“Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.”
Romans 12:11 (ESV)
Have you ever seen a misplaced belonging? How do you determine who it belongs to? You would probably look for some type of indicator or mark of its owner. Or if you have ever helped someone find a lost belonging, how did you do it? Well, most people would listen to how the item was described and then look for something with those same characteristics.
In that same way we can be identified by the characteristics we display. In the same way that you can tell who an item belongs to by its particular marks or characteristics, we demonstrate who we belong to by our characteristics. Romans 12:11 is right in the middle of a group of verses describing the characteristics that embody those who follow Christ. Followers of Christ abhor what is evil and hold fast to what is good (Romans 12:9). They will show hospitality to others (Romans 12:13). They will not avenge themselves but will leave it to the wrath of God (Romans 12:19). The list goes on and on, but many of those verses describe the way that we interact with others. But this verse, verse 11, is making a statement about how we interact with the Lord directly.
“Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” Let’s take a short trip back to high school English class and break-down what Paul is telling us here. “Slothful” means lazy, sluggish, inactive, or apathetic. “Zeal” is great energy and enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or objective. “Fervent” is having or displaying a passionate intensity. Put all of that together and the message is clear: Do not grow lazy, lacking enthusiasm in your pursuit of the Lord, be passionate in the spirit, and serve the Lord. These are not friendly suggestions, they are commands. Also notice that there is no break in Paul’s thought process here – the sentence is structured to show a connection between HOW we serve and WHO we serve.
For those of us who have felt discouragement from others regarding our passion for the Lord, this verse is here to speak truth to your heart. Hearing things like “why do you bring God into everything?” and similar comments tends to send us into a place of discouragement and doubt. In those moments, go back to the truth of God’s word. Our natural tendency is to separate the day-to-day trials of our lives from the truth and power of the gospel, but we need to bring it back to the hope we have in the cross and the grace of Jesus Christ. We are called to have enthusiasm in our pursuit of the Lord and the things of the Lord. We are called to be passionate in the spirit and we are called to serve… who? The Lord. We are certainly called to encourage, love, and care for those around us, that is clear from the verses surrounding verse 11, but not at the expense of how we serve the Lord. Do not let discouragement deceive you into believing that your passion and zeal for the Lord is “doing too much.” Remember who you serve and how you are called to serve Him.
But maybe you haven’t been discouraged in this way. Maybe you have been feeling a lack in your passion and enthusiasm for the Lord. In our Christian walk we face highs and lows – each and every one of us. But we cannot let our “lows” be an excuse for slothfulness. If this verse doesn’t describe your current attitude toward God and the things of God, ask yourself “who am I serving?” Because the connection between how we serve and who we serve is intentional. We are called to serve God and we are called to pursue Him with enthusiasm and passion in the spirit.
If you think you are lacking in these areas, there are a few things you should consider. First, how much time are you spending in the word? How much time are you spending learning about your Savior? Pastor Joel Shorey, from Covenant Fellowship Church, once said “If your relationship with God is dry it is not because you’ve explored all there is to explore in God and you’ve come to the end. It is because your shallow view of God, the transcendent one, has run out and there is nothing left to find joy in.” Knowledge of the true character of our God will create a passion for Him and the things of His Kingdom.
Second, how much time are you spending in fellowship with other brothers and sisters in Christ? People who will exhort you daily to prevent your heart from becoming hardened (Hebrews 3:13)? If you have ever seen a bonfire, you may have noticed the way the logs in the fire affect one another. When you take a dry log and lean it against some of the logs that are glowing from the fire, the log that was once dry quickly becomes bright and glowing red from the heat of the other logs. If you would take one of the bright glowing logs and pull it away from the other logs, just far enough to get away from the heat of the others, you would see the fire that was once burning brightly within the log extinguishes in a matter of seconds. We are not much different. Surround yourself with people who will encourage you, minister to you, challenge you, and be a part of the fire that fuels your passion for the Lord in the “lows.” Then do the same for them during your “highs.”
Be intentional. Do not be slothful in zeal. Be fervent in spirit. Serve the Lord.