Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord (Romans 12:11).
I’ve concluded that the propane tank on my grill has some kind of sensor that tells it when guests are at our house. Without fail, it is when guests are present and the burgers are on the grill that the propane tank refuses to make fire, literally runs out of gas.
The frustration in this is that I don’t know what’s happening until I check the burgers, only to discover half-cooked meat sitting on a lukewarm grill. This usually means a hurried trip to get a new propane tank and an awkward delay in the meal.
I came across a Native American proverb that said something to the effect of “better a pot that boils over than one that does not boil at all.” The same could be said of a gas grill. No fire, no food.
In his letter to the Romans Paul gave this exhortation: “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Romans 12:11). The Greek word “slothful” that Paul uses here is the same word used in the Greek translation of Proverbs 6:9; it is the word “sluggard.” It suggests indolence or slackness.
The positive command coupled with this warning about sloth is a word that means “to burn.” It suggests the idea of a boiling pot. Thus we are told to burn or to be “fervent in spirit.”
Interestingly, few Christians aspire to zealotry. Zealots are dangerous. We think of zealots as being out of control, often angry in their passion for a cause, violent in the expression of their convictions. In American culture, the last thing a Christian wants to be is “zealous.” We prefer other words life “faithful” or perhaps “devout.” But zealous? No thanks.
However, in our fear of zeal we have unwittingly become slothful. Our faith is thoroughly tamed, void of adventure and risk. We’ve done the very thing that Paul warned us not to do. Spiritually speaking, the burgers are on the grill but there’s no fire. The pot doesn’t boil at all.
For the remainder of this week we will examine the deadly seduction of sloth by looking at its opposite: Zeal and fervor. Specifically, we’ll get a picture of spiritual zeal by looking at one of the most fervent and passionate characters in the New Testament – John the baptizer.
Consider your own life: is there something in your life that stirs ‘zeal’ in you? Perhaps the more familiar word for what we’re after is ‘passion.’ Where do you see this in yourself? When it comes to spiritual matters, what do zeal and fervor look like? Specifically, what would a fervent spirit look like in your life of faith?
Grant to us, O God, a zeal and fervor in our walk with you. Above all, make us passionate for the glory of your name in this world. Guard us from the timidity that so easily becomes sloth. Help us to live our faith in such a way that zeal is expressed in love and service to others. We ask this is Jesus’ name. Amen.