Proverbs 12:24

The hand of the diligent shall bear rule: but the slothful shall be under tribute.


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Hard work works. The diligent end up on top, and the lazy end up at the bottom. This is a true rule of business and life, which Solomon observed, and which God inspired him to write down for your prosperity and success. Believe it. Hard work works, and it wins.

Diligence, which is hard work, does not require ability, intelligence, education, or skill. It only requires focused attention, maximum effort, and patient persistence. In a generation when most are lazy and impatient, a Christian can rise faster and farther than ever before.

Talent and training leverage diligence, but talent and training cannot replace diligence. The best professional plan for success is a prudent transferable skill used diligently and persistently – you will go places quickly. There are lazy and diligent men with dull axes, lazy men with sharp axes, and diligent men with sharp axes (Eccl 10:10). Who will win?

Lazy men are losers. They end up oppressed and persecuted in life; they will be used by others as doormats, and rightly so. This horrible result can occur in spite of ability or education, because it is caused by slothfulness. Diligence is a choice. Help yourself up the corporate ladder by hard work. Or, be lazy, and carry the ladder for others to climb.

Diligence is intense and persistent effort; it is hard and continuous labor. The diligent man will bear rule, or be promoted, over those who are lazy. If a young man builds a reputation for great diligence, he will rise to the top like cream does in milk, even if his choice in trades is not perfect and there are troubles in his industry. God has spoken.

The word “hand” is synecdoche for the whole man, just as ship captains say, “All hands on deck,” expecting their sailors to appear immediately. The use of “hand” by Solomon has value, because it is a man’s obvious tool of labor (Pr 10:4; 19:24; 26:15). Even today, employers advertise for men who will “roll up their sleeves” and get jobs done.

The slothful is a lazy man. He dislikes exertion, avoids hard work, paces himself in tasks, is slow and sluggish, resents pressure, is intimidated by challenges, cannot sustain strong efforts, is easily distracted, and has little drive. He has the same name as a very slow and sleepy mammal of Central and South America – the sloth. A slothful man is a lazy man.

Tribute was the tax kings required of nations they defeated in battle (Joshua 17:13; I Kgs 9:21). It was paid by the losing nation in a war to the winning nation of the war. It was a costly and painful financial act of submission by the loser to the winner. This also happens in business. Lazy men will soon be working for those who outwork them.

Solomon wrote Proverbs for young men, especially his son, though all can benefit (Pr 1:4,8). Men are born with a default mechanism to laziness, because they are sinners by Adam and do not want to fulfill their end of the deal made in Eden (Gen 2:15; 3:17-19). But if they will believe and obey God’s wisdom like this proverb, they can be successful.

Most men deceive themselves by thinking that taking life easy makes life easier. But they do not see the pain, poverty, suffering, and trouble that laziness causes (Pr 15:19; 13:15). They have not experienced the fact that hard work has its own reward. They will not interrupt morning sleep to get up early, though the consequences throughout the day and their lives will punish them for the lazy and slothful choice of extra sleep (Pr 6:6-11).

To help young men be successful, Solomon stressed the value of diligence. Hard work will bring rewards in compensation and comfort that a lazy man can only dream about. The sluggard dreams about nice things, and his desire for them torments him, but he will never have them, because diligent men bid prices too high, and rightly so (Pr 21:25).

Consider athletes (I Cor 9:24-27). Athletes use this wisdom every day, by saying, “If I put in one more lap, or one more set of exercises, than anyone else, I will eventually win.” They know hard work brings results, so they work harder than their competitors, and they are soon defeating them in contests. They cannot change their God-given abilities, but they can outwork the competition. Overachievers can defeat the talented.

You may not be gifted, but it does not take genius to be the hardest worker in your firm or field. It may be too late for better training, but you can still outwork the men relying on their degrees for the next promotion. You can pass these prima donnas by being more faithful than they are usually willing to be. Will you believe this proverb and get to work?

Are you gifted? Are you well trained? Thank God, and then leverage either or both to greater success by diligence. Solomon analyzed more salary reports and career studies than you could haul in a freighter. He said diligence works. Go for it! A diligent truck driver can earn more than a lazy doctor, without the school loans, without the exorbitant liability insurance, and without 13-15 extra years at school before earning. Do the math!

What is diligence? Do the basics well every day. Be early to work. Never miss a day. Be first to volunteer for extra duties. Ask for more to do when things are slow. Despise breaks. Apply focused and intense output for the whole day. Do not waste or steal time for personal matters. Stay until the job is done. Be more eager to punch in than punch out.

Outwork everyone else. Enjoy self-imposed stress. Work extra hard on difficult jobs. Cheerfully agree to every assignment. Set records for quantity and quality. Avoid meetings when possible. Work as if the Lord were watching, because He is. Work as if your family’s future depended on it, because it does. Do everything heartily to God as your primary focus, knowing that He rewards diligence and punishes sloth (Col 3:22-25).

What is slothfulness? Arrive on time or late. Use all your personal or sick days. Get a cup of coffee to get going, after punching in. Rearrange your workspace again. Call, email, text, or surf on company time. Pace yourself to help a project fill up the day. Talk, think, or worry about office politics. Chat with others about social matters. Take full breaks. Leave on time or early. Never volunteer for extra duties. Leave projects unfinished.

Think about punching out. Balance your checkbook at work. Deliberate at your desk more than you need. Daydream. Fuss about details that sacrifice quantity of work. Think about your vacation. Check for school classes in your field, on the clock. Call for a meeting when you could just finish the job. Get another soda. Take another bathroom break. Work like those around you. Walk slowly. Take it easy. Enjoy life. Stretch. Relax.

Diligence is crucial to a successful life – no matter what part of life you consider. From your marriage to your house, and from your children to your soul, diligence is a main ingredient for success (Pr 4:23; 5:19; 14:1; 29:15,17). The virtuous woman is described in detail in Proverbs 31, but her description may be summarized by one word – diligence.

Look at Solomon’s many references to diligence in this book of Proverbs (Pr 6:6-11; 10:4,26; 12:11,24,27; 13:4; 14:4; 15:19; 18:9; 19:15,24; 20:4,13; 21:5,25; 22:13,29; 23:21; 24:30-34; 26:13-16; 27:23-27; 28:19; 31:10-31; Eccl 9:10). Young man, do you hear the inspired preacher and king? Work hard now for position and rest in your future.

Pharaoh sought men of activity for his cattle (Gen 47:6); Solomon applied this proverb by promoting Jeroboam for his industry (I Kgs 11:28); Paul labored more abundantly than any other apostle (I Cor 15:10; II Cor 11:23); Jesus told the parable of the talents to encourage diligence in one’s duties (Matt 25:14-30). God judged Sodom very severely in part for idleness by its citizens (Ezek 16:49). Your future is now: diligence works.

The rule of diligence in employment is part of the Christian religion, being taught directly and indirectly in the New Testament (Rom 12:11; Eph 4:28; 6:5-8; Col 3:22-25; I Thess 4:11-12; II Thes 3:6-14; I Tim 6:1-2; Tit 2:9-10; 3:14). But faithful diligence in spiritual things will bring praise and promotion by the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt 24:45-51; 25:20-23). And diligent ministers are worthy of double financial honour (I Tim 5:17-18).

The vain professor of religion, the carnal Christian that pursues pleasure, shall soon be discovered and cast out (Matt 25:24-30). If any man has ears to hear, let him hear the commendation of the unjust steward for wisely planning for his future (Luke 16:1-12). It is only by careful diligence you can lay hold of the kingdom of God (II Pet 1:5-11). Turn over a new page in your life today by being diligent in all your duties and privileges.