Until recently, I would have told you I don’t struggle with idleness or laziness. I struggle with plenty of other things, but being idle? No, not me. Not Enneagram-3-Type-A-Extrovert me. In fact, sometimes it feels like the first time I truly sit still is when I get into bed at the end of the day. Being so productive and active wouldn’t even give me time to think about being idle. Right?
As it turns out, idleness is multi-faceted.
My whole life, I had viewed idleness as this one-dimensional sin. I saw it as the less explicit counterpart to laziness and sloth. Staying in bed until noon, lying on the couch and watching TV all day … these were the things I correlated with this sin.
But the more I dug into Scripture to see what God has to say about it, the more aware I became of this: I deeply struggle with idleness, and a lot of unaware sisters probably do too.
Before I get to the root, I want to be clear: my preconceived view of idleness is a reality. That more common understanding of the sin is a very real struggle for many people, so I’m not ignoring the fact that idleness can look very much like the picture I painted for you. Falling into a trap of inactivity is a temptation that has infiltrated our culture with the help of things like gaming, Netflix, and social media.
What I am saying is that idleness also takes on more forms, many of which we’re totally unaware and potentially walking in today. It’s a classic case of the enemy being the enemy, putting on our blinders and narrowing our view of a sin to convince us we don’t struggle with it and don’t need to pray and fight against it.
The Faces of Idleness
It’s amazing what we can find in Scripture when we go digging with purpose. In my search for God’s words on idleness, I found way more than I had bargained for.
First, God is very serious about work. Proverbs is bursting at the seams with wisdom about this, including warnings against those who choose not to work (and work heartily):
- “Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys.” (Proverbs 18:9)
- “The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor.” (Proverbs 21:25)
- “As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed.” (Proverbs 26:14)
- “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.” (Proverbs 13:4)
That’s the tip of the iceberg! The Bible also confronts several other types of idleness.
In 2 Thessalonians 3:11, Paul warns against those who have made themselves busy with the wrong things: “For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.”
How often do I fill my time with “productive” things—maybe things that don’t seem inherently bad—to avoid doing something I know God is putting on my heart? Idleness doesn’t require us to be still, but it invites us to avoid the Spirit’s prompting.
Scripture also addresses idleness of the tongue. Yes, our mouths are one of the primary avenues through which idleness works itself out in our lives! Guilty as charged. In 1 Timothy 5:13, Paul warns Timothy that many of the women “…learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.”
We are also warned of the weight of our words in Matthew 12:36–37 when Jesus says, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” When our words aren’t intentional they become idle, careless, and dangerous.
Scripture doesn’t stop at our routines and our words; it also looks at our hearts. While God is clear that we are to work, He’s also clear about not being solely self-serving in our work: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28).
At an even deeper level, God desires for us to run away from the idleness that suffocates our zeal for Him: “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Romans 12:11).
Can you begin to see how idleness is working itself out in these more unassuming ways? It affects our words, our relationships, and our passion. The sin of idleness isn’t sitting still; it’s chasing distraction instead of godly purpose and good work.
Plaguing Our Purpose
If idleness is so complex, what’s at its root? A dear friend of mine said it well: idleness is the result of not understanding and obeying our God-given purpose.
When we don’t understand that we were created to love God and others (Mark 12:30–31), be a witness and make disciples (Matthew 28:19–20), and be rich in good deeds (1 Timothy 6:18), we quickly lose sight of how to use the days we’ve been given on earth to fulfill those purposes.
Without purpose, anxiety creeps in. We begin to feel unqualified and fear rejection, causing us to avoid the things God wants us to do and instead filling that time with things that provide momentary comfort, security, or avoidance of the truth. In those moments of weakness, idleness plagues our purpose by removing discipline. It takes us from confident and committed to complacent. It reduces our work from stewardship and service to that which lives in the scroll of our phones. The discontent and lack of direction that idleness breeds is confirmation that we were meant for so much more.
Maybe you’re struggling with unproductivity or a misguided excess of it; maybe you’re now aware of a tongue that has gone idle or busy hands that have stopped producing Kingdom work. Whatever form idleness has taken in your life, know you’re not alone, sister. This is why God gave us so much biblical wisdom to fight it!
Rest in the fact that God has given you incredible purpose and grace in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 1:9). When we come to believe that, we can’t help but live it and put idleness to shame.
Sarah Beth McCloud is passionate about healthy communication and facilitating messages that move us forward—personally, professionally, and spiritually. She and her husband Marshall live on the outskirts of Atlanta where she works as Manager of Communications for WinShape Foundation. When she’s not writing, she much prefers being outdoors. She loves reading (surprise!), spinning, cooking, and talking about the nitty-gritty details of the Bible over a (very) strong cup of coffee.
Contributors to the "Behind Closed Doors" series are sharing personal stories about sin, and the redemptive hope found in Christ within Christian community. Our mission at Well-Watered Women is to equip women with a deeper understanding and love for God's Word, and we also encourage women who are struggling to seek the help of biblical counselors and/or medical professionals. You are not alone!