The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.
Proverbs 13:4 (ESV)
When I was in school and just beginning to learn my math facts, I often got mixed up. When I had a sheet that was all addition or all subtraction, I was fine. But when the assignment called for a mixture of the two, I frequently got problems incorrect. That’s because I would sometimes add when I was supposed to subtract. Or subtract when I was supposed to add. In the midst of my work I would forget what the problem called for. And as a result, when the paper was graded I would have a lot of red marks on it.
I mention this because today’s proverb is a lot like one of those math problems. It presents us with two equations. The theme of the Proverb has to do with our desires. And it says that we have to be careful to add, and not subtract, diligence because the consequences are radically different.
It is a lot like following a recipe. In college I had a bread maker. I would put the ingredients in before I went to dinner in the evening. Then, about 8:00 that night—when I was getting hungry again, it would be ready. But there were times that I would be goofing around with my friends while making the bread. And I would forget to put in one or two of the ingredients. Now if you don’t add salt to the bread, it comes out tasting funny. But if you do, then the bread becomes quite a delicious treat (and you become the admiration of the rest of the dorm!)
But it was all dependent upon that one ingredient. The determiner was whether I added it or subtracted it.
The same is true for diligence. When it comes to the recipe for life God says that we must add diligence to our desires. Otherwise the consequences can be pretty sour.
As a matter of fact, that’s how our proverb starts out. It tells us that the one who does not add diligence to desire is miserable tormented. In other words, he ends up creating his own little hell.
I. One who does not combine diligence with desire is miserably tormented
The first part of our proverb says, “The soul of the sluggard craves, but gets nothing.” We are presented with the sluggard, or the lazy man. This the man who does not add diligence to his desires. So it is as Charles Bridges says, “He desires the gain of diligence without the diligence.” He’s a man with many longings, but no labor.
So what happens? Well, obviously he ends up getting nothing. The old saying is true, “You reap what you so.” But I want you to understand that there is more here than that. What happens is that he creates his own little hell. His desire becomes God’s curse because he isn’t following God’s call to work.
Think about it this way: What does the lazy man have? Well you say he does not have anything! But that’s not true. He does not have the object of his desire, but he does still have the desire, doesn’t he?
His desire is not satisfied. As a result it continues to burn in his soul. As a result of his inaction the yearning continues to grow, and it begins to pulsate within him. The passion of the desire continues to increase so that it the lazy man gets more and more agitated every passing idle moment. So his craving starts to throb like a migraine headache because the thirst and yearning is not quenched.
You could say that he becomes so consumed with this desire that he ends up becoming consumed by his desire. All this, of course, could have been avoided had he just did whatever it was that was needed to fill his desire.
I like what Matthew Henry says on this passage. He says, “The desire of the sluggard ought to be his excitement, but is instead his torment. That which ought to make him busy, makes him always uneasy, and it is a greater toil to him than labor would be.”
Why don’t I give a little example? Perhaps that will help to clarify things. Let’s say that you want an apple. You wake up one morning and you think, “Boy, I really have a hankering for a nice juicy apple.” Well, what should you do? The first thing you should do is go to work. That way you can make enough money to afford the apple. Then, after you get paid, you take your hard earned money and go get yourself your apple.
But that’s not what a lazy person does, does he? He doesn’t want to work. He doesn’t want to get out of bed and do what it takes to get that apple. So when he wakes up he says, “Mmmm. I want an apple.” All morning long as he lays on his bed and he just dreams about an apple. He’s thinking about how crisp it is. As he imagines taking that first bite the juices start flowing in his mouth and he can almost taste it.
But after a while he starts getting annoyed. He really wants this apple. And everything he does starts to irritate him because he so much wants this apple. He turns on the TV to PBS and they are doing a special on apple orchards. He goes outside to go for a walk and (what do you know!) there are some people walking down his street eating apples. He tries to put it out of his mind and he starts off around the block. He doesn’t get but around the corner and there in the window at the grocery story is a huge sign that says, “Fall Sale: 50% off all apples.” Now he is really irked because he could have an apple at half the price, but he doesn’t have the money to get it. So he storms off towards home, and when he gets home he sits and sulks because he wants an apple but can’t get it.
You see how absurd this is? It is a silly example, but it is a biblical one. What does Paul say in the book of 1st Thessalonians? He says, “If you don’t work, you won’t eat.”
You can have the desire to eat, and that is fine and good. But if you don’t do what it takes to get your food—if you don’t follow the means that God has laid out for satisfying your hunger—then all you will be left with the hunger and craving. And that hunger will get worse and worse. You will become more and more miserable the longer you poke around. So you end up creating your own little, self inflicted hell.
That’s the way God has ordained it. He has called us to diligence. The way we obtain what we want is through work. If we don’t follow his path, then we become the victims of our own desires.
You can understand how this same principle can translate into other areas, can’t you? How many people do you know who want to be wealthy, but don’t want to do what it takes to make money? They don’t want to get the education. They don’t want to go out and get a job. They don’t want to be frugal. They don’t want to waste all that precious time and energy on all that work.
But boy to they want to be rich. They want the clothes. They want the car. They want the house, flat screen TV and I-pod. All the while their craving burns. There is no contentment in their lives. They become bitter toward others. They become envious of those who are rich. They hate others for having, simply for the fact that they have it. Meanwhile the bills keep mounting up (which of course makes them want more money).
It is just a vicious cycle. Their laziness becomes the noose of misery that keeps tightening.
What about the desire to be wise? That’s a good desire, isn’t it? What do you have to do to be wise? You have to study the Word of God, don’t you? But a lazy man won’t do that. He won’t do what it takes. That would mean he may have to wake up a little earlier. It means memorizing and meditating. It means trying to figure out what those Westminster divines meant with that funny language and big words. But that’s way too much effort!
But O, how he wants to be wise! He dreams of being a Daniel or a Joseph. But he’s not willing to do the work.
What about the man who has the desire to go to heaven? That’s a great desire! But woe to the man who will not submit himself to the preaching of God’s word. His desire will haunt him for all eternity! Because he was too lazy to repent of his sins and turn to Christ he’ll find himself sitting right there in hell. And he’ll cry out in anguish, “Why was I so lazy? Why didn’t I seek the Lord while he could have been found? Why didn’t I apply myself to prayer and receive the blessing of eternal life when it was offered to me?” His desire to be in heaven will be floating around in his mind all the time. And that will be just as hellish to him as the fires themselves.
We have to say that this kind of person, this sluggard, is a complete fool. He had the desire. And, at least initially, that desire was a good thing. But woe to the man who does not add diligence to his desire! His desire will become a disease. It will be like a leprosy that causes his soul to rot. It could have easily blossomed into a world of happiness. But instead those desires become a curse to him—a thorn that makes him more and more miserable.
So if you don’t add diligence to your desire, you see how bad it can be. It is not a good thing. But what if you add diligence to your desire? How will things turn out then? Well our proverb says that instead of miserably tormented, you will be richly rewarded.
II. One who combines diligence with desire is richly rewarded
It says, “The soul of the diligent man is richly supplied.” I like the old King James Version on this one. It says, ‘The soul of the diligent shall be made fat.”
We don’t think of fatness as a good thing. But in the Bible fatness is a great thing. It is richness. It is wealth or fullness. When you are made fat are blessed and richly rewarded. And the way gain that fatness is by diligence.
We have the saying, “No pain, no gain.” That’s exactly what is being communicated here. If you are going to gain in life, there has to be a little pain. You have to exert a little effort. You have to do what it takes to gain what you desire.
We typically think that if you work hard then you will loose weight, right? Well what do you gain when you work out? You gain health. You become skinny in body, but you are fat with health. You have this abundance of health that you wouldn’t have if you didn’t have the diligence to take care of yourself.
This is the way God has ordered it. The pathway to the good kind of fatness is by way of diligence in our work.
You young people, do you want a fat wallet? Well you have to do what it takes to get it then. You can’t just pray, “God make me rich.” God is not like a slot machine where you put in your prayer and all this cash comes falling down out of the sky. No. You have to work.
Making a lot of money is a fine desire. God doesn’t want you to be impoverished. He wants you to be economically successful. The Bible even says that the righteous man will prosper, and part of that prosperity is economic prosperity.
But you shouldn’t pray, “God make me rich.” You should pray, “God, give me a job.” Or “God, help me to use the gifts you have given me in the way that pleases you God.” That’s the road to fat cash. And when you get that job, you don’t laze around. You don’t spend your time goofing around playing facebook. You work at it with diligence.
Let me ask you older folks: Do you want a fat church? Of course we do. We want our church to gain some weight—we want these chairs to fill up. But how do we get that? What does it take to fill a church?
It takes diligence. Obviously I as a minister need to be diligent in my job. Paul told Timothy, “Do the work of an evangelist. Preach the Word.” In other words, the guy who stands here has to prepare his message, practice it and hone his presentation. But don’t think that lets you off the hook. You need to be diligently doing your part! How do I get those opportunities to be an evangelist? How do I get those opportunities to preach the word? How does the word become effectual in people’s lives? It comes by God opening those doors. So if we are going to be a fat church we need to be diligent in prayer. We need to be crying out to God for him to send us those poor souls who need to be converted. We need to be praying that God would open doors for ministry beyond these walls.
As you can see, people aren’t flocking to come here. It is the one place nobody wants to be. It is about as counter cultural as you can get. You have to sit still for long periods of time. We sing songs from clear back in the 5th century. We believe that women have to be submissive to their husbands and men must lead his family. I mean, what sort of crazy goon is going come here and worship with us? I know who will! People like us! Only people who have their hearts changed, and have come to fear the Lord.
Someone once asked Charles Spurgeon why his church was so successful—why was it that so many people flocked to his church each week. You might say, “Well duh! Spurgeon was a great preacher!” But Spurgeon didn’t attribute his success to himself. He responded to the man by waving his hand and saying, “Follow me.” He led him down to the room right below the sanctuary. There in the belly of the church there were hundreds of his congregation members with their heads bowed. They were praying for the service. They were praying for the ministry of the word. They were asking the Lord to bless the means that he had ordained for the conversion of sinners and the building up of the saints.
That’s how a church grows. That’s how a church is made fat. It usually doesn’t happen overnight. But when God’s people are diligent in prayer, churches start putting on some pounds!
You remember how the widow got her justice? She came to the judge again and again. She was diligent. She might have been annoying! But she was diligent in being annoying! So she got what she wanted from the cruel judge.
How much more will our Heavenly Father, who loves us, give us what we ask?
How about relationships? Everyone wants good relationships, don’t they? Especially in the church. But relationships take diligence. That’s because relationships can be broken and you want to give up on them. But God doesn’t want that. He wants us to persevere in our relationships. He wants broken relationships to be mended. And that can only be done through diligently abiding by the means he has set out.
Think about Matthew 18. It can seem like an arduous thing, can’t it? First, you see your brother in sin. So what do you have to do? You have to confront him. If that doesn’t work, you have to do it again. If that doesn’t work, you have to do it again. This time you grab a friend who can come along with you. If that doesn’t work, the job isn’t done. Now it is time to hand it over to the church and let them work on it.
But what usually happens? People are lazy. They switch churches to avoid those people. Or they cut off any real interaction. They don’t want to follow the commands of God. They don’t have that kind of diligence. So their friendships end up being few and far between. Many of them end u; being shallow. Most of all their church is as gaunt as an Ethiopian orphan.
That’s not what God calls us to do though. God wants fat relationships. And to have that you’ll have to be diligent in reconciling with your brothers. It’s going to take a lot of work. Reconciliation takes up a lot of time and energy. But No pain, no gain. That’s the way the Lord works. That’s the way relationships are restored. If you desire to have fat friendships and a healthy church, that’s the way you do it. You all have the desire for these things, but the desire needs to be met with diligence. And when the two become one, the desire shall be satisfied.
And, my friends, don’t think that this is something far from God himself. Our being reconciled to God wasn’t something that came easily for the Lord. He desired it from all eternity. But it wouldn’t come easy for him. His desire was satisfied only through the diligence of his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus got off his throne and came into this world. He spent himself in prayer in long nights. His desire for our salvation would not be satisfied until every commandment was fulfilled. He would not stop until every nail had been hammered into his flesh. He determined to do all his redemptive work and would not stop until he could say, “It is finished.” His hunger for our souls could not be satisfied without his diligence. And because he was diligent, we know that his kingdom shall be fat! You and I may have opportunity to participate in that kingdom because of what Christ has done.
God’s recipe for success is a simple equation: Desire + diligence. When you put those to things together, you will see that your longings will be satisfied. If you are careful to add, rather than subtract, then God will grant you the object of your desire. Because God has ordained work as the pathway to fatness.
 An old way of saying stimulation. He should have been stimulated to work.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.