The seven deadly sins? Where does that categorization come from? The question can be addressed in two ways—historical and systematic. The historical question is the simpler of the two. Gregory the Great (late 6th century) is responsible for the list as we have it today. The list is an exercise in moral systematics—looking for a pattern in Scripture to help us understand a wide range of human disobedience. The list is not intended to compete with or supplant the Ten Commandments. The seven deadly sins are sloth, covetousness, anger, lust, gluttony, envy, and pride. And rolling up our sleeves in an industrious way, we will begin with sloth.
"Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man" (Prov. 6:6-11).
In this passage, sloth is contrasted with wisdom. As industry has a fruitful harvest, so does sloth bring a harvest with it—poverty. Sloth has alternatives to consider, compelling choices, like sleep and slumber. And lastly, the slothful are handled with considerable roughness, which is how God wants it. "The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat" (Prov. 13:4).
First, consider physical sloth, which neglects the tools given to us for our provision. God provides for us by requiring us to provide for ourselves, and enabling us to do so. We are to begin with thoughtful preparation. A man has to work in order to be able to work. He has to work at plowing in order to be able to work the harvest. But the slothful have excuses at the first sign of work. "The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing" (Prov. 20:4). The work of preparing to work is essential to the success of any work, but for the slothful it is too much work to anticipate or think ahead.
Then there is the work itself. The biblical Christian understands that he was created for the work he finds in front of him (1 Thess. 4:11). And if he will not do it, then he should not eat (2 Thess. 3:10). This, unfortunately, he will hear far more clearly than a sermon.
When a man works poorly and delivers a slipshod product, he is inviting public scrutiny. This public scrutiny is not gossip. "As vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to them that send him" (Prov. 10:26). When the slothful are connected to others, as they frequently are, the word gets out. This is not gossip. Suppose a contractor does not do (at all) what he committed to do, and he charges you thirty percent more than his estimate in order to not do it. And suppose further your neighbor says, "Hey, I saw that you had Sloth Enterprises build your garage. How'd that go?" It is not gossip to give a poor recommendation. God built the world in such a way as to have our work be regularly evaluated.
We also have to guard against spiritual sloth, which neglects the means of grace which God has so kindly provided us. The result of all such neglect is spiritual poverty. Just as physical sloth leads to physical poverty, so spiritual sloth leads to spiritual poverty.
The Word of God is declared to you week after week. Do you prepare to hear it? The Word of God is the source of the messages preached. What is your degree of familiarity with your Bible? The sacraments are another thing. Suppose you have not been baptized. Then believe and be baptized. Have you been baptized? Then improve on your baptism; live in terms of it. The mark of Jesus Christ is upon you. Has He invited you to His table? Do you come to sit down at His banquet without any foresight or preparation? Do you dabble with the sacraments, or do you apply yourself to them? Refusal to heed the Word, and refusal to apply the sacraments leads to spiritual bankruptcy. "The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason" (Prov. 26:16). The condition of the contemporary church is exactly this—the result of spiritual sloth. We are wiser in our own conceits than seven men from seven other eras who can render a reason.
One way (one attempted way) around this is to simply dub lack of preparation and industry as a nonchalant effect you wanted to achieve on purpose, calling evil cool. In times of cultural deterioration, pressure is always applied to invert the moral order (Is. 5:20). The world has always had lazy people, but they were usually recognized as such. In 1950, the average fourteen-year-old kid had a vocabulary of 25,000 words. Today, the average kid has a vocabulary of 10,000 words, four of which appear to be cable, X-box, video, and dude. But how is this up and coming generation of the ignorati described to us in our public discourse?—streetsmart, savvy, irreverent, refreshing. Industry and diligence are mocked, and the baseball hat on backwards is thought to be the mark of a sage.
Now the danger of preaching against sin is that if it is heard wrongly, it turns us to ourselves. We hear a message on sloth, and so we resolve to work harder. But every glimpse of sin should always drive us to Christ. The law is a schoolmaster designed to turn us to Christ (Gal. 3:24-25). And when we recognize that our work is necessarily insufficient, the response should be to turn to the one who worked perfectly throughout His life. Our work is to believe in the one whom God has sent (John 6:28-29). Only Christ worked hard enough, and so we must trust in Him.