What Does the Bible Say About Procrastination?

All people are at times prone to procrastination, delaying to do the things we need to do. The Bible warns against procrastination and offers the corrective of working diligently to the Lord.

What Does the Bible Say About Procrastination

Not all forms of procrastination lead to dire consequences, but perhaps everyone has experienced the difficulties that have resulted from procrastination.

Often we procrastinate because our vision of work is too narrow or too self-focused: we lack the desire or the willingness to do what is required of us. At other times, we delay doing what needs to be done because we are tired and need rest. The biblical corrective is not to work hard to the detriment of self, but to reorder one’s life in a radically godly way in order to work well for the Lord: to rest well, work well, and do all things for the glory of God (Colossians 3:23).

What Does the Bible Say About Procrastination (KJV)?

“For except we had lingered, surely now we had returned this second time.” Genesis 43:10
“When thou shalt vow a vow unto the LORD thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the LORD thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee.”Deuteronomy 23:21
“I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments.”Psalm 119:60

The Old Testament depiction of failing to repay vows and being slow to keep God’s commands reveal a similar disposition of the heart: an unwillingness to be motivated to do that which is necessary and required, as well as a lack of concern for loving God through obedience.

“Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep; and an idle soul shall suffer hunger.”Proverbs 19:15
“She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.”Proverbs 31:27
“When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed.”Ecclesiastes 5:4

The teacher of Ecclesiastes argues that procrastination can lead to destruction, not only the destruction of the hearts and souls of people but of the dilapidation and eventual ruin of buildings as well. The teaching goes well beyond a concern for the building alone, however, as the folly of idleness can lead to the harm of others as well—broken buildings and houses are dangerous for all who depend on them for security and shelter.

“But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”Hebrews 3:13

The author of Hebrews teaches his readers to “exhort one another daily.” The failure to engage in the task of urging each other on each day concerning putting sin to death can lead to hard hearts and corrupted consciences that no longer call sin “sin,” which can lead to eternal dangers.

Is Procrastination a Sin in the Bible?

The Bible speaks of what may be called procrastination in various terms, including idleness, slothfulness, and delaying to do what is necessary.

Although the Bible does not call all occasions of procrastination a sin, the Bible does have much to say regarding the wisdom of working diligently and the foolishness of idleness and delaying to do what needs to be done.

Exodus 22:29 – “Thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe fruits, and of thy liquors: the firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto me.” (ESV; all Scripture quotations are henceforth ESV unless otherwise noted)

In the book of Exodus, the Lord commands the people not to delay in offering their firstfruits to the Lord. Their willingness to offer the Lord their first and best serves as a reminder that all that they possess ultimately belongs to the Lord. To put off giving God their firstfruits would reveal a lack of priority in keeping the law of God, regarding the terms of the covenant relationship as insignificant. 

“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” 1 Thessalonians 5:14

In the New Testament, Paul tells the Thessalonian Christians to warn or correct the behavior of those who are idle. Instead of idleness, Paul commands the same Thessalonian Christians to work:

“For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”2 Thessalonians 3:10
What Does the Bible Say About Procrastination

Dangers of Procrastination in the Bible

The Proverbs give numerous warnings concerning slothfulness (laziness, unwilling to do work) and the dangerous effects that come from procrastination. 

“Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger.”Proverbs 19:15

Here the author of the proverb speaks of the natural consequences of idleness: not having the provisions of food needed to provide for oneself and one’s family. Unlike proverbs from other religions, the book of Proverbs in the Bible is intended to provide the covenant community the wisdom for living well in relationship to each other and to the Lord.

To constantly neglect God’s wisdom concerning procrastination would lead to devastating effects for many members of the community: supply issues, lack of needed provisions, failure to follow the law and hold God’s relationship with them as sacred.

In the New Testament, Paul warns Timothy of the dangers of people who are idle (speaking specifically to women), which he sees as the source of gossip in at least some situations. The logic here is that a lack of diligence to a task can lead to finding interest in vain and unprofitable things.

Examples of Procrastination in the Bible

Judah, the son of Jacob and brother of Joseph, laments the delay of his father to send Judah and his brothers back to Egypt (Genesis 43:10). Jacob’s unwillingness to do what needs to be done results in Simeon’s prolonged incarceration.

The image of the sluggard in the book of Proverbs is by far the most elaborate example of procrastination in the Bible. The moral failure of the sluggard in his idleness is evident in the juxtaposition between the one who procrastinates and the “upright of heart”:

“The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is a level highway.” Proverbs 15:19

By way of contrast, the work of rebuilding the Temple in the book of Ezra, though previously delayed (seen as an indication of the lack of priority of meeting with God), was being carried out diligently during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah:

“Be it known to the king that we went to the province of Judah, to the house of the great God. It is being built with huge stones, and timber is laid in the walls. This work goes on diligently and prospers in their hands.” Ezra 5:8

The people’s diligent work on the task of rebuilding the temple displayed their willingness and eagerness to commune with the Creator.

What Does the Bible Say About Overcoming Procrastination?

The “Proverbs 31 Woman”—the proverbial woman of wisdom and godly excellence—is one who is said to be opposed to idleness. Instead, she is described as one who works diligently and does not entertain even the notion of idleness:

“She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.”Proverbs 31:27

Likewise, Proverbs proscribes working diligently to the Lord as the antidote for the sluggard:

“The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.”Proverbs 13:4

Paul speaks often of the hard work of others who labor to serve the church: Romans 16:6; 16:12; 1 Corinthians 15:10; Colossians 4:13. On a few occasions, Paul encourages believers to work diligently unto the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58; 2 Thessalonians 3:12) even issues an imperative for believers to work from the depths of their beings:

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men”Colossians 3:23

The final antidote for overcoming procrastination is less about doing and more about abiding in the faith by maintaining an earnest hope in God:

“And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”Hebrews 6:11-12

While we have all experienced procrastination and felt the consequences of our lack diligence to do what is necessary, we can have full assurance that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, has done everything necessary to bring us into the family of God. Even when our procrastination leads us to sin and ruin, we can have full assurance that even our sin of procrastination is covered by Jesus’ death on our behalf, and that he can restore what is broken and transform our hearts to do all things diligently for the Lord.

Stephen D

Stephen Dillard serves as a Bible Scholar with Wycliffe Associates and is a contributing writer on Revelations.org. He is a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. He and his wife, Madison, have four children and make their home in Indiana.

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