Though the statement is not found verbatim in the Bible, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop” has its roots in Scripture. The apostle Paul notes that those who waste their time in idleness or in a non-productive manner are easily led into sin: “We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies” (2 Thessalonians 3:11). By not using their time productively, these people were tempted to meddle in other people’s business and stand in the way of their progress. “They get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to” (1 Timothy 5:13). These idlers and busybodies were wasting time that could have been used to help others. In essence, their lack of activity was leading them into sin.
Idleness is not the same as rest. The Bible advises people to rest, and taking breaks from work is good. By “idle” we mean “lazy” or “doing nothing when you should be doing something.” Idleness often stems from not having a specific goal or purpose in mind. With no goal, one can be easily distracted. The book of Proverbs warns us that sloppy or careless work is akin to malicious destruction: “One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys” (Proverbs 18:9).
We live in a sinful world, and a person who doesn’t have something particular to do will invariably be tempted to do something sinful. If we have nothing to do, the devil is all too eager to find things to occupy our time.
Paul and his fellow missionaries set an example of diligence for the church. “You yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you. . . . On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-8). Idleness was not a part of Paul’s lifestyle, and we can’t afford to countenance it in our lives, either.
Yes, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” The Lord knew that He needed to be about His Father’s business (Luke 2:49), and so should we. Jesus told us to pray for “workers” to be sent into the harvest field, not idlers (Luke 10:2). There is work to be done for the Kingdom, and we must not be distracted by the things of the world.