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Red-Hot in the Holy Spirit!

By Timothy King

“. . . fervent in the Spirit . . . ”

Romans 12:11 (b)

Remember that this phrase is the first of seven participle phrases that connect back to the previous phrase, “Don’t be slothful when it comes to being diligent…”  Let’s first look at and define the words that Paul is using.

Understanding the Greek

The word translated “fervent” in the Greek is zeo (2204).  It means “to be hot (boil, of liquids; or glow, of solids), i.e. (figuratively) be fervent (earnest).  It is best defined by C.E.B. Cranfield, in his commentary on “Romans” in the International Critical Commentary, II:634) –

“The Christian is to allow himself to be set on fire (the word is usually used of water boiling, seething, but is also occasionally used of solids, e.g., of copper, being fiery hot, glowing) by the Holy Spirit.  Among the most illuminating comments are those of Origen (‘For he that desires that we, who live under the law of the Spirit, should have nothing languid, nothing lukewarm in us, but should do all things with the Spirits fervor . . . and the fire of faith.’) and Calvin (‘ It is the fervor of the Spirit alone which corrects our indolence.  Diligence in well-doing, therefore, requires the zeal which the Spirit of God has kindled in our hearts.  Why, then, someone may say, does Paul exhort us to this fervor?  My answer is that, although this zeal is the gift of God, these duties are laid upon believers in order that they may shake off their listlessness and take to themselves the flame which God had kindled.  It usually happens that we stifle or extinguish the Spirit by our own fault.’)”

And what of “the spirit?”  Is that speaking of our own spirit or of the Holy Spirit?  I am more prone to take it to be the Holy Spirit for two reasons.  First, it has the article with it meaning it is not just “spirit” or “a spirit” but literally “the spirit.”

The second reason I believe it to be referring to the Holy Spirit is that to be “fervent in (our own) spirit” would be of little benefit to the kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God is “…righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).  Hence, the fervency that Paul exhorts us to is in the things of the Holy Spirit.

So, the spirit of the whole of the phrase as we have it so far would read like this: “If you are going to do the following things, you cannot afford to be lazy about it!  These will take your utmost diligence if they will be a part of your life!  So, in the first place, apply this diligence in being boiling, on fire and red-hot in bringing about the life of the Holy Spirit in you.”

Fervent in the Fruit of the Holy Spirit

If we are to be fervent in the things of the Holy Spirit, the first thing we must know is the manner in which the Holy Spirit works.  What are His desires and priorities?  What is the by-product of a soul upon whom He has done His work?

I personally believe that too many things have taken place in the modern church that have been credited to the Holy Spirit when in reality they bear no resemblance to what God’s inspired word describes of the Holy Spirit’s workings.  Let’s see what the word of God says.

“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.   But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:17, 23)

First, let’s ask a question of ourselves regarding fervency and the deeds of the flesh.  Is it necessary to be exhorted to be “fervent in the flesh?”  For instance, if someone is pushing your buttons and antagonizing you, do you think to yourself, “Hmm, I am being provoked here and the proper response would be an outburst of anger.”  Then you say to the one badgering you, “Excuse me a moment while I retire to my private place to stir my soul up for an outburst of anger.”

No, indeed!  Such outbursts usually come quite naturally and fervently to us without having to have strong encouragement.  The same could be said for any of the deeds of the flesh.  We just don’t need to spend a great deal of time thinking about, meditating on and making application on the deeds of the flesh.  They just happen!

But what about things like love, joy, peace, patience, etc?  These things are foreign to our own flesh and our flesh vigorously opposes them.  That is why Paul exhorts us to apply diligence in being fervent in these things.

Into the Fire

A good illustration would be from the meaning of the word “fervent,” “to boil, to glow red-hot.”  If you put a pot of cold water in a pan and place it on a fire, it will eventually heat up and begin to boil.  The water in itself has no qualities that would cause it would boil on its own.  It needed the fire to bring it to boiling.

Consider an iron rod.  We can do whatever to that rod wanting it to glow with heat, but it will not unless stuck in a fire.  After it sits in a fire for a while, pull it out and what do you see?  It is glowing red-hot!

Now turn the fire off from under the water and leave the iron out of the fire for a while.  What happens?  The water will cease to boil and will eventually return to room temperature.  The iron will lose its glow and will cool off.  What must happen before these things will return to their “fervent” condition?  The flame must go on under the water and the iron must return to the fire.

So it is if we are to be fervent in the things of the Holy Spirit – in love, joy, peace and so forth.  We must continue in diligence to experience the fire of the Spirit’s presence!  The fruit of the Spirit does not come except by the grace of God and in opposition by the flesh.  Neglecting diligence in the fruit of the Holy Spirit will allow the flesh to flourish.  We must apply diligence to be fervent in the Holy Spirit!

Fervent in the Word of the Holy Spirit

The phrase “fervent in Spirit” appears one other time in the New Testament, in Acts 18:25.  This is our introduction to the man Apollos. Let me encourage you to read the whole passage (Acts 18:2428) and make these observations:

1.  Being fervent in the Spirit made Apollos teach the things concerning Jesus accurately (v. 25).  Too many preachers today have a reputation of being fervent in the Spirit because they preach loudly or with “authority,” but when you examine the content of their messages, they are woefully lacking in solid, biblical foundation.

It used to be a joke in seminary preaching class: “Weak point, preach louder.”  That is, what we lack in a scripturally grounded point, convince the audience by increased decibels.  Or, as the adage goes, “If you have the facts, pound the facts; if you don’t have the facts, pound the table.”

Being fervent in the Holy Spirit makes us diligent in wanting to be accurate and on solid biblical foundations in the doctrines we teach.  As the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible, then anyone He sets on fire will be precise in his teaching of that word from the Bible.  The Holy Spirit would never bless the teaching of erroneous doctrines and say, “It’s okay, at least you sound convincing.”

2.  Being fervent in the Holy Spirit made Apollos humble so as to be instructed or corrected when needed.  When it was found that he was lacking in his knowledge of Christ’s work (only knowing that message as preached by John the Baptist), he was taken aside by Priscilla and Aquila and instructed in the way of God “more accurately.”

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth and loves truth as it glorifies Jesus Christ.  Anyone “fervent in the Holy Spirit” will also love to be corrected when it can be shown from the Scriptures that they need more accuracy in their understanding.  A closed, stubborn sectarian spirit that loves the party-line of the church or the cold letter of the creeds is not characteristic of being “fervent in the Holy Spirit.”

3.  Being fervent in the Holy Spirit made Apollos proclaim an unpopular message to an unreceptive audience.  We don’t see persecution so much with Apollos as we do with Paul, but it is clear in the book of Acts that those who “powerfully refuted the Jews” received suffering as payment for their labors.

Today, it seems the message of the Spirit has been traded for what will draw the crowds rather than what will scandalize them.  Those fervent in the Holy Spirit will not compromise the message of the Spirit for the sake of wooing the masses or relieving the suffering.

So, how do we apply diligence in being “fervent in the Holy Spirit?”  Be that rod of iron willing to be thrust into the fire of God’s presence.  Stay before His throne until you glow red-hot with the fervency of the Holy Spirit.  Go into the world displaying the fruit of the Holy Spirit and boldly speaking His message.  And when the glow gets dim, thrust yourself back into His presence until the glow returns.  Let this be the pattern of your life.

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