Tag Archives: Zeal

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.

Speaking of Better Things

 

The transition out of the warning passage in Hebrews 6 is rather obvious, especially if you are reading an ESV or NASB translation.  There you’ll see verse 6:4 say, “in the case of those” contrasted in 6:9 with, “yet in your case” which would seem to indicate that the author’s attention is shifting from a third party back to his immediate audience as he prepares to identify and address specifically their condition.

The phrase translated above “in the case of…” is not present in either of those verses however.  The ESV’s decision to include it may be one of smoothing for readability, but more likely its to highlight the contrast being implied in the two verses.  While maintaining the “in the case of those” in 6:4 the NASB may be more accurate in 6:9 which it renders, “we are convinced of better things concerning you.”  This still conveys the idea of an attention shift from the example held up in Hebrews 6:4-8 to the immediate audience and the forthcoming commendation.

Due to the high level of interpretational uncertainty that many have experienced from this particular warning, highlighting yet another reason that shows a negative example was in mind from verses 6:4-6:6, rather than the possibility of genuine salvation, is a significant step in rightly interpreting the passage.  That said, we turn our attention with the author back to the condition of the audience who has been previously warned about their dullness of hearing and spiritual lethargy.  So as not to leave them totally discouraged, we find in our present passage under consideration a commendation on the evidence of their fruit, corresponding nicely to the parable from 6:7-8.

Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. 10 For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. 11 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.

The use of “beloved” is important as the author shows his pastoral care and knowledge of not just their “dull of hearing” but of their work and service in the name of God.  Building on this introductory address is the statement, “we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation” further securing the notion that those things previously mentioned in the passage were not dealing with salvation.  These “things” are defined for us in the subsequent verses to  include work, love for the name of God, and service of the saints, all of which points towards a believer’s fruit or evidence of salvation.

Recognition of this evidence is not arbitrary or even unseen, but is rooted in the very justice of God.  Whereas we saw in verse 8 that the ground that does not bear fruit is “worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned“, no doubt reflective on the justice of God, here we see that God’s justice extends to the recognition of the “ground” that bears fruit.  Simply put, justice is getting what one deserves.  In the case of unrighteousness deeds getting what one deserves is punitive, however,  in the case of righteous deeds getting what one deserves is rewarding; both are the result of justice.  For those who have trusted in Christ as Savior, our punishment has been swallowed by the mercy of God in Christ by withholding what we deserve, namely the wrath of God.  Conversely, having been made righteous, justified by the blood of Christ, clothed in His righteousness, enabled by the Spirit to perform the works that God prepared for us beforehand (Eph. 2:10), we may eagerly expect the reward that God has promised, namely eternal life and the blessings that accompany that.

As the pastor-author of Hebrews moves on in his encouragement he aims to prod the church (and by relation us) to continued progress in the faith as seen in vs. 11.  Earnestness, or perhaps intensity, and assurance work somewhat together like hand and glove.  Certainly one can be zealous for the things of God, but be fueled by improper motivation or ignorance of the righteousness of God (Rom. 10:1-3).  But here, proper motivation grounded in a love for God will lead to assurance in salvation.  Conversely, assurance is not alone, pointing simply to a one-time decision or walking of an isle, but can look toward intensity in serving the saints and glorifying the name of God motivated by love and fueled by the Holy Spirit.  Both sides of the coin are necessary and mutually dependent upon one another.

As is pointed out in verse 12, zealousness is in direct contrast with sluggishness, as the author provides the closing bracket to his argument begun in Heb. 5:11, you have become dull of hearing utilizing the same word to enter and exit his warning.

As is so often the case in Hebrews, we are introduced to an idea or concept that is expanded on in greater detail later, such is the case again here.  Before entering a discourse on Melchizedek, begun in Hebrews 5:10, we see the mention of the phrase “those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” whom the readers are supposed to imitate.  As we will see, in the near context this statement has its attention towards Abraham (6:12ff), however we will see it expanded with numerous examples in the Hall of Faith found in chapter 11.

Working through this difficult and divisive chapter of Hebrews we have seen it is not meant to be a battleground for Calvinism vs. Arminianism or eternal security vs. loss of salvation.  Instead, it is for the purpose that we have seen employed in this section, namely to spur on believers to continue in good works through faith and patience, rooted in a love for the name of God, and anchored by hope in the promises of God secured by the High Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore we can conclude that these harsh sounding warnings are a divine means of preservation by a loving God for the perseverance of the saints.