One of the things we must recognize is that work does not exist in the world because of the Fall. Work got a lot more difficult because of our sin, and it labors under a curse, but God gave the cultural mandate to mankind, a mandate which involved an enormous amount of work, before the entrance of sin. We therefore need to recover a distinctively Christian work ethic. It is an essential part of the process of salvation and sanctification. It points, like every faithful thing does, to Christ.
“Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings; He shall not stand before mean men” (Prov. 22:29).
Summary of the Text:
As we will see in a number of texts from Proverbs, work has consequences. And laziness also has consequences. This is because God gave us the ultimate “gold standard” called time, and everyone has exactly the same amount of it, and it is a resource that the government cannot print. This means that work over time signifies, and no work over time signifies. This is why Scriptures say: “He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster” (Prov. 18:9). Laziness is a destroyer. But how, when it didn’t touch anything, didn’t consume anything? It did consume something—it burned daylight.
In our text, a man is set before us, a man who is diligent in his business. The word for diligent is mahir—experienced, skilled. Do you see a man who is on top of his vocation? The word rendered business is a broad term, and trade, craftsmanship, wares, are all included. That man will stand before kings. This is simply Solomon’s way of saying that cream rises. Taking one thing with another, all things considered, diligence is recognized and honored in the world and laziness is recognized and shunned.
Hurt Christian Feelings
We are involved in building community. This means that we do business with one another, and so one great challenge is the cheap grace approach to work, the one that constantly argues that “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.”
Contractors who can’t even come close to their estimate. Wives who manipulate their husbands into doing half of their work. Husbands who fail to provide wives with the wherewithal to do their work. Students who dither at their assignments. Entrepreneurs who risk all the wrong things. Web designers who flake. People who write and sign contracts they don’t know how to read. People who don’t write contracts at all, on the assumption that regeneration somehow makes everyone’s memories perfect. And so on.
And in case any of this stepped on any toes, there is no solidarity between a competent contractor and an incompetent one, or a competent wife and an incompetent one. There is spiritual solidarity between a competent contractor, web developer, and auto mechanic. Draw the lines of solidarity in the right places.
A job evaluation is not gossip. It is part of the cost of doing business, and we have to learn how to provide honest feedback without quarreling, and that feedback must not be fanatically over-precise, and neither may it inflict a terrible craftsman on the next unsuspecting saint. If you get together with a friend and talk about how so-and-so is having trouble in his marriage, and you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. You are a gossip. But if you tell a friend who asked about it that your brother in Christ installed the cabinets upside down, that is not gossip. People who do not want public evaluation of the quality of their work are people who have no business being in business. They should just buy a shovel and dig where they are told to.
The point about solidarity is an important one. Those who are walking in honesty have unity in that honesty. Those who drift in their slackness have unity in that drift. One of the ways that people try to keep pointed exhortations at bay is by misconstruing the point of the exhortation.
Suppose the sermon were about stealing stereos. Smith has a stereo he bought and paid for. Murphy stole his stereo. The sermon is not about having a stereo. It is about stealing them. And so if Smith comes to see me with tears in his eyes and offers to show me the receipt, he has missed the point. And if Murphy attacks me for my bias against stereo ownership, he is diligently trying to miss the point.
The Hard Way is the Easy Way:
There is a way of avoiding work that multiplies work, and there is a way that embraces work that saves work in the long run. “The way of the slothful man is as an hedge of thorns: But the way of the righteous is made plain” (Prov. 15:19).
Work and Desire:
The right kind of work, because a particular result is desired, quenches the wrong kind of desire. “A worker’s appetite works for him; his mouth urges him on” (Prov. 16:26, ESV). A refusal to work enflames the wrong kind of desire. “The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: But the soul of the diligent shall be made fat” (Prov. 13:4). “The desire of the slothful killeth him; For his hands refuse to labour. He coveteth greedily all the day long: But the righteous giveth and spareth not” (Prov. 21:25–26).
Diligence and Laziness Are Visible:
Professionalism begins in the heart, but it does not remain there.
“He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand: But the hand of the diligent maketh rich. He that gathereth in summer is a wise son: But he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame” (Prov. 10:4–5).
Lazy men are good talkers. “In all labour there is profit: But the talk of the lips tendeth only to penury” (Prov. 14:23).
Part of the reason is that he has to be ready with the excuses. They are on the tip of his tongue. “Aliens kidnapped me. What year is it?”
“The slothful man saith, There is a lion in the way; A lion is in the streets. As the door turneth upon his hinges, So doth the slothful upon his bed. The slothful hideth his hand in his bosom; It grieveth him to bring it again to his mouth. The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason” (Prov. 26:13–16).
What Salvation Looks Like
Remember that proverbs are proverbs, and that they do not give us truths about triangles having three sides. But they are still true, overwhelmingly true. And the book of Proverbs talks about laziness and work a lot. We may be justified in thinking that it is a perennial problem.
“I went by the field of the slothful, And by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, And nettles had covered the face thereof, And the stone wall thereof was broken down. Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction. Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; And thy want as an armed man” (Prov. 24:30–34).
The issue not whether we are saved by works. Of course not. The issue here, rather, is what salvation looks like. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for God is at work in you to will and to do for His pleasure (Phil. 2:12).