Not Slothful in Business, Fervent in Spirit,
Serving the Lord
Scripture: II Peter 3
Text: Romans 12:11
Sermon by Rev. Harry Bout
Orthodox Christian Reformed Church of Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada, 1984
© Burlington United Reformed Church; Vol. 1, No.8
This sermon may be used in worship services for free; please state the author and church above.
Congregation, beloved of our Lord Jesus Christ:
Our theme today is Romans 12:11: “Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord.”
My first point is that we are to be diligent, and not slothful. I know the King James Version says not to be slothful in business, but actually it has a much wider application than the term business as we think of it today — as some kind of industry. The word in the Greek actually means diligence, so the first point is to be diligent and not slothful.
The second point is to be fervent in spirit, and thirdly, to be serving the Lord in time.
The word diligent means to be zealous; to put in a very special effort. But it’s an effort of a particular kind. It’s a zeal to use to the fullest possible extent, all that God has given to you in His grace. “Therefore, beloved, seeing you know these things,” verse 17 of II Peter 3, “beware lest ye also being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness.”
“Beloved, seeing you know these things…” — it is what God has given you to know. The things that have happened to you in your life are not by accident, nor by fate. You are to be diligent and “to be found in peace without spot and blameless,” we read in verse 14. This is the way we are to live. This is not a light warning. The greatest danger in your life is that you will fall from your steadfastness.
There may be a lot of things that threaten you in your life. Or you may feel as though you are threatened by many things through circumstances — health, work or something wrong in your life, something that is not quite straight. But your greatest threat is that you will no longer be diligent, but that you will become slothful; that you will be led away by the error of the wicked; that you will lose that first love that you once knew, the things that the Lord worked in your life.
The Lord has worked in your life. If the scriptures have been opened to you by your father and mother; if you have a Bible at your bedside; if you have friends that have spoken to you concerning the way of salvation, it is in these things that you must be diligent and not slothful, says the apostle Paul.
If you look around, you see so many that are backsliding, that just leave the Word of the Lord, that don’t seem to care anymore. They look for an easy way out. They stop fighting and drift along with the current. Well, every fisherman knows that a healtly fish is able to swim against the strongest current. But what happens when that fish dies or becomes weakened? It floats to the top and it drifts along with the current. That’s what the apostle Paul is talking about — to be diligent and not slothful. Otherwise you will be carried along with the error of the wicked and will fall from your steadfastness.
You say, “How is it possible that we might become slothful?” What does the word slothful mean? Slothful means to be hesitant, to hold back. It means you are not doing what you should be doing. That in turn means that you are negligent, neglecting the very precious gifts that God has given to you in your life. That is what we read in Matthew 25:26 — the servant who hid his talent. He buried it, because it wasn’t precious to him. The Lord had given it to him, but he didn’t treasure it. What did the Lord say? ‘‘Thou wicked and slothful servant.” That’s what slothfulness exemplifies. We see what slothful means by what that particular servant did. How tragic it is, that even those to whom the Lord has given the greatest gifts become slothful.
How many Christians do not start off with a tremendous amount of zeal and diligence for the Lord? There is a lot of fire there at first. After twenty or twenty-five years, they have a nice comfortable position, and you hear some nice pious platitudes.
How many office-bearers who accept their first ordination in great fear and trembling and feeling totally unworthy of the task to which God has called them, after many years, go from meeting to meeting out of custom and superstition, kept busy with all kinds of things that have absolutely nothing to do with the Word of God and the task to which they have been called. They are just simply going through the motions. While children in their congregations are being devoured through evil, they are busy with other things that have become more important to them.
Where is that righteous indignation against injustice? Where is that hate against the forces of evil? We are not just talking about office-bearers now. It does not just apply to office-bearers. It applies to you as fathers and mothers, as brothers and sisters, and also as employees and employers. It is at whatever level, or with whatever gifts the Lord has given to you. If it has just become a life of toleration, a life of compromise, then you are on the way to becoming a slothful servant, and Satan can have his way in your life.
Congregation, what a warning the apostle Paul is giving to each and every one of us! I am not excluding myself. Pray for your pastor, that as your minister, he will not become slothful; for the elders and the deacons of this congregation; and for one another, that you may be steadfast, and that we will not fall from that steadfastness. The apostle Paul does not give us this warning as if it is not a danger by which we are threatened. This is the greatest threat in a Christian’s life: that he should become slothful.
What did Jesus do when the thieves had made the house of the Lord a den of robbers instead of a house of prayer? He put a scourge together and drove them out as if they were animals. They had to be driven out because there was no room in His Father’s house for such kind. The Lord cannot use disobedient servants. We see that so readily with Balaam. When he became disobedient, God had his donkey speak to him.
When Jesus made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem and the crowds were beginning to pull off the palm branches and rejoice and praise God, what did Jesus say to the Pharisees when they wanted Him to rebuke the crowds? He said, “I tell you that if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.”
The Lord is not limited to certain people. The harvest is too great, the laborers are too few, and the time is too short. The Lord wants diligent servants to work in His kingdom.
When Adam and Eve became slothful and negligent with what God had given to them — the very precious, precious things — that’s when Satan found an open door to do as he pleased. “Therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware, lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness.” What a beautiful summary in II Peter 3 of what the apostle Paul is saying in Romans 12, “not to be slothful, but to be diligent.”
We cannot take God’s Word lightly, congregation. Matthew 25:26 tells us of what the end of that slothful servant is: that servant was to be cast out into outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The word fervent means to boil up or to be aglow — either interpretation. It makes the same point. If you put a pan of water on the stove, then at first it is motionless, but once the heat gets at it underneath, then it begins to boil. It comes alive, as it were. So it is with being aglow — it is the figurative language of a fire. The fire gives off heat; there is life in it. Thus we are to be fervent in spirit. But in order to be fervent in spirit, we must be alive, and that means you need a fire in you. What that means is that you need the Holy Spirit working in you. You need the work of the Holy Spirit in your heart and life in order that you will not become slothful, that you may remain fervent. It is that Spirit that lights the fire.
You might compare the Christian to a burning woodstove. A stove needs a fire — that is what it is designed for. That is what you are designed for also. God has made you, Jesus Christ died to save you for the purpose of filling you with the Holy Spirit, so that through the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you might do the work of the Lord and become fruitful in your particular calling of God. God has given a particular task to each and every person that He made in His image.
God doesn’t have to use you, right? He doesn’t have to use me either. God doesn’t need a stove in which to put a fire. God can make a fire outside of the stove that will still give off heat. But, what good is a stove without a fire? A stove is designed for a fire. You need a fire in order to carry out your life’s calling, the work to which God has called you.
What good is your life without the fire of the Holy Spirit? It is the Holy Spirit that will give you warmth. What good are your prayers without the warmth of the Holy Spirit? What good is your Bible reading without the Holy Spirit being present? What good is your testimony to someone, without the presence of the Holy Spirit? What good is your singing and your worship today, without the presence of the Holy Spirit in you? If you are not fervent in spirit, you may belong to a religious system which looks nice on the outside, and you may impress yourself and other people with it as to how religous you are, but without the Holy Spirit who warms you and from which you bring praise and worship, you’re nothing but a cold, empty stove. You need the Holy Spirit to stir you to holiness, to godliness and to righteousness.
I think you all know enough about life and death that you don’t have to be a nurse or a doctor to know that you cannot warm a dead body externally. No matter how much heat you apply externally to a dead body, you will not be able to put any heat into it. You need the heat from the inside to warm the body. You know what that is. The only way in which our bodies remain warm is when the spirit is inside of our bodies. As soon as the spirit leaves the body, the body becomes cold. The only possible way that you can become warm, that you can live eternally, is when you have the Holy Spirit in you. Those who have the Holy Spirit of God are alive unto God. That is what will make you glow. That is what will give you warmth.
The Lord also says that we must remain warm. You must not quench the Holy Spirit at work in you. If you begin to live according to the flesh, then the forces at work in the flesh very naturally begin to decompose the body. It is the work of the Holy Spirit that puts to death the works of the flesh. What that really means, congregation, is that you cannot begin to give in to the desires of the flesh without having to pay for it — without the decomposition beginning.
The moment you begin to give in to the desires of the flesh, you will lose some of the fire of your faith. Your faith life is going to become dull. Doubt, uncertainty and all sorts of things are going to crowd in, because you are quenching the work of the Spirit. You are inviting, as it were, Satan to pour water into the stove to put the fire out. That’s why you need to be diligent, not slothful, so that you will not fall and be enticed into the error of the wicked, so that you will not fall from your steadfastness.
Let us be very clear that it is the Spirit that gives us that warmth. It is the Spirit at work in us that is the powerhouse, as it were, that makes us glow, both body and soul, that we can be zealous to do the work of the Lord.
I ask you today, What are you fervent in? What are the things that really set you on fire? Is it cars, money, or jobs? Is it material things that pass away? Or do you really get excited and warm for the things of the Lord? Do you get excited when you see someone walking in the ways of the Lord? Are you excited about missions, about evangelism?
You are called by the Lord to be a stove on fire for the Lord. There are also stoves in warehouses and on display in showrooms, all nicely polished and very good-looking, but with no fire in them. What sort of fire is in you today before the Lord? Where are you going? What do you hope to heat up in your life that will bring honor to the Lord? What sort of a holy zeal is burning inside of you? Is it strictly for yourself? Is the Holy Spirit leading you? Is your life ruled by chance? by circumstances? by yourself? Or are you led by the Spirit of God? Is it by whatever happens to come first or is it determined by every word that is written in the scriptures by the Lord? What sort of fire is burning in your heart? Is it a fire for the Lord, by the Lord? Is a warm glow inside of you, with that quiet assurance that the Lord is leading you and directing you in your life?
If I can put it this way: what is cooking in your life that will be a blessing to others, and honoring to the Lord? Now the Lord is not asking you to be a loud crackling or cackling fire. The hottest stove is one where there is just a very nice red hot glow inside, sometimes very quietly. But you can feel the heat. That is precisely my point. That is how you can tell that the Holy Spirit is at work in a person’s life. Not the noise that they make but by the heat that comes from the stove. Then we have understood what it means to be fervent in the spirit, a heat that comes from God Himself. Then you know, and then you are prepared to serve the Lord in time.
When we think of time, we think of that period from the time the Lord made the earth to the time when Jesus is coming back. But the scriptures also speak of time in a different way. It speaks about a time which is divinely appointed. It is a time which is an opportunity that you should not let go by without taking advantage of it.
In Luke 19:44, the Lord reproves the inhabitants of Jerusalem because they did not recognize the time. They did not recognize the unique coming of Jesus Christ, who came to save them. There was no second chance. They missed that time. That is why Jesus reproved them, because they did not believe Him while He was there speaking to them. They did not believe His works, and they did not believe His Word.
At the pool at Bethesda, the angel would stir the waters at a certain time, and only those who recognized that time were healed. This is the way we should understand the use of the word time in our text. It is a very decisive moment. It is a crucial point in your life. You are called to recognize such decisive moments that the Lord gives you in your life, and use them appropriately. There are certain opportunities that you only have once in your life. You are to respond to those opportunities by serving Him.
What sort of service is that? The answer is very simple. Matthew 6:24: “No man can serve two masters. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Romans 6: “Henceforth ye shall no longer serve sin, but serve in newness of spirit.”
If you are diligent and not slothful, if you are fervent in spirit, you are equipped to discern the opportunities that the Lord will give you every day. You are not to please yourself or serve yourself. You do not have that choice. You are no longer subject to your own will. Now you are called to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. He is your new owner in Jesus Christ, and He is the director of your affairs. A slave’s time is his Lord’s time, and that is how you are to serve the Lord until He comes again on the clouds of glory. Then time will be over.
It is this kind of use of time to which we should be sensitive and open. We must be very careful not to confuse the right use of time with the wrong use of time. Many are going along with the times. You hear so much of that today. “Yes, we have to go along with the times because this is the time in which we have become so much wiser, and so much more knowledgeable.”
I was shocked to read an article in a Reformed magazine where now a professor may doubt that Adam was the historic first person, because now Biblical scholars and scientific research have such thoughts. In other words, we are going along with the times. In this time in which we live, it is quite legitimate to even begin to question those things. That is a wrong use of time.
Instead we have to look at the apostle Paul to see how he used his time. We get a totally different picture. We don’t really find the apostle Paul talking that much about how bad the Roman empire was. We don’t hear the apostle Paul complaining about all the things that have happened to him, all the persecutions he had to endure. We don’t find any kind of focus on Paul himself. Yet we find in the apostle’s life that he used every day’s opportunities to make known the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. He sees a statue of an unknown god, and what does he do? He climbs the steps and proclaims to the Greeks who that unknown God is.
Paul appears before King Agrippa, whom he knows has some knowledge of the gospel since he is married to a Jewess. So he drives the claims of the gospel home to that person, to the point that the king cries out, “You have almost persuaded me to become a Christian!”
When he stands before the Sadducees and Pharisees, he knows there is a difference between how they look at the resurrection, so he uses the occasion to speak about the resurrection.
The apostle Paul is aware of all the things that are happening around him. He knows how the Jews think. He knows how the Greeks think. And he uses every opportunity that he has.
And so must you. You need to be informed about the things that are happening around you. You must know what is going on in the world, so that you might use every opportunity that the Lord will give to you. That is the goal of your diligence and fervency of your spirit. You are not here to condemn all the bad things that are going on in the world. We know they are bad. The world is perishing. You do not need to add your condemnation. What this world needs is a church full of good Samaritans, not a church full of self-righteous Levites and priests.
This world, like your body, is dying. It is dying very quickly. It needs help. That is why you must rush to your neighbor’s needs with a compassionate heart. You may not be like that fancy parlor stove, all polished up, sitting in the showroom with no heat in it. You are to be a burning woodstove to provide heat and warmth in a freezing world. You must provide nourishment that is cooked and ready to be served. I know the apostle Paul and Jesus also spoke very, very sharply to those who were hypocritical office-bearers and teachers. They too must be addressed in the same way today. But besides that, you must also use your time to help those who are prisoners in jail, those who are helpless.
Congregation, there are so many today who are not behind steel bars, but who are prisoners of wrong habits, wrong thinking, who are captivated and led astray by the lie today. They need to be set right. They need to hear the Word of the Lord. You, who are given the warmth of the Holy Spirit, must now use every opportunity so that you may bring the warmth of the Holy Spirit to those who are cold and lifeless around you. The Lord Jesus Christ did not purchase you, neither did the Holy Spirit come with power to live in you, so that you could retire very comfortably into a cloister, so that you could just close the door and have a nice time of fellowship with all the holy ones. By God’s grace we may have fellowship, and we praise the Lord for it. But we may not withdraw into a corner, as if we are too holy for a sinful world, because then we are hiding the light under a bushel.
You must keep all things in life in perspective of the return of Jesus Christ. That is what Peter is saying to us. Keep that in mind, by all means. Look for it, hastening unto the coming of the day of God, when the heavens shall be dissolved and the elements will melt with fervent heat. The world is going to disappear. We know that, and we have to keep that in mind while we have time, congregation. For how long is it going to last? We see whole continents coming under the darkness of a false and evil philosophy of man, so that the gospel can no longer be brought. How long will we have to bring the warmth and the love of Jesus Christ?
Only those who have the Spirit of God can bring the gospel to a sin-sick world, cold, lifeless, dead. You may not sit back, self-satisfied and comfortable in your own little world, rejoicing with the few that are going to heaven. This is the time that you are to claim, and bring the warmth and love of Jesus Christ in every opportunity that you have. No matter where you live, what you do, or what your age is, it doesn’t matter. It does not matter where you go because the fire is inside. That is the fire in you that gives warmth, and you can share that warmth and love.
The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve. He gave His life as a ransom for many. That is your task also. Again, day after day, you are to deny yourself, offer up yourself, and give yourself. You don’t have to worry. Don’t think that by giving up yourself and denying yourself, you are going to run out of heat. The Holy Spirit is the one who provides the heat, and His heat is unlimited. He will supply you with every BTU that you need, provided you are giving out the heat.
The time is short. Very often you may have only one opportunity to speak to someone about the Lord. Often you may have one opportunity in your whole life to help one person. Don’t miss it. Don’t let it go by. If you are willing to be the least, you will be the greatest. Do not let your pride or your self-preoccupation stand in the way.
Congregation, be diligent, not slothful. Be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord in time, until the Lord returns. He’s coming soon — hallelujah! Amen.