How would you respond if someone said that you are slothful? If you think that slothful means lazy, you would no doubt be very offended. No one wants to be called lazy under any circumstances, because such persons are looked down on by others. Laziness is a willful, inexcusable condition of inactivity of body and mind.
Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:11, we are "Not slothful in business; but fervent in spirit; serving the Lord." Because slothful does not mean lazy, a person could actually be very active and even quite busy doing their work, whether for the Lord, or on their job, and still be slothful. The Greek is NOTHROS and it describes something that is "dull, unexciting, slow, sluggish, monotonous, that has lost its speed or momentum and zeal." Such a person has become disinterested, apathetic, unenthusiastic, and so is mediocre in his attitude and work. Put another way: He has lost his keen edge!
This same word is found in Hebrews 5:11: "Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing you are dull of hearing." It's hard to stir up people who are apathetic and disinterested. Not only is it hard to motivate them, but eventually their apathy can drain others of their zeal. This is true in the work world and in the church. Christians should always be the hardest workers, especially on the job, because we reflect Jesus Christ in all we say and do. I believe that whenever excellence is being discussed, the names of Christian employees should always be on the top of the list.
This is what Paul meant in the second part of this verse, "but fervent in spirit." This describes the exact opposite of slothful. The Greek ZEOO means “to come to a boil, to be red-hot." It is used in
2 Peter 3:10&12 where Peter described the day of God when He shall renovate Earth "and the elements shall melt with fervent heat." This reminds me of the lava that is spewed from an erupting volcano. The temperature is so fervent that it turns rock into liquid.
Paul said this is how we are to be "serving the Lord." We should be people of great zeal, fervor and excellence, because we are not serving man — but God! He said that we are to serve "not with eyeservice, as men pleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord you shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for you serve the Lord Christ" (Colossians 3:22-24).
Certainly it is not always possible or easy to please men, and when we feel unappreciated or overlooked, we may tend to slack off, feeling what's the point? The point is, we serve God, not man, and our reward will come from Him.
When we lose our keen edge, we will not give our best service. Nor will we serve joyfully. Not only will this result in mediocre output on our part, but it puts us in jeopardy of losing our reward. I often remind those who work with me in ministry this very thing when they fall into murmuring and grumbling. We know we are going to get it done, and we know we are not doing it for man, but for God, and that He is a rewarder of the diligent, so let's do it with all of our heart, all of our mind, and all of our strength!
This is how Paul qualified fervent in service in the next verse, Romans 12:12: "Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer." Hope is expectation of good to come, and when we know that our efforts will be richly rewarded by the Lord Himself, we can do our work with rejoicing. Even when we face tribulations, pressures on every side, we are able to endure and still do our best.
And whenever we sense we are losing our keen edge (and we know when we are becoming dull and sluggish), the best way to sharpen our attitude and our outlook is, continuing instant in prayer. This means "to be strong and firm towards anything, to endure, to persevere." Hebrews 6:12 complements this: "That you be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” Jesus said: "Men ought always to pray, and not to faint" (Luke 18:1). This means “not to lose heart, not to give in, not to give up."
Not to lose your keen edge!