10 Key Bible Verses on Slothfulness

This article is part of the Key Bible Verses series.

1. Proverbs 31:26–29

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She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.” Read More

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Although Proverbs has often used men as concrete examples of wisdom, the proverbs apply equally well to women, and the wisdom that God teaches in Proverbs can be well understood by both men and women.

She looks well to the ways of her household focuses on this woman’s diligence in caring for her home and her children and servants. Her rejection of idleness embodies one of the chief virtues of Proverbs. In a loving family, the members recognize the value of each other. Here the children and husband offer their praise. Verse 29 gives the words of the husband, or perhaps of both husband and children.

2. 2 Thessalonians 3:10–12

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For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Read More

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Paul refused to depend on others for his living. Indeed he took on a heavy workload of manual labor in addition to his ministry commitments in order to avoid being a financial burden to any Thessalonian Christian, even though (in contrast to the idle Thessalonians) it was his God-given right to be supported (see 1 Cor. 9:3–15; 2 Cor. 11:7–9; 1 Thess. 2:9). He wanted to provide his converts with an example to imitate.

In verse 11, there is a wordplay here in Greek: not ergazomenous (“working”) but periergazomenous (“being a busybody, meddling”). Those who refused to work were exploiting their free time to meddle in others’ affairs. Cf. 1 Tim. 5:13, where irreligious prying flows from idleness. Paul forcefully commands the idle to get back to work, so that they may be financially independent. “work quietly.” The opposite of being nuisances or “busybodies.”

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3. Matthew 25:24–29

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He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. Read More

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The third servant’s actions result from his apparent misperception of his master, which manifests itself in laziness and bad stewardship.

In the Old Testament, Israelites were forbidden from charging interest to other Israelites (Ex. 22:25; Lev. 25:35–37; Deut. 23:19), but it was permissible to charge interest on money loaned to Gentiles (Deut. 23:20). In any case, the central point of the parable concerns the importance of being a faithful servant of all that God has entrusted to one’s care.

Using one’s God-given abilities wisely and productively is a vital aspect of discipleship and will be rewarded with additional opportunities to serve God faithfully and fruitfully.

4. Hebrews 5:8–11

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Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. Read More

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During his childhood, Jesus was not lacking in any godly character quality, but he was lacking in the full experience of having lived a perfect human life, obeying the Father in everything, without sin. The lifelong perfect obedience of Jesus (Heb. 5:8; Heb. 7:26–28) provides the basis for eternal salvation (Heb. 2:10; Heb. 9:23–28) and for the ultimate “perfection” of those who respond in faith and obedience (Heb. 10:14; Heb. 11:40; Heb. 12:23; cf. Heb. 7:19; Heb. 9:9; Heb. 10:1).

The author interrupts his exposition of Jesus’ role as high priest (Heb. 4:14–5:10; Heb. 7–10) in order to challenge his readers to mature further in their faith. He rebukes them for their lack of maturity (Heb. 5:11–14), lists the basics that they should already know (Heb. 6:1–3), and warns them about the danger of falling away from the faith (Heb. 6:4–8). Nevertheless, he states his confidence in them (Heb. 6:9–10) while once again encouraging their perseverance (Heb. 6:11–12).

Though he often encourages his readers (e.g., Heb. 6:9–10; Heb. 10:32–34), here the author scolds them. Nevertheless, he will later (Heb. 7) “explain” the reference to Melchizedek (Heb. 5:10). Earlier, the author had urged his readers to “pay much closer attention to what we have heard” (Heb.2:1). Now, he calls them dull of hearing. “Sluggish” (Heb. 6:12) is the same word as “dull.”

5. Hebrews 6:10–12

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For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Read More

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Evidence is given for the author’s confidence in the salvation of his readers (Heb. 6:9; Heb. 10:32–34), including the good fruit of their service (work) and the love of the saints (see Heb. 3:1; Heb. 13:24).

The purpose of the warning (Heb. 6:4–8), indeed of the whole letter, is to encourage earnest perseverance until the end. This demands hope, which is closely allied with faith (see Heb. 11:1; cf. Heb. 10:22), and enduring patience (cf. Heb. 6:15). Abraham is the immediate example in Hebrews 6:13–15; other examples are found in Hebrews 11 (Old Testament saints) and in Heb. 13:7 (church leaders).

6. Proverbs 18:9–12

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Whoever is slack in his work
is a brother to him who destroys.
The name of the LORD is a strong tower;
the righteous man runs into it and is safe.
A rich man’s wealth is his strong city,
and like a high wall in his imagination.
Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty,
but humility comes before honor. Read More

Read the Commentary

Verses 10 and 11 describe two types of security (the LORD and riches), while Proverbs 18:9 and Proverbs 18:12 describe two things that bring about one’s destruction (laziness and pride). Taken together, these proverbs imply that riches can give a false sense of security that leads to laziness, pride, and a downfall, but that humility and the fear of God exalt people.

7. Colossians 3:23–24

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Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. Read More

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The relationships between husbands and wives and parents and children are ordained by God from creation. Hence, Paul’s instructions on marriage represent the perfect will of God. On the other hand, the kind of servitude practiced in the first century was seldom in keeping with God’s will; the Scriptures regulate the institution without commending it, and the evil of trafficking in human beings is condemned in the New Testment (1 Tim. 1:10; cf. Rev. 18:11–13).

As in any other city or village in the Roman world, there would have been many slaves (or bondservants) at Colossae; Paul treats them with dignity and appeals to them directly to honor Christ in their hearts, work, and behavior. Philemon (see the book of Philemon) was a wealthy Colossian who benefited from the labors of his bondservant, Onesimus. Slaves (or bondservants) should work heartily, not primarily to please their earthly masters but as if they were working for the Lord. The principles of Colossians 3:22–4:1 apply to employers and employees today.

8. Psalm 128:2

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You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you. Read More

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This passage gives an attractive picture of how the faithful person (who fears the LORD, i.e., who walks in his ways; cf. Ps. 112:1; Deut. 8:6) sees blessedness (or true happiness) in his home: he is able to work his farm and to eat the fruit of the labor of his hands (a covenant blessing, cf. Deut. 28:1–6 and contrast Deut. 28:33); he has a wife who is like a fruitful vine (i.e., a bringer of joy like wine, and the mother of children; cf. Ps. 127:3), and children like olive shoots around the table (i.e., full of energy and promise). Nothing suggests that such happiness is “automatic”; the rest of the Wisdom Literature fills out how those who fear the Lord work diligently, love their spouses well, and faithfully train their children in godliness. The focus of this psalm is the aura of divine blessing that surrounds such a family.

9. Proverbs 10:4

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A slack hand causes poverty,
but the hand of the diligent makes rich. Read More

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The “diligent is another name applied to the “wise” and the “righteous.” The paragraph context (cf. Prov. 10:3) indicates that the diligence the Lord instills in the righteous is his means to provide for their material needs. The contrasts of Proverbs 10:6–32 further indicate that the diligence referred to is grounded in “the fear of the LORD” (Prov. 10:27a) and has more than simply physical needs in view (Prov. 10:16–17). In a culture like ancient Israel, based on subsistence agriculture, “wealth” means good crops, a well-fed family, and a stable farm to pass on to one’s children, rather than the luxurious wealth a modern reader may think of. Further, Proverbs has a clear set of priorities in which wisdom is far better than wealth, and righteousness with few possessions is better than wealth without knowing the Lord and without walking in righteousness (Prov. 3:13–15; Prov. 8:19; Prov. 15:16–17; Prov. 16:8, 16; Prov. 17:1).

10. 2 Timothy 2:4–7

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No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. Read More

Read the Commentary

Throughout this letter, Paul emphasizes the message Timothy has received from him (see 2 Tim. 1:13; 2:8). As Paul faces death, he encourages Timothy to pass the gospel on to faithful men who will in turn teach others, so that the gospel is preserved for coming generations.

Using three analogies, Paul sets forth the call to service and suffering. Verse 4 calls for single-minded desire to please God. Verse 5 reiterates that one must obey God’s rules in order to succeed. Verse 6 is the least clear but seems to encourage hard work by holding out the promise of blessing.

Paul exhorts Timothy to make the effort to think and meditate on what Paul has written; as he does so, God will give him understanding in everything about which Paul has instructed him. The believer’s efforts and God’s empowering work together.

All commentary sections adapted from the ESV Study Bible.

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