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What Is the Sin of Sloth and Why Is it Worse than Laziness?

  • Kyle Blevins Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • Updated Jun 25, 2020
What Is the Sin of Sloth and Why Is it Worse than Laziness?

The sin of sloth is known as one of the seven deadly sins. The sin of sloth is a bit deeper than laziness, and that subtlety is found in the thing that keeps us bound up: fear. Most of us probably do not understand the full difference of what it means to struggle with the sin of sloth versus having moments of laziness. The Greek word using in scripture is akedia, meaning the absence of care. You see, sloth is more than just being lazy. Slothfulness is a sinful heart condition.

What Does the Sin of Sloth Mean?

The short definition of “slothful” is simply laziness. Imagine a mom describing a sleep-deprived teenager (read this in your best mom voice; it’s more fun): “Oh, he’s slow moving, takes no initiative, and lives in a mess. He acts like he can’t hear me. I have to ask him to do something 10 times before he reacts, and then you’d think I was inflicting pain on him. He’s just part of the couch, somehow blind to everything piling up around him.”

This is certainly one aspect of laziness. Sleep deprivation, raging hormones, malnutrition, and stress can have an obvious impact on our energy. But there is another side to laziness that somehow slips under the radar. This is the darker side of it. I’ll spare you reading the next section in a Darth Vader voice, but you are welcome to if you’d like.

The dark side is a lack of motivation from the inner man. One possible reason for being caught in sloth is fear. 

Reflecting on my early school days, I remember being enthralled with learning, specifically with words. Every year in elementary, I would work toward winning the spelling bee. I remember feeling this deep sense of pride in the 1st grade when I was the runner-up. I just knew I’d win it if I worked a little harder. My first year in middle school, I kept the trend going and made the final cut for the bee.

My mom left work to come, which I knew was a big deal, and I was eager to show off my knowledge. Given my last name, I was one of the first spellers called up. My word was “blue.” I gave my mom a confident look and spelled out “B-L-U-E, blue.” As I started to sit down, I heard “The correct spelling is B-L-E-U. You are eliminated.” Oh no. I didn’t think to ask for its use in a sentence. 

Though this was a completely understandable mistake and a golden learning opportunity, I was devoured by embarrassment as I tried not to cry in front of my classmates and bore the weight of my mom leaving work for this. Despite my mom’s love and understanding, this embarrassment sparked fear in me. I never joined another spelling bee again, despite all my interest and potential. And as a 6th grader, I found myself caught in slothfulness for the first time.

What Does the Bible Say about Sloth?

The Good Book is chock-full of Scriptures that reference slothfulness and say just as much about hard work. Proverbs is the main source of these references where the words “sluggard” and “slothful” are used.

  • Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger.” (Proverbs 19:15)
  • “The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing.” (Proverbs 20:4)

These are some of the examples commonly sought out to define “slothfulness.” You can see how limiting they are. Though this absolutely describes an effect of slothfulness, it doesn’t quite get to the core of what leads a person there, nor does it provide us encouragement to share with someone caught in it. To understand what someone is going through is the ultimate goal because empathy translates to compassion, which propels us into action.

The following Scriptures show a larger picture of what is missing in a person and align more with what we discussed earlier:

  • “Do not be slothful in zeal [zeal is defined as great energy or enthusiasm toward a cause], be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” (Romans 12:11)
  • “So that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises.” (Hebrews 6:12)
  • “For anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’” (Ephesians 5:13-14)
  • “For God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

Understanding and encouragement flow from these verses.

  • The charge not to be “slothful in zeal” shows that the root of slothfulness can be found in losing sight of purpose which leads to idleness.
  • The charge to be “imitators of those who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises” reminds us that it is possible to lose sight, but we have the influence we need to stay on the path we know in our hearts we should be on.
  • Finally, the charge to “awake!” is a call not to be afraid to act. Fear is fruitless and it is not from God. At the root of the fear of failure is our desire to please people more than God, for God is not interested in our perfect attempts. He is interested in our boldness to practice with the tools that He gave us.

So, exercise your spirit of power by connecting your message, your life, to purpose. Exercise your spirit of love and self-control by working hard to honor others (Romans 12:10). 

How to Overcome the Sin of Sloth

We see by now that these two really go hand in hand. But true slothfulness is a two-edged sword.

One edge is an abandonment of self: we become so caught up in fear that we walk away from the things our heart truly desires and bypass opportunities. This is important to fight against because abandonment of our hearts’ desires impacts the way that we view God. God has placed in each of us an identity and purpose. The moment we start letting those things go, we move away from God and find ourselves in darkness.

The other edge of the sword is self-absorption: once we find ourselves in that dark wilderness, we try to rationalize where we are and why. In this place, we are not walking in thanksgiving for the life God gave us, nor are we truly trying to find our way back.

You might be thinking, “What’s the deal here?” First, you say that we abandon our desires, which is bad. But then you say that we focus too much on ourselves, and that’s also bad. The clarity we need is found in faith and praise. 

Boldly pursuing our passions and interests is a way of worshiping God. We demonstrate the joy of life as we apply ourselves and let our light shine. We aren’t seeking to show the world who we are; rather, we are so thankful for who God has made us to be that we want to do all we can with it. 

It’s like the excitement of being given your favorite action figure as a 4-year-old. You want to take it to your room, the yard, the trampoline, your buddy’s house, and even show and tell.

Slothfulness steals our excitement and joy in the purpose God has for us. 

As for focusing too much on ourselves, this is more about being so focused on our problems that we lose sight of the joy in sharing with and serving others. Introspection is necessary. But when we become absorbed by our problems, we lose our sense of control, which can spiral into depression and anxiety where our passions become lost in the pursuit of regaining that control. 

If you find yourself in this place today, you are going to be okay. As with any sin, just because it happened does not mean you have to stay there. Your redemption in Christ is the very power that will draw you to repentance where He can lift you out of that place and back into living life abundantly with Him. You are loved.

Kyle Blevins author imageKyle Blevins is the sole contributor to the blog, REDIRECTED, which focuses on rediscovering purpose through love. His broken life reached a turning point after being surrounded by positive people who believed he was capable of more. His passion is connecting with and encouraging those looking for a new beginning in life and in Christ. You can follow his blog at iamredirected.com

Photo Credit: GettyImages/SIphotography