Romans 12:11
Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;
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(11) In business.—Rather, in zeal; the reference is to the spiritual and not to the practical life, as the English reader might suppose.

Fervent.—In the literal and etymological sense boiling or seething. The temperament of the Christian is compared to water bubbling and boiling over the flame.

In spiriti.e., not “in the Holy Spirit,” but “in that part of you which is spirit.”

Serving the Lord.—Some of the extant Græco-Latin codices, and others known to Origen and Jerome, read here by a slight change of vowels “serving the time”; no doubt wrongly, though the expression might be compared with 1Corinthians 7:29; Ephesians 5:16, et al.



Romans 12:11

Paul believed that Christian doctrine was meant to influence Christian practice; and therefore, after the fundamental and profound exhibition of the central truths of Christianity which occupies the earlier portion of this great Epistle, he tacks on, with a ‘therefore’ to his theological exposition, a series of plain, practical teachings. The place where conduct comes in the letter is profoundly significant, and, if the significance of it had been observed and the spirit of it carried into practice, there would have been less of a barren orthodoxy, and fewer attempts at producing righteous conduct without faith.

But not only is the place where this series of exhortations occur very significant, but the order in which they appear is also instructive. The great principle which covers all conduct, and may be broken up into all the minutenesses of practical directions is self-surrender. Give yourselves up to God; that is the Alpha and the Omega of all goodness, and wherever that foundation is really laid, on it will rise the fair building of a life which is a temple, adorned with whatever things are lovely and of good report. So after Paul has laid deep and broad the foundation of all Christian virtue in his exhortation to present ourselves as living sacrifices, he goes on to point out the several virtues in which such self-surrender will manifest itself. There runs through the most of these exhortations an arrangement in triplets-three sister Graces linked together hand-in-hand as it were-and my text presents an example of that threefoldness in grouping. ‘Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord.’

I. We have, first, the prime grace of Christian diligence.

‘Not slothful in business’ suggests, by reason of our modern restriction of that word ‘business’ to a man’s daily occupation, a much more limited range to this exhortation than the Apostle meant to give it. The idea which is generally drawn from these words by English readers is that they are to do their ordinary work diligently, and, all the while, notwithstanding the cooling or distracting influences of their daily avocations, are to keep themselves ‘fervent in spirit.’ That is a noble and needful conception of the command, but it does not express what is in the Apostle’s mind. He does not mean by ‘business’ a trade or profession, or daily occupation. But the word means ‘zeal’ or ‘earnestness.’ And what Paul says is just this-’In regard to your earnestness in all directions, see that you are not slothful.’

The force and drift of the whole precept is just the exhortation to exercise the very homely virtue of diligence, which is as much a condition of growth and maturity in the Christian as it is in any other life. The very homeliness and obviousness of the duty causes us often to lose sight of its imperativeness and necessity.

Many of us, if we would sit quietly down and think of how we go about our ‘business,’ as we call it, and of how we go about our Christian life, which ought to be our highest business, would have great cause for being ashamed. We begin the one early in the morning, we keep hard at it all day, our eyes are wide open to see any opening where money is to be made; that is all right. We give our whole selves to our work whilst we are at it; that is as it should be. But why are there not the same concentration, the same wide-awakeness, the same open-eyed eagerness to find out ways of advancement, the same resolved and continuous and all-comprehending and dominating enthusiasm about our Christianity as there is about our shop, or our mill, or our success as students? Why are we all fire in the one case and all ice in the other? Why do we think that it is enough to lift the burden that Christ lays upon us with one languid finger, and to put our whole hand, or rather, as the prophet says, ‘both hands earnestly,’ to the task of lifting the load of daily work? ‘In your earnestness be not slothful.’

Brethren, that is a very homely exhortation. I wonder how many of us can say, ‘Lord! I have heard, and I have obeyed Thy precept.’

II. Diligence must be fed by a fervent spirit.

The word translated ‘fervent’ is literally boiling. The metaphor is very plain and intelligible. The spirit brought into contact with Christian truth and with the fire of the Holy Spirit will naturally have its temperature raised, and will be moved by the warm touch as heat makes water in a pot hung above a fire boil. Such emotion, produced by the touch of the fiery Spirit of God, is what Paul desires for, and enjoins on, all Christians; for such emotion is the only way by which the diligence, without which no Christian progress will be made, can be kept up.

No man will work long at a task that his heart is not in; or if he does, because he is obliged, the work will be slavery. In order, then, that diligence may neither languish and become slothfulness, nor be felt to be a heavy weight and an unwelcome necessity, Paul here bids us see to it that our hearts are moved because there is a fire below which makes ‘the soul’s depths boil in earnest.’

Now, of course, I know that, as a great teacher has told us, ‘The gods approve the depth and not the tumult of the soul,’ and I know that there is a great deal of emotional Christianity which is worth nothing. But it is not that kind of fervour that the Apostle is enjoining here. Whilst it is perfectly true that mere emotion often does co-exist with, and very often leads to, entire negligence as to possessing and manifesting practical excellence, the true relation between these is just the opposite-viz. that this fervour of which I speak, this wide-awakeness and enthusiasm of a spirit all quickened into rapidity of action by the warmth which it has felt from God in Christ, should drive the wheels of life. Boiling water makes steam, does it not? And what is to be done with the steam that comes off the ‘boiling’ spirit? You may either let it go roaring through a waste-pipe and do nothing but make a noise and be idly dissipated in the air, or you may lead it into a cylinder and make it lift a piston, and then you will get work out of it. That is what the Apostle desires us to do with our emotion. The lightning goes careering through the sky, but we have harnessed it to tram-cars nowadays, and made it ‘work for its living,’ to carry our letters and light our rooms. Fervour of a Christian spirit is all right when it is yoked to Christian work, and made to draw what else is a heavy chariot. It is not emotion, but it is indolent emotion, that is the curse of much of our ‘fervent’ Christianity.

There cannot be too much fervour. There may be too little outlet provided for the fervour to work in. It may all go off in comfortable feeling, in enthusiastic prayers and ‘Amens!’ and ‘So be it, Lords!’ and the like, or it may come with us into our daily tasks, and make us buckle to with more earnestness, and more continuity. Diligence driven by earnestness, and fervour that works, are the true things.

And surely, surely there cannot be any genuine Christianity-certainly there cannot be any deep Christianity-which is not fervent.

We hear from certain quarters of the Church a great deal about the virtue of moderation. But it seems to me that, if you take into account what Christianity tells us, the ‘sober’ feeling is fervent feeling, and tepid feeling is imperfect feeling. I cannot understand any man believing as plain matter-of-fact the truths on which the whole New Testament insists, and keeping himself ‘cool,’ or, as our friends call it, ‘moderate.’ Brethren, enthusiasm-which properly means the condition of being dwelt in by a god-is the wise, the reasonable attitude of Christian men, if they believe their own Christianity and are really serving Jesus Christ. They should be ‘diligent in business, fervent’-boiling-in spirit.

III. The diligence and the fervency are both to be animated by the thought, ‘Serving the Lord!’

Some critics, as many of you know, no doubt, would prefer to read this verse in its last clause ‘serving the time.’ But that seems to me a very lame and incomplete climax for the Apostle’s thought, and it breaks entirely the sequence which, as I think, is discernible in it. Much rather, he here, in the closing member of the triplet, suggests a thought which will be stimulus to the diligence and fuel to the fire that makes the spirit boil.

In effect he says, ‘Think, when your hands begin to droop, and when your spirits begin to be cold and indifferent, and languor to steal over you, and the paralysing influences of the commonplace and the familiar, and the small begin to assert themselves-think that you are serving the Lord.’ Will that not freshen you up? Will that not set you boiling again? Will it not be easy to be diligent when we feel that we are ‘ever in the great Taskmaster’s eye’ ? There are many reasons for diligence-the greatness of the work, for it is no small matter for us to get the whole lump of our nature leavened with the good leaven; the continual operation of antagonistic forces which are all round us, and are working night-shifts as well as day ones, whether we as Christians are on short time or not, the brevity of the period during which we have to work, and the tremendous issues which depend upon the completeness of our service here-all these things are reasons for our diligence. But the reason is: ‘Thou Christ hast died for me, and livest for me; truly I am Thy slave.’ That is the thought that will make a man bend his back to his work, whatever it be, and bend his will to his work, too, however unwelcome it may be; and that is the thought that will stir his whole spirit to fervour and earnestness, and thus will deliver him from the temptations to languid and perfunctory work that ever creep over us.

You can carry that motive-as we all know, and as we all forget when the pinch comes-into your shop, your study, your office, your mill, your kitchen, or wherever you go. ‘On the bells of the horses there shall be written, Holiness to the Lord,’ said the prophet, and ‘every bowl in Jerusalem’ may be sacred as the vessels of the altar. All life may flash into beauty, and tower into greatness, and be smoothed out into easiness, and the crooked things may be made straight and the rough places plain, and the familiar and the trite be invested with freshness and wonder as of a dream, if only we write over them, ‘For the sake of the Master.’ Then, whatever we do or bear, be it common, insignificant, or unpleasant, will change its aspect, and all will be sweet. Here is the secret of diligence and of fervency, ‘I set the Lord always before me.’

12:9-16 The professed love of Christians to each other should be sincere, free from deceit, and unmeaning and deceitful compliments. Depending on Divine grace, they must detest and dread all evil, and love and delight in whatever is kind and useful. We must not only do that which is good, but we must cleave to it. All our duty towards one another is summed up in one word, love. This denotes the love of parents to their children; which is more tender and natural than any other; unforced, unconstrained. And love to God and man, with zeal for the gospel, will make the wise Christian diligent in all his wordly business, and in gaining superior skill. God must be served with the spirit, under the influences of the Holy Spirit. He is honoured by our hope and trust in him, especially when we rejoice in that hope. He is served, not only by working for him, but by sitting still quietly, when he calls us to suffer. Patience for God's sake, is true piety. Those that rejoice in hope, are likely to be patient in tribulation. We should not be cold in the duty of prayer, nor soon weary of it. Not only must there be kindness to friends and brethren, but Christians must not harbour anger against enemies. It is but mock love, which rests in words of kindness, while our brethren need real supplies, and it is in our power to furnish them. Be ready to entertain those who do good: as there is occasion, we must welcome strangers. Bless, and curse not. It means thorough good will; not, bless them when at prayer, and curse them at other times; but bless them always, and curse not at all. True Christian love will make us take part in the sorrows and joys of each other. Labour as much as you can to agree in the same spiritual truths; and when you come short of that, yet agree in affection. Look upon worldly pomp and dignity with holy contempt. Do not mind it; be not in love with it. Be reconciled to the place God in his providence puts you in, whatever it be. Nothing is below us, but sin. We shall never find in our hearts to condescend to others, while we indulge conceit of ourselves; therefore that must be mortified.Not slothful - The word rendered "slothful" refers to those who are slow, idle, destitute of promptness of mind and activity; compare Matthew 25:16.

In business - τῇ σπουδῇ tē spoudē. This is the same word which in Romans 12:8 is rendered "diligence." It properly denotes haste, intensity, ardor of mind; and hence, also it denotes industry, labor. The direction means that we should be diligently occupied in our proper employment. It does not refer to any particular occupation, but is used in general sense to denote all the labor which we may have to do; or is a direction to be faithful and industrious in the discharge of all our appropriate duties; compare Ecclesiastes 9:10. The tendency of the Christian religion is to promote industry:

(1) It teaches the value of time.

(2) presents numerous and important things to be done.

(3) it inclines people to be conscientious in the improvement of each moment.

(4) and it takes away the mind from those pleasures and pursuits which generate and promote indolence.

The Lord Jesus was constantly employed in filling up the great duties of his life, and the effect of his religion has been to promote industry wherever it has spread both among nations and individuals. An idle man and a Christian are names which do not harmonize. Every Christian has enough to do to occupy all his time; and he whose life is spent in ease and in doing nothing, should doubt altogether his religion. God has assigned us much to accomplish; and he will hold us answerable for the faithful performance of it; compare John 5:17; John 9:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:10, 2 Thessalonians 3:12. All that would be needful to transform the idle, and vicious, and wretched, into sober and useful people, would be to give to them the spirit of the Christian religion; see the example of Paul, Acts 20:34-35.

Fervent - This word is usually applied to water, or to metals so heated as to bubble, or boil. It hence is used to denote ardor, intensity, or as we express it, a glow, meaning intense zeal, Acts 18:25.

In Spirit - In your mind or heart. The expression is used to denote a mind filled with intense ardor in whatever it is engaged. It is supposed that Christians would first find appropriate objects for their labor, and then engage in them with intense ardor and zeal.

Serving - Regarding yourselves as the servants of the Lord. This direction is to be understood as connected with the preceding, and as growing out of it. They were to be diligent and fervid, and in doing so were to regard themselves as serving the Lord, or to do it in obedience to the command of God, and to promote his glory. The propriety of this caution may easily be seen.

(1) the tendency of worldly employments is to take off the affections from God.

(2) people are prone to forget God when deeply engaged in their worldly employments. It is proper to recall their attention to him.

(3) the right discharge of our duties in the various employments of life is to be regarded as serving God. He has arranged the order of things in this life to promote employment. He has made industry essential to happiness and success; and hence, to be industrious from proper motives is to be regarded as acceptable service of God.

(4) he has required that all such employments should be conducted with reference to his will and to his honor, 1 Corinthians 10:31; Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:17, Colossians 3:22-24; 1 Peter 4:11. The meaning of the whole verse is, that Christians should be industrious, should be ardently engaged in some lawful employment, and that they should pursue it with reference to the will of God, in obedience to his commands, and to his glory.

11. not slothful in business—The word rendered "business" means "zeal," "diligence," "purpose"; denoting the energy of action.

serving the Lord—that is, the Lord Jesus (see Eph 6:5-8). Another reading—"serving the time," or "the occasion"—which differs in form but very slightly from the received reading, has been adopted by good critics [Luther, Olshausen, Fritzsche, Meyer]. But as manuscript authority is decidedly against it, so is internal evidence; and comparatively few favor it. Nor is the sense which it yields a very Christian one.

Not slothful in business; this clause may be expounded by Ecclesiastes 9:10: q.d. In all the duties of thy particular and general calling, in every thing that respects the glory of God, thine own or neighbours’ good, take heed of slothfulness: see Matthew 25:26,27 Heb 6:12.

Fervent in spirit; this is added to the former, as the cure of it. Zeal and fervency will drive away sloth. This spiritual warmth is often recommended to us in Scripture; see Galatians 4:18 Revelation 3:19. See examples of it in Psalm 69:9 John 2:17 4:34 Acts 18:25.

Serving the Lord; i.e. diligently performing all things that are required to his service and honour: see Psalm 2:11 Ephesians 6:7. Some copies read it, serving the times, in such a sense as it is in Ephesians 5:16, and Colossians 4:5.

Not slothful in business,.... Meaning not worldly business, or the affairs of life; though slothfulness in this respect is scandalous to human nature, and especially in persons under a profession of religion; men should diligently pursue their lawful callings for the support of themselves and families, and the interest of Christ: but spiritual business, the affairs of piety and religion, the service of God, private and public, to which we should not be backward, nor slothful in the performance of; such as preaching, hearing, reading, praying, and other ordinances of God; yea, we should be ready and forward to every good work, and particularly, and which may be here greatly designed, ministering to the poor saints in their necessity; in doing which we show that kind, tender, affectionate, brotherly love, and give that honour and respect, at least that part of it, which is relief, required in the foregoing verse; see Hebrews 6:10. Remarkable is that saying of R. Tarphon (m),

"The day is short, and the work great, , "and workmen slothful", and the reward much, and the master of the house is urgent.''

Fervent in spirit; in their own spirits, for the glory of God, the honour of Christ, and the cause of religion, in imitation of Christ himself, and as Phinehas and Elijah were; which fervency of spirit is opposed to that lukewarmness of soul, Revelation 3:16, that coldness of affection, and leaving of the first love, Revelation 2:4, so much complained of, and resented by Christ in his people: or else in the Spirit of God; for there may be fervency in men's spirits, which comes not from the Spirit of God, as in the Jews, and particularly Saul, before his conversion, who had "a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge", Romans 10:2; but when "the love of God is shed abroad in the heart" by the Spirit of God, Romans 5:5, this will make a man's spirit fervent in the service of God, for which the apostle would have these believers concerned. A disciple of the wise men among the Jews is (n) said to be "fervent", because the law is as a boiling pot unto him; much more should a disciple of Christ be fervent, who has the Gospel of Christ, the love of God, and the grace of the Spirit to inflame his soul with true zeal and fervour.

Serving the Lord; some copies read, "serving time": the likeness of the words, and especially in an abbreviation, may have occasioned this different reading; which should it be followed, is not to be understood in an ill sense, of temporizing, or time serving, of men's accommodating themselves, their sentiments and conduct, according to the times in which they live, in order to escape reproach and persecution; but of redeeming the time, improving every season to do good, and taking every opportunity of serving God. But as the reading our version follows is confirmed by authentic copies, and by the Syriac, and other Oriental versions, it is best to adhere to it: by "the Lord" is here meant either God, Father, Son, and Spirit, who are the alone object of divine service and religious worship; or the Lord Jesus Christ, who most frequently goes by the name of Lord in the New Testament; and who is the one Lord, whose we are and whom we should continually serve, being under the greatest obligations to him, not only as our Creator, but as our head, husband, and Redeemer. Very rightly does the apostle premise fervency in spirit to serving the Lord; for without the Spirit of God there is no true worshipping and serving of him, and which ought to be done with fervency as well as with constancy. The Syriac version renders it, "serve our Lord".

(m) Pirke Abot, c. 2. sect. 15. (n) T. Bab. Taanith, fol. 4. 1.

Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; {r} serving the Lord;

(r) This verse is well put, for it makes a distinction between Christian duties, and philosophical duties.

Romans 12:11. Τῇ σπουδῇ] in respect of zeal, namely, for the interests of the Christian life in whatever relation.

τῷ πν. ζέοντες] seething, boiling in spirit, the opposite of ὀκνηροὶ τῇ σπουδῇ; hence τῷ πνεύμ. is not to be understood of the Holy Spirit (Oecumenius and many others, including Holsten, Weiss), but of the human spirit. Comp. Acts 18:25. That this fervent excitement of the activity of thought, feeling, and will for Christian aims is stirred up by the Holy Spirit, is obvious of itself, but is not of itself expressed by τῷ πνεύματι. Ζέω of the mental aestuare is also frequent in the classics; Plato, Rep. iv. p. 440 C, Phaedr. p. 251 B; Soph. Oed. C. 435; Eur. Hec. 1055; and Pflugk in loc. See also Jacobs, ad Anthol. IX. p. 203; Dorville, ad Charit. p. 233.

τῷ καιρῷ δουλ.] consigns—without, in view of the whole laying out of the discourse as dependent on ἡ ἀγάπη ἀνυπόκρ., Romans 12:9, requiring a connective δέ (against van Hengel)—the fervour of spirit to the limits of Christian prudence, which, amidst its most lively activity, yet in conformity with true love, accommodates itself to the circumstances of the time, with moral discretion does not aim at placing itself in independence of them or oppose them with headlong stubbornness, but submits to them with a wise self-denial (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). Comp. on the ΔΟΥΛ. Τῷ ΚΑΙΡῷ (tempori servire, Cicero, ad Div. ix. 17, Tuscul. iii. 27. 66) and synonymous expressions (καιρῷ λατρεύειν, τοῖς καιρ. ἀκολουθεῖν), which are used in a good or bad sense according to the context, Wetstein and Fritzsche in loc.; Jacobs, ad Anthol. X. p. 261. On the thing itself, see Cic. ad Div. iv. 6 : “ad novos casus temporum novorum consiliorum rationes accommodare.”

Romans 12:11. τῇ σπουδῇ μὴ ὀκνηροί: σπουδὴ occurs twelve times in the N.T., and is translated in our A.V. seven different ways. It denotes the moral earnestness with which one should give himself to his vocation. In this Christians are not to be backward: Acts 9:38. τῷ πνεύματι ζέοντες: the same figure is frequent in the classics, and we still speak of the blood “boiling”. The spiritual temperature is to be high in the Christian community: cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:20, Acts 18:25. If we are to distinguish at all, the πνεῦμα meant is the Spirit of God, though it is that spirit as bestowed upon man. τῷ κυρίῳ δουλεύοντες: we can point to no special connection for this clause. Perhaps the thought is on the same lines as in 1 Corinthians 12:4 f.: there are spiritual gifts of all kinds, but one service in which they are all exhausted—the service of Christ—and in that we must be constantly engaged.

11. not slothful in business] Better, in point of earnest diligence, not slothful. The precept includes an exhortation to thoroughness in earthly duty, but much more besides.

fervent in spirit] Better, as regards the spirit, fervent. “The spirit” here probably means the human spirit, though the grammar admits as easily a reference to the Holy Spirit. The context, which hitherto has referred to the acts of human thought and energy, favours the reference to man’s spirit, renewed and animated by grace. Same words as Acts 18:25. Cp. Acts 17:16.

serving the Lord] Another reading, but inferior on many grounds, is serving the occasion; the Gr. originals of “Lord” and “occasion” being very similar in form.—It is well remarked (by De Wette, in Alford,) that “the Christian should certainly employ the opportunity, but not serve it.” He will often have to go apparently counter to it, in the path of duty.—The special mention of bondservice to the Lord here is perhaps due to the last two clauses: the diligence and the fervour of the Christian are to be elevated and regulated by his consciousness of sacred bondservice.

Romans 12:11. Τῇ σπουδῇτῷ πνεύματι, in diligence [business, Engl. Vers.]—in spirit) The external or active, and the internal or contemplative life is thus set in due order.—τῷ Κυρίῳ δουλεύοντες, serving the Lord) We ought to serve Christ and God, Romans 12:1, ch. Romans 7:6, Romans 14:18, Romans 16:18; Acts 20:19; Php 3:3; Psalm 2:11, where serving and rejoicing are parallel, as in this passage. [See Appendix. Crit. Ed. II. on this passage, which shows that the reading καιρῷ[132] is quite unsupported and unworthy of the apostle. Not. crit.]

[132] AB and prob. all Gr. MSS. of Jerome, Vulg. and most Versions read Κυρίῳ. But D(Λ) corrected later, and Gfg read καιρῷ.—ED.

Verse 11. - In business (rather, diligence) not slothful; in spirit fervent (we are to do with our might whatever our hand finds to do; yea, with fervent zeal); serving the Lord. For τῷ Κυρίῳ, (the Lord), some manuscripts have τῷ καιρῷ (the time, or the opportunity), which reading is preferred by some commentators on the ground that it is less likely to have been instituted for the familiar τῷ Κυρίῳ than vice versa. But τῷ Κυρίῳ is best supported, and has an obvious meaning, vie. that in the zealous performance of all our duties we are to feel that we are serving the Lord. Romans 12:11Slothful (ὀκνηροί)

From ὀκνέω to delay.

In business (τῇ σπουδῇ)

Wrong. Render, as Rev., in diligence; see on Romans 12:8. Luther, "in regard to zeal be not lazy."

Fervent (ζέοντες)

See on Acts 18:25.

The Lord (τῷ Κυρίῳ)

Some texts read καιρῷ the time or opportunity, but the best authorities give Lord.

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