This week, I am preaching a text that contains over 31 commands! Yes, it is firehose of instruction that intentionally was written by the apostle Paul to overwhelm us with a portrait of genuine love for one another in the church. By the end of Romans 12:9-21 we have a pretty amazing picture of what it means to live as a member in community as the church of Christ!
In verse 11, Paul tackles a subject that I see at every turn in our culture. It also happens to be a topic that I am personally seeking to address in my own life right now. It is the subject of zeal or fervency.
American culture has gone the direction of zeal and fervency! You can see it in our public discourse. You can see it in the impassioned overstatement in every political opinion. You can see it on the face of a friend who is telling you what you should binge watch next on Netflix. Social Media is full of people zealous to save the environment, zealous to impeach the president, zealous to exonerate the president, or zealous for you to buy a new life-changing face cream from their home business.
We do not lack zeal! But look at what Paul says to the church:
Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. – Romans 12:11
Paul discourages apathy. But notice that he isn’t merely against general malaise or a laissez faire attitude in general toward everyday things. Paul is encouraging a fervent and zealous spirit in SERVING THE LORD! So there are three observations that God has impressed on me in the study of this text this week.
1. There is a Trend Toward Apathy.
The phrase “do not be slothful in zeal” is like saying, don’t let apathy set in! I think we all know that other zeals and other passion will eagerly replace any “spiritual fervor”. Other zeals offer immediate results. They usually result in some tangible benefits. So, the natural slide toward spiritual entropy is real. And without exercising our service to the Lord (by using our spiritual gifts in the church, serving the poor or needy, or even just reading Scripture and praying) we atrophy. This verse presupposes a need to keep stoking the spiritual fire within us.
2. We Are to be on Fire for God.
It is possible to make a virtue out of mature (read: subdued) faith! As if it is a good thing to move past youthful enthusiasm for God. I have been in a context recently where many young people were engaged in worship. Some physically knelt on the floor. Others lifted their faces to the ceiling in praise. Many raised their hands. There were shouts of praise! It was easy for me to see it as a show. I don’t need all of those trappings. I am a mature Christian. What does it mean to be fervent (Greek: “set on fire”) for God? It certainly isn’t merely defined as some enthusiastic physical action during praise songs. But it certainly can include many things that look like youthful zeal. A zealous heart is an eager heart. A zealous heart is a desperate heart. A zealous heart serving the Lord, wants what he wants. And a zealous heart would willingly take undignified steps to lower self to honor Him! When a person has a burning zeal for God it can look like many things on the outside, but it never will be defined by a self-preserving concern for what other might think about me!
3. Our Zeal is Focused by the Phrase “Serving the Lord”
Scripture isn’t calling us into a zeal for songs. It isn’t calling us to zeal for our favorite Christian author or speaker. Not even zeal for our church institutionally. But it is in context, calling us to zeal for living out the service of God in our daily lives. A zeal that calls us into being living sacrifices for God moment by moment. A zeal that is calling us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength IN loving our neighbor as ourselves.
We indeed have a high calling as followers of Jesus! We are called to stay on fire for Him. And I believe that if we took this one command seriously, we would see a huge shift in the way we do life together in churches. It is less zeal about programs and more zeal about people. Less zeal about Netflix, my political party, my home business, my oils, or my bank account. Zeal about serving. Zeal about His Word. Zeal about working through issue. Zeal about loving one another. Let’s Get stoked for SERVING THE LORD!