FATAL DISTRACTIONS – THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS
February 23, 1997
It is a fascinating creature, a slow moving, toothless, tree-dweller that hangs by its claws for days at a time while it does absolutely nothing. The animal I am describing is commonly known as a sloth and it is indigenous to South America. It has become the symbol of laziness throughout our culture. But sadly, I am not only describing a sloth, I am also describing you and me. Most of us in this auditorium have more in common with this lifeless, spiritless mammal than we realize. You see, the sloth in the animal kingdom is docile, but slothfulness in the human kingdom is deadly. In fact, we call it a fatal distraction.
I am in a series on the seven deadly sins. God set forth in His Bible, thousands and thousands of years ago, a list of attitudes and behaviors known as sins. These attitudes and behaviors will damage our lives. They will hurt the lives of others, and ultimately they will wreck and sadden the heart of God because we matter so much to God. When God came up with sin, He didn’t consult you or me. He didn’t get together any focus groups or take any CNN/USA polls. He measures sin against His perfect and righteous character.
The Bible talks about certain types of sins. Basically there are two kinds. First the Bible talks about the sins of commission. Those are sins I commit willfully and knowingly against God’s directives. The second type of sins are the sins of omission. Those are the things I should have or could have or would have done, but I didn’t do them. And I firmly believe that we sin more in the realm of omission than we do in the realm of commission. Slothfulness falls with the sins of omission.
Jesus had a lot to say about slothfulness. In Matthew 25 He actually drove the lane, to use a modern day term, and slam-dunked today’s subject matter. He told the story about a group of bridesmaids and these bridesmaids were waiting for the bridal parade. In Jewish history, the bridegroom would go to the bride’s house for the wedding ceremony and after that ceremony there would be a parade back to the groom’s house for a big, old banquet that would sometimes last for a week. Christ’s illustration talked about the 10 bridesmaids who were waiting to join the parade. Five of the bridesmaids were wise. The other five were foolish. We will call them airheads. The five who were really bright brought lamps with them and oil for the lamps. The ones who were airheads brought lamps but no oil. The parade comes by at about midnight. The ones who had oil in their lamps joined the parade. And they go all the way to the groom’s house and had a giant party. The bridesmaids who were just looking at their nails and worrying about their hair and forgot the oil began to search frantically for the oil. They finally found some and ran to the party and tried to enter. But the groom told them there was no room for them. The five foolish bridesmaids were stranded in sloth.
Next Jesus in Matthew 25 talked about a man who was a wealthy entrepreneur. Jesus said that he was going to take an exotic trip and he brought three workers in to see him. He gave one worker $5,000, another one $2,000, and the third one $1,000. Then the Bible says that the man went off on a journey. He was gone for a long, long time. When he returned he said, “Show me the money.” The one who was given $5,000 had invested his and turned it into $10,000. He gave him a high five and said, “Well done.” The one who was given $2,000 doubled his money. And again he said, “Well done.” The man who was given $1,000, who was stranded in sloth, dug a hole and buried it. That put this wealthy engenderer on tilt. He said, “Get out of here.” And the Bible says that he was pushed out into the darkness. Stranded in sloth.
Have you ever wondered where we actually came up with the seven deadly sins? You will not find a verse in the Bible that says, “The following are the seven deadly sins.” The seven deadly sins do come from the Bible. They were compiled by a group of theologians in the Middle Ages. Most feel that the original listing of the seven deadly sins had sloth at the top. When I heard about that I figured that in the Middle Ages they probably dealt a lot with laziness. All they had to do was rescue a fair maiden now and then from the clutches of a fire-breathing dragon. Or the knights had to polish their armor monthly. When they would eat chicken they would throw the bones on the castle floor. That was about it in the Middle Ages. They probably struggled with laziness.
Slothfulness was a bad, bad, bad thing back then. Then I said to myself, “We don’t deal with sloth. Our culture has cultivated a colossal collection of workaholics. Psychologists are telling us to chill out, slow down, smell the roses. I think we need some sloth, don’t you? I am not slothful.” Are you slothful?
You see it doesn’t matter if you clean house immaculately and recreate competitively and work strategically, most of us in this building, in one form or another, are stranded in sloth. Sloth does not pop up everywhere. Sloth is selective. And I think that if we look at our lives today, we will see more of this slow moving, toothless mentality hanging from surprising areas in your life and in mine.
Having said that, let’s all of us look at Mark 14. I have given you a scripture card in your bulletin. It will take some work, because we are talking about sloth, to find this card in your bulletin but make sure you take it out. I want to show you several seductive sides of sloth found in Mark’s gospel.
First, sloth can make you and make me too lethargic to love. Did you get that? Sloth can make you and me too lethargic to love. It is important for us to grasp the context of Mark 14. Jesus was facing the final hours of His life. He knew He would be falsely accused, arrested, tried in a kangaroo court and nailed to a Roman cross. The Bible says in Mark 14:34, Jesus speaking, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” He said this to His disciples, Peter, James and John: “Stay here and keep watch.”
Jesus retreated to one of His favorite spots, and I have been right there, the Garden of Gethsemane. It is a beautiful garden, a private garden; and He needed His friends to help Him, to minister to Him, to deal with Him, to demonstrate their love to Him. Surely, Peter, James, and John—the towers of committed power—would help Jesus. Surely, they would demonstrate their feelings and their love of Him. You don’t think that they would miss out on that opportunity. Surely, they didn’t deal with sloth, did they?
Verse 37, “Then He returned to His disciples and found them sleeping.” Look what He said to Simon Peter. Let me just pause and say this. A few days later Simon Peter choked during crunch time and it was sad when he denied Jesus. Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?” Can’t you feel the compassion and the hurt in our Lord’s words?
Now before we label the disciples as the sultans of sloth, let’s bring it down to where we live. I have a friend who puts it this way when he talks about sloth. He says, picture yourself after a hard day at work. Let’s use the men for this example. You drive home and you are tired. You have had a tough, tough, tough time at work. You realize that behind the front door await your spouse and your children and a whole bunch of opportunities. There will be opportunities to engage your bride in conversation. There will be opportunities to play catch with your children, to help them with their homework, to sit on their bed and read a story and pray with them. But on this evening those opportunities will never be realized. Because you see, tonight will be your night. You have got The Dallas Morning News in one hand and a Blockbuster video in the other. You just want to veg. You want to chill and watch the video, read the newspaper. You are too lethargic to demonstrate your love. That is what my friend says and I wholeheartedly agree.
Social scientist, M. Scott Peck, says that Americans have problems in relationships because they are lazy. They are too lazy to express love. Does anyone in this house have this slow moving, toothless mentality hanging from family. Maybe you have this slow moving, toothless mentality hanging from a marriage. You know that your marriage needs some romance, some life, and some creativity; yet you find yourself being too lethargic to love, too lazy to really demonstrate love because you say to yourself, “Love just flows. If you are really in love, it is free and easy. It is just natural.” Love is a verb. It takes work. It takes commitment. It takes making intentional decisions. Oftentimes I talk to people who say that they just don’t feel in love any more. That is a joke. Love is a decision. You can be too slothful to demonstrate your love.
We can be too lethargic to offer a coworker who has car trouble a ride home. We can be too lethargic to babysit the children while our spouse does some things one evening. We can be too lethargic to help a friend who is going through a relational problem. Too lethargic to love.
There is another side of sloth. Sloth, also, can make us too sluggish to stand. In [Mark 14] Verse 38, Jesus, talking again to Simon Peter, said “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” He didn’t say, watch one time and pray one time, He said watch and pray continually. Jesus knew a lot about temptation, didn’t He? His first assignment after His baptism was to go one on one with Satan. Jesus had been out in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. Every time Christ’s body said, “Feed me,” Jesus said, “No.” When the evil one went after Jesus and tried to tempt Him away from His life’s mission—and that is always what the evil one wants to do—Jesus said, “No.”
Because He had been saying no to so many other things, He was able to say no to Satan. If we say yes to every impulse, we are not going to be able to say no when temptation comes our way. If we say yes every time dessert is offered, if we say yes to every flirtatious conversation with a co-worker, if we say yes to padding our expense account, if we say yes to another exaggerated sales pitch, what makes us think in our little brains that we are going to say no when Satan begins to throw his best punches our way.
I love what Simon Peter said in 1 Peter 5:8 after he heard the above words, after he had choked at crunch time, after he had denied Jesus Christ, and after he had been reinstated and become the pillar in the church. He said, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” He says, “Resist him.” In other words say no to him. “Standing firm in the faith because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of suffering.” If you watch a predator attack an animal you will notice that he looks for a weak animal, a sluggish animal, an animal not paying any attention.
Five months ago my wife and I purchased a little gray cat for our children. I am not really a cat kind of guy but this little cat stole my heart. The children named the cat Ranger after Power Ranger. Ranger was rather sluggish but a sweet, sweet cat. He was like a dog. Most cats seem to be saying, “Forget you.” Ranger would lumber out to my truck when I drove into the driveway just like a dog.
One day I was walking outside and to my horror I found Ranger ripped apart on the driveway. Our children saw it and freaked out. They asked me to bury Ranger in the yard. I actually dug a hole in the yard and buried him. It was a sad day. When I saw Ranger, though, I thought about this verse. This verse has always been powerful to my life. You see a coyote had eaten Ranger. If we are isolated, sluggish, not alert, not paying attention, not looking out for Satan’s snares and traps, out of nowhere we can be taken.
Some of us read this text in Mark 14:38, watch and pray, and we get involved in what I call slothful supplication. Slothful supplication is when you just pray one time to be delivered from a certain problem that you are dealing with. You might say this if you are dealing with overeating. “God, right now I pray that You will deliver me from this desire to overeat.” Then you think erroneously in your mind that suddenly God will deliver you and have you desiring tofu and bean curb for the rest of your life.
It doesn’t work that way. That is sloppy and slothful supplication. Then we say to ourselves, “God, I have trouble with this temper. Right now God, deliver me from this temper.” Now slothful supplication says that God will immediately make you serene and controlled and you will never deal with anger again. Others of us may deal with sexually impure thoughts. “Okay, God, deliver me from this sin.” We will talk about lust next week. God just takes away our desire for the opposite sex! Is that the way it works? No.
As you read the text, it is a day-by-day thing, a continual thing. We are still going to struggle with these areas of weakness, whether it is lust, a temper problem, overeating. We have to die to self and ask God for the strength and power to stand. We have got to be aware of these things. We can’t become sluggish. If we do we can end up like the little gray cat named Ranger.
Sloth has another seductive side. Sloth can make you and me too mellow to move. Verse 38, “The spirit is willing but the body is weak.” Now I agree with that because my spirit is willing to do a lot of things that my body says no to. Some of you might really want to improve in tennis. Your spirit says that you want to become a better tennis player but your body says that you don’t want to hit ground stroke after ground stroke. “No, I don’t want to hire an expensive tennis coach. No, I don’t want to go out and run laps and lift weights.” Your spirit is willing but your body is saying no.
You might be saying in your spirit that you want to grow your company and do some really great things in the next five years but your body says “No, no. It is too much.” Your spirit will say that you are going to do a full body workout five days a week, but your body says, “No, just take today off, you will be Okay.” That was convicting, wasn’t it?
Verse 39-41, “Once more He went away and prayed the same thing. When He came back, He again found them sleeping. Returning the third time, He said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.’” In other words, “You guys have missed it. You had the chance to minister to Me, to help Me, to guide Me, to strengthen Me, and you missed it.” Sleeping in sloth.
Sloth is a gross word, isn’t it? To me sloth is somewhere between slime and sludge. In your life, where are you too mellow to move? I want to challenge you on something. I want to get in your face just for a second. Where are you spiritually speaking?