Be Fervent in Spirit
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Sunday, April 12, 2009 - 6:00 p.m.  Sermon #: 1264
Pastor Don Horban

Romans 12:10-11 - “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. [11] Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.”

In verses 4 and 5 Paul uses an analogy that implies a relationship that, in human bodies, can only take place with cells in the same womb, sharing the same birth, body parts that are members in the same physical body. So I would no more aim my ambitions at hurting or avenging a fellow Christian than my liver would mount an attack on my kidneys. And of course, Paul’s whole point is that without this kind of unity my spirituality is suspect. This is because the same Holy Spirit who is at work in my life is also the Holy Spirit at work in my spiritual brother’s life. And that’s the point at which we pick up the theme of today’s text:

1) WE ARE TO MINISTER TO ONE ANOTHER AS PARTS OF THE SAME BODY. WE ARE TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS PARTS OF THE SAME FAMILY - Romans 12:10a - “Love one another with brotherly affection....”

The word translated into the two English words “brotherly affection” is “philostorgos” (“fil-os’-tor-gos”). And you can see one of the English words we get from it - “storge.” It has to do with family affection (“philos”) that is literally stored up in the heart. In other words, Paul says, let there be a tenderness and an affection that isn’t brought about by something pleasant in the circumstances or some particular merit in the person himself.

This is the logic behind Paul’s exhortation in verses 14, 17, and 19 - “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them....12:17....Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all....12:19....Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’”

Notice also that this love is commanded - “Love one another with brotherly affection....”(12:10a). How can this be? If this love is so important, how can it be commanded? How can the heart be reached with such an order? And the answer to that question is found back in the first two verses of this great chapter: Romans 12:1-2 - “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. [2] Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind....”

“By the mercies of God” is the important phrase. You can never make a direct appeal to your emotions. They don’t lie under our power if approached that way. And Paul doesn’t start out that way. His appeal is based on the “mercies of God” (12:1). This is the basis of the entire renewal of the mind and inward transformation. What did those mercies do? Well, they reached my sin darkened heart. They warmed a life spiritually dead and undeserving. They imparted forgiveness and hope and joy when I merited none and could summon none. The mercies of God caused me to be born into this new life. Yes they did. But that’s not all. Those same mercies also caused me to be born into a new family. There are many others, equally undeserving and unworthy, who received this amazing grace.

Look at the way Jesus described the creation of the divine family of God: Mark 10:29-30 - “Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, [30] who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.’”

2) YOU ALREADY TREASURE GOD’S WORK IN YOUR HEART. NOW TREASURE IT IN YOUR BROTHER’S HEART JUST AS MUCH - Romans 12:10b - “....Outdo one another in showing honor.”

What describes the way I am to show love to my brother? Honor, says Paul. That word translated “honor” is “time” (“tee-may’”). And it carries a picture that helps us grab on to Paul’s thought. The word means money paid or a value established. It’s all about knowing the worth of something and treating it with its proper dignity.

So someone - perhaps in your family - gives you a ring or a watch. And you sort of like it, but it isn’t quite your taste. So in it goes with other odd bits into a box or container to collect dust. But then you take it in to some jeweler and he or she appraises it at $25,000. Suddenly you have a new affection for it. You had it there with you all along, but didn’t give it the dignity it deserved. You didn’t appreciate its worth.

Paul says that’s the way it is in the family of God. We all feel we know the value and the worth of ourselves. In fact, Paul says this is part of our whole problem. He says we’re usually self-absorbed in this appraisal and that’s one of the marks of the Fall that the Holy Spirit wants to transform in us - Romans 12:3 - “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

So when Paul tells us to “show honor” as we love one another he has in mind my need to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the renewing of my fallen mind. Showing honor in my love for others is loving them in proper proportion to my unregulated fallen regard I normally have for myself. It’s my love for myself demoted by the honor I show my brother. And only the Holy Spirit knows how desperately my “me first” heart needs this admonition.

Romans 12:11 - “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.”

If someone came up to you and asked how to keep his first love, what would you say? If someone asked about how to keep the heart spiritually aflame - how to keep apathy and coolness and hypocrisy and emptiness at bay - what advice would you give? If some said the last thing in the world he wanted was some kind of dead churchiness defining his relationship with Jesus - that he didn’t want to lose his edge for Jesus - in which direction would you point him?

And the reason I’ve poured out this list of questions is I can’t help but notice that what most people today see as the cause of these problems, Paul specifically sites as the cure. And that should strike us as powerfully and strangely fascinating.

First, the obvious point: “don’t be slothful in zeal.” Don’t get lazy. Don’t allow indifference and apathy any ground in your soul. There are plenty of flaws in all of us and in every church. But whatever you’ve experienced and seen, don’t become an armchair critic. Don’t wallow.

Then comes the call to the opposite. We’re to “be fervent in spirit.” Stay alive on the inside. Keep your joy and your good attitude. Remember, love others by showing honor to them over yourself. When you put yourself first you become a know-it-all. You’ll get cranky. So “be fervent in spirit.” That’s good advice, but how shall we do it?

And that leads to the third part, “.....serve the Lord.” Only you have to put those last words with what has gone before - “ fervent in spirit. Serve the Lord.” In other words, you keep your spirit fervent by serving the Lord. And when you put them all together you realize Paul isn’t giving a human potential pep talk. This isn’t just an appeal to keeping busy. He’s talking about keeping spiritually earnest. He’s talking first about keeping a flaming heart. And he has the nerve to insist that you can’t do it just by going to church, or singing certain songs. You have to be inwardly dedicated to something big. You have to “serve the Lord.”

Now I want to show you what, to my mind, is one of the greatest examples of keeping a fervent spirit by serving the Lord. Most people don’t even know it’s in their New Testament: Acts 8:1-4