one that we have no control over?  In Matthew 13 our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the parable about the seed which fell on different types of ground.  And of this seed Matthew 13:7 says,

“And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them.”

And then Matthew 13:22 explains what this means:

“Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.”

Doesn’t this sound very much like the situation we live in today?  Although the distractions might be different, there is nothing new under the sun.  The problem is not the busy-ness of life: the problem that we have is one of the heart!


So what can we do about it?  This is what it says in Jeremiah 6:16 –

Thus says the LORD: “Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls.”

Ask for the old paths, where the good way is!  The pathway of wisdom is not a new road but an old one.  It is the path that the father speaking in Proverbs 4 had heard from his father who is turn had learned it from his father.  It is the pathway that has been given to us by God Himself.  It is the pathway that is laid out, for example, in Psalm 119:9-11.

9           How can a young man cleanse his way?

            By taking heed according to Your word.

10         With my whole heart I have sought You;

            Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!

11         Your word I have hidden in my heart,

            That I might not sin against You.


It is, therefore, going back to God’s Word.  It is the regular coming together in church where we are to diligently apply ourselves to the singing of psalms and hymns, to the respectful hearing of the Word of God, to prayer and to actively listen to the preaching of God’s Word.  And it is the teaching and training of our children to do the same. 

  It is coming together, not just in church every Sunday that you can possibly be here (although that of course is critical) but both formally and informally to study the Scriptures, to encourage one another to search out the pathway of life.  It is to read the Bible in your homes and to talk about it, to gain instruction from it.  It is to read good books, to study theology.  It is to learn to know the God of the Bible better and to understand the implications of doctrines such as total depravity, original sin and irresistible grace.  It is a life of deliberately seeking out the wisdom that comes from above that we might grow in it and teach our children to do the same.

  Are we doing that?  Are we growing together as we grow in the knowledge of the LORD?  Are our hearts being fed with the true food of God’s Word?  Allow me to address the older unmarried people and younger couples and parents here, although what I have to say applies to us all.  Your lives may be busy, even hectic, but what are you doing?  What is it that is really driving you to do the things that you do?  Do you still see the urgency to get wisdom and understanding, to fear the LORD and love Him with all your heart, soul and mind?  Are you connected to God and His Word?  Are you connected to this church that God has placed you in and are you connected with the body of Christ here in Baldivis for the purpose of encouraging one another to have our hearts filled with the wisdom and the knowledge that comes from God?  Do you both study God’s Word for yourself and study it with one another?  What are you hungry and thirsty for?  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

It is not easy to do, it is not natural.  Our natural tendency is to be a sloth, to be spiritually apathetic, to be satisfied with a half-hearted desire to serve the Lord and walk in His ways.  But beware of the sloth!  Get wisdom!  Get understanding!  Do not forget!  Do not turn away!  And do not forsake her!


And then as the Holy Spirit works in our hearts and in the hearts of our children we will learn what the way of wisdom really is.  And as we learn of God’s wisdom we will also discover the foolishness that was and the foolishness that remains in our own hearts.  As we search our hearts in the light of God’s Word we will know the truth that by nature we are children of wrath, conceived and born in sin, and incapable of any saving good.  We will see ourselves for who we really are and we will see that of ourselves we are not wise but fools.  And then, as the Holy Spirit works in our hearts and lives we will yearn for the true wisdom that comes from God.  We will yearn for a Saviour.  And we will reach for our Lord Jesus Christ, the One who has become for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.  (1 Cor. 1:31)  For it is in Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ alone that we can be saved from the folly in which we were born and so receive the true wisdom that comes from God.  Seek the Lord therefore, know Him and love Him with all your heart.  And then you too will live and walk in the pathway of the wise.


2. Observe what comes out of it.

Proverbs 4:23 warns us to keep or to guard our hearts with diligence because “out of it spring the issues of life.”

  Perhaps the way this is worded is not so clear but the ESV translation of the Bible has captured its meaning well:

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”

Your heart is like a spring that bubbles up to the surface so the reason why you need to watch what goes in to your heart is because what goes in is what will come out!  As our Lord Jesus Christ said in Luke 6:45,

A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

And, more bluntly in Mark 7:21-23,

For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”

We want a changed heart, therefore, so that we no longer walk in the pathways of the foolish but filled with the Spirit of God and changed by the power of God, we walk in paths of wisdom. 


And then we will be eager to live as those who are wise and not fools.  And the last verses of Proverbs 4 teach us further how to guard our heart by observing what comes out of it.

Verse 24,

Put away from you a deceitful mouth, and put perverse lips far from you.

Watch what you say!  Evil words, cursing, swearing, lying, slander, gossip – these things do not come from a heart of wisdom and so turn away from such things!

And verse 25,

Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you.

Oh be careful little eyes what you see!  What are you watching?  What are you looking at out of the corner of your eye, greedily trying to drink in that which can destroy your soul?  The eye is the lamp of the body, our Lord Jesus said in Matthew 6:22.  It is the window to the heart.  Let us be careful, therefore, that we use our eyes to feed our hunger for wisdom and not to feed the evil desires that lurk in our hearts.  Let us use our eyes to seek the things that are above and not to feed the sloth that lurks within us.

And verse 26,27

Ponder the path of your feet and let all your ways be established.  Do not turn to the right or the left; remove your foot from evil.


So observe what you do and consider the ways of your heart.  But be warned, for the more we know ourselves, the more we know how evil our own sinful nature really is!  It is not just the devil and the world that continually attack us but also our own sinful flesh!  As we examine our hearts in the light of God’s holiness and in the light of His Word, we will be afraid.  For the seeds of sin are there in my heart and if I followed the evil desires of my heart I would plunge into a destructive life of sin in an instant.  And so we cry out with the apostle Paul, as he did in Romans 7,

“Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?”

But then we see Jesus, the author and the perfector of our faith.  Then we see Jesus, the One who said “Apart from Me you can do nothing”.  Then we see Jesus, the one in whom we can do all things!  And Jesus said,

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” 

Yes, for in your heart would be the Holy Spirit, the one who gives you a new heart and a new life.  And then the things you will observe coming from your heart more and more are the fruits of the Spirit living and working in you.


And then you will no longer be a fool.  Then you will be wise, for you will live in and out of the wisdom that comes from God.  Brothers and sisters, boys and girls: how is this with you?  Do not go the way of the Sloth but seek the LORD that He might give you a heart of wisdom.  And then guard your heart, keep it diligently, for from it flow the springs of life.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2013, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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