Tag Archives: Christian Living

Boiling Over

 

In the midst of the practical applications flowing out of the doctrine that was so clearly lain out in the book, Romans 12:11 presents us with a command in the form of an exhortation,

“Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.”

Slothful

There are four key terms that should catch our attention from this passage and examining those will be the purpose of this post.  First, we see the command to not be slothful.  This word conveys the idea of being sluggish or as the NASB translates it, lagging behind.  We might think of it as not keeping up with or neglect of.  It only occurs 2 other times in Scripture, once in Philippians 3:1, translated there as trouble, and the other in Matthew 25:26, which has a nearer use to ours found here in Romans.

In that passage, we find ourselves in the midst of what is often referred to as The Parable of the Talents.  A man going on a journey calls his servants (doulas – slaves/bondservants) and gives talents or money to each.  To one he gives 5 talents, to another 2, and to another 1, “each according to his ability.”  The first servant traded with the talents and made 5 more.  The second made two talents more, while the third buried his single talent.  At the master’s return, each reported what they had done with their money.  The first two reported doubling their talents and were rewarded with commendations and the familiar, “enter the joy of your master.”  The third servant reported to the master saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’”  Which leads us to the use of our word, slothful, in the response from the master “You wicked and slothful servant!”  The servant that failed to use or invest the talents that he had been given was rebuked for being slothful, i.e. failing to utilize or make profit from what he had been given.  That is the idea behind slothful in our passage.

Zeal

The command not to be slothful is specifically applied to zeal, our next word under consideration. A slightly more commonly used word in the Greek New Testament, can also mean, “in diligence” or we might say earnestness and it implies effort.  Interestingly, one of it’s uses occurs at the end of the third warning passage in the book of Hebrews and is contrasted with sluggishness (though a different word than ours above), And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” Hebrews 6:11-12

Prior to this use in Romans 12:11, zeal was referenced in verse 8, “the one who leads [or gives aid], with zeal”.  Combining our two words thus far and we find that our exhortation is to not be sluggish or lazy in our efforts.  What exactly these efforts are, we will get to shortly.

Fervent

Moving from the prohibition, do not, to the positively stated contrast, do, we are told to be fervent in spirit.  Another infrequently used word primarily means to be hot to the point of boiling over, as with water in a pan or a hot spring bubbling over.  It’s only other use is a reference to Apollos from Acts 17, who was fervent in spirit, teaching “accurately the things concerning Jesus.”  With this, it may even help us to conclude that the opposite of fervency would be lukewarmness, even cold, which may lead us to better understand the idea of slothful used above.

So then we have “do not lag behind or be slothful in your efforts, rather be boiling over in spirit.”

Serve

In case we would be left wondering how one expresses such a boiling over, the mystery is resolved by the final statement of our passage, serve the Lord.  The same word used here for serve is the verb form of the word servant used above in the Parable of the Talents.  More appropriately, it can be translated as a slave or bond-servant, though synonymous, it is different from diakonos, from which we have (incorrectly) transliterated deacon.

As should go without saying, the servant is to yield in submission and obedience to their Master, this is service.  Elsewhere, we know that we are not our own and have been bought with a price, placing us in a joyful servant-hood of our Master Jesus Christ.  But we may ask, how are we to serve?  Certainly it would be inferred to serve, boiling over with effort, but what would that look like on a practical level?

Service, in this sense, would imply obedience to the commands of the Master, but we mustn’t stare blankly at lists of do’s and don’ts.  Simply put, it is love, flowing from a love for Christ, that works towards the spiritual and physical well-being of others, prioritizing believers, with the goal of entering the joy of the Master.

Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.

How then Shall we Live

 

The author of Hebrews, under Divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has penned in many respects what could be considered a masterful sermon.  For twelve chapters, he has unfolded the finished work of Christ and His superior mediation of the New Covenant over the Old Covenant all the while leaning heavily on the prior revelation of God to buttress his arguments thereby showing the continuing relevance of the Old Testament.  Sprinkled along the way were warnings against falling away, which comes through progressive hardening of the heart brought on by negligence of faith and duty.

In the final chapter of this majestic tapestry, he shifts his focus away from the doctrinal to the practical.  This pattern is what that every good sermon, every good preacher, should follow in laying out first doctrine, here the finished work of Christ, followed by the implications that it has upon the Christian life.  We may say summarily, orthodoxy should always lead to orthopraxy.

Sometimes we may hear preaching that is heavy on the duty of Christian life that can come off largely as moralism or legalism, a kind of “Christian” lifting up by the bootstraps.  Other times we may hear preaching that is so doctrinally heavy that it is distanced from the heart of the hearer.  Balance is key, and naturally as a product of Divine inspiration, Hebrews has it.

Chapter 13 begins with an attention towards relationships among believers and an exhortation to “let brotherly love continue”.  As would be expected, this flows out of the doctrinal portion of the sermon, as biblically it follows subordinately after the first greatest commandment, namely to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul.

In a sense, all that is to come in this passage concerning a believer’s relationships within the body of Christ is developed from 12:14, “strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”  Peace with God is obtained on behalf of the believer through Christ’s shed blood, therefore, we are now to have peace with others and the first point in this relational peace is brotherly love.

This exhortation is not new, but seemingly builds on the author’s statements in 6:10 and 10:24 and though expressed as an imperative, there is a commendation here as well in the congregation’s “continuing” in love toward the brothers, an action they were clearly already engaged in and now being encouraged to continue.

Second, we read that hospitality is to be shown to strangers.  This seems clearly to draw upon Jesus’ illustration in Matthew 25:31-46, though here we get the addition of the supportive statement, “for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”.  The mention of angels purposefully ties into 1:14 “are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.”  The point of the passage is that angels have a role in plan of God to minister to His people.  Surely drawing upon the experiences of Old Testament saints, such as Abraham and Jacob to name a few, as well as their prominent role in their encounters with New Testament believers (See Elizabeth, Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, etc).  This instruction should serve as a warning for us to show hospitality to all, regardless of the whom or the where.  In short, the relationships and encounters that we have here on earth are not trivial, but have eternal consequences.  There are no meaningless encounters.

Third, we see the relationships with those who are in prison addressed next.  This isn’t a general statement meant to apply across the board towards prisoners, as though a passage to support prison ministry (though that is certainly a fine ministry).  Instead its focus is narrowed to those who have been imprisoned on account of their faith, ala the Apostle Paul.  Additionally, this exhortation is not limited to those who are in prison, but extends to those who have been mistreated, again on account of their faith.  This verse, along with its internal parallel with 10:32-34, gives us great insight into why the Hebrews were faced with the temptation to surrender their faith in Christ and return to Judaism, namely on account of persecution.  Unity in the body of believers is seen as the driving motivation to minister to those who have been mistreated or imprisoned for the sake of Christ.  If the pinky toe is injured, the whole body feels the pain.  So too if one believer is imprisoned or mistreated the whole body should empathize.

The fourth area of relational peace that the author wishes to emphasize is marital, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”  Implying that all of you hold the marriage bed in honor, we find the exhortation to keep it undefiled.  In other words, keep it unstained, unsoiled or positively keep it chaste and pure.

This passages dovetails with the previous chapter’s warning example of Esau, “that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.” Heb. 12:16  Additionally, the undefiled nature of the marriage bed parallels the undefiled nature of Christ our High Priest, 7:26.

Two words are used to describe the nature of undefilement, sexual immorality, or fornication, which is general in nature, and adultery, which is more specific in nature.  The former addresses all acts sexual in nature that are contrary to God’s design for marriage and is denoted by the Greek word pornos, the origin of the English word for pornography, if that gives you any additional insight or application towards what might constitute defilement of the marriage bed.  The latter term, adultery, as mentioned is a more specific action targeting sexual relations with another, whether they too be married or not (see Exodus 20:14, Matthew 5:27-5:32, et.al.).

As the author enters into this very practical section of Hebrews, we must not lose sight of all that has come before it.  Like a master weaver, he has grounded these exhortations in the finished work of Christ.  All that he now instructs for the Christian life finds its basis, motivation, and strength in this such that there is no room for legalism and certainly no room for neglect of Christian duty.  Be exhorted Christians to be at peace in your relationships.  After all, it is through Christ that you have peace with God the Father, so then let that peace flow through you unto others in the body.

Soli Deo Gloria