A prairie doctor reins in his horse at a split in the road on a Nebraskan back route. Shoulders black with sweat the Doc has pushed his medical assistant hard for the breathless message from little Ben was, “Ma’s in labor and the baby ain’t ah comin’ out right. Please, come!” But the road sign at the fork pointed both directions for the same town. Seeing a farmer beside the road the Doc bellowed at him, “A lady is in danger of losing her life and I’m her doctor. Does it matter which road I take to get to town?” The farmer calmly pushed his plug to one side, stained the ground with brown drool, and with a stern gradual shaking of the head replied, “Not to me it don’t, not to me.” Indifference is a great enemy of the human spirit. Lack of enthusiasm is the twin sister of indifference and she’s just as ugly. “Imagine sending a squad of riot police to a cemetery at midnight to guard against a demonstration of the residents.” So Robert Foster describes the entropy that soon enters the Christian’s life that lives for Jesus without enthusiasm. Are you living an area of your life for Jesus without enthusiasm? Does time for loved ones matter as much as it used to? Does the love of Christ still constrain you to want to worship as often as you can with your brothers and sisters in Christ? In what realm of life to be lived for his glory by his grace are you saying by your actions “No big deal?”
Paul writes to encourage the Romans with these words, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11). Earlier the apostle had already hammered this point for leadership, “… if it is to lead do it diligently…” (Romans 12:8). Now he says to all of us who believe in Jesus, “Don’t be slothful in zeal.” Enthusiasm comes from two words (en or in + theos or god; possessed by a god) and for the Christian the clear implication is be Spirit-filled through the living and enduring Word of God. Anyone can tell you to be enthusiastic only Jesus through his Word can cause you to be enthusiastic. Big difference. The point. Be in his Word more frequently.
Really what Paul is saying with, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” is “Don’t be slothful in zeal but do be fervent in spirit as you serve Jesus,” right? Two sides of the same coin. It’s a negative and positive way of saying the same thing. First, don’t be slothful in zeal for Jesus. Sloth is the failure to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done – like the kamikaze pilot who flew seventeen missions. Ask yourself, “What are the things in my life I know need to get done for Jesus but I just am not doing them consistently?
We’ve all laughed at the “GEICO Game Night with a Sloth” commercial and we’ve seen the alacrity at which they move. Did you know sloths sleep 15 to 22 hours a day, yes, a day? They rise late in the afternoon to eat only whatever leaves may be close at hand. Being such unenthusiastic creatures they are virtually untrainable, although occasionally you will find one working on a construction crew and one that hangs around my home and office.
Usually I don’t own that because with the crowd no one in our day wants to admit that they are a sloth. Think of job interviews. When the interviewer asks the applicant, “What’s your biggest weakness?” Max DePree says, “Ninety percent of potential employees say something like, ‘I work too hard.’ ‘I go all in.’ ‘I tend to be a perfectionist.’” But who says, “You know what my weakness is – I am such a lazy sloth. There are a lot of things I know I need to do and I will never do them.” Forgiveness for all I have left undone is found in Jesus. Impetus to get on the good foot and do right by Jesus is ours in his zealous love for us. Stop excuse making. “Don’t be slothful in zeal for Jesus.” After all, intensity in work for Christ matters.
However, the second part of what Paul says in Romans 12:11 clarifies the first. Yes he says, “Never be lacking in zeal or don’t be slothful in zeal.” But then he follows that with, “Be fervent in spirit.” Only not being slothful in zeal for Jesus puts the emphasis only on doing. If I just do, do, do and work, work, work for Jesus with great intensity but lack his heart where does that lead? A legalism that leeches joy from my heart and is toxic to others might often be the outcome. No, “Don’t be slothful” is balanced with “Be fervent in spirit.” After all, intensity in attitude for Christ matters too.
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. Be boiling in spirit for Jesus. 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 – for Jesus! Do lots and lots of work for Christ passionately. Be as passionate as a lover for Jesus and as diligent in doing as a worker bee. Do not just say: “Hey, I’m practical, not passionate.” In light of his grace strive to be more passionate. Do not just say: “Hey I’m passionate, not practical.” In light of his grace strive to be more determined in doing. The L.A. Times ran this story many years ago. A guy goes to the house where he grew up and knocks on the door. Because he hadn’t been there for 20 years, he finds himself getting sentimental. He asks the owners if he can walk through the house. They let him. While in the attic, he finds an old jacket of his. He puts it on, reaches into the pocket, and pulls out a stub.
It’s a receipt from a shoe repair shop. He realizes he had taken a pair of shoes there 20 years before, and in the midst of the move, he had never picked them up. On a whim he decides to go to the shoe repair shop. Just to be that guy, the funny one, he takes the receipt out and hands it to the man behind the counter, saying, “Are my shoes ready?” The man goes back to the workroom for a minute, comes back to the counter, and says, “Come back a week from Thursday!”
In light of his grace stop saying to Jesus, “A week from Thursday.” In light of his grace be more practical in doing for Jesus. In light of his grace be more passionate as you do for Jesus. By his grace, strike the balance and strike it hard. After, all intensity matters in everything for the LORD.