12:11-13—Zeal, fire, service, hope, perseverance, prayer, hospitality.
If your Bible reading is like mine, we may fly by short phrases such as these and miss their relevance to our lives. Let’s slow down and remind ourselves these are the word of God to us.
Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Whoever needs a reminder that Paul’s words were inspired by God can turn to Revelation 3:15-16 and see that this same point was made by the risen Christ in his rebuke of the Laodicean church. The Lord challenges us through Paul to avoid complacency and compromise—to turn from “lukewarmness” and keep the fire burning in our devotion and service.
The verb translated be fervent literally means be on the boil, so a question arises: What is the source of the heat? Is it our regenerated spirit, as the ESV translation implies? In this case, we need to maintain fervor in our own spirit as an act of will and lifestyle. Or does the Holy Spirit fuel our fire (“be fervent in Spirit”)? Douglas Moo, noting that Paul probably referred to the Spirit in this phrase in tandem with the Lord in the next phrase, opts for this view.
The difference in meaning between spirit and Spirit is slight, however. Even if Paul was referring to the human spirit, how can a Christian sustain fervor for the Lord in his or her spirit without the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit? Set us on fire, Holy Spirit, to serve the Lord!
Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Hope, perseverance, and prayer fit together as partners. Paul mentions all three virtues in this same order in Romans 8:24-27 where the source and enabler of all three is the Holy Spirit.
Charles Swindoll says the theme holding them together is patience: “How do we remain patient through tribulation? We continue to hope, anticipating that which has not yet happened and celebrating as though it has. We continue to fulfill our obligations and enjoy our blessings even when we’re discouraged and want to quit. And all the while, we devote ourselves to prayer.”
Contribute to the needs of the saints. Paul now urges his readers to share their material goods with the needy among them. The verb translated contribute is the verbal form of the New Testament word for “fellowship,” koinōnia. We are to share or participate in the needs of others who are less fortunate. To have fellowship with the Lord (the giver of our material blessings) is to have fellowship with the members of his body (and give some of those material blessings to others). Paul expects us to be intentional in this sharing, to plan for it. He says in Ephesians 4:28 we are to work for the purpose of giving to those in need.
And seek to show hospitality. Traveling was hazardous in the ancient world, and there were few safe places to stay. Bob Utley says the “inns” had an evil reputation. Christianity spread through the efforts of missionaries and other Christian workers who depended on the hospitality of other believers. So Paul uses an imperative verb that once again calls for intentionality. Paul isn’t just saying open your door if someone knocks on it. He urges his readers to “pursue” hospitality—to go out of their way and seek out opportunities to welcome traveling believers and provide them with food and shelter.
As an application for today, we can support missionaries working at home or abroad.