Intensity: Don’t Be Slothful in Zeal; Be Fervent in Spirit
“Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit.” It seems to me that this is a negative and positive way of saying one thing: Negatively Don’t be slothful in zeal. Positively, be fervent in spirit. The one thing Paul is saying is: Do lots of work for Christ passionately.
Each of these two statements clarifies and protects the other from misunderstanding. “Do not be slothful in zeal”—do not be lazy in zeal—could be taken to mean: be pragmatic. Work, work, work, and don’t worry about your emotions or how you feel. Getting things done is what matters. Be eager and earnest and zealous to get things done. Laziness is the great vice. The great virtue is efficiency and hard work.
But we can see how lopsided that is when we take the positive, clarifying counterpart, namely, “be fervent in spirit.” The word “fervent” comes from the Latin fervens which means “boiling.” That is exactly what this word means in the original Greek (zeontes): boiling—in spirit. So the idea is clearly not one of mere hard work or efficiency. The spirit is in view, not just the body. Feeling is in view, not just doing. So the point of both clauses together is: Don’t just do lots, feel lots.
And it works the other way around. If you read only the second exhortation: “Be fervent in spirit,” you might conclude: The Christian life is one of heart passion. Doing and efficiency are not crucial. Feeling—fervency, boiling in spirit—that is what matters. But that will not do. The first exhortation keeps us from that lopsided view: Not just feel lots, but also do lots.
The warning about being “slothful” makes it clear that Paul wants us to be hard workers. One of the clearest statements on this is what he says in 1 Corinthians 15:58. He has just written a whole chapter on the resurrection of Christ as the ground of our own resurrection, and now he draws out the implication for the kind of life we should live, since we have such a rock-solid spectacular hope: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
Abounding in the work of the Lord means: Do lots and lots of work for the Lord. That is what Romans 12:11 means: “Do not be slothful in zeal.” So when you put the first two parts of verse 11 together they say something like: Do lot’s of work for Christ passionately. Work for Christ with feeling. Feel lots in doing. Be as pragmatic as a businessman. And be as passionate as a poet—or a lover. Don’t say: I’m practical, not passionate. Aim to be more passionate. Don’t say: I’m passionate, not practical. Aim to be more practical.
When Jonathan Edwards was still a young man he wrote seventy resolutions. I think the sixth resolution captures the meaning of Paul’s words, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit.” Edwards wrote: “Resolved: To live with all my might while I live.”
Sunday, July 2, 2006
John Piper Quote on Romans 12:11
A bit from John Piper on Romans 12:11: "Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord" (Romans 12:11).