Thesis:Serving the Lord requires timely and legitimate action.
Introduction:As Paul began to expand the implications of his dual-pronged foundation for "Life", he initially focused upon the "second prong" -- unhypocritical love for fellow-members of the Church (12:9-10). In 12:11 he turned back to the "first prong" -- a genuine commitment to God.
It is this first prong that we will be looking into this evening.
I. What Does It Mean to "Serve the Lord"?
A. The terminology has a very large base in the revelation of Scripture and, thus, depends upon a significant amount of "explanation".
1. The pattern of "large fields of meaning" that require a good deal of explanation is fundamental to language and understanding.
a. Jesus' condensation of the entirety of revelation into two briefly stated "commandments" is well known.
b. Man's propensity to "adjust" the brevity so that it simply includes what he/she wants to do is largely attested in history.
c. The biblical pattern of inserting specific, and significantly small, concepts into the large field of meaning indicates man's need for instruction and correction.
2. "Serving the Lord" is a concept that has a vast host of particulars.
a. It should go without saying that "serving the Lord" cannot include any activity that has been identified as a fundamental contradiction of Love and Truth.
1) This, however, is not a "simplistic" issue because even the glory of God contains attributes that "appear" to be opposites.
a) This means that many issues possess, or lose, their legitimacy by virtue of the presence, or absence, of harmony between "opposites".
b) This also means that getting the "harmony" right will probably require time and growth of understanding [Light and Music both illustrate this reality].
2) On the other hand, there are many things that are sufficiently identified as fundamental contradictions of Love and Truth that men can understand that "serving the Lord" means abstaining from involvement in them.
b. It should also go without saying that "serving the Lord" does include any activity that has been identified as a fulfillment of the Divine Desire.
1) This, also, is not "simple" for the "simple" reason that the Divine Desire includes both motive and action.
a) An ostensibly "good" action can be ruined by an evil intention.
b) An ostensibly "good" intention can be ruined by an evil action.
2) But some of the difficulty involved at this level was addressed by 1 John 5:2-3.
c. Thus, we have to conclude that "serving the Lord" begins with an intentional and consistent investigation of the things He has said -- so that we may be instructed in the issues of contradiction and fulfillment.
B. The apostolic exhortations serve to partially unveil the meaning of the larger concept.
1. The exhortation to "not be slothful" in respect to "business".
a. Our first order of "business" is the word translated "business" in the Authorized Version and altered to "diligence" by the NASB.
1) The facts...
a) Out of twelve texts in the New Testament where this word is used, only one is translated in the Authorized Version as "business" (this automatically makes the translation suspect).
i. Mark 6:25 uses the word to describe how the daughter of Herodias came back to Herod to claim his promise to her of a reward up to "half of the kingdom" for having danced for him and his guests at his birthday party (the translators say that she "came in straightway with haste").
ii. Luke 1:39 uses the word to describe Mary's travel into the hill country of Judah to visit Elisabeth and to help her in the later stages of her pregnancy (again, the translators say "she went with haste").
iii. Romans 12:8, in our current context, describes Paul's expectations of those who "rule" as the outworking of their grace/faith-function: those expectations center around what the translators suddenly call "diligence" instead of "haste".
iv. 2 Corinthians 7:11, 12; 8:7, 8, and 16 account for five of the twelve texts where this word is employed (and five of the seven places where Paul used the word) and they all describe the action of people who are faced with a particularly crucial "need" and are committed to solving it in a legitimate and timely manner.
b) The conclusions we draw from a perusal of these texts is that "business" is "the presence of a top priority issue".
i. This means that "business" or "diligence" has little to do with "haste".
ii. This also means that the word has everything to do with where the matter sits in the arrangement of priorities.
2) Our understanding...
a) Under the umbrella of "serving the Lord" comes one basic reality: it is only by a valid understanding of His "love" that we can serve Him.
b) Elevating a matter to the top of the heap requires that we believe that He has elevated the matter to the top of His heap.
b. Our second order of "business" is the word translated "slothful".
1) The use of the term is not widespread.
2) But the context argues that the "meaning" is "not allowing other 'priorities' to be slipped in ahead of the one considered most needful.
a) This can easily become a "slippery slope".
b) It is most readily addressed by Matthew 6:34.
2. The exhortation to be "fervent in spirit".
a. "Spirit" is the issue of "taking action".
b. "Fervency" is a metaphor arising out of items that are so hot that, if liquid, they "boil" and, if solid, they "glow".
c. The concept seems apparent: the "spirit" is to be significantly motivated to take action.
d. This appears to be Paul's "antithesis" to being "slothful in business".