Core Teaching: Sloth is a Major Sin that impacts our spiritual life. It also contributes to prolonged and needless suffering in our world.
Session Goals: This session focuses on the 4th Deadly Sin, Sloth. Students should be able to identify Sloth in their own lives, see what the Bible says about laziness and lack of caring. They will develop their own “Rule of Life” to combat Spiritual Sloth.
Supplies: Bibles, Whiteboard/Newsprint, Markers, Masking Tape, Sunday’s Newspaper, a copy of the Student Leader Help Sheet for each discussion/small group leader and a “Rule of Life” worksheet for every class member.
Memory Verse: Philippians 2:12-13 NRSV
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
(Write on the Board and encourage Youth to memorize this week.)
John 15:9-13 NRSV
Proverbs 24:30-34 NRSV
Matthew 25:41-46 NRSV
John 15:1-5 NRSV
Opening Prayer- Student
Announcements, Attendance, and Offering- Teacher
Introduction to the Lesson- Teacher
Sloth. Anomie, alienation, despair are all signs of our modern times. But they are not unique to our culture or our lives. Loss of meaning, purpose, and hope mixed in with varied indifference toward the welfare of others, have always been identified by the Christian community as the Deadly Sin of Sloth.
We might not be familiar with the term “Sloth” but, we probably are very familiar with the modern word for Sloth: Laziness. This laziness can take 3 forms:
- 1. Mental Laziness– we are too lazy to think, read, study, or enter into challenging dialogue. Instead we take our opinions from others and inherit their prejudices. The loudest voices get our wandering attention; newspapers, magazines, talking heads on TV, talk-show hosts, TV evangelists, best selling books that make no demands on our lives.. We have formed no solid opinions, just collected other peoples ideas. “Prejudice is a great labor-saving devise: It enables a man to advance opinions without taking the time to get the facts.” Brian Whitlow Hurdles to Heaven.
- 2. Moral Laziness– we complain about all of the evil in the world- racism, welfare, abortion, prison reform, torture, violence, war, divorce, poverty, drug abuse, cheating, stealing- with no real intention of doing anything about it. No motivation to get involved in advocacy, reform, redemption, or reconciliation exists.
- 3. Spiritual Laziness– we give up when the Christian Life becomes demanding or we don’t see immediate results from our short bursts of piety or when our prayers of desire are not fulfilled. “We want Christ, but only moderately: we love Jesus, but only moderately; we will follow Jesus, but only so far. To claim to be a Christian without wanting Christ more than anything else, is a contradiction.” Donald J. Shelby, “Wanting It Enough”
While few would claim that Laziness is a virtue, we wonder who would label it as a major Sin. But Scripture makes clear; Laziness (our word for Sloth) can bring about our destruction which is why the Mothers and Fathers of the Church through the centuries have labeled it as “Deadly.” The book of Proverbs is especially tough on the lazy:
Go to the ant, you lazybones;
consider its ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief
or officer or ruler,
it prepares its food in summer,
and gathers its sustenance in harvest.
How long will you lie there, O lazybones?
When will you rise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want, like an armed warrior. Proverbs 6:6-11 NRSV
Today we are going to focus on Sloth/Laziness, especially the 3rd kind, Spiritual Laziness and develop an antidote for it called a “rule of life.”
Small Group Discussions- Student Leaders
Key Questions (These should be answered during the discussion below)
- What is Sloth?
- Is Love feeling, action, or both?
- Are we responsible for others, does it even matter?
- How can I develop a Rule of Life?
Are you tired of living in a “whatever” world where everybody looks out for themselves, people only give to get something back, and where 30,000 people die every day for lack of basic food and medicine that we have access to? Then you see the destructiveness of the Deadly Sin of Sloth, which we often call Laziness.
“The opposite of sloth is zeal and joy in service to God and in the performance of religious and moral duties. It is not only doing the right thing, but doing it out of love…Sloth is the most explicitly religious of the seven deadly sins…A major obstacle…is our natural inclination to gratify our physical and psychological desires which often conflict with religious and moral responsibilities.” (Solomon Schimmel, The Seven Deadly Sins: Jewish, Christian, and Classical Reflections on Human Psychology, Oxford, 1997, pp. 194, 197, 198.)
Sloth/Laziness prevents us from loving others but most especially from returning God’s love the way we are called to. This laziness poisons our will to do what is right and good. This laziness can be described as a spiritual “deadness” in us. Discuss these statements:
- “You’re dead when the suffering of another causes you no pain.”
- “You’re dead when your blood does not run hot in the face of blatant injustice.”
- “You’re dead when evade truth that hurts and accept and easy lie.”
- “You’re dead when you are not willing to put forth the energy necessary to save a dying relationship.”
Love is More Than a Feeling– Read John 15:9-13 to the group.
- What is Jesus talking about here?
- What does Jesus command us to do?
q Most of us think of love as simply a feeling rather than as something we do for others. Certainly our culture reinforces this idea through movies and music and advertising. We talk about “falling” in love as if it is not a choice we make to do something for someone else.
q Jesus certainly does not reduce love to how we feel about someone. Some people would try and separate “romantic love” from “love of neighbor.”
- Why would people do this?
- Should we think about the two differently?
- Should we apply to our romantic relationships, an understanding of love that is far less than the love Jesus calls for in all relationships?
q Love is not dependant on feelings, it is dependant on action. What prevents us from loving is laziness, not feelings. It is a matter of will. Loving requires decision. We decide to love, no matter how complex the relationship may be. If love were simply a feeling, we could not be commanded to love. No one else can control our feelings. No one, not even Jesus, can tell us how to feel. What makes one person feel happy may make the next person feel angry. So, if love were just a feeling, Jesus would not have commanded us to love one another.
- How do you “feel” thinking about love in this way?
q But, love DOES involve feelings. It just can’t be reduced to a mere feeling. Do loving things for others and you will feel love. The more you do, the more love you feel. What we do influences how we feel.
Taking Responsibility– Read Proverbs 24:30-34.
q Laziness is a Deadly Sin because it prevents action that could energize our lives with meaning and transform us into Christlike persons.
- What does this wisdom passage have to say about Sloth?
- How could it relate to our spiritual lives?
q Sometimes Sloth is described as Complacency. Often this is seen where there is affluence and abundance. Often this leads to another Deadly Sin- Gluttony. One glaring sign of Sloth is that drug abuse among the wealthy is as high as among those who are culturally and economically deprived.
- How could working toward the benefit of others combat Complacency?
- How can we learn from the lazy person?
- Is it easier to “go out on a limb” for someone else, or let them suffer?
- Should we take responsibility for the welfare of others?
Why Does It Matter?- Read Matthew 25:41-46 to the group.
q The Greek word for Sloth is acedia which means “no care.” Sloth is the living out of the attitude that “It doesn’t really matter.”
- Are you familiar with the Scripture passage?
- How have you heard it used most often?
- How do you think the people in the story reacted?
q “In the world it calls itself Tolerance; but in hell it is called Despair. It is the accomplice of the other sins and their worst punishment. It is the sin which believes in nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, loves nothings, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and only remains alive because there is nothing it would die for.” Dorothy L. Sayers, The Other Six Deadly Sins.
- Describe how this quotation describing Sloth might be related to the Scripture passage we just read?
- How might it relate to the Scripture we read earlier from the John?
- Are there hungry people in your community?
- Are there new people in your community?
- Are there homeless people in your community?
- Are there children without winter coats in your community?
- Are there people imprisoned in your community?
q Jesus states clearly what it will be like at the final judgment for the people who live as if “it doesn’t really matter” when it comes to people in these conditions.
Read John 15:1-5
- How passionate is our desire to follow Jesus?
- According to this Scripture, if we are truly following Jesus (i.e. Being Disciples) how will we know?
q The strongest defense against Spiritual Sloth, one that produces much fruit in the life if the Disciple of Jesus, is a commitment to certain Spiritual Disciplines. The disciplines can be formed into what the Christian Community calls a “Rule of Life” because they form how we go about our daily lives.
q John Wesley called these Spiritual Disciplines “means of grace” and he divided them into 2 categories to form a Rule of Life:
- Instituted Means of Grace– prayer, Scripture, the Lord’s Supper, fasting, Christian conferencing (intentional conversation with other Christians).
- Prudential Means of Grace– doing no harm and doing good.
q Pass out a copy of the Worksheet Titled “My Rule of Life for the Next 30 Days” to each member of the class. Give them time to record what they might do in each area and then have everybody partner up with one (1) other person as an accountability partner for the next 30 days. They should check in often with each other to see how they are doing in their Discipline. Challenge everyone to think beyond 30 days as to how they might develop a Rule of Life….for Life!
q Take the Sunday morning paper and cut out a few articles that give tangibles examples of what has been discussed today. Post these on the wall with a label above saying “Sloth” so they may be referred to in future weeks. If there is not time for this in class, ask for volunteers to get it done before next week.
Joys and Concerns- Teacher: Write these on a piece of butcher paper.
Closing Prayer- Students: Have the Accountability Partners pray for each other rather than a group prayer this week.