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Biblical References: Proverbs 20-22

Leading Question: What can be done to cure laziness?

Proverbs has lots to say about the lazy person – the NIV prefers the more colorful term “sluggard.” The following proverbs all have a bearing on the problem and suggest certain principles that might turn the sluggard from his unproductive ways:

1. Within certain limits – perhaps for the sake of family members – a potential cure for laziness is to discover that if one does not work, one does not eat. Paul gives that counsel in 2 Thess. 3:10 (NIV): “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’”

20:4 Sluggards do not plow in season;
  so at harvest time they look but find nothing.

2. Sleeping when one should be working leads to poverty.

20:13 Do not love sleep or you will grow poor;
  stay awake and you will have food to spare.

3. Party people often pay a steep price.

21:17 Whoever loves pleasure will become poor;
  whoever loves wine and olive oil will never be rich.

Note: An unhappy backspin to the truth of this “party” proverb is identified by John Wesley:

“I fear, wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches. How then is it possible that Methodism, that is, a religion of the heart, though it flourishes now as a green bay tree, should continue in this state? For the Methodists in every place grow diligent and frugal; consequently they increase in goods. Hence they proportionately increase in pride, in anger, in the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life. So, although the form of religion remains, the spirit is swiftly vanishing away. Is there no way to prevent this – this continual decay of pure religion? We ought not to prevent people from being diligent and frugal; we must exhort all Christians to gain all they can, and to save all they can; that is, in effect, to grow rich.” – John Wesley, cited by Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Scribner edition (1958), p. 175, citing Southey, Life of Wesley, ch. xxix (second American edition, II, p. 308).

A related sadness is described by Maya Angelou as she reflected on the influence of wealth in the lives of former slaves and their offspring:

“People whose history and future were threatened each day by extinction considered that it was only by divine intervention that they were able to live at all. I find it interesting that the meanest life, the poorest existence, is attributed to God’s will, but as human beings become more affluent, as their living standard and style begin to ascend the material scale, God descends the scale of responsibility at a commensurate speed.” – Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Bantam Books, 1971), p. 101.

In short, hard work could destroy other moral values that are important in the life of a believer.

4. Hard work can often be linked with generosity. In a strange sort of way, those who are hard-working and honest can also give freely to others. In other words, they have more than enough to give away. By contrast the sluggard is constantly craving for more but never even has enough for himself.

21:25 The craving of a sluggard will be the death of him,
  because his hands refuse to work.
26 All day long he craves for more,
  but the righteous give without sparing.

5. One doesn’t need a good excuse not to work, any silly excuse will do:

22:13 The sluggard says, “There’s a lion outside!
  I’ll be killed in the public square!”

Corporal Punishment: Last week, this study guide cited Proverbs 19:29 as affirming the value of corporate punishment. If your Sabbath School class did not discuss topic in connection with the change of circumstances relative to corporal punishment, here is another opportunity. First, the pertinent proverbs from Proverbs 20 – 22, then the discussion from last week’s study guide is simply reproduced below:

Proverbs on corporal punishment from Proverbs 20-22:

20:30 Blows and wounds scrub away evil,
  and beatings purge the inmost being.
22:15 Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,
  but the rod of discipline will drive it far away.

Proverbs 19:29 and the comments from last week’s study guide:
Some proverbs suggest that corporal punishment is sometimes the only solution. In our day, two factors militate against such action: 1) Modern legal restrictions against corporal punishment; 2) the teachings of Jesus. Here is the proverb, followed by Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount. Are there situations where Jesus’ words might be overruled?

Proverbs 19:29 Penalties are prepared for mockers,
and beatings for the backs of fools.

Matthew 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Question: In the last verse of 1 Corinthians 4, Paul suggested that the heavy hand might have some value: “What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of gentleness? (1 Cor. 4:21, NRSV).

Comment: In my teaching, I often refer to 1 Corinthians 4:21 as holding the clue to all of Scripture: God will use both the heavy and the gentle hand to bring about his kingdom. When a student is falling behind in required course work, I often approach them quietly and ask: “What do you prefer: the rod, or love in the spirit of gentleness?” My very rough estimate is that about 70% assure me that they don’t want the rod, but about 30% do admit that they need it: “Bring it on, Thompson; I need the stick.” More recently one of our theology seniors quipped: “Probably half of those who say they don’t want the stick probably need it anyway!” I suspect he is right.

Thus, in our use of the book of Proverbs, we have a wide selection of “examples” to meet a host of different needs. The complexity of the task should be a call to prayer that we may perceive the will of the Lord. Without that spirit of prayer, deeply religious people will be in great danger of not doing God’s will. This sobering quotation from Ellen White is worth noting – and I would note in advance that I believe it applies only to those who claim to be acting for God:

Those who do not learn every day in the school of Christ, who do not spend much time in earnest prayer, are not fit to handle the work of God in any of its branches, for if they do, human depravity will surely overcome them and they will lift up their souls unto vanity. – Testimonies to Ministers, 169

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