Text: Romans 12:11 Date: 5/13/2018
Main Point: Being lukewarm is not acceptable.
14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. 15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
We obviously do not want to be lukewarm. At one level, being lukewarm is nasty. Lukewarm chili is no good because it won’t melt the cheese. On a hot summer day, lukewarm water is hard to swallow. Warm water reminds me of saliva and I instinctually want to spit it out. Cold water is refreshing and hot water is cleansing; lukewarm water is good for nothing. Guys, Jesus said if we are like that, if we are lukewarm, he’s going to spit us out. That is not a good thing. If God is a hobby that we piddle around with when we have time, then we are in trouble.
What solution does Jesus offer? Stop trusting your material wealth. Just because you have clothes to wear, food to eat, and money for tomorrow doesn’t mean we are ok. We are not ok. We are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. We need Jesus’ gold; not the world’s gold. We need Jesus’ clothes; not the world’s clothes. We need Jesus to heal our eyes. We need Jesus to reprove and correct us. We need Jesus to discipline us and restore us. We need to repent of our sin and be zealous for what is good.
Be zealous. Jesus commands us to be zealous (Rev 3:19). Peter commands us to make every effort to grow in the faith (2 Peter 1:5). Paul commands us to be diligent; do not be slothful in zeal. This is a big deal. Jesus commands zeal. The Holy Spirit, through Peter and Paul, commands zeal. If we lack zeal, Jesus is going to spit us out. Being lukewarm is not acceptable. Be fervent in spirit.
I want to try to be very practical with you today. This is one of those sermons that is more like a discipleship conversation we might have over lunch or a cup of coffee. I want to explain the Word to you and help apply the Word to your situation in such a way that you see what it looks like to follow Jesus. But I also want to teach and apply the Word in such a way that you learn how to teach and apply the Word. What I am doing here should serve as a model for you as you seek to make disciples.
Let’s get back into the Word; Romans 12:9-13
I. Don’t be a sloth
- What does it mean to be slothful in zeal?
I have noticed that the sloth is getting a lot of positive publicity these days. Now I will admit, I’m a little slow on this observation. The Wall Street Journal and Time Magazine have written pieces on the popularity of the sloth. One of the explanations for the popularity of the sloth is our busy pace and obsession with productivity. We are a culture, a people, who want to slow down and be a sloth for a minute, a day, maybe a month. Maybe you are here this morning feeling overworked and overwhelmed. Then you hear Jesus, Peter, and Paul say, “Be zealous! Don’t be slothful! What are you doing you slacker, sitting there listening to a sermon when you should be working?”
Our culture doesn’t have a biblical worldview much less a biblical vocabulary. There is a world of difference between sinful sloth and biblical rest. According to God, resting is good but being slothful is bad. Let me show you the two main types of sloth which must be avoided. There is the lazy sloth and the scared sloth.
The lazy sloth shows up in the book of Proverbs. Proverbs 6:6 says, “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.” The Greek translation of the Old Testament uses the same word for sloth. Go to the ant, O slothful; consider her ways, and be wise.” Then Proverbs 6:9, “How long will you lie there, O slothful? When will you arise from your sleep?” The lazy sloth is the guy who won’t work. The lazy sloth is the girl who just wants to lie around all summer. God tells us to go to the ant. Consider that little lady and be wise. She works simply, she works steadily, she works carefully. The ant is not distracted by the nuclear deal with the Iranians. She knows her role and she plays her role. Do your job. Use your gift. Get to work.
The second type of sloth is the scared sloth. The lazy sloth doesn’t want to do anything but the scared sloth is afraid to do anything. In the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, the one talent servant says, “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.” The master replies, “You wicked and slothful servant!” The servant was scared to fail. The master spit the servant out of his mouth.
Ok, so now we have a more biblical understanding of sloth. Sloth is not doing what should be done because you are lazy or afraid. What’s the expectation in Romans 12:11? Do not be slothful in zeal. We saw zeal recently in Romans 12:8. The one who leads should lead with zeal. Zeal is energy and diligence and eagerness. Think about that child who is so excited about the first day of school. There is energy; she can hardly sleep or sit still. There is diligence; she has her school supplies in her back pack in the car two weeks before the first day. There is an eagerness; she desperately wants school to start. It’s going to be glorious. She is like the ant! Then comes the month of May and the ant has become the sloth. Zeal has turned to sloth. She can’t get out of bed, she can’t find her backpack, and she despises the thought of one more week.
Galatians 6:9 says, “let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Don’t grow weary of doing good. Don’t become slothful in well-doing. Do not be slothful in zeal.
Concerning the will of God, concerning your spiritual gift, concerning your service of the Lord, do not get lazy or fizzle out. Don’t let fear of failure or the weariness of the work cause you to give up. Stay in the game and go full speed. That’s the biblical explanation. Now, let’s get practical.
- How can we avoid being slothful in zeal?
Here’s the simple answer- work hard and rest well. Work hard and rest well. If we aren’t working hard then we are being slothful. Maybe we’re lazy. Maybe we’re afraid. Maybe we don’t know what to do. Maybe we are doing the wrong things. Instead of listening to God and doing what he wants us to do, we are afraid of what our friends and family think and so we do what they want us to do. Instead, work hard at God’s things and graciously say no to other things. Work hard doing God’s things and rest well.
Some of us here today are experiencing a decrease in zeal because we will not rest. The God who tells us to work is the God who tells us to rest. The surefire way to become slothful in zeal is to overcommit yourself with things you shouldn’t be doing. Another zeal-killer is stressing yourself out with fear over past poor performance. I have to do more. I have to do better. I have to keep it together. I have to make it right. I can’t slow down. I am the god that my family depends on and I must therefore deliver like God.
To the ladies here today who are worn out by the idol of motherhood, please listen to Jesus. Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt 11:28-30).
Yes, this is justification. Moms, you are chosen, holy, loved, righteous, and accepted in Christ. You can’t be any more chosen, holy, loved, righteous, or accepted. Your mothering is not going to make you more lovely in God’s economy. Stop trying to validate yourself. Go to Jesus. He will make you righteous and he will give you rest. Yes, this is freedom from approval seeking but it is also the freedom of serving the Lord.
To whom do we present our bodies? Do we present our bodies to the world and work hard to meet its standards of success or beauty? No. Do we let our children call the shots? No. We present ourselves to God. We serve the Lord. Spending time with God in the Word and prayer gives us the freedom to say no to what we need to say no to in order that we can say yes to the things we need to say yes to.
Why do we not do AWANA through the summer? We need to rest. Why did Jesus take his disciples out into the wilderness away from people? They needed to rest. Why has God given us the Sabbath? So, we can rest. Why are you weary? Why are you slothful in zeal? It’s because you aren’t resting. Maybe you’ve taken on too much and you can’t rest. Maybe you are neglecting time with Jesus in his word and prayer, so you are like that garden hose with a kink in it. Of course, you aren’t fervent in spirit, the supply has been cut off by your busy-ness. We don’t need more sloth. We need more rest. Resting well will cause us to boil
We have to go faster now.
- What does it mean to be fervent in spirit?
To be fervent literally means to boil. Instead of a sloth hanging from a tree we are to boil in spirit. When we meet Apollos in Acts 18:25, we are told that he was fervent in spirit. The debate is whether we are commanded to be fervent in spirit or fervent in the Spirit. Is this a discussion of the Spirit of God, or a discussion of the spirit of a man? I think it’s both. The spirit of a man will boil by the power of the Spirit of God within. When your spirit is filled with the Spirit of God then you will be on fire. Don’t be slothful in zeal, boil in the spirit. Be eager, be energetic, be diligent. So, how do we do that?
- How can we be fervent in spirit?
Here is the simple answer that needs some explanation. The way to be fervent in spirit is to not quench the Spirit. 1 Thessalonians 5:19 puts it plainly, “Do not quench the Spirit.” How do we do that? How do we quench the Spirit? One of the most common ways I quench the Spirit is by resisting his work of convicting me of my sin (John 16:8). When the Spirit, through the Word, shows me my error and I try to brush off that conviction, or rationalize my sin, then I always quench the Spirit. When I should say no to some commitment, but I say yes, that can be quenching the Spirit. When I should say yes to some commitment, but I say no, that can be quenching the Spirit.
Positively, if we want to be fervent in spirit then we must follow the Spirit’s lead. Romans 8:14 tells us, “All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” If we are led by the Spirit of God to do the will of God the Father then we should expect the Spirit’s help. This miracle of strength poured in becoming strength poured out is seen most clearly in Isaiah 58. God says, “Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”
Now, that just wears me out reading about it; that’s a lot of work! But listen, let’s go on, “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” To put it another way, Jesus said his food is to do his Father’s will and accomplish his Father’s work (John 4:34).
It is interesting that in Isaiah 58 we are called to work, and we also have the summons to rest. We need to Sabbath. We need to refocus on God and be recharged by Him. If you want to be fervent in spirit you must work hard by the Spirit’s leading, your Father’s will is your food, and you must rest well by the Spirit’s leading.
Here is the overarching command that brings it together.
III. Serve Jesus
Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
- What does it mean to serve the Lord?
The most difficult and helpful complimentary passage for serving the Lord is Ephesians 6:5-8. Turn over to Ephesians 6 and let’s read it.
While it is true that 1st century slavery was not identical to 19th century slavery, still, to be a slave is to be controlled by another. Masters should be obeyed as if you are obeying Christ. Instead of trying to do just enough to get by or look busy, you should do your work as a servant of Christ. Verse 7 is the connection. A slaves’s service to his master should be done as if he is serving the Lord. Your work in the field can be work unto the Lord. Your work keeping the books can be work unto the Lord. Your work in the control room, courtroom, operating room, restroom, or school room can be unto the Lord and therefore food to you and good for others.
Serving the Lord is the awareness that what you are doing is being done with Christ. He is the vine, right? You are the branch? Apart from him you can do nothing. Apart from Christ all our working and all your mothering are nothing. What does it mean to serve the Lord? It is doing the will of your Father, according to the righteousness of Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- What does it look like to serve the Lord?
Let’s get gloriously mundane. Thursday afternoon I got wrapped up in reading and talking about a controversy. The time, thirty minutes to an hour, drained me. I didn’t want to work. I didn’t want to write or think. I knew I had to get my head on straight, so I went to our Psalm for Thursday, Psalm 57, I prayed through the Psalm and was energized to work. What changed? By reading and responding to news, I was serving myself and it drained me. When I repented and chose to serve the Lord it energized me. Doing what God called me to do, instead of what my flesh wanted to do, gave me strength. We often think serving the Lord has to be big, like changing the world. But Jesus said, “For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward” (Mk 9:41). A cup of water, what does that cost? How hard was that? Even a cup of water, given because of Christ, brings a reward. Serve the Lord! Making a bowl of cereal can become an act of service to Christ. This is a call to repentance. Start serving the Lord. Do the simple things God has created you to do. Do not be slothful in zeal. Boil in spirit.
Moms, the Lord has called you to be mom. Do not be slothful, boil in the spirit, serve the Lord. Give the cup of water, peanut butter sandwich, word of correction, and word of encouragement because of Christ and there will be a reward. Mom, we need you to be mom. And mom, we need you to rest. Come to Jesus today. He will forgive you. He will sustain you. He will give you strength for the work and he will give you wisdom so you can rest well. We don’t need sloths. We need well rested, hardworking, Christ exalting moms.
Men, this is a call for us to pray for the moms in this church. Older women, this is a call for you to pray for the moms in this church. Church, this is a call for us to pray for spiritual mothers who will raise up and mentor the younger women of this body. Whoever you are, wherever you are, we need you to not be slothful. We need you to boil in spirit. We need you to and serve the Lord. Let’s go after the Father’s will together. Let’s give everything to God for his good purposes.