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Description: What is Sloth?
What is Sloth?
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
Will you take a Bible please and turn to Ephesians chapter 5? And we are coming really to the end
of this chapter that we’ve been doing. And I know that you’ve caught some of it. And I’m so sorry
you don’t catch all of it. But you catch some of it through the tapes that I think Marty is
sending. It is a remarkable chapter. It begins there. Paul is talking first of all about us being
imitators and being real in our life. Then he gets on to this complex relationship that he begins
to talk about.
Ephesians 5:1, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ
loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
“But fornication and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is fitting
among saints. Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but
instead let there be thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure man, or one who is
covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no
one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon
the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not associate with them, for once you were darkness, but
now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all
that is good and right and true), and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in
the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is a shame even to speak of the
things that they do in secret; but when anything is exposed by the light it becomes visible, for
anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it is said,
‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead,
And Christ shall give you light.’
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time,
because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, addressing
one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all
your heart, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to
the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body,
and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in
everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave
himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the
word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such
thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their
own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes
and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a
man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one
flesh.’ This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church;
however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her
The thing that surprised — actually both of us, not just me — but the thing that surprised us when
Barth in his volume starts to deal with sin, is that he came up with that word. It seemed very
un-evangelical to me and probably to Irene, too. It just seemed such a miserable word. I just
didn’t know where he was going to go with it. But he said, “What is sin?” And then he answers, and
you are waiting for something like, ‘hostility towards God’ or ‘the mind that is flesh is enmity
against God,’ and all that kind of thing, or ‘idolatry’ or something like that. He comes up with
‘sloth;’ ‘sloth’. Of course, those of us who knew the “Basic Youth Conflicts” guy, we thought, “O
yes, yes, you have to avoid sloth. That’s what it is.” That tends to be the way we interpreted it,
back in those years. I remember Gentry was very much against sloth and kind of laziness and not
stirring yourself up and that kind of thing. And I thought, “Sloth?” Of course it really takes you
to get through a couple of Barth’s pages before you see what he means by ‘sloth’. Of course he
means, you’re rejecting what God has done with you. “God has raised you up and made you sit with
him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” and you’re rejecting that. Slowly it got through to
me. Yes. Especially, he actually went into this detail that got right to my heart. He said, “Sloth
is cuddling yourself to yourself, and living inside your own inadequacy and refusing to be lifted up
with Christ to the right hand of God.”
And I could have put it in these words, if you would have been with me at that moment, I could have
put it in these words, “Yes it’s too breezy up there. The air is too fresh up there. There are too
many sacrifices up there. I’m staying down here in my own miserable self-centered little self. And
I’m comfortable here and I don’t have to launch out and do things that are not natural to me. I can
stay here inside my own little self.”
And I saw that that was the only thing that stood between me and the resurrected life. Ascended
with him at the Father’s right hand, looking out over the world from that position, filled with the
heart of the Father, and the bigness of the Son’s heart, filled with their preoccupation with
everybody but themselves. That’s what it seemed like. Filled with preoccupation with everybody but
themselves. They didn’t seem to care at all about themselves. They were looking down at all of us,
watching what we were doing, working to make it work for us. And I saw, that’s a different life.
That’s an exalted resurrected life filled with fresh air, filled with other people, and nothing of
the darkness and the comfortable privacy of my own little corner where I was preoccupied with myself
and the things I needed and the things I haven’t got and my own thoughts. And I don’t know, I just…
Ah, you may say, “Well you were in a bad state.” Well certainly it lit up for me very clear, what
sloth was and what sin is. And those of you who have read a little of Barth know he says, Yes,
there is another kind of sin, Promethean sin. Prometheus was the one who rebelled against Lucifer, I
think it was. O yes, there is a Promethean kind of sin where you strike out and you attack and you
oppose God. But he says, that’s not the problem one at all. The problem is sloth; the opposite of
hyperactivity is this passivity, this sinking back into yourself and refusing to lift out of it.
And of course it was clear to me, the difference in my own attitude to things about the two things.
When I was down there it was me. I was concerned with my comfort. I was concerned with the things
I hadn’t got. I was concerned with the things that were uncomfortable in my life, that were
unpleasant, the things that were kind of challenging me to forget myself. And those were the things
that preoccupied me and filled my mind.
Go up there with him? Be lifted up with him? Let him raise me up and preoccupy me with all his
concerns and all his interests? He who lives for everybody else and not himself? No, no. I like it
down here. Here I’m concerned with myself, I’m preoccupied with what I need and what I’ve got, and
I’m preoccupied with – that’s where I saw it. I was preoccupied with my own inadequacies and my own
powerlessness. I had only my own ability to do anything. And so I was worried and anxious and far
from outgoing. And I saw that that’s right. That is what sin is. It’s independence of God and in
that way of course is an offence against him. And it is direct pain to him. But especially sin is
I, I, I, I, I, and what I’m going to do tomorrow and the next day, and what people think of me, and
how my life is going, and whether it looks as if it will be a happy life or an unhappy life,
preoccupied with myself, refusing to be lifted up.
The lady [reference to Irene] gave me some glimpse of my own attitude compared with a normal person
like her, because at times she’ll say, “Let’s go out. Let’s go!” And I would want to stay in and
read or just rest. And so I knew something of that freshness that Christ raised us up into. But I
certainly didn’t like that.
And I think that’s always the call. And if you have deadness in your life, that’s it. That’s it.
It’s not that your not – actually, probably you’re not praying enough. But it’s not that you’re not
praying enough. It’s not that you’re not singing enough hymns. It’s not that you’ve got a wrong
angle on the truth. It’s just sheer sloth. It’s sloth. You’re just sinking into yourself, and
you’re not exercising any faith at all in him. That is you’re not letting your mind dwell “on
things above where Christ is seated at God’s right hand.” But you’re letting your mind dwell on
things on the earth. You’re preoccupied with the car, with the job, the people you’re living with,
the food you’re getting or not getting, the clothes you have or haven’t got. You’re preoccupied
with that. And so from that position there is no spirit there, there’s no life of Christ rising
within you speaking to his Father as friend to friend.
And so you can tell. You can always tell when there is deadness within. It’s always because you
are not letting Christ live within you. And you’re not living with him at the Father’s right hand.
Because there it is “hallelujah time!” There it is glory! There, there is lightness and brightness
and you catch that brightness and lightness and you bring it earth. And that’s of course what
So it’s worth I think, looking out from yourself and if you have any touch of that at all, seeing
that it is always tied back to that. And you can get into that elevator any moment you choose. Any
moment you choose, you can get into that elevator. That’s what this dear word says, that “God has
created you in Christ Jesus for good works that he has prepared before hand that you should walk in
them.” And you are in Christ Jesus, and any moment you can say, “Lord, here we are at our Father’s
right hand and now as we look out on this scene, what are you interested in doing, Lord?” That’s it.
That’s it. It is simple faith.
So I say that to you, because if you… wherever you are, I know what that is. That is a pretty
dead existence. And I have been in it. And so I know of what I speak. Because you have nothing.
You have nothing. You have no ability. It’s like being down there and you have no power to lift
yourself. There is no lift. There is just no lift! And of course there is no lift, because he who
lifts is at God’s right hand and is in you, but you don’t believe he is in you. You just look
around inside your mind and all you see is your own thoughts and your own ideas and your own
interests. And you can’t see him at all. And he is right there round about you. [In a soft voice]
“See here. Here I am! Here I am!”
So, that wasn’t going to be the sermon. But I just felt God was speaking to me. And we should be
just grateful for him, that he speaks to idiots like me. And we should see that this is a great
privilege we have here.
So as we go to the table today I’d say, be honest with Jesus. And I’d say, Do something! Don’t sit
there and die. The Savior is round about you.
It’s a no brainer! The girl is somewhere. Right? Somewhere! That dear girl of yours [looking at
one of the married men] in the back seat, she is somewhere. You’re mom [looking at a person whose
mother has died] is somewhere; our dads [reference to fathers who have died]. “Now that,” Jesus
says, “is where you are. Now are you going to live there or not?”
Let us pray.