Be Fervent In Spirit
Not Slothful

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 62a of 83


“Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11).

We began in our previous study on Romans to look at a list of about 15 directives on how the church may grow together in unity of love.

We saw that (1) we must love sincerely; (2) we must seek to do good and avoid doing evil to one another; and (3) we must cultivate a warm brotherly affection in the church.

But now, the Lord helping us, we want to study the next directive as given in Romans 12:11.

We may think of this verse as containing one directive with three steps. Think of the three steps in terms of using ice blocks to run a steam engine. What must you do if you want to use ice blocks to run a steam engine? Well, first of all, you must thaw the ice. You must not allow the ice to remain cold and hard. Then when the ice has melted you must heat it up; and bring it to a constant boil. You must not allow it to cool down. Then as the water is boiling, you must direct the steam to run the engine.

How to get Christians to be on fire for the LORD? Well, first you have to get them to be “not slothful in business,” then you must make sure they are “fervent in spirit” and finally, you must direct them to serve the Lord. This is what Paul is doing in our text.

Consider, then, the first step.

1. Not Slothful in
Business

a.   What is it to be slothful in business? Now, the business that Paul is speaking about is not the business of making money. It is closer to the idea of busyness. The word that is translated ‘business’ has the meaning of diligence, earnestness and zeal.

In verse 8, Paul instructs us that those who rule must do so “with diligence” (Rom 12:8). The word translated ‘diligence’ is the same as the word translated ‘business’ in verse 11.

So Paul is literally saying, “In diligence [or busyness], be not slothful.”

What is it to be ‘slothful’? Well, this English word describes what Paul wants to convey very effectively. To be slothful is to be like a sloth. A sloth is an animal that lives in South America. It spends most of its day hanging upside down. And it moves so slowly that algae actually grow on its fur! The algae turn green in rainy weather and yellow during drought. So that sloth is always very well camouflaged.

Well, to be not slothful, is to be not slow and lazy. Do not be like a sloth. Do not be slothful. Or in other words, do not be sluggish. Do not be like the slug.

Paul is teaching us not to be lacking in zeal; or plainly: Be not slow and lazy!

b.  Slothfulness is not neutral. Nor is it merely the nature of some persons. It is condemned in scriptures! Proverbs 15:19 says—

“The way of the slothful man is as an hedge of thorns: but the way of the righteous is made plain.”

Notice how Solomon not only speaks of slothfulness as being unpleasant like a thorny bush, he speaks of it also as being the opposite of righteousness. The way of the slothful man is the opposite of the way of a righteous man.

Likewise, Solomon says in Proverbs 18:9—

“He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster.”

He who is a waster is a breaker of the 8th Commandment. The man who is slothful is a brother to a great waster.

The Lord Jesus also condemns sloth in his Parable of the Talents. In this parable, there are three slaves. The master is going on a long journey. He gives one of the slaves five talents and another two talents and another one. When he returns after a long time, the five talent slave has gained another five talents and the two talent man has gained another two talents. The master praises them saying (v. 21):

“Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Mt 25:21).

But the one talent man comes to him and says (v. 24):

“Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine” (Mt 25:24-25)

The master is furious. He condemns him (v. 26):

Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed (v. 26).

Then he takes the one talent away from him and gives it to the slave who has the five talents, and he casts the unprofitable one talent man into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (v. 30).

What is the Lord teaching us with this parable? He is teaching us that no Christian can afford to be slothful. The slothful one talent man represents a false professor of faith. He professes to be a servant of God, but he is a hypocrite. He is cast into hell.

c.   Slothfulness is sinful! It is sinful to be slow and lazy when it comes to being a servant of the Lord. Everyone of us is called to be a servant of the Lord.

Therefore we are called to be diligent in the work that the Lord has appointed us. This is true for all members of the covenant regardless of whether they are young or old.

Covenant children must be taught from young to be prompt to obey their parents and diligent to do the duties which are appointed them by their parents whether it pertains to keeping their rooms tidy, doing their school work or learning their catechism.

But the same is true for adults. We must not be slothful when it comes to worship, to the discipline of the Christian life or to service for the Lord. We must be diligent and zealous.

We must refrain from giving excuses for not doing the work of the Lord. Solomon speaks about that in Proverbs 22:13—

The slothful man saith, There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets.

The slothful man is full of excuses. He does not want to use the talents that Christ has given him, and he comes out with a whole bagful of excuses.

But remember: the devil is the merchant of excuses. If you buy from him, you pay with your soul.

We may have reasons for our laziness and procrastination in our walk with the Lord. But let us remember that what may appear reasonable to us may in fact be sorry excuses for we are so easily blinded by the deceitfulness of sin. If your reason is legitimate you should be able to tell it to the Lord and your conscience will not trouble you. It is between you and the Lord whether it is an excuse or a good reason. No one else can pronounce to you what it is.

But I beseech you, dear reader. By the grace of God, thaw out any coldness and hardness in your heart. Be not slothful in the business of the Lord. The king’s business requires haste!

Be rather “fervent in spirit.” This is the second thing that Paul wants us to obey in this verse.

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim