Shelby G. Floyd
God expects us to take action with a fervent spirit. In the Bible this is called zeal. Zeal is “a mixed passion composed of grief and anger, fervent love and desire; for what a person loves earnestly, he is careful to see it honored, and grieved when it is dishonored.” Therefore, zeal is an emotion and translates a Greek word that means, “To boil with heat, be hot; metaphorically used of boiling love, anger, zeal for what is good or bad, fervent in spirit” (Thayer, page 271).
In our work for the Lord we cannot “Hem” and “Haw” around, but like “Sniff” and “Scurry” in the book, Who Moved My Cheese, we must earnestly and actively engage in our spiritual endeavors. It is the case that very little can be accomplished in life without a fervent spirit. Solomon expressed it best when he said:
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
All of us realize how quickly our lives are passing by. We are rapidly shuffling off the stage of action. Before long the curtain will be drawn on the drama of human redemption and we will go to meet our God. So what we have now is time and we cannot waste it. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Time is the stuff that life is made of.” Whatever we set out to do, whether it is work, family, recreation, or serving our God—do it with all of your might. Do not commit yourself halfheartedly. Do not be a laggard, but be zealous in your spirit and actions.
ZEAL WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE
Zeal is a must, but it is not good to have zeal without knowledge:
Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.
Many Jews in the days of Paul were lost because they rejected Christ and the gospel. They were lost even though they were very zealous. This demonstrates that one can be very zealous and still be lost. The reason they were lost is because their zeal was not accompanied with proper knowledge. Paul can say this with understanding because at one time he was in the same condition. Before Paul became a Christian he was a very zealous persecutor of Christ and the church. He did so sincerely. Sincerity and zeal do not necessarily mean that one is right. Paul was zealous for the law of Moses even when that law had been abolished and abrogated. He was zealous to persecute the church not knowing that it was the kingdom of God. In his letter to the Galatians Paul expresses how mistaken he was even though he was very zealous:
13For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.
Paul was exceedingly zealous for the traditions of the fathers to the point that he persecuted the church: “As for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless” (Philippians 3:5-6 NIV). So Paul was a zealous man, but he was wrong. Later Paul referred to his previous life when he recounted his conversion to Christ before King Agrippa:
9 “Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.
We must admire the enthusiasm, zeal, and fervent spirit of a man like that? We admire someone even when they are wrong, when they go about their tasks with all that they have! No one is impressed with someone who is lukewarm.
Why is zeal not enough? Will God accept people who are sincere and zealous even if they are ignorant of his will? No, according to his statement to the church at Rome, the Jews who had not accepted Christ were lost even though their zeal was commendable, but their lack of knowledge was fatal. Many today are following the same course while pursuing a religion that is out of sync with the will God. That is why that zeal is not enough. Zeal must be coupled with a knowledge and understanding of the will God. (Ephesians 5: 18). The gospel is God’s plan of justification. God patiently and progressively unfolded the plan of human redemption over hundreds of years and it cost the life and blood of his unique son in order to complete the plan. To ignore and reject this message is the height of rebellion and folly. Have you ever noticed a similarity between ignorant and ignore? God loved us so much he gave his Son Jesus Christ as a sacrifice, in order to be just in justifying sinners.
In gospel conversion, God is interested in converting the whole man. What is man? Man is body, soul, and spirit. We usually say that man is a body with a spirit. But we have it turned around backwards according to the reasoning of Paul:
1 Thessalonians 5:23
23May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Since we live in a material world we have a tendency to identify the body as the primary nature of man. But such is not the case. Man is a spirit with a body. The spirit of man is the primary nature of man. Man is spirit and body. The spirit of man is made up of intellect—the mind of man; emotion—the heart of man; conscience—the judge of man; and willpower—the engine that drives man in actions. God is interested in converting the whole man—spirit, soul, and body.
AN EXAMPLE OF ZEAL WITH FAULTY KNOWLEDGE
In Acts of Apostles we have an example of a man who was very zealous, but lacked knowledge. This example also demonstrates how that defect can be remedied. This man’s name was Apollos:
24Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
Now this demonstrates that one can even be a very learned person, having a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, and be instructed in the way of the Lord, and even teach about Jesus accurately and still be wrong. He was only deficient in one area and that was baptism. Many religious teachers today are very knowledgeable, but like Apollos they are deficient in the understanding of baptism. Apollos did not realize that the baptism of the great commission had replaced the baptism of John, the Baptist. Apollos preached John’s baptism after the church began, when he should have been preaching: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16: 15-16). He was zealous but he was deficient in some of his knowledge. Therefore, Priscilla and Aquila took him aside and taught him the way of the Lord more accurately. That is what is to be done when there is zeal without knowledge. Zeal without knowledge is a very dangerous thing. “A little learning is a very dangerous thing.” “Big boats may venture ore, but little boats better stay close to shore.”
KNOWLEDGE WITHOUT ZEAL
Let us look at the “other side of the coin.” In the church we have many members who have studied the Bible for 20, 40 or even 50 years, and if someone asks them a question they can give you a correct answer. But they are very short when it comes to doing the work of the church. Christ addressed this problem in his day to his people who knew much of God’s word but would not put it into practice:
23:1Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2″The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
Knowledge without action is as worthless as action without knowledge! “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7: 24). Faith without works is like a body without a spirit—it is a dead faith. Our faith must be coupled with earnest action!
BE ZEALOUS AGAINST EVIL
We should be zealous against evil and zealous for good. They go hand in hand. No one in the Bible was more zealous for God than was David. David loved God and he would go to God in prayer before he made his decisions, and God said that he was “a man after his own heart.” But David also hated evil:
Through Your precepts I get understanding;
Therefore I hate every false way.
In the Old Testament, immorality was raging in Israel as it is in our own society. Phinehas took zealous action. God was pleased in the way he was zealous to uphold the honor and integrity of his God:
10The LORD said to Moses, 11″Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for he was as zealous as I am for my honor among them, so that in my zeal I did not put an end to them. 12Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. 13He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.”
Jehu was also a man who was zealous for his God: Jehu said, “Come with me and see my zeal for the LORD.” Then he had him ride along in his chariot” (2 Kings 10:16). Let that also be our watchword: let us say to our friends, “Come with me and see my zeal for the Lord.”
CHRIST WAS ZEALOUS AGAINST EVIL
Let us notice the zeal of Jesus Christ. He lived and died under the Jewish system of religion. He went to the synagogue every Saturday like all faithful Jews. Onetime Jesus went up to the temple in Jerusalem to worship God and was stirred to zeal for the house of God:
13 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. 15 When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. 16 And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!”
On this occasion many of the worshipers would purchase their offerings at Jerusalem rather than bring them from far away. The entrepreneurs were overcharging them because they knew they had no choice. Jesus was stirred up in righteous indignation because what was going on was not right. He was zealous for the worship of God.
ZEALOUS FOR GOOD WORKS
We must also be zealous for the good works. We must be zealous for the positive as well as the negative. We should be zealous for “every good work.”
One of the seven churches of Asia to whom Christ wrote a letter was the church at Laodicea. What Christ wrote the seven churches were meant for the church through all time! All congregations are all bad, all good, or good and bad. Then as now most congregations will have both good and bad. Laodicea was reproved because it was lukewarm and lacked zeal for the Lord: “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16So, because you are lukewarm-neither hot nor cold-I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:14-16 NIV).
Zealous To Contribute
We should be zealous to contribute financially to the cause of Christ. We cannot expect to have an abundant harvest if we sow our seed sparingly. If we sow sparingly we shall also reap sparingly. We get out of something according to what we put in! All of you who have contributed regularly and generously are to be commended. The Bible teaches that each one of us should give as we have planned, pledged in our hearts, as God has prospered us, and periodically on the first day of each week:
2 Corinthians 9:1-7
Now concerning the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you; 2 for I know your willingness, about which I boast of you to the Macedonians, that Achaia was ready a year ago; and your zeal has stirred up the majority. 3 Yet I have sent the brethren, lest our boasting of you should be in vain in this respect, that, as I said, you may be ready; 4 lest if some Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we (not to mention you!) should be ashamed of this confident boasting.[a] 5 Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren to go to you ahead of time, and prepare your generous gift beforehand, which you had previously promised, that it may be ready as a matter of generosity and not as a grudging obligation.
Let us remember that Jesus said, “Where our treasure is our heart will be also.” Is your treasure and heart in heaven or on earth? God loves a cheerful giver and he also loves an enthusiastic and zealous giver!
Zealous To Build Up the Body of Christ
Each one of us in the church should seek to build up the local congregation was zeal and enthusiasm. We have several ministries in which every member can be involved. The Family Ministry is designed to strengthen the family. The family is the basic building block of the congregation, community, and nation.
The Worship Ministry is another work of the congregation. Those who are serving in this ministry are doing everything possible to have a worship service that is fervent in spirit, true to God’s book, while also uplifting. We believe with such worship people will say, “I was glad when the said unto me, let us go up to the house of the Lord.” Let us worship with zeal and gladness of heart.
When Jesus Christ was on the earth, the Bible says “he went about doing good.” The James Ministry is designed to serve the suffering and sick, and do all the good we possibly can. Every member of the church should be involved in one or more of the ministries of this congregation.
Zealous To Repent Of Sin
Finally, we all should be zealous to repent of our sins every day! Paul exhorted the church at Corinth to zealously repent in godly sorrow:
2 Corinthians 7:8-11
For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. 9 Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. 11 For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.
Friends we must have zeal coupled with knowledge, we must be zealous against all evil, and we must be zealous unto every good work: “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:10-11). “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
We encourage you to zealously confess your faith in Christ and request baptism for the remission of sins. If your zeal as a Christian has grown cold and you have fallen away, repent and return to your first love!*
*Shelby G. Floyd delivered this sermon July 29, 2001, and March 18, 2018, at the Heartland Church of Christ, 1693 West Main Street, Greenwood, Indiana 46142.
Copyright © 2001, 2018 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved
Shelby G. Floyd
Heartland Church of Christ
1693 West Main Street
Greenwood, Indiana 46142