Love in Action

Wednesday: Spiritual Fervor

Romans 12:10-13 In this week’s study, we’ll look at what love does, and why believers are uniquely able to offer consistent love to those around them.
Spiritual Fervor

In our study of how love functions, we come today to the sentence which reads, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (v. 11). The word “fervor” (NIV) or “fervent” (KJV) is from a verb meaning “to boil.” So a literal translation of this phrase would be: “In respect to the spirit (or Spirit), boiling.” Unfortunately, since boiling suggests heat and we think of heat as having to do with anger, it would be better to think of this as a Christian “bubbling over” or even, as the Revised Standard Version has it, “being aglow with the Spirit.” 

Does this refer to the Holy Spirit then? Probably not, in spite of the RSV translation. It refers to a personality that radiates the presence of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, this does not happen apart from the Holy Spirit, and in this sense the translation “Spirit” is not wrong. Donald Grey Barnhouse wrote: 

The glow of the Spirit is the warmth of the soul touched by the love of Christ. It cannot exist apart from the knowledge that we have been loved, that Christ gave himself for our sins, that we have been redeemed, and that the Holy Spirit has come to dwell in our hearts. Such knowledge causes us to yield in full surrender to him as Lord of all. The Holy Spirit, who dwells in all believers, will glow through those who allow him to fill and direct their lives.1

“Serving the Lord” has probably been added to “keep your spiritual fervor” to show that the “glow” of the Spirit is not without direction but is instead focused on the work and cause of Christ. Still, this is another dative construction which sets it apart as a separate item, like the others we have looked at this week. Literally it reads, “As regards the Lord, serving.”2 We remember how Jesus once asked, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46), meaning that if He is our Lord, we must obey and serve Him. We will do no less if we truly love Him. And the way we will show we love other people is by serving them. Even Jesus “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). 

1Donald Grey Barnhouse, God’s Discipline, vol. 10 in Expositions of Bible Doctrines, Taking the Epistle to the Romans as a Point of Departure (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 74. 

2Some Greek manuscripts read kairo, which together with the verb would mean “serving the time” or even “making the most of time.” It has been argued that this must be the original meaning since it would be a natural mistake to change “time” to “Lord” but not the reverse. Notwithstanding such views, an error in reverse could happen, and the great weight of manuscript evidence is in favor of “serving the Lord.”

Study Questions
  1. How is someone fervent in spirit?
  2. What motivates us to be fervent?
  3. Whom do we serve? Why?

Reflection: Look up the following passages on serving: Deuteronomy 11:13-14; Galatians 5:13; Matthew 20:28; and 2 Corinthians 9:12. How does service relate to love? Is service compulsory in these passages? What is the motivation for service in these verses?

For Further Study: Download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “Love Letters from the Lord.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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