The Sin of Idleness

Even in harder economic times, people are addicted to idleness and ease. Here is how it is hurting us.

Everywhere we turn, we see people who have succumbed to the deadly drug of idleness.

It has affected whole nations, especially America, where we sit in apathetic tolerance of corruption in the highest levels of our government. It has affected families, where the proper roles have been twisted and the results disastrous, and no one, it seems, steps forward to set things right. It affects our industry and our schools.

Most people associate sin with something you should not do. But few people ever stop to consider the words of the Apostle James: “Whoever, then, knows what is right to do and does not do it, that is a sin for him” (James 4:17, Moffatt). How many in this society are condemned by that one verse?

Are you one who frequently does not do what ought to be done? Then hear the words of God’s inspired Scriptures: If you know what is right to do, and don’t do it, that is sin!

The Price of Affluence

In his book Slouching Towards Gomorrah, Robert Bork incisively pinpoints one of the causes of our societal decadence since the days of World War ii: “The generations that lived through those times of hardship and discipline were not susceptible to extreme hedonism, but they raised a generation that was.” Bork attributes much of our decadent moral slide today to Western affluence.

“Affluence,” he wrote, “brings with it boredom. Of itself, it offers little but the ability to consume, and a life centered on consumption will appear, and be, devoid of meaning. Persons so afflicted will seek sensation as a palliative, and that today’s culture offers in abundance.”

Citing the fact that there is less and less hard, physical labor required with most jobs due to increased technology, Bork concludes, “Hard physical work is inconsistent with hedonism; the new work is not. With the time and energy of so many individuals freed from the harder demands of work, the culture turned to consumerism and entertainment.”

There can be no doubt that life today is much easier than it was 50 years ago, even among the poor. We enjoy more conveniences than ever before. Likewise, our society offers much more entertainment and leisure than in generations past. Yet, paradoxically, there has also been a substantial increase in boredom and idleness among individuals. And the consequences, as Bork points out, have not been good.

In their controversial book Time for Life, John Robinson and Geoffrey Godbey say that Americans have more leisure time than at any other point in the last 30 years. According to their study of 10,000 people over the past 30 years, the average American enjoys close to 40 hours of leisure a week. Popular books like The Second Shift and The Overworked American have suggested that Americans don’t have enough time for leisure. Yet these claims don’t seem to be affecting the leisure industry, which seems to set new records each year—movies, sports, television, music, you name it.

During the last half of the 20th century, television surpassed printed material as our primary source of entertainment. Almost one half of our leisure time is now spent in front of the television. According to Time for Life, for every hour we spend in front of the television, we spend fewer than four minutes doing cultural activities. Television viewing, on the average, requires virtually no physical or mental effort. What it does require is time, something of which this spoiled and affluent generation has plenty. Television is a thief of time. And honestly, the time spent viewing the television can indeed be harmful to the mind. Bork graphically describes our culture as one “lobotomized by television.”

Television is only one wasteful contributor to our societal decline in intellect. We have drifted from a studious, organized, hard-working and diligent lifestyle to one of idleness and ease. Physically, we have also reaped the dividends of our affluence: 74 percent of Americans over the age of 25 are overweight.

One can still become quite educated today with a proper amount of self-discipline, but it’s easier and more stimulating to the senses to indulge in entertainment and leisure. One can still be quite healthy in this prosperous society, but it’s much easier to consume things that are easy to prepare and that taste good.

It’s a vicious cycle. Affluence affords us more time and money, which makes things easier on the average person. This easier lifestyle, as Bork said, “offers little but the ability to consume.” Our dietary consumption is not healthy, physically or mentally, which leads us to seek things even easier and more unhealthy. Like a deadly drug, idleness has put the “educated” masses in the Western world into the throes of addiction.

It is this attitude, this approach to living, which James labels as sinful. Heading down a path which we know will be destructive and will end in ruin, and then doing nothing about it, is living a sinful life.

The Sin of Sodom

Anciently, the city of Sodom had the same problem. “Behold, this was the iniquity [or sin] of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49). Sodom’s sin revolved around its abundance of wealth and idleness, or prosperous ease, as it says in the Revised Standard Version. And all of that wealth and idleness only filled Sodom with pride. Eventually, God rained fire from heaven and completely destroyed the city along with all of its inhabitants.

The Prophet Isaiah likened the end-time peoples of Israel to those who lived in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:1-10). Which nations, primarily, live in pride, wealth and abundance of idleness and ease? The prosperous nations of the Western world certainly come to mind, especially the U.S. and Britain—one more proof of the modern identity of the lost tribes of Israel.

Notice Isaiah 3:9: “The show of their [Israel’s] countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! for they have rewarded evil unto themselves.” God says “Woe unto their soul!” because they are traversing the same path as ancient Sodom.

But our peoples fail to realize that we are heading for the same destruction Sodom experienced.

Notice these frightful words of Jesus Christ: “But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed” (Luke 17:29-30).

The way of prosperity and ease seems so right to man. But as the proverb states, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14:12).

The path of idleness and ease—the way of life the Bible defines as sinful—leads only to destruction and death. Don’t be one of its casualties.

God expects us to be men and women of action, physically, mentally and spiritually! He expects us to move forward. To act. To do what’s right, not just what feels good.

More Than “Getting the Breaks”

The study of history generally focuses on outstanding lives and events. But the real bulk of history is truly a grey wash of mediocre people whose best effort never exceeded average. It’s filled with people who failed to act at life’s most critical moment.

Yet as you examine the lives of great individuals who have changed the civilization of man, like Winston Churchill or Abraham Lincoln, you will find that they not only had a rigorous schedule physically, but also mentally.

When Benjamin Franklin was a boy, his father frequently repeated this proverb to him: “Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men” (Proverbs 22:29). The young Franklin did grow to be very diligent in his business, and he ended up standing before kings—five of them! He acquired a fortune and achieved greatness in several different fields.

Yet too often, we see the success of great individuals and just assume they “got the breaks.” Read the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and discover what it took for him to attain that level of success. He didn’t do it by remaining idle! He had a tremendous amount of self-discipline, both mentally and physically.

Early in his life, Franklin outlined 13 “moral virtues,” as he called them, and devised a plan to put each virtue into practice. The first virtue on the list was temperance, or self-control. This he put into practice first because before he could lead a productive life, he reasoned, he first had to be able to control his mind and body. Franklin understood the importance of resisting what was wrong and doing what was right. Study into the life of Abraham Lincoln and you will see that he practiced similar habits and met with similar success.

These men were determined to do something about their idleness. What about you? What distracts you from doing what you ought to do? What is the cause of your neglect? What leads you into the habit of idleness, of not doing what you should, whether it concerns your family, your work, your diet?

Great individuals of this world, even without the spiritual understanding of God’s Word, realize the extreme danger of living a life of idleness and ease. “What is man,” Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “if his chief good and market of his time be but to sleep and feed?” God expects so much more of us. Shouldn’t we expect more of ourselves?

No-Law Deceivers

Have you ever stopped to consider the actual teaching of popular theology regarding the law and salvation? Many theologians teach that law keeping is not required on your part because Christ did everything for you! All you have to do is accept Christ and remain idle!

Does that make sense? Not if you believe the Bible is God’s inspired Word. Notice Hebrews 2:1: “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.” In many churches, you simply do not hear about how you can actually let salvation slip away, because people assume that once you “get saved” nothing more needs to be done. Yet this whole passage in Hebrews warns against letting what you possess slip away.

Herbert Armstrong often talked about two different kinds of sin: the sin of commission and the sin of omission. This second type is what James spoke of in chapter 4:17 and what Paul speaks of here in Hebrews 2. If we do not do what we should, Paul says what we have heard and learned will slip away, which suggests that we are to be people of action, not ones who remain idle, just waiting for Christ to return.

Jesus Christ revealed this principle in the parable of the pounds. In Luke 19, after giving His 10 servants a pound each, Christ instructed them to do something with what they were given. Those who multiplied their pound were rewarded for their works. But the one who buried his pound and remained idle not only missed out on a tremendous reward, Christ even took away the pound he had!

Back to Hebrews 2: “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him” (verse 3). Yes indeed! We can actually fail to escape and lose out on salvation if we neglect doing what ought to be done!

No one can be saved without accepting the shed blood of Jesus Christ—that is true. But beyond that, God expects action. He expects change for the better. He expects us to be doers of His Word (Romans 2:13; James 1:22). He will not tolerate idleness or neglect. That is sin! Sin is not just avoiding those things we know to be wrong. It is also neglecting and failing to do what is right!

In Matthew 7:17-18, Jesus said, “Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” Even a child can understand this principle. If a tree doesn’t produce good fruit, something is wrong with it. “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them,” Jesus said (verse 20).

Christ then gets to the real meaning of this passage in verse 21: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” It takes more than just talk. It’s more than just saying you believe in Christ. He expects us to DO! God will not harvest unfruitful trees. He expects us to produce fruit. Again, in verse 26, Christ says, “And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand.”

Throughout the Bible, God thunders home this principle: If we remain idle and don’t do what we should, then we will miss out on a fantastic reward and even lose what we have!

The Abundant Life

“And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season?” (Luke 12:42). Who will rule with Christ, reigning over all that Christ has? Jesus answers, “Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing” (verse 43). The Greek word for doing means to labor or work. When Jesus Christ returns, He expects His servants to be busy working for Him, not standing around idly watching things go by.

The Bible is clear on this fact. Those who are diligent about their business now will be rewarded greatly when Christ returns. But God wants to bless us even now, in this life, if we are diligent. Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

Benjamin Franklin simply took certain principles outlined in the Bible and applied them. Take God at His word! It’s the only thing you can totally rely on in this world—without fail!

Back to Luke 12. In verse 48, Christ said, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” God has given us so much. It’s true that in this thankless society, people rarely stop to consider the great wealth of blessings that have come upon them. But what a prosperous and abundant land Americans live in. We truly have been the beneficiaries of God’s wealth. But with those many blessings comes a weighty responsibility. God expects much of you and me. And He should!

If we spent all our time and energy on useful pursuits, what a successful people we would be! How much happier we would be if we would just determine to do what is right, no matter how we feel.

Jesus Christ came to give the truly abundant, happy life we all desire. But we must be willing to do what needs to be done to attain such abundant living. Resolve to do what ought to be done. And then, no matter how you feel, do it. If you do, happiness, joy, peace and abundance will follow.