Proverbs 21:25

ESV The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor.
NIV The craving of a sluggard will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work.
NASB The desire of the lazy one puts him to death, For his hands refuse to work;
CSB A slacker’s craving will kill him because his hands refuse to work.
NLT Despite their desires, the lazy will come to ruin, for their hands refuse to work.
KJV The desire of the slothful killeth him; for his hands refuse to labor.
NKJV The desire of the lazy man kills him, For his hands refuse to labor.

What does Proverbs 21:25 mean?

Verses 25 and 26 are paired to contrast the productivity of laziness, here presented as a moral failure, and righteousness which turns away from idleness. A "sluggard" is someone lazy or habitually slow to act (Proverbs 6:6; 10:26; 19:24; 20:4; 26:14). The "desire" of such a person is to do nothing. Acting according to that preference leads to destruction, and even death. The lazy person is much more likely to struggle in finances, a career, in relationships, and in health. The second half of this dual proverb notes that the lazy person is a bottomless pit of "wants," while the righteous person is like a never-ending well of generosity (Proverbs 21:26).

Scripture clearly distinguishes between those who "will not" work, as in those who are lazy, versus those who "cannot" work due to physical or mental disability and illness. Those who struggle to work or provide for themselves should be cared for. The person too lazy to work does not deserve to be fed or supported. Nor should they be allowed to waste resources which could be used to help those truly in need (2 Thessalonians 3:10; Proverbs 14:21; 22:22).

The Bible portrays work as both necessary and good, in the right context. In the garden of Eden, God charged Adam with the responsibility to work and take care of the garden. Bible characters from Genesis on worked. Some were shepherds or farmers. Several of Jesus' disciples were fishermen (Matthew 4:18). Joseph, Jesus' earthly father, was a craftsman of some type, likely a carpenter (Matthew 13:55). Luke was a doctor (Colossians 4:14). Cornelius was a soldier (Acts 10:1). Simon was a tanner (Acts 9:43). Lydia was a seller of purple cloth (Acts 16:14). Paul, the great missionary, worked as a tentmaker while he preached (Acts 18:1–4). Colossians 3:23 exhorts: "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men." Obviously, the Lord regards diligent work highly.
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