An article dated April 16, 2014, appeared on the website of the New York Daily News entitled, “Laziness could be hereditary, study suggests.” The article tells of research conducted at the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine where experiments conducted on rats lead to the identification of “36 genes that may play a role in predisposition to physical activity motivation.” As a result, “researchers came to the conclusion that there is such a thing as a genetic predisposition to laziness.”¹
I’m not referencing this research so that we can find a justifiable reason for being lazy. Instead, I am referencing this research to point out that as humans in this technologically advanced, western civilization we can easily find ourselves predisposed to laziness, regardless of whether or not it is in our genes. So, it is worth considering what the Bible has to say about laziness in regards to both physical inactivity and spiritual inactivity.
In 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, Paul addressed the subject of laziness (or idleness) and was highly critical of those who are idle, lazy, and refuse to work. Paul identified laziness as walking “disorderly” (NKJV), “unruly” (NASB), “irresponsibly” (HCSB), or “undisciplined” (CEB) in 2 Thessalonians 3:11 (NKJV). The Greek term employed to describe the type of walk in which these idle individuals were engaged means “not in proper order, undisciplined, disorderly, [or] insubordinate.”² It refers to behavior that is inconsistent with expectations. So, Paul refers to living idly or behaving lazily as something that is out of line. But “out of line” with what?
Paul contended that laziness is inconsistent with God’s expectations, and he did so by appealing to his own ministry. First, he drew a contrast between those who walk “disorderly” and the way he walked. In 2 Thessalonians 3:7-8, he wrote, “you…know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you.” In other words, Paul indicated that orderly conduct was demonstrated by him and his companions because, when they were in Thessalonica, they did not take anything for free. Instead, they worked, they provided for themselves, and, as a result, they were contributors rather than moochers. Second, he reminded the church in Thessalonica of the instructions that he gave to them when he was present with them. In 2 Thessalonians 3:10, he wrote, “when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” In other words, when he was present in Thessalonica, he specifically taught them that one’s failure to work, failure to contribute, and failure to make an effort eliminated the responsibility of others to be benevolent towards them. So, Paul taught them that industriousness was God’s expectation, thus making idleness equivalent to disorderly conduct since it was inconsistent with God’s expectation.
If you read between the lines, Paul is saying that laziness is a sin because anything that is disorderly, that is not in line with God’s expectations, is sin. Sin not only occurs any time you do what you are told not to do, but sin also occurs any time you fail to do what you are told to do (James 4:17). Those who were idle were failing to do what they were instructed to do by God through Paul.
Now, it is fair to note that the passage in 2 Thessalonians 3 specifically criticized physical laziness as opposed to spiritual laziness, but that does not mean that Scripture is silent on the issue of spiritual laziness.
Do you remember the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)? Jesus began this parable by saying, “the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them.” This introduction indicates that this story is addressing spiritual matters since it is utilized as an example of “the kingdom of heaven.”
As the story goes, the master gave one servant five coins, one servant two coins, and a third servant one coin before he departed with the unspoken expectation that they would utilize the resources they received to advance the master’s estate. Two of the servants, the one with five coins and the one with two coins, took the resources they received and worked in such a fashion as to gain more. In fact, they each doubled their master’s financial interests through their efforts, and when the master returned to examine his investments, he told these two individuals, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21, 23).
However, the situation was different for the servant who had received one coin. Instead of using his coin, he hid it, and, as a result, he did not increase his master’s estate. Notice the reason he gave for burying the coin in Matthew 25:24-25, “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.” In other words, this servant deliberately chose to handle the master’s resource lazily because he was afraid of the rejection that might come if he proved unsuccessful. When the master learned how this servant handled his finances, the master called him “wicked,” “lazy,” and “worthless,” and deemed him unfit to receive a reward, choosing to punish him instead (Matthew 25:26-30).
A lesson to be gleaned from this parable is that laziness is unacceptable in the kingdom of heaven. God made it quite clear in the Bible that He “created” us “for good works, which [He] prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). This passage indicates that God expects us to be active, to be productive, and to work in His kingdom. Failure to do so is tantamount to laziness, and, if the Parable of the Talents is any indicator, such laziness can lead to eternal punishment.
 Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd ed. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 119.