Meditations in Romans, Ch.12: 8: Maintaining the Faith
Rom 12:11,12 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
We have noted that these verses are made up of a bunch of quick-fire exhortations, the first group of four of which we might suggest are all about right relationships, or right attitudes towards one another. The second group of four we are calling, ‘Maintaining the Faith’ because they move from focusing on relationships with other Christians to our relationship with the Lord. Two dangers in the Christian life are that we either become so focused on the social side of the faith that we forget it’s all about relationship with the Lord, or we so focus on our spiritual contact with the Lord, we forget there is a whole social dimension or outworking of the faith. If we focus on only one side then we miss out on 50% of what the Faith is all about.
So here Paul brings the balance of the way we work out what we might call the spiritual side of the equation. The first of these four mini spiritual exhortations says, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” (v.11) Now this one suggests three components of spiritual faith – zeal, fervor and serving God.
A dictionary definition of “zeal” is ‘intense enthusiasm, as in working for a cause; ardent endeavor or devotion.’ Now there are those people who like to appear ‘respectable Christians’ and who decry any form of emotion expressed as ‘emotionalism’ and imply that is something bad, but that does not conform to what the Bible teaches. Paul is saying, according to this definition, “Never be lacking in intense enthusiasm or ardent devotion”. We will be ‘enthusiastic’ or zealous about our faith when the wonder of it has really moved our hearts. We will have ‘ardent devotion’ when we realise the wonder of what Jesus has done for us and how much God loves us.
“Fervor”, the second of those three components, is another way of expression the same thing. A dictionary defines ‘fervor’ as ‘great warmth of emotion; ardor; zeal.’ “Spiritual fervor” is that warmth of emotion that is felt towards the Lord and, again, we will feel this when we see and understand what the Bible says God has done for us in His expression of His love towards us, and the Holy Spirit touches our hearts, revealing the reality of it.
“Serving God”, the third of these three components to this first of these four spiritual exhortations, is simply the outworking of that zeal and fervor. The key reality of the Christian faith is that God has called us to Himself to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus (see 2 Cor 3:18) and that is in character and in service. We not only take on his character but we also enter into and share in his ministry or service. A verse we regularly quote is, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. ….. let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:14,16) We aren’t called to become like Jesus so that we may hide away in a corner (or a spiritual ghetto) but that we shine in His world and reveal Him. We do this when we respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and do what He puts before us. This may be sharing about Jesus, it may be offering to pray for another (including praying for healing), it may be listening to another and offering wisdom as God gives it, or it may simply be offering help and expressing goodness.
Before we move away from this first triple-expression spiritual exhortation, (and we’ll see the other three spiritual exhortations in the next meditation) we would do well to see this exhortation in a wider sphere.
In chapters 2 and 3 of the book of Revelation, Jesus comes to seven churches in Asia Minor and points out to them things that need putting right. Some of the things are in respect to specific people or problems that were occurring in that first century but in two of them there are two warnings that fit in here. To the church in Ephesus, after praising them for a number of really good things, he warns, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.” (Rev 2:4) This was a church that lost that first fervor or warmth of emotion for the Lord. The other warning that fits here was to the church at Laodicea, where Jesus said, “you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold.” (Rev 3:16) Again this speaks of lack of zeal or fervor. They have sunk into what can only be described as tedious and boring Christianity! It is mundane and almost lifeless. Oh that they were on fire for God!
There will be this zeal, this fervor, this passion, when we are open and obedient to the Holy Spirit and things happen. When God speaks, we hear and respond in obedience and He does things that are thrilling. When we see God moving in and through us that is thrilling. On one occasion after the disciples had been sent out to do ministry in pairs, we find, “The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” (Lk 10:17) It was thrilling what happened and I suspect they couldn’t wait to get out and do some more. How do you think the disciples felt after they had participated in the feeding of the five thousand and the feeding of the four thousand? Thrilled, excited and amazed! Zeal and passion can come when we simply read and realise the wonder but, I suggest, it is best fueled by simple obedience to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, because then we step out and do His bidding and see Him moving in and through us. I remember John Wimber once telling about how a young (I think teenage) girl prayed for healing under his guidance and saw a physical change take place before her eyes. He commented, “She was hooked!” It is thrilling to be involved with Jesus in whatever it is he wants to lead you into, and ‘serving God’ is not a hard thing.
When we realise how wonderful Jesus is, how wonderful God’s love for us is, we won’t be afraid to venture out at His bidding. To conclude, remember the parable Jesus told: “a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability.” (Mt 25:14,15) The scary words are “according to his ability”. Jesus hands out according to the faith level he finds in us, how we have so far responded to His word. He concluded with the teaching, “everyone who has will be given more.” (v.29) God gives according to what he sees we do with what He has already given. Do we have to stick with a small amount of faith? No, we can ask Him to enlarge it, but it’s all about what IN REALITY we think of God, for one man who did nothing with what he had been given, except bury it and maintain it, said, “I knew that you are a hard man.” (v.24) Rubbish! To the one who doubled his five, the master declared, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” THAT is what the Lord wants to happen! Zeal, fervor, serving the Lord. Then joy!