Welcome to our series on the Seven Deadly Sins. For those of you who are from a Catholic background, this is something you are probably very familiar with. But if you come from a protestant background you may be a little less familiar. In Catholic Theology there are basically two types, or two levels, of sin. You have what Catholics call Venial Sins, which are relatively minor sin, but then you have the more severe category of sins called Mortal Sins. These seven sins hold a special place within the Mortal Sins as the Cardinal or Deadly sins.
This list that we have come to know is not a biblical list, meaning there is no place in the Bible where it says, “the Seven Deadly Sins are lust, pride, greed, and so on.” But we do see sin lists in Scripture. One of the most famous is Proverbs 6:16-19:
16 There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, 19 a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.
This of course is not the list of seven sins that would become the Seven Deadly Sins. Another list is found in Galatians 5. This list of sins frames the Fruit of the Spirit. Paul is saying here this is the evidence of the flesh.
19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
He goes on to say in the very next verse “But the Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
The Seven Deadly Sins, as they have come to be known, were developed by a man named Gregory the Great. This man really established and developed a lot of Catholic thought and theology. He was born in 540 AD and served as the head of the church from 590AD until his death in 604AD. Gregory is really the one that established what the role of the Pope would be. He developed a theology of purgatory. He developed what the sacramental system would be, and among many other things, he first devised this Seven Deadly Sins list as it is today.
Now where many of you may have heard about this list was when you read “The Divine Comedy” in college. In the second book Purgatorio, Dante outlines his journey through the stages of purgatory, which correspond with the Seven Deadly Sins. There each sin or vice is overcome by learning the corresponding virtue.
Or some of you may have read the British version of this virtue over vice tale in The Parson’s Tale of Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.” For those of you who didn’t do your summer reading, you may have first heard about the Seven Deadly Sins in David Fincher’s movie Seven.
All of this to say, The Seven Deadly as a list isn’t something that we have to study. While all of these sins certainly show up in Scripture, putting them together as a “deadly” collective is an extra-biblical idea.
Furthermore, we know that the truth about sin is that all sin leads to death. As Romans 6:23 says, For the Wages of Sin (All Sin) is death.
In other words there is no sin that is “ok” or not as bad. Sin always separates us from God, and when you are separated from God, you are separated from the Tree of Life, you are separated from all that is right and good, and eventually you will die and face a just God. But while all sin leads to death, there are certainly different consequences for different sins that we should take very seriously.
So our goals for this whole series are the following four things.
1. Hate Sin
We want you to realize that sin is never good. Sin always separates us from God. To be separated from God is the worst thing that could ever happen to you. Sin is always so costly. Sin is Death.
John Owen says, “Be Killing Sin, or Sin will be Killing You.”
He also said,“The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin.” If you are a believer and in Christ you have been forgiven and will not be condemned because of your sin. You must still make it your business every day to kill the old man, to kill the sinful man.
So through this series, we want you to hate the sin that is in your life.
2. Love Virtue
Traditionally for each of these seven deadly sins there has been a corresponding virtue. A mark or an evidence of the life of a believer. God hates sin, but he loves righteousness. He loves his way. The Spirit of God inside the believer produces a righteous life. A text we mentioned early Galatians 5 contrasts the sin or the evil of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit.
So we want you to love virtue.
3. Realize our own Sin
There are these wonderfully hard moments in the Christian Life of conviction. And if you are believer, you have felt the pain of conviction, when you know you have sinned. And that pain is a gift from God. Remember sin always separates you from God, so seeing your sin and being convicted of sin is a wonderful thing.
4. Know and love more deeply the grace of God in Christ
When we can truly see the condition of our own hearts and where sin has left us it will move us to treasure what God has done for us. While we were sinners, while we were far from God, while our hearts were filled with sin, Jesus left a perfect heaven, left a perfect relationship with the Father, he left all comfort, all pleasure, and all love to come and live in a sinful world. More than that, he took on our sin, he became sin for us, so that we might become the very righteousness of God.
So, those are our goals and to help us with this series we are going to be looking at a different character sketch each week. A person that really lived and dealt with these particular sins.
We have a lot to cover today so lets get to work. Today we are beginning with Sloth – the idea of laziness or apathy.
Like all of the deadly sins there are many things that you could say about Sloth. One definition says:
Spiritual or emotional apathy, neglecting what God has spoken, and being physically and emotionally inactive.
So we could talk about physical laziness or inactiveness,. We could talk about Spiritual laziness. We could talk about how people struggle to read their Bibles on a consistent basis or how people fail to maximize their spiritual giftedness. We could talk about vocational laziness and how people fail to work hard.
But my hunch is that most of you are pretty hard workers. It is kind of an American thing. In fact one of the defining characteristics of America is what is called the “Protestant Work Ethic.” Benjamin Franklin famously wrote in Poor Richard’s Almanac, “God helps those who help themselves,” meaning that if you want to be blessed and taken care of by God, you need to work hard, you need to do your share.
“God helps those who help themselves.” We have kind of bought into this idea of being a hard worker, and that is a part of the fabric of America that is a really good thing. The fact that we have been a hard working, typically busy people is one of the major factors in our greatness as a Nation. The Bible commends work, even in the 10 commandments when God commands the Sabbath, when he is commanding rest. There are two imperatives in that command.
9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.
God loves hard work, we need rest but we were made to work. And typically, at least historically, Americans have been hard working and busy people.
So my fear for this church, my fear for my own life, is not that we aren’t working hard. It is that we aren’t working hard at the right things, that we aren’t using our time in the best way, that we aren’t busy with the things that God really loves.
Today we are going to consider a story, a character sketch of a man in Scripture that had a big job. He certainly was a busy man, but he had neglected one of his most important jobs, he had been lazy, he hadn’t worked hard in his parenting.
We are going to pick up today in 1 Samuel 2 beginning in verse 12.
Before they had a king, Israel was ruled by a group of men called the Judges, and you can read all about the Judges in the book of Judges which of course is the book that comes shortly before 1 Samuel. And so this man, named Eli, was the Judge of Israel but also the High Priest of Shiloh, And Shiloh was the capital of Ancient Israel before the Temple was built in Jerusalem.
Initially there is nothing we see in the text that would lead us to believe that Eli is an evil man until we come to verse 12 of chapter 2 which reads.
12 Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord.
The text goes on to describe that the sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, taking their portion of the sacrifice before it had been burned. In other words they were taking their portion before God had had his portion. They were treating the sacrifices of God with contempt and rather than taking what they needed they were taking advantage of the people’s obedience to the Lord. Robbing the people and robbing God. But it gets worse.
In verse 22 we read:
22 Now Eli was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting.
So not only are they stealing from God and stealing from the people they are sleeping around with the women who were serving at the Temple. Now this behavior of priests sleeping with women at the temple was a well known practice in the ancient world, but it was a pagan practice with pagan priests and pagan prostitutes. Hophni and Phinehas were performing this sinful and pagan practice in the presence of a Holy God, in the presence of Our Holy God.
I want to make a comment here. I often hear this excuse for the shifting morality of today. Things are different now, the Bible is no longer relevant, the world has changed. In such a statement there is this underlying assumption that there was no immorality in the ancient world, which is such an ignorant assumption. It shows no understanding of history. There has always been immorality and there has always been loose sexual ethics. Ancient near eastern sexual ethic and the Roman sexual ethic would make the immorality of today seem like child’s play. So don’t be so foolish, there has always been great sin, and God has always hated sin, and there have always been consequences for sin.
But Eli hears about what his sons are doing as the text says from all the people and eventually as verse 22 tells us, when he was very old. He says to them.
23 And he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all these people. 24 No, my sons; it is no good report that I hear the people of the Lord spreading abroad. 25 If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father,
Ultimately, the warning came too late, the effort was not strong enough. By this time the boys didn’t care, they were going to do what they were going to do.
Now Eli’s sin is certainly implied in this text and it is very clear a few verses down but I love the next little phrase:
for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death.
So even in the disobedience of Hophni and Phinehas, even in the disobedience of Eli, God is still in control. God is still orchestrating his meticulous sovereignty in all things.
What we have going on behind this whole story is that God is raising up for himself a new servant. He is removing the old house and bringing in a new priest for Israel, who would give them a king. It is interesting that in 1 Samuel 2:26 we see the same language describing Samuel that is used in Luke 2:52 to describe Jesus:
26 Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and also with man.
So Eli’s house and the transition to the new order of Samuel is a picture of the New Covenant that God would one day usher in through Christ. But as you study Scripture and learn the heart and the mind of God, you will see this good tension all over. While God was in complete control of the situation, it is no less the fault of Eli, and his sons.
We see that very clearly in the next few verses.
A nameless prophet comes to Eli and brings him this rebuke:
27 And there came a man of God to Eli and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Did I indeed reveal myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt subject to the house of Pharaoh? 28 Did I choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to burn incense, to wear an ephod before me? I gave to the house of your father all my offerings by fire from the people of Israel. 29 Why then do you scorn my sacrifices and my offerings that I commanded for my dwelling, and honor your sons above me by fattening yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel?’
The Prophet goes on to tell Eli that his line is about to be cut off, that he and his family had lost favor with God. And he said that the sign of this is that both Hophni and Phinehas would die on the same day.
And sure enough two chapters later there is a horrible defeat for the Hebrew people, the Philistines were able to beat them in battle and even take the Ark of the Covenant. And on that day both Hophni and Phinehas who were with the Ark were killed. The text goes on to tell us that a man ran from the battle that day to tell Eli, and upon hearing about the Ark and upon hearing about his sons, Eli fell backward in his chair and broke his neck and he died. Therefore the house of Eli all died on the same day. He was cut off.
You might be thinking,”Well thanks for the nice story, Jason— just what I wanted to hear.” But I think this is a great place to begin for my fellow busy Americans. I picked the story of Eli on purpose, because here you see a man who is diligent in the workplace yet lazy and slothful at home. I don’t want any of us to fall into this trap, and it is an issue of Sloth that many busy Americans deal with.
So as we move forward I want to walk through our goals.
Hate the Sin
And I want to be very clear, laziness is not rest. We need rest, God commanded us to rest, we were made to rest. Laziness is not recreation, going to do something fun, going to do something enjoyable is not being lazy. Here is really the gist of what it means to be lazy:
Laziness is an unwillingness to do hard things when you’re supposed to.
Now again this is not to say that we never have recreation and free time, and this is certainly not to say that we are supposed to do every hard thing we encounter. It is to say that privilege typically requires work. It is to say that when you take on the responsibility of a privilege you will be forced to do things that you don’t like.
Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 3:10-12:
10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.
I think this illustrates the point well. Everyone wants the privilege of food. We all love to eat but that privilege comes with a cost, work. And often times in life you have to do something hard in order to get what you really want. The lazy man, the lazy woman, refuses that.
Tom Landry the legendary coach of the Dallas Cowboys once said,
“My job is very simple but often difficult. It is to make men do the things that they don’t want to do in order to achieve something that they have wanted their entire lives.”
Laziness is not being willing to do the hard things that you have to do in this life.
And it always costs.
Our most costly laziness very rarely has anything to do with our work. Most of the hard things we do are outside of the office, outside of the workplace.
I love being a parent, but there are many things that I do in parenting that are hard. Disciplining my child is hard. Teaching my child God’s way is hard. Being a good husband is hard especially after a long day at the office. Spiritual growth is hard. It is easy to make excuses to not read my bible or to pray. Coming to church every week, and giving, and caring for the people around me, and serving, all of these things are wonderful things, and they are typically enjoyable, but sometimes they can be very hard.
It is in those hard moments that I can be lazy, that I can cut a corner, that I can give a slack effort.
Laziness, slothfulness, always costs. So how do we overcome this, how do we avoid this costly laziness?
And the answer comes with our second goal.
Traditionally the corresponding virtue to the sin of laziness has been diligence. Here is a good definition of Diligence: Careful or Persistent Work or Effort.
There is an NPR Radio program that I really enjoy listening to called This American Life, and a few weeks ago they told the story of a car dealership on Long Island. You want to talk about a tough industry— the auto industry. These guys work hard and really don’t get paid as much as you may think. But they were interviewing this guy and he was supposed to be off but he came in and he was missing his kids birthday party, and he had just missed his child’s baseball game. And he said in his Long Island accent, “I’ll make it up to him, my wife can cover for me.”
So there is a man who is diligent in the work place, but lazy at home. He isn’t careful or persistent with his work at home. And like we said, that will always cost. Now I know some of you are thinking: “I just don’t have time to be diligent at work and at home and in my spiritual life.”
I mean if you are like me, I know there have been times that you have wished that you didn’t require sleep. But then you are being careless with your body. Maybe you have wished that someone would invent some sort of time saving device that would help you. Let me just give you a little hint. Time saving devises don’t ever save time, they only change the expectations.
So my dad has always been a late adapter to technology and I remember having this conversation right when smart phones came out about how much time getting a smart phone would save him. He could respond to email while on the go and use all of the other good things that smart phones do. But Smart Phones don’t save any time, they only change the expectations. People just send more emails now and if you don’t respond within two hours people think you are rude. All that to say you only have so much time and you have to be diligent with the time that you have, you won’t get more.
Here is the principle of diligence:
Every time you say yes to one thing, you say no to something else.
So learn to say yes to the right things. You can’t do everything. You never will be able to. So you have to be choosy with what you say yes to and you have to learn to say no.
Andy Stanley wrote a book called Choosing to Cheat. And his basic premise in the book is in your life, someone is going to feel cheated. I feel this as a pastor. At my previous church there was the expectation that the senior pastor kind of did everything. And at first I didn’t want to disappoint people and I tried to do it. But then the church began to grow and we hired more staff, and then I got married. And I realized I was going to disappoint people and I just had to accept that. You have to say no. You have to be able to say no to your work. You have to be able to say no to certain activities or you will be saying no to your family when you need to say yes, you will be saying no to the Lord, you won’t have the energy to be in Church every week, you wont have the energy to read your Bible, you won’t have the time to go on missions trips. Because
Every time you say yes to one thing, you say no to something else.
If I went around and asked. “what is the most important thing in your life?” I am quite sure most people would say well it is my relationship with God, or maybe it is my relationship with my family. But then here are my questions:Are you lazy with what matters most? Are you diligent with what matters least?
I want you to love virtue, but before you can get there you have to realize your own sin.
Realize your own sin.
Let me tell you what is so freeing. It is painful, but it is so freeing. When you can know your own sin, when you can admit, “I have sinned I am wrong,” and I own that.
The Bible tells us in James 5:16
Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, And there is this wonderful phrase that you may be healed.
We drift toward being Spiritually lazy. We drift toward being lazy with our families. We drift toward being lazy in our jobs. That is why we need to come to church every week to get refocused on the Lord. It is also why the Lord gives us units of time, units of time is such a gift. A day, a week, a month, a year, these are great gifts. Because they give us a chance to evaluate and then start over. If 2016 was rough, if you are feeling conviction of sin, if you have been lazy this past year… Own that sin, confess that sin, and be healed by the grace of Christ.
Which brings us to our final goal.
Know and love more deeply the grace of God in Christ.
You know whenever I preach a sermon like this on Holiness or the consequences of sin I get a little nervous, because I know there are some of you out there who have some regrets. I’m reminded of a guy, who was an incredible guy at First Baptist and he had become a Christian when he was in his 50s, and he hadn’t raised his children in church. He hadn’t read them the Bible and when he came to know the Lord his children were out of the house. This was an amazing guy, but his children weren’t believers and he carried around a lot of regret with him. You know there may be some people here like that, or there may just be some of you who have been a Christian for a long time but have been lazy as parents. There may be some of you that were diligent in raising your children, and you were diligent in your own spirituality, and things didn’t work out like you wanted them to or even thought they would.
I think the only thing I can say is there is no guaranteed formula on why it works out for this person and why it doesn’t for this person. The truth is that the best parent in this room has been lazy in their parenting. They have failed at one point or another to be diligent in raising up their children.
Our diligence doesn’t save us, our righteousness doesn’t save us, only Christ can save us, only his restoring power is strong enough. Are there consequences for sin? Yeah, of course there are. But the good news of the cross is 1 John 1:9:
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
That is a great promise that I need and that you need. It doesn’t mean that all of the consequences go away, but it does mean that there is hope.
Because of Jesus I can say to you today that you have hope, the lazy man has hope, the adulterer has hope, the murderer, the child molester, all have hope.
I am reminded of the old Fanny Crosby Song
The Vilest offender who truly believes that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.
Aren’t you glad that our heavenly Father is a better Father than Eli was, aren’t you glad that our Heavenly Father’s love is so much deeper than my love, are you glad that our Heavenly Father is Diligent with His Children.
You, and I can be the very child of God.
The scripture promises in John 1:12:
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And like any good Father, God our Father calls us to his banqueting table, to celebrate with him, to rejoice with him.
Dr. Jason Dees is a pastor in Atlanta, Georgia, and a guest instructor at the Kanakuk Institute.