The most obvious translation of Do not lag in zeal (τῇ σπουδῇ μὴ ὀκνηροί) is something like “this haste not slothful.” Thus we urged Titus, Paul wrote the Corinthians, that, just as he had previously begun this work, so also he should complete this act of kindness for you. But as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, and in all eagerness (σπουδῇ) and in the love from us that is in you – make sure that you excel in this act of kindness too. I am not saying this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love by comparison with the eagerness (σπουδῆς, a form of σπουδή) of others.
The translation of σπουδῇ and σπουδῆς as eagerness above is not wrong if I recognize that Paul’s concern was the timeliness of completing this act of kindness rather than an emotional affect. Certainly Paul was also interested in the Corinthians’ emotional affect, but he used a different word for that (2 Corinthians 8:10b-12 NET):
It is to your advantage, since you made a good start last year both in your giving and your desire to give, to finish what you started, so that just as you wanted to do it eagerly (προθυμία), you can also complete it according to your means. For if the eagerness (προθυμία) is present, the gift itself is acceptable according to whatever one has, not according to what he does not have.
The Greek words σπουδῇ and σπουδῆς seem to refer here to the fact that the Corinthians made a good start last year but had failed thus far to finish what [they] started. I know your eagerness (προθυμίαν, a form of προθυμία) to help, Paul assured them. The Corinthians’ προθυμία and προθυμίαν were not at issue. It was σπουδῇ and σπουδῆς they lacked or needed to address (2 Corinthians 9:2b-4 NET):
I keep boasting to the Macedonians about this eagerness of yours, that Achaia has been ready to give since last year, and your zeal (ζῆλος) to participate has stirred up most of them. But I am sending these brothers so that our boasting about you may not be empty in this case, so that you may be ready just as I kept telling them. For if any of the Macedonians should come with me and find that you are not ready to give, we would be humiliated (not to mention you) by this confidence we had in you.
As a description of love “this haste not slothful” makes a good deal of sense. A feigned or hypocritical love, the love of an actor, wearing a false face, speaking another’s lines, will tend to be too fast or too slow in action. While the Love…without hypocrisy (ἀνυπόκριτος), the fruit of the Holy Spirit, is timely, at a measured pace, this haste not slothful, full of the recognition that love unfeigned lasts a lifetime and beyond.
“This haste not slothful,” however, makes a terrible rule. Here is a listing of various English translations.
|Never be lacking in zeal…||New International Version|
|Never be lazy…||New Living Translation|
|Do not be slothful in zeal…||English Standard Bible|
|Do not become apathetic…||Berean Study Bible|
|not lagging in diligence…||Berean Literal Bible|
|not lagging behind in diligence…||New American Standard Bible, NASB 1977|
|Not slothful in business…||King James Bible, KJV 2000, American KJV, Webster’s Bible Translation|
|Do not lack diligence…||Holman Christian Standard Bible|
|Never be lazy in showing such devotion.||International Standard Version|
|Be diligent and do not be lazy…||Aramaic Bible in Plain English, GOD’S WORD Translation|
|not slothful in earnest care…||Jubilee Bible 2000|
|in diligence not slothful…||American Standard Version, English Revised Version|
|In carefulness not slothful.||Douay-Rheims Bible|
|as to diligent zealousness, not slothful…||Darby Bible Translation|
|Do not be indolent when zeal is required.||Weymouth New Testament|
|not lagging in diligence…||World English Bible|
|in the diligence not slothful…||Young’s Literal Translation|
I won’t take issue with translating σπουδῇ (a form of σπουδή) abstractly as diligent or diligence: if it is leadership, he must do so with diligence (ὁ προϊστάμενος ἐν σπουδῇ). I do question translating it zeal or zealousness. Paul did not write ζῆλος. Matthew, Mark and John recounted two different occasions when Jesus demonstrated a godly zeal.
|Then Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all those who were selling and buying in the temple courts, and turned over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves.
Matthew 21:12 (NET)
|Then they came to Jerusalem. Jesus entered the temple area and began to drive out those who were selling and buying in the temple courts. He turned over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.
Mark 11:15, 16 (NET)
|Now the Jewish feast of Passover was near, so Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple courts those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers sitting at tables. So he made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple courts, with the sheep and the oxen. He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.
John 2:13-15 (NET)
|And he said to them, “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are turning it into a den of robbers!”
Matthew 21:13 (NET)
|Then he began to teach them and said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have turned it into a den of robbers!”
Mark 11:17 (NET)
|To those who sold the doves he said, “Take these things away from here! Do not make my Father’s house a marketplace!”
John 2:16 (NET)
|The chief priests and the experts in the law heard it and they considered how they could assassinate him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed by his teaching.
Mark 11:18 (NET)
|His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal (ζῆλος) for your house will devour me.”
John 2:17 (NET)
Paul actually distinguished between this kind of zeal and love: Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline or with love (ἀγάπῃ, a form of ἀγάπη) and a spirit of gentleness? And though I have no doubt that Jesus consciously fulfilled Scripture, the incidents were also remarkable because they were uncharacteristic and atypical of Him. The religious mind is all too eager to consider hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, and envying righteous indignation or zeal for God. Paul gave no law encouraging the religious mind not to lag in this kind of zeal.
The description continues, be enthusiastic in spirit (τῷ πνεύματι ζέοντες [a form of ζέω]), literally “this spirit boils” or “this boiling spirit.” If I put it back together I have, this haste not slothful, this boiling spirit. These words make sense if applied to a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent speaker, well-versed in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and with great enthusiasm (ζέων, another form of ζέω) he spoke and taught accurately the facts about Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John.
The danger of this kind of enthusiasm wasn’t actually revealed until the next chapter of Acts: Paul found some disciples in Ephesus and said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” It gives me a different impression when Apollos began to speak out fearlessly (παρρησιάζεσθαι, a form of παῤῥησιάζομαι) in the synagogue. I contrast it to Paul and Barnabas in Iconium, παρρησιαζόμενοι ἐπὶ τῷ κυρίῳ (literally, “speaking freely upon the Lord”). Here, I think, Paul and Barnabas relied on the Lord rather than their own “fearlessness” and He testified to the message of his grace, granting miraculous signs and wonders to be performed through their hands.
Priscilla and Aquila, who had spent time with Paul, slowed Apollos’ haste (without dampening his enthusiasm): when Priscilla and Aquila heard him [speak out fearlessly in the synagogue], they took him aside and explained the way of God to him more accurately. Apollos traveled from Ephesus to Achaia. When he arrived, he assisted greatly those who had believed by grace, the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers who had responded to Paul’s presentation of the Gospel. (No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, Jesus said, and I will raise him up at the last day.) Apollos greatly assisted them, not by browbeating them to live better lives, but by preoccupying those who might have done so: for he refuted the Jews (Ἰουδαίοις, a form of Ἰουδαῖος) vigorously in public debate, demonstrating from the scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.
This haste not slothful, this boiling spirit, serve (δουλεύοντες, a form of δουλεύω) the Lord, or serving the Lord, or “this Lord enslaved,” or “enslaved to this Lord.” Ordinarily I might think of being enslaved as a negative thing. But Paul compared the slavery of righteousness to the slavery of sin (admittedly, speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh), just as you once presented your members as slaves (δοῦλα, a form of δοῦλος) to impurity and lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves (δοῦλα, a form of δοῦλος) to righteousness leading to sanctification.
For we too were once foolish, Paul wrote to Titus, disobedient, misled, enslaved (δουλεύοντες, a form of δουλεύω) to various passions and desires, spending our lives in evil and envy, hateful and hating one another. If I think of serving (δουλεύοντες, a form of δουλεύω) the Lord or being enslaved to the Lord as something like the work I do to please my employer, I will think that I am obeying a rule: serve the Lord. If on the other hand I think of serving (δουλεύοντες, a form of δουλεύω) the Lord or being enslaved to the Lord as something more like being enslaved (δουλεύοντες, a form of δουλεύω) to various passions and desires, well, that’s more like what I did on the weekends after work.
And I think that is more like the δουλεύοντες Paul described here, the natural (super-natural) outpouring of this boiling spirit. In fact, I should work for my employer in this same way and not like I used to work before I was enslaved to the Lord. Slaves, obey (ὑπακούετε, a form of ὑπακούω) your human masters with fear and trembling, Paul wrote the Ephesians, in the sincerity (ἁπλότητι, a form of ἁπλότης) of your heart (καρδίας, a form of καρδία) as to Christ, not like those who do their work only when someone is watching – as people-pleasers – but as slaves (δοῦλοι, a form of δοῦλος) of Christ doing the will of God from the heart (ψυχῆς, a form of ψυχή). Obey with enthusiasm (εὐνοίας, a form of εὔνοια), as though serving (δουλεύοντες, a form of δουλεύω) the Lord and not people…
Part of the definition of ἁπλότητι in the NET is “free from pretence and hypocrisy,” “not self seeking.” This ἁπλότητι comes from the love that is not self-serving. All of this is accomplished as slaves (δοῦλοι, a form of δοῦλος) of Christ, not as someone in some wretched social condition but as one whose attitudes and actions are produced by the fruit of the Holy Spirit: For the love of Christ controls (συνέχει, a form of συνέχω) us… Doing the will of God from the heart…with enthusiasm (or, good will), as… serving (or, enslaved to) the Lord and not people. We have died to what controlled (κατειχόμεθα, a form of κατέχω) us, so that we may serve (δουλεύειν, a form of δουλεύω) in the new life of the Spirit and not under the old written code.
And so I have, “this haste not slothful, this boiling spirit, enslaved to the Lord.” Transforming a description of Love…without hypocrisy into three rules—Do not lag in zeal, be enthusiastic in spirit, serve the Lord—may be equivalent to the παρρησιάζεσθαι of Apollos in the synagogue, but it will never rival the παρρησιαζόμενοι ἐπὶ τῷ κυρίῳ of Paul and Barnabas in Iconium. For it lacks all the power of God.
 Acts 18:2, 3 (NET)
 The NET note on obey in verse 7: “Though the verb does not appear again at this point in the passage, it is nonetheless implied and supplied in the English translation for the sake of clarity.”