A photo of a sloth resting peacefully in a lush green forest, representing the biblical idea of sloth as a caution against laziness and the importance of diligence and productivity.

What Does “Sloth” Mean In The Bible?

If you search for the meaning of “sloth” these days, you’ll likely find references to the slow-moving tree animal found in South and Central America. However, when it appears in the Bible, sloth has an entirely different meaning – one that relates to spiritual laziness and moral apathy.

Definition of Sloth in the Bible

General Meaning of Spiritual & Moral Laziness

The word “sloth” in the Bible generally refers to spiritual and moral laziness or apathy. It is closely related to concepts like indifference, negligence, laxness, and lack of discipline and self-control. At its core, biblical sloth indicates a lackadaisical attitude toward God and righteous living.

Scripture warns against slackness in areas like prayer, scripture reading, church attendance, and obedience to God’s laws.

For example, the well-known parable of the talents illustrates the dangers of spiritual sloth (Matthew 25:14-30). The wicked servant who buried his talent and did nothing with it demonstrated unacceptable indolence. His master harshly rebuked him as both lazy and wicked.

This story powerfully depicts how seriously God takes a nonchalant, apathetic approach toward faith and discipleship.

Connections to Acedia & Despondency

In religious contexts, sloth is often closely associated with acedia and despondency. Acedia refers to a listlessness of spirit, a lack of care and concern toward spiritual things. Despondency denotes depressed feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness, and succumbing to temptation.

So biblical sloth intertwines boredom, apathy, despair, and moral dissipation.

According to Catholic and Orthodox traditions, acedia is one of the “seven deadly sins.” The sin represents spiritual laziness and lack of joy in God’s gifts. It stems from boredom, entitlement, and dissipation from righteous habits.

Ultimately, acedia leads people to feel despondent about their faith and withdraw from practices nourishing the soul.

Sloth as One of the Seven Deadly Sins

Listing of the Seven Deadly Sins

The seven deadly sins are a grouping of vices that have been used in Christian teachings since early times. They include pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth. These sins are viewed as behaviors or habits that can lead people into further immoral acts.

While each of the seven deadly sins is considered inappropriate and sinful according to Christian beliefs, sloth stands out as the one deadly sin that is more of an inward disposition rather than an outward action.

Sloth’s Place Among These Sins

Of all the seven sins, sloth is perhaps the least outrageous but can still have severe spiritual consequences. The sin of sloth essentially refers to laziness or apathy regarding one’s religious practice or spiritual growth.

A slothful person may consistently fail to pray, study religious teachings, or attend church without good reason. While seemingly harmless on the surface, spiritual apathy or indifference over time can lead people to drift away from God or question their beliefs.

That’s why Christian leaders have cautioned against allowing slothfulness to creep into one’s religious devotion. As an inward disposition of the heart and mind, sloth differs from more visible deadly sins but can still be incredibly destructive if left unchecked.

Examples of Sloth in the Bible

The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)

In this parable, Jesus tells the story of three servants who were entrusted with different amounts of money talents by their master. Two of the servants invested the money and doubled it, but the third servant hid his single talent in the ground and did not even put it in the bank to earn interest.

When the master returned, he praised the first two servants for being productive with what he had given them, but he harshly criticized the third servant for being lazy and not using his talent wisely (Matthew 25:26).

This shows that God expects us to make good use of the gifts and resources He gives us, instead of wasting them through laziness and inaction.

The Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24)

In this story, a man prepared a large feast and invited many guests, but they all made excuses not to come when it was time. One had bought land, another had bought livestock, and another had just gotten married (Luke 14:18-20).

So the master sent his servant out to bring in the poor, disabled, and outcasts instead. This parable warns against using insignificant temporal affairs as excuses to reject God’s invitation. Making excuses not to serve God or participate in His work demonstrates spiritual slothfulness.

The Story of Mary & Martha (Luke 10:38-42)

While visiting Jesus, Martha was busy with all the preparations, but her sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to His teachings (Luke 10:39-40). When Martha complained to Jesus that her sister was not helping, He gently rebuked her: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed” (Luke 10:41-42).

Jesus was saying that Mary chose the better thing by putting relationship with God first instead of temporal matters. Though serving is good, overfunctioning through excessive activity and failing to listen to God demonstrates misplaced priorities that ignore what matters most.

Overcoming Spiritual Slothfulness

Cultivating Diligence & Zeal

Being spiritually diligent requires actively pursuing godliness through regular Bible reading, prayer, fellowship, and serving others (Hebrews 6:11-12). We must make time for these things rather than letting busyness or laziness keep us from them.

Setting a routine can help, like starting each morning by reading Scripture and praying or scheduling weekly church attendance. Accountability partners who encourage holy habits are also beneficial. By prioritizing our relationship with God, we cultivate joyful diligence rather than burdensome drudgery.

Our zeal comes from appreciating Christ’s sacrifice for us and wanting to honor Him (2 Corinthians 5:9-15).

Making Time for Reflection & Worship

Reflection and worship help revitalize our spirits when fatigue or apathy sets in. Jesus modeled this by frequently withdrawing to solitary places for prayer (Luke 5:16). Setting aside quiet time to meditate on God’s goodness, praise Him, and confess sins reorients our focus from earthly concerns to eternal ones.

This frees us from the friction and clutter occupying our minds. Regular Sabbath-keeping likewise provides necessary rest and renewal. Structuring our schedules around weekly corporate worship servives plays a vital role too.

Studies show that only 22% of Christians who rarely attend church read their Bibles daily versus 57% who attend at least once a month.1 Gathering with other believers strengthens our zeal and determination to live wholeheartedly for Christ.

Serving Others With Our Gifts

Actively serving others combats complacent Christianity by getting us off the sidelines and into the daily work of Kingdom-building. Each of us has unique gifts and talents to benefit the body of Christ (Romans 12:4-8).

As we enthusiastically leverage these gifts in service and sacrifice for others, our spirits soar with meaning, purpose and vision. Some ways to serve include volunteering with church ministries, going on missions trips, delivering meals to shut-ins, mentoring youth, visiting prisoners, helping widowed/elderly neighbors with house repairs, routinely praising and encouraging others, generously giving resources to those in need, or cheerfully completing menial tasks without complaint.

Serving in love invigorates our faith and gives us strength to persevere (Galatians 6:9-10).


As we have explored, the concept of “sloth” takes on spiritual dimensions within the Bible, relating to laziness and apathy in one’s relationship with God. Through parables and stories, Scripture issues a stark warning against slothfulness.

Yet the Bible also encourages us to cultivate spiritual diligence and use our gifts in service of others. By overcoming spiritual sloth, we can grow deeper in faith and in fulfillment of God’s purpose for our lives.

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