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Are You Zealous? (Part Four)
At the end of last week's essay, we considered the zeal of Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry, showing that His enthusiasm for God and His way of life fueled all of His efforts. Despite not using the Greek term for "zeal," zelos, the gospel writers portray His zealous works for the people of Judea and Galilee. For instance, notice Mark 1:32-39:
Also Luke 6:17-19:
Wherever Jesus went, huge crowds thronged Him, begging Him to heal them or their loved ones, and one after the other, He would do as they requested until He had seen to everyone's needs. He possessed an unflagging energy to do the will of God.
In John 4:6, 8, the apostle writes that Jesus, being exhausted, sent the disciples into the city of Sychar to buy Him some food and bring it back to Him. After He had conversed with the woman at the well, His disciples returned to find Him much improved—not hungry at all:
Doing God's will sustained Him in a way that the disciples could not understand. Instead of barely having enough energy to take another step along the road to Galilee, He was ready to preach to the whole city, where He stayed and worked for two days.
Jesus describes His attitude toward doing God's work in John 9:4: "I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work." He would finish the job the Father had given Him in the short time allotted to Him. As summarized in Part Two, Jesus' driven, indefatigable work exemplifies the first way in which the Bible's writers employ the concept of zeal in Scripture: as holy fervor—virtuous wrath against what is evil and great ardor for doing good for others.
What about us? Though we are nowhere near the level of the righteous and spiritually powerful Son of God, we can be zealous in our own way. How do we demonstrate zeal for God? Do we show any?
Of the zealous actions recorded in God's Word, the kind of zeal the Jews displayed for their manmade traditions and against their Savior and His church is obviously wrong. The pre-conversion Saul of Tarsus provides an example of this deplorable variety of zeal:
Such was the zeal of the Jews, a negative, destructive passion full of hostility and ill will, which is the second way the Bible writers employ "zeal." The apostle Paul describes himself in those days as "a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church" (Philippians 3:5-6). For the rest of his life, he regretted hounding the fledgling Christian church, writing in I Corinthians 15:9, "For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God."
Yet, just a few verses later in Acts 9, God calls Saul, asking, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" (verse 4), and trembling, he immediately replies, "Lord, what do You want me to do?" His heart changed that quickly. After his baptism a few days later, "Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God" (verse 20).
Galatians 1:15-18, 21-24 describes how he plunged into the work Christ had called him to do:
In a flash, he transformed from the church's chief persecutor to its most diligent, most intense, most fervent advocate. And his zeal never wavered. Years later, he writes in I Corinthians 9:16, "For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!" He declares in I Corinthians 15:10, "I labored more abundantly than [all the other apostles], yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me."
Knowing that his life after his calling was utterly undeserved, Paul tirelessly preached the gospel in city after city, region after region, going to all the Gentiles he could reach in his lifetime. He was so grateful for God's calling and grace that he felt bound to give his all to God, and so he did. Do we?
Richard T. Ritenbaugh