Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;
These words constitute an incomplete quotation, and I use them only as representing the entire passage of which they form an organic part. The whole extends from the third verse onwards to the close of the chapter, and contains in all twenty-six clauses, expressive negatively or positively of twenty-three graces of the Christian character. I invite attention, in the first place, to the relation in which they all stand to the life and hope of the Christian. The connecting word with which the chapter opens — "therefore" — "I beseech you, therefore" — looks both backwards to the chapters preceding and forwards to the verses that follow. In the look backwards we find the grand Christian motive. The life of holiness is to be lived, not that we may be saved, but because we are saved. Having laid down this obligation, "I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God," the apostle next expresses, in the second verse, the grand principle of all holiness. It can only have its spring in a total change of heart and life, wrought in us by the mighty Spirit of God — in the gift of a new nature with its own spiritual senses and experiences. And then, in the remainder of the chapter, he traces this great change into its details. It is as if we watched the beginning of some great river rising, like the springs of the Jordan, where the strong clear waters rush upwards in their strength, and then followed them as they flowed into a hundred divergent streams, carrying beauty and abundance through the smiling land, till they meet again to flow into the ocean. With what rich abundance the apostle heaps grace upon grace: "Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer."
I. We may learn from these words THE INFLUENCE OF GREAT TRUTHS ON THE DETAILS OF CHRISTIAN PRACTICE. The truths, explained in the previous part of the Epistle, are almost the grandest that can possibly occupy human thought. Not only does the apostle explain in detail the method of salvation, but in doing so he takes in the full breadth of the Divine action. But I think we must be conscious of a danger arising from the very greatness of these truths. The distance between them and the apparently trivial details of daily life and conduct is so immense that we fail to bring the greatness of the one into contact with the littleness of the other. We get as far as the second verse of the chapter; but there we stop. We admit that a Christian, the object of such a love, tainted with a fatal crime, but redeemed by such a price as the precious blood of Christ, made inheritor of such a glory, should act worthy of his calling, and that, as he is different from other men in his hopes, so he ought to differ from them also in his life and in his modes of thinking, speaking, and acting; but when the time and occasion come for applying this to practice we fail. We have not faith enough to link the grand hope to the little actions. It seems to me that the whole of this chapter, and the energy with which the apostle presses the great motive into the details of the life, is one long witness against it. How minute are the graces enumerated! They do not belong to the few grand opportunities which occur now and then, but to the practical familiarities which enter into the daily life of all. The constancy of little occasions is an incalculably greater trial of faith than a few occasional opportunities, which, as it were, rally effort, and stimulate by their greatness the courage and zeal which become weary and evaporate amid the details of daily obedience. Nor is it only that the occasions are small in themselves, but it is also that so many secondary motives and influences become mixed up with them, and intervene between our clear sight of duty and the occasion of practising it as to throw us off our guard. Just as in a piece of machinery the moving force must be strong in proportion to the distance at which it needs to act, so the smallest occasions that lie, as it were, on the edge and outer confines of our life need the mightiest of motives to reach them and keep them in motion.
II. We may extend the same truth a step further, and learn that EVERY GRACE HAS ITS CORRESPONDING TEMPTATION — the shadow, as it were, thrown by it on the sunshine of the other world. For instance, in giving, is there not danger of the affectation of an air of superiority and a disposition to magnify our gift? Therefore we are warned, "He that giveth, let him do it with simplicity." When we are placed in a position of authority are we not often tempted to relax effort and yield to self-indulgence? Therefore, he "that ruleth" let him do it "with diligence." In showing mercy is there not a danger in forgiving unwillingly, as if we reluctantly yielded to the duty of mercifulness? Therefore, "he that showeth mercy" let him do it "with cheerfulness." In cultivating love to all men is there not danger of insincerity? Therefore, "Let love be without dissimulation." So, on the other side, "be not slothful in business"; for such I still believe to be the true meaning of the words, in spite of criticism. Is there not danger of becoming absorbed in it? Therefore, "be fervent in spirit." Yet, may not an enthusiastic energetic temper take a wrong direction? Therefore let it be "serving the Lord." So in another way, "rejoicing in hope," and therefore, because a bright hope should give us strength to bear and constancy to endure, whereas we often see persons of a bright and buoyant temperament easily depressed in sorrow, "be patient in tribulation." Then, as this twofold grace of cheerfulness and patience is not easy to human nature — though, thank God, we often see them combined in the saints of Christ — therefore let us seek strength where alone it can be had, "continuing instant in prayer." Thus there is a strict connection everywhere, and we need to learn from it. A little self-knowledge will convince us that, even when we do the right thing, we are apt to do it in the wrong way. The shadow and taint of our corrupt nature cling to us everywhere, and nothing but the most generous love of God sweeping away little temptations, as the strong river carries the fallen leaves upon its surface, will enable us to get rid of it.
Parallel VersesKJV: Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;