No Spiritual Couch Potatoes!

By Timothy King

Romans 12:11 (a)
. . . not lagging behind in diligence. . .

 Understanding the Structure

In the Greek text, a literal rendering of this would be “. . . in the diligence, not slothful. . .”  The translation I use (New American Standard Updated), does not supply a verb, but makes the thought trail from the previous verse.  I am more prone to put in a verb of being, making this say “Do not be slothful in diligence.”

What follows, beginning with verse 11b (“. . .fervent in Spirit. . .”) and going through verse 13, is a series of seven participle phrases that all connect, I believe, to this statement “Do not be slothful in diligence.”  That is, Paul is exhorting his readers to not let down in diligence when it comes to each of these seven phrases.

For instance, in verse 11 Paul would be saying, “Don’t be slothful in diligence when it comes to being fervent in Spirit.”  Or, as in verse 12, “Don’t let down in your diligence when the need is to be devoted to prayer.”  We will make further application after we study the words that Paul uses.

Understanding the Words: “Diligence”

The word that the NASB translates “diligence” is in the Greek: spoude (4710).  It comes from (4692) and means “speed” or “haste.”  So, by implication, it means “eagerness, earnestness, or diligence.”

Wolfgang Bauder, in the Dictionary of New Testament Theology (III:1169), says this, “For Paul, spoude is a necessary expression of the life of the Christian community; it determines its ethical actions and behavior.  It is a gift of God which must be developed. Its power should be seen in the effort to maintain unity (Eph. 4:3), in aiding other Christians (Gal. 2:10; 2 Cor. 8:7, 6, 16), in making good of a wrong done (2 Cor. 7:11 f.), and in the leadership of the church (Rom. 12:8).  All are expected to give themselves completely (Rom. 12:11), and the example can prove infectious (2 Cor. 8:8).”

Where this word and its other forms are found in the gospels, it is rendered “haste” or “make haste.”  It seems to carry with it a sense of priority.  The person-in-a-hurry seems to have the attitude, “Clear the calendar of everything but this one thing in front of me!”

Understanding the Words: “Lagging Behind”

The next word, translated “lagging behind,” is from the Greek: okneros (3636).  It is from (3635) meaning “tardy,” i.e. “indolent, slothful, lazy, lethargic.”  A.T. Robertson in his New Testament Word Pictures says it means to be, “slow and ‘poky’ as in Matthew 25:26″ (“. . . you wicked, lazy slave. . .”)

If I could render a translation that fits the spirit of what Paul is trying to say: “If you are going to do the following things, you cannot afford to be a couch potato about it!  These will take your utmost diligence if they will be a part of your life!”

Making it a Part of Life

The reason I connect the seven phrases of verses 11b – 13 with 11a is that I don’t believe that these seven things (among other things) just happen in the Christian walk.  We don’t passively “evolve” into having these things become a natural part of our walk.  They come by clearing the calendar so that we can work on them.  They come with commitment and sweat.

For instance, being in good health and losing weight does not happen by sitting around all day and dining daily at your favorite burger joint.  These require a diligence in eating the right foods, saying “no” to the wrong foods, exercise and study of what makes for good health.  So it is with growing in godliness.  Whatever God reveals about our spiritual growth begins with a dedication that we will not “lag behind in diligence” when it comes to walking in Christ.

When we do a word search in the Greek for spoude (4710), we find some interesting fodder for meditation.  For instance, it is found in Ephesians 4:3 – “…being diligent (spoude) to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  From experience, I know that unity in the Spirit does not happen in the church automatically.  It is preserved by diligent watchfulness, care and corporate labor.

Note 2 Timothy 2:15 – “Be diligent (not “study” as in the KJV) to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”  How is an “approved workman” raised up for the glory of God?  By diligence!  Perhaps the reason we don’t have more laborers for the harvest in the modern church is because we have so few saints willing to sweat so as to be approved workmen.

Peter uses this word in 2 Peter 1:5 – “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge . . .”  and then he goes on to add other traits that lead us to fruitfulness in the knowledge of Christ (v. 8).  I believe that Peter understands that these traits do not come about by spiritual osmosis.  The building of godly character requires diligence and effort.

So, here’s the main point: If you wish to be a useful member of the church body where any one of these things are concerned — “fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality” — you cannot afford to be lazy in the application of diligence.  Wake up!  Clear your calendar!  Lay aside time-wasters that would hinder the growth of these traits!

Let me close by giving you two definitions of “lazy.”  The first is the traditional understanding, a good illustration being the comic-strip character Dagwood.  If he’s not building one of his outrageous sandwiches, we see him at home stretched out on the couch napping.  At work, if Mr. Dithers isn’t kicking his derriere, Dagwood’s at his desk snoozing.

But a person can be busy as ever and still be lazy.  How?  By applying all of his diligence to things that have no spiritual value to them.  We can be diligent in many things while never stirring our fervency in the Spirit, or our devotion to prayer, or to practicing hospitality.  So, if it doesn’t get done because you’re asleep on the couch, or because your running yourself ragged, what’s the difference?  It still doesn’t get done.

Brethren, God has shown clearly what we are to be — like Christ in all things.  So, now that you know, don’t be a slug when it comes to applying diligence!



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