Defining Idleness & Laziness

lazyThe posts The Benefits of Time Travel and God’s Perspective on Time Travel talk about God’s view of time and how He wants us to view and value our time. Evaluating your stewardship of time is always valuable, and resources like Life of a Steward can help you do so consistently and effectively. Today’s post begins a series that addresses the value of time related to a struggle most people have occasionally and many have regularly.

Probably one of the most poignant and effective lenses for assessing time management involve idleness and laziness if for no other reason than because the Bible – especially Proverbs – addresses these topics frequently. (This repetition means they are important).  Idleness and laziness present serious mindsets that devalue time. Understanding the meanings behind laziness and idleness can help root out any areas in which we are poor stewards of our time through lazy and idle habits.

Laziness and idleness connect in many ways, and the Bible even uses idleness and laziness interchangeably at times. Take 1 Thessalonians 5:14, for example, where we are told to warn the lazy. The NLT uses lazy, the NIV idle, and the NASB unruly. Other words used include irresponsible (Holman), undisciplined (NET), wrongdoers (Aramaic), those not living right (God’s Word) and disorderly (ASV).

As our graphics for this series indicate, the dictionary provides similar definitions of both laziness and idleness.

idleThe Pulpit Commentary also explain laziness/idleness referring to them as “unruly” or “disorderly” in 1 Thessalonians 5:14. Pulpit explains that this scripture is a military reference expressing the character of soldiers refusing to keep rank. Instead, they neglected their common duties and basically abstained from working. These individuals broke ranks but still expected to be treated as if they were doing their duty.

Gill’s Exposition says these individuals busy themselves with other people’s matters and are contentious, quarrelsome, turbulent, headstrong and unruly. It goes on to say they also cause animosity and division. Think about the consequences that lazy and idleness have, especially in a military or war setting.

When considering the differences, idleness seems more deceptive because there can be the appearance of busyness with no real progress. Laziness, on the other hands, seems obvious and easier to identify because being slothful or a sluggard stands out.

Laziness also indicates a greater degree of idleness and is always held in contempt; no one ever thinks laziness is good. Even when I say “I’m just being lazy,” and it’s not a habit for me, I feel a sense of almost shame.

Laziness also seems worse because it happens by choice, while idleness can sometimes be due to circumstances. For example, a person can lose his job and be idle, and we can have an idle 5 minutes between one activity ending and another beginning with not enough time to start something new. Idle periods sometimes happen in our lives and not because of our own choices. Laziness always happens by choice.

The differences between idleness and laziness are subtle and perhaps unimportant. Once someone succumbs to either of them as a lifestyle, do the differences really matter? Yes, idle periods can happen apart from our efforts, but we ultimately choose an idle and lazy mindset.

Today’s post laid the groundwork by defining laziness and idleness, and the post, The Dangers of Idleness and Laziness, begins the journey of application by taking a deeper look at  the far-reaching impact of a lazy and idle lifestyle.

DISCUSSION: How does having a deeper meaning of laziness and idleness change how you think about them?

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25 Replies to “Defining Idleness & Laziness”

  1. I think as you know Proverbs addresses this very well. What I can simplify this down to is this: A Disciple must be disciplined! The attributes you reflected in your blog which are referred to very explicitly in Proverbs, are marks of those who are undisciplined.

    1. You've just taken 5 posts and summarized them succinctly into one word: discipline. So true, Mike. Laziness and idleness as lifestyles result from an undisciplined life.

  2. I am glad you talked about unchosen idleness. We are sitting wiaiting for a load and the truck is idle. We have no choice. Yet we find ways to used this time, sometimes to rest, sometimes to read, or stitch or use the computer. It is not work, but we are busy. I agree that many chose to be idle and to be lazy and not use the time they are given in a productive manner. What may appear to some as lazy however could be a time of refreshment of the mind, body, and soul, such as sitting and reading instead of cleaning. The Bible does indeed address these issues and it is good to be reminded about them. thanks Kari.

    1. Great example, Mary. I had not thought of the application for a trucker, but there are certainly lots of idle times. But, you choose to make them productive, which gets at valuing time. You make another good point with regard to comparisons. What appears lazy to one might be productive to another. It's to a great extent relative. When laziness and idleness become lifestyles and mindsets, that's whey neglect sets in and they clearly are negative no matter who does them.

  3. I think one thing that we might not consider lazy or idle is when something is bothering us it often will distract us from the things we should be doing. When a person is worrying or stressing about something sometimes it puts them into a state where they get nothing done because they are basically tied up by the concern to the point where they feel paralyzed to do anything else. I think that is why 1 Thessalonians 5:14 tells us to encourage the disheartened. I think when one is discouraged then it is difficult for them to be doing the things they should be doing.
    This can be as destructive as if you were doing nothing at all because you were choosing to do so.

    1. Terrific example, Mark! I heard one quote, and I may have it in a future post, that said, "Laziness is doing anything except what we're supposed to be doing." When we become distracted from what we're supposed to be doing, we get lazy in our self control when we need to kick it up a notch. At least, that's what happens with me. I go in the wrong direction in my mindset when I am bothered by something. And the fact that it's a choice certainly does make it all the more damaging.

      1. Sometimes it is hard to move away from that which is discouraging us and it helps to have someone come along side and encourage us. I think we should look for times to do this for those we care about.

    2. This definitely happens to me, Mark. I find that the sooner I deal with the emotion, the sooner I can get back to work because the emotional paralyzes me.

  4. Great thoughts Kari. Once we make laziness or idleness a habit it becomes harder to break. It's why we have to make sure we are active and pursing our purpose and dreams, which can help prevent a lazy or idleness mindset. Knowing the definitions of each word can help us have a proper perspective. Great post!

    1. I have really been getting into definitions lately and am amazed at how much clarity doing so brings. Hopefully this is a solid way to start the series. And, I am all for preventing bad habits from forming rather than trying to break them. Much easier that way for sure.

  5. Looking forward to this, Kari – as you know, laziness is one of my struggles. I'm getting much better, but can still use lots of help. thanks!

    1. We all have progress to make. I think everyone has some area that laziness and idleness creep in for some reason. I know I do. I actually started the perfectionism series, and I think perfectionism definitely connects with it for me. I am lazy with something I don't think I can be perfect at.

  6. Agree on a lazy or idle mindset resulting in neglect of the most basic things. I have spent years of traveling and learned to use those times when waiting for a plane, traveling in a car to catch up on my reading. My husband and I have the most meaningful conversation traveling in a car…lots of time to think.
    One of my ministries over seas was helping young women learn to order their day. It's a skill that can be learned and the only thing that stops it is being lazy. We choice what mindset we face our day with and the wrong choice lead to frustration and desperation. One cannot stay idle very long for others will suffer anywhere you live. Which I think is the deeper meaning for me…idleness, laziness affects not just us but all who connect with us. It speaks poorly of the time God has given us which is the same all over. Time does not stand still but people do….and others pay when we stop. sorry I am repeating myself now. Good post. There is a mark difference between being at rest and being lazy.

    1. One reason I love travel is because of the unique opportunities that the idle time presents. Like you, I like to do some extra reading, have good conversations and think when I travel. One reason I love road trips with my family is the time we get to bond in the car. Would love to hear more about your ministry to help young women "order their day." What was involved with that process? The ripple affect of idleness and laziness is certainly huge, and I know I am motivated to avoid its impact. Love how you said, "Time does not stand still but people do." That really gets at valuing time, which is what the rest of the series hopefully emphasizes. Great comments, Betty!

  7. Hey – thanks for the shout-out, Kari!
    I think biblically idleness and laziness are related in the sense that they are opposed to productive work. Biblical work focuses not really on activity but on accomplishing good for the sake of others and for the glory of Christ.

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