Romans 12 marks the shifting point for Paul from the doctrinal to the intensely practical. Paul begs the Romans, in light of all he has taught them — in light of all they know to be true of sin and faith and redemption and the gospel and God’s grace — to present their bodies as living sacrifices (12:1). And then Paul goes on to teach on “Practical Christianity 101.”
In my Bible the heading before verse 9 says, “Marks of the True Christian.” And within verses 9 through 21 there are a series of “short snapper” commandments concerning Christian conduct such as, “Let love be genuine” . . . “Love one another with brotherly affection” . . . “Be constant in prayer” . . . “Bless those who persecute you” . . . “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” . . . “Repay no one evil for evil” . . . “Live peaceably with all” . . . “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” And in the midst of these “short snappers” is the exhortation to be “fervent in spirit” (12:11).
Now “fervent” isn’t the most common of words . . . not in my everyday conversation, nor in my Bible. It’s found only twice in my ESV New Testament. The original word apparently has the the idea of “boiling with heat” or “to be hot.” So, the encouragement is to “be hot, be boiling hot, in spirit.” It’s contrasted against “being slothful in zeal” and so, it’s about possessing zealousness. The idea then, I think, is about being passionate for the things of God and for service to the Lord. Kind of an interesting inclusion in this list of commands aimed at getting us to live the “true” Christian life.
I wonder if sometimes we think that passion is kind of an optional “bonus” for a Christian. That it is more of a “DNA thing” . . . part of the way some people are wired . . . a natural characteristic . . . rather than something that should be nurtured and cultivated in obedience to our call in Christ? So, what do we think of a command that says, “Be passionate! Be on fire! Be hot — boiling hot — in spirit!” How do you do that?
I’m thinking it’s a combination of the will . . . the Word . . . and the way the Spirit works within us.
The will . . . do I WANT to be passionate about my Lord, about my faith? As my brother said to me many years ago shortly after we were both saved, “Pete, I don’t want to be a spark . . . I want to be a flame!” I think it’s got to start with a desire to be hot . . . a longing to be boiling hot for Christ . . . even if I’m not a passionate person by nature. Not that we can manufacture passion or fervor . . . but that we desire that it be manifest within us.
And I don’t know how we get there without it involving the Word. I can’t think of anything that jazzes me more then when God illuminates my understanding through my reading of His word or through listening to the preaching of His word. Even the most chilled person can be transformed by the renewing of their mind through the inspired word of God. The Bible is the fuel for the fire . . . the more we take in . . . the more He allows us to know the depths of His wisdom . . . the more intense the flame is bound to become.
And that’s because of the way the Holy Spirit works in us. He is the active agent who takes truth and produces heat. He is the Energizer of my spirit. When God’s Spirit connects with my spirit then my temperature . . . my passion . . . can’t help but go up.
Be fervent in spirit. Be hot. Be boiling hot. It might seem to be kind of a strange command at first . . . but then I think of Jesus words in Revelation, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot.” (Rev. 3:15) There it is again . . . the word “hot” taken from the same root word as “fervent” . . . “I wish that you were hot,” Jesus says.
Me too, Lord!! I desire a fervency for the things of Your kingdom. I trust You to fuel the fire by Your Word. I seek to yield to Your Spirit that He might ignite within me a passion for serving You.
By Your grace . . . for Your glory!