What is the first thing that comes to mind when you read the word? You probably thought of a lazy person, or the animal that shares the name. It's true that lazy people are slothful, but the true definition of the word is a bit more complicated.
Back during the 4th century AD, a monk by the name Evagrius Ponticus listed gluttony, prostitution, greed, hubris, sadness, wrath, boasting, and dejection as deadly sins. This event marked the beginning of the concept of deadly sins. It was later revised by Pope Gregory I, who made many changes, one of them being combining sorrow, despair, and despondency into sloth, or acedia. In this change, the focus shifted to the consequences of sloth rather than it's causes. By the 17th century, the sin of sloth was believed to be the failure to utilize one's talents and gifts.
Sloth can be defined as physical laziness. This is the definition most people have. However, sloth also means spiritual laziness. The Latin word for sloth is acedia, which means a state of spiritual inaction. Sloth's corresponding virtue is diligence.
Physical Sloth and Spiritual Sloth
Sloth can inhibit and even prevent virtuous conduct. It is considered to be sinful because inaction can be just as bad as wrong action. When we are physically or spiritually lazy, we are wasting precious time.
Physical sloth is easy to understand. Examples could be sleeping in too often, spending too much time playing games or watching television, or procrastinating our responsibilities. Physical laziness can manifest in many different, ridiculous, and even comical ways. We must remember though that sloth is no joke. If we forget this, we are in danger of falling further into sin without realizing it.
Spiritual sloth is a bit more complicated. Most religions view sloth as more than just laziness. Sloth is sadness, depression, apathy. It is ignoring or not making our spiritual journey a priority. When we transgress either the law of man or the law of God, and don't care, that is sloth.
Sloth and Diligence
To understand sloth it helps to think about diligence as well, since the two go hand in hand. The bible has many passages that tell us about sloth and diligence. Proverbs 13:4 says, "The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied." This is practical wisdom: those who work hard enjoy the fruits of their labor, but those who do not will desire and get nothing.
In 1 Corinthians 15:58, we are called to be steadfast in our spiritual journey, "Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." This is greatly encouraging because in our spiritual journey we will encounter opposition and persecution. We will encounter those who, wielding the "knowledge" and "wisdom" of the world, will attempt to discredit or mock our beliefs. Some will even maliciously slander or attack us for our beliefs. "There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court and detest the one who tells the truth." (Amos 5:10)
When we face trials like these and remain steadfast, we are blessed. As the bible says, "Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him" (James 1:12).
This is why sloth is sin. Understanding the importance of diligence in our relationship with God helps us understand why sloth is a deadly vice. Essentially, sloth is the rejection of the grace of God.
If you struggle with sloth, be it physical or spiritual, take heart! As we learned from Evagrius Ponticus, sadness, despair and despondency are ingredients with which sloth is formed in our hearts. Don't focus on your failings or shortcomings, but instead focus on the promise of our Lord: that those who endure temptation and trial are blessed, since they, who have been tested, shall receive the crown of life (James 1:12). Remember these words if you are weary in body or in mind. Do your best to be resolute, knowing that through the Lord, your struggles are never in vain.
More on Sloth
Thank you for the much needed sermon on sloth: that diligence is the best answer to feelings of weariness in our work. It is spring now and I begin to work in my garden. I'll plant dill for diligence and keep my mind on God's promises.
The sloath, slow and steady. Seems to have survived the evolutionary reality and avoided extinction. For the human unfortunately, being lazy is indeed intrinsic. The mear ‘pass me the salt’ when you could stand up, move around to the table and get it yourself has been replaced by convenience. The convenience of convenience everything. The human you show in this sermon on the couch is exactly what this over polite horse dung has created. He’s sitting there cause his tired, or is it cause his bones structure aches under the excesses funnelled in his mouth? The keeping up with ridiculous expectations overwhelmingly clouding his judgement. It’s called an outward sign of a sick society. When the person you’ve annexed in image form in this sermon was born, he was perfectly made. Compliments of generations of life before him. Yet, his used as an example to illustrate the point in question under the title Human Sloath. Have you considered to include that the causes of all this is pollution. Pollution of mind, body and spirit. His head is filled with hogwash, his body filled with excess and he’s energy drained trying to process all this that makes someone else smile. His Loving His Neighbour! Did someone ever teach him in the image, the truth? That the sentence reads: to love the Lord with all your heart and mind and the neighbour as yourself. I witnessed this. A sermon on how wonderfully charitable this community was. The highest collections in the plate in the entire area. The reading was cut short just after the word neighbour. The minister is your neighbour too, right?